Tag Archives: camp

Problem Girls (1953)

“One step before the state asylum.”

Problem Girls (1953) from director Ewald Andre Dupont is a B film. Make no mistake about that. Why bother watching it you ask? Easy: its HCF (High Camp Factor) joined with its theme of Delinquent Dames. How could I resist?

Problem Girls begins with a voiceover narration from John Page (Ross Elliot), and in this sequence, he explains that the jungles of Burma and a Japanese concentration camp are NOTHING compared to the dangers he faced at The Manning School for Girls.

Yes, it’s post WWII and Page is all set to be a certified psychiatrist. All he has to do is sit for the board exams, but in the meantime, he needs a job and so he takes a place at the exclusive Manning School for Girls. Here he can’t practice medicine, but he’s supposed to act as a therapist. Well he’s landed at the right spot because everyone at the school is either DERANGED, DISTURBED or DELINQUENT.

Although Dr. Manning (Roy Reigner) is the nominal head of the school, he’s too drunk to function. Page is employed by the shapely closet dominatrix-type Miss Dixon (Helen Walker), a woman who has the hots for the biceps belonging to instructor Max Thorpe (James Seay). Thorpe is married to a young girl who’s kept drugged and locked up in a room upstairs. What the hell is going on?

What I enjoyed so much about the film (and this added substantially to its camp factor), is that all these crazy things are going on and everyone acts as though it’s normal. The faculty is laced with psychos, murderers, and various antisocial types, but Page (who never cracks a smile or looks in the least uncomfortable ) sits through dinner as though everything is perfectly normal. He doesn’t question why these people are employed to collectively teach the delinquent debutante pupils, and neither does he stop to speculate where he fits into Dixon’s little schemes. Soon Page is up to his neck in intrigue and in cahoots with murderous professor Richards (Anthony Joachim), Page is sneaking around the school shooting up students with sodium pentothal.

As for the pupils, well they consist of spoiled rich girls who’ve “embarrassed” their families in one way or another. The girls are a motley assortment of psychos, nymphos, pyromaniacs You get the picture.

The film’s plot is fairly sedate given the raw material, and the girls are never fully unleashed. Put this film in the hands of John Waters and no doubt we’d see some results. As it is, Problem Girls could have been a lot more interesting, wilder film. There’s a couple of girl fights, a tepid riot but the best scene occurs when the girls are forced to listen to a piano concert. The film more or less plays it straight and ends very abruptly. I suspect that the film isn’t wild enough to be picked up by Something Weird video, but Problem Girls was good for a few cheap laughs and in spite of its many flaws, nonetheless I enjoyed it for its campiness.

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The Tingler (1959)

 “I know a wonderful psychiatrist with a perfectly divine strait jacket just your size.”

After reading that The Tingler is on director John Waters’ top film list, this made it a must-see for me, and I wasn’t disappointed. Campy and strange–nonetheless, The Tingler is a surprisingly good film. It’s from William Castle, perhaps cinema’s most eccentric director, and The Tingler is considered one of this cult director’s best. It would be so easy to dismiss this film as campy fun, but it’s really much more than this. It’s a very well crafted exercise in weirdness.

tinglerThere are only two normal people in the film, and their roles are kept to a minimum and serve as a contrast for the film’s collection of bizarre characters. Vincent Price as gently spoken, well-mannered pathologist William Chapin heads the cast. Chapin has theories of the “fear tensions” within the human body, and he’s long since come to the conclusion that the “force of fear” unleashed in the human body can result in the cracking of vertebrae. At the beginning of the film, he becomes convinced that there’s actually something physical living in the base of the spine–a parasitic creature known as The Tingler that grows with the host’s exposure to fear. Chapin’s theory is that screaming releases these tensions and ultimately this freezes or immobilizes the Tingler, thus saving humans from dying of fear. Obviously proving the Tingler’s existence by examining the spinal cords of people who are either paralyzed by fear or who die of it, is not an easy matter, but then again, Chapin is a pathologist….

The film begins with a terrified man being dragged screaming down a hallway to his execution by two prison guards. A few minutes later, a body on a gurney is wheeled into the autopsy room, and here pathologist Dr. Warren Chapin (Vincent Price) proceeds to conduct an autopsy on the dead man. And this is where the film begins to get bizarre–the dead man’s brother-in law, Ollie Higgins (Philip Coolidge) stands by and watches Chapin perform the autopsy. Now perhaps Chapin performs autopsies on a regular basis, but this must be a unique experience for Higgins, who owns a cinema that caters to silent film. But the two men have a nice calm chat while Chapin carves up the corpse, and by the time he’s done, Chapin and Higgins have established enough rapport for Higgins to ask for a lift home.

Higgins introduces Chapin to his wife Martha (Judith Evelyn) who just happens to be a deaf mute. When Chapin discovers that Martha also has a terror of blood, he realizes that he has the perfect subject–someone with a built in mechanism for terror who cannot release her “fear tension” through screaming…

The Tingler hits all the right notes to create a very strange tale with a very bizarre tone. Peculiar things take place in the film, but the characters all act as though these things are perfectly normal. Chapin’s assistant, for example, is running around town kidnapping animals to serve as guinea pigs for Chapin’s latest wacko experiments. All the characters in the film accept this as perfectly normal, and the film’s insistence on the normalcy of outrageously bizarre behaviour is a tactic that Castle uses within the film many times–Higgins attending the autopsy of his brother in law, for example. Higgins should express at least some distaste of the autopsy. He could turn away, vomit, or even faint. These reactions would all be within the range of normal for a person who’s attending the autopsy of a relative. But instead Higgins doesn’t even swallow hard–he’s perfectly at home in the autopsy room watching his brother-in-law get carved up. This presentation of the bizarre with the ho-hum reaction to an every day event creates the atmosphere of a lunatic asylum. As we watch the story unfold, we realize that what is happening is not normal, but it’s presented by the characters as perfