Tag Archives: William Castle

283. THE TINGLER (1959)

“Now please don’t fool with that stuff alone, Warren, it can produce some pretty weird effects.”—Lab assistant warning Vincent Price against taking LSD in The Tingler

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: William Castle

FEATURING: Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman, Patricia Cutts

PLOT: Scruple-challenged scientist Dr. Warren Chapin discovers that a creature called “the Tingler” lives within the human spine. This creature grows when the host experiences fear, and shrinks when they scream. When an extracted Tingler escapes, Chapin and his assistant must race to re-capture the beast before it unleashes its terror—maybe right here inside this very movie theater!

Still from The Tingler (1959)

BACKGROUND:

  • Director/producer Castle, master of publicity-grabbing gimmicks, applied several such techniques to The Tingler, including hiring actresses to play nurses to stand outside the theater, and planting audience members to scream and faint at key moments in the picture. The most notorious gimmick in his oeuvre, however, was undoubtedly “Percepto.” For the theatrical release, Castle arranged for a handful of auditorium seats to be wired with war-surplus electric airplane de-icing engines. At a key moment during the film’s climax, the projectionist would activate the zappers, buzzing unsuspecting (or eagerly-hoping) viewers with a jolt of electricity, thereby breaking the fourth wall in a way 3-D never could.
  • Although best known for his B-movies, Castle’s resume is not exclusively low-budget shockers. He was an as assistant director on The Lady from Shanghai, and produced ‘s horror classic Rosemary’s Baby. (He has a cameo as a man wanting to use Mia Farrow’s phone booth.)
  • Price’s self-administered LSD experience was reportedly the first ever cinematic acid trip. Castle was so eager to clue in the audience to what was going on that he printed the name of the scientific monograph Price is reading on the back of the volume.
  • Directors and John Waters included The Tingler in their Top Ten lists for the Sight and Sound 2002 poll of the greatest films of all time.
  • Shane Wilson’s Staff Pick for the Certified Weird list.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: A blank projection screen, onto which ambles the shadow of a large rubber insect puppet, followed immediately by blackness, the sound of audience members shrieking their heads off, and the unmistakable command of Vincent Price: “Scream! Scream for your lives! The Tingler is loose in this theater!”

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Even without the electrified seats, The Tingler is an odd little enterprise. Between the confident pseudoscientific explanations, the wildly shifting tone, and the utter commitment to the absurd and goofily executed premise, it’s a strange and silly cinematic experience. But “Percepto” ups the ante considerably. Whereas previous auditorium gimmicks were content to merely startle theater patrons and to play upon their emotions, The Tingler was now actively threatening the audience with physical harm. By bringing the actual audience inside the film, Castle’s gimmick becomes a means to shatter the fourth wall completely, paving the way for the interactive experiences viewers treasure so much now.


Original trailer for The Tingler

COMMENTS: Let’s not kid ourselves. The Tingler is very silly. Consider that the entire premise of the film is based on literalizing the Continue reading 283. THE TINGLER (1959)

1964 EXLPOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES, 2000 MANIACS, AND THE CREEPING TERROR (WITH BONUS: STRAIGHT-JACKET )

1964 was nearly as productive a year for the cinematic horror genre as 1963 was. Coming from the barrel bottom was Jerry Warren’s improvement on 1960’s La Casa del Terror, Face of the Screaming Werewolf, starring (sort of) and Yerye Beirut (who later co-starred with in a string of Mexican films co-produced by ). Chaney was probably less embarrassed (although doubtfully any less sober) working for Hammer director Don Sharp in the relatively well-received Witchcraft. Fellow Hammer veterans Freddie Francis and collaborated on the actor’s only non- directed Frankenstein opus, The Evil of Frankenstein, which initially received poor reviews, but has since been reassessed in a more positive light (in some quarters). Without a star actor (or competent director) Hammer’s The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (dirMichael Carreras ) was as limp as its title character. However, the dynamic trio of Cushing, , and did their best work (despite a silly-looking title creature), as usual, for Fisher in The Gorgon. Lee didn’t fair as winningly in the Warren Kiefer/Luciano Ricci co-directed Castle of the Living Dead, despite having closing scenes directed by an uncredited . Lee downsized from a castle to a mere crypt in Crypt of the Vampire (directed by Camilio Mastrocinque), which was as pedestrian as its title, despite undeniable atmosphere. The icon of Italian Gothic cinema, (the last-living of the classic horror stars), was also at home in a castle setting in Castle of Blood (co-directed by and Sergio Corbucci) and teamed again with Magheriti for The Long Hair of Death (which we will be covering soon in a Steele triple feature). The final two Poe films from and , Masque of the Red Death and Tomb of Ligeia, were among their best received, although the latter features yet another ingratiatingly whiny, flowery performance from its star. Rounding out a busy year, Price starred in The Last Man on Earth (co-directed by Ubaldo Ramona and Sidney Salkow), the first of several big screen adaptations of Richard Matheson’s “I am Legend”—none of which, astoundingly, could get it right. Predictably, Blood and Black Lace became yet another cult film from , but even he could not compete with the legendary Kwaidan (directed by Masaki Kobayashi), which puts most Western horror anthologies to shame. Down several notches from those is the work of Del Tenney, who has an inexplicable cult reputation—but as 1964’s The Horrors of Party Beach proves, that status is undeserved for such a dullard (1971’s I Eat Your Skin would further confirm).

Still from The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies (1964)Spiraling downward, ever downward, we come to ‘s biggest budgeted film, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, which is more famous for its title than for the film Continue reading 1964 EXLPOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES, 2000 MANIACS, AND THE CREEPING TERROR (WITH BONUS: STRAIGHT-JACKET )

159. SHANKS (1974)

“Released by Paramount Pictures and utilizing top-tier talent like composer Alex North, cinematographer Joseph Biroc, and production designer Boris Leven, Shanks is an exceedingly strange film, a horror-fantasy punctuated by stretches of dialogue-free narrative, morbid black comedy, and occasional sentimentality.”–John M. Miller, TCM.com

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Cindy Eilbacher, Tsilla Chelton, Phillipe Clay

PLOT: Malcolm Shanks is a talented mute puppeteer who lives with his shrewish step-sister and her alcoholic husband. A reclusive local scientist, who is working on a device that allows him to animate dead animal bodies with electrodes activated via remote control, hires Shanks as his assistant. Shanks’ puppeteering training makes him a natural at controlling the corpses; naturally, it is only a matter of time until he finds a human subject to experiment on.

Still from Shanks (1974)
BACKGROUND:

  • This was the final film directed by B-movie gimmick-meister William Castle (Homicidal, Strait-Jacket). At the beginning of his career in the 1950s, Castle was known for his outrageous promotions such as “Emergo” (glow-in-the-dark skeletons that flew above the audience at a scary moment in House on Haunted Hill) and “Percepto” (electrified theater seats used to shock patrons’ rears in The Tingler).
  • Although famous mime Marcel Marceau played may bit parts in films (including a role in Barbarella and a notorious cameo in Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie), this is his most substantial role as an actor. Marceau plays both Malcolm Shanks and the inventor Old Walker, often acting alongside himself. Marceau came to Hollywood searching for roles but found producers unwilling to hire him for parts other than cameos or appearances as his alter-ego, Bip the clown. “I was a great admirer of the silent-film comedians, Chaplin and Keaton, and I thought producers would recognize that I could also perform the same broad pathos comedy. But nothing happened,” he told an AP reporter in 1973. When Shanks came along, it “was exactly what I had been looking for.”
  • Marceau originally hoped would direct and Castle would produce; he asked Castle to direct when told Polanski was unavailable. Castle reported that Marceau was a perfectionist, eccentric and difficult to work with, and didn’t seem to appreciate the practical aspects of shooting on a tight schedule and budget.
  • Although the movie was not generally well-received, it did earn an Academy Award nomination for Alex North’s eerie score. North reused and re-worked some of the compositions he wrote for 2001: A Space Odyssey that had been mothballed when decided to use an all classical score.
  • Shanks had not been available on VHS or DVD until Olive Films’ 2013 release.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The herky-jerky birthday cake cutting scene, when Shanks’ typically impeccable control over his remote control zombies breaks down for one brief moment for comic effect.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: This is a movie about a mute puppeteer who learns to control dead bodies by remote control, and eventually harnesses that power to fight a biker gang. Calling itself “a grim fairy tale,” it’s a black comedy that uses silent movie aesthetics to tell a tale of reanimation of the dead. It stars Marcel Marceau, the world’s most famous mime, and is directed by William Castle, the world’s most famous B-move huckster. The chances that the results of this collaboration would not be weird approach zero; it’s like nothing else out there.


Clip from Shanks

COMMENTS: Shanks is one of those rare movies that just wants to be what it is. Although the reanimation of the dead setup suggests a Continue reading 159. SHANKS (1974)

READER RECOMMENDATION: THE TINGLER (1959)

Submission for the reader review writing contest #4 by Shane Wilson

“In the final count, I think we must have buzzed 20,000,000 behinds.” – William Castle

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman (the older brother of “Dobie Gillis” star Dwyane Hickman)

PLOT: There are two plots running simultaneously in The Tingler. In the first, Dr. Warren Chapin (Price) frees the parasite that lives in the human spine and grows when the host experiences fear, and must save the unsuspecting public from the menace he’s unleashed by stressing the importance of screaming.  In the other plot, film director William Castle raises his penchant for outrageous gimmicks to new heights by running shocks of electricity through auditorium seats.

Still from The Tingler (1959)

BACKGROUND:

  • As was his wont, director/producer Castle supported the release of The Tingler with several gimmicks, including hiring actresses to play nurses to stand outside the theater and planting audience members to scream and faint at key moments in the picture.  His piece de resistance was called “Percepto.”  For the theatrical release, Castle arranged for a handful of auditorium seats to be wired with war-surplus electric vibrators.  At a key moment during the film’s climax, the projectionist would activate the zappers, buzzing unsuspecting viewers (or eagerly-hoping viewers) with a jolt of electricity, thereby breaking the fourth wall in a way 3-D never could.
  • William Castle earned his reputation for his attention-getting publicity stunts. Beneath his huckster’s heart, however, lays a surprising credibility. Castle served as assistant director on Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai, and produced the horror classic Rosemary’s Baby.
  • Directors Stuart Gordon and John Waters both included The Tingler in their Top Ten lists for “Sight and Sound”‘s 2002 Top 10 poll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: A blank projection screen, onto which ambles the shadow of a large rubber insect puppet, followed immediately by blackness, the sound of faux audience members shrieking their heads off, and the unmistakable command of Vincent Price: “Scream! Scream for your lives! The Tingler is loose in this theater!”

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: William Castle always dabbles in oddness. The Tingler’s means of engaging the audience certainly ups the ante in this regard. Whereas previous auditorium gimmicks were content to merely startle theater patrons, The Tingler was now actively complicit in harming the audience, by attempting to electrocute select viewers.  On another level, though, The Tingler represents a fascinating metatextual experience. On the one hand, Percepto pushes the film beyond the boundaries of the screen by affecting the audience physically, rather than through the usual avenues of picture and soundtrack.  The movie not only breaks the fourth wall, but actually rebuilds it behind the audience. Consider Price’s admonition: “The Tingler is loose in this theater!”  He means the very theater we are sitting in.  We have suddenly assumed the role of the audience in the film-inside-the-film, and for a moment, we are actually part of the action, not merely in front of it.  Castle’s prank destroys the proscenium.  Many films play games with the insurmountable distance between the screen and the seats.  Castle is happy to throw it away entirely.

COMMENTS: Vincent Price’s legend is built on a reputation for portraying elegant, velvet- Continue reading READER RECOMMENDATION: THE TINGLER (1959)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: THE NIGHT WALKER (1964)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Robert Taylor, Irene Trent, Joyce Holland, Hayden Rorke. Written by horror master Robert (“Psycho”) Bloch.

PLOT: A woman has frightening, recurrent nightmares about being taken on surreal and horrifying nocturnal odysseys by a mysterious and enigmatic stranger.

Still from The Night Walker (1964)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The film has an offbeat plot that has not been overused, and features bizarre scenes such as waxen animated mannequin entities conducting odd and sinister nighttime church services.  There are apparently illogical phenomenon such as the suspension of time.  The Night Walker is surreal due to the difficulty that the protagonist has in separating reality from fantasy.

COMMENTS:   After her covetous, jealous, and suspicious husband allegedly burns to death in a mysterious laboratory explosion, a wealthy widow (Stanwyck) has recurrent nightmares featuring an imaginary lover (Bochner).  He appears to her at night while she is dreaming and takes her on hellish journeys into the macabre.  She dreams repeatedly that she falls asleep and then “awakens” to this nightmare while still within a dream.

Each time, the nightmares begin with the lover awakening her at her bedside after she falls asleep.  Every night, her clocks indicate that she has awoken from her sleep into the recurrent nightmare at the same time that she went to bed.  Bochner eerily tells her, “Time stands still when you’re with me!”

The mysterious stranger drives her through a haunting Los Angeles nightscape to a a creepy, dilapidated chapel where sinister, animated wax figures play the organ and conduct a bizarre and puzzling wedding service.  One night she awakens from the recurrent nightmare, only to find Bochner again in her room.  She concludes that she has only dreamed that she has woken up, and is trapped in a nightmare from which there is no release.  Driven to the brink of madness by this ceaseless paradox, she dramatically screams over and over, “I can’t wake up!  I can’t wake up!”

Her scheming, apparently disbelieving lawyer attempts to help her unravel the mystery.  But does he know more than he is telling her?  Is everyone in her life really who they appear to be?  Is she going crazy?  Stanwyk’s character struggles to unravel the mystery of what she is experiencing as she attempts to retain her dwindling shreds of sanity.

William Castle employs no pedestrian gimmicks in this surreal, disturbing film.  By this point in his career he demonstrates that he has honed his skills as a competent director of horror.  Stanwyk carries herself with the same haunting presence with her role in this mysterious noir as she does in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and Double Indemnity.

Unlike most of William Castle’s films, The Night Walker is not currently available on DVD.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A few creepy touches—a cheaply surreal nightmare prologue and a scene that finds Barb sacred by a shish kebab—help relieve the tedium, but the self-styled ‘Master of Movie Horror’ is in far-from-top form here.”–Joe Kane, The Phantom of the Movies Videoscope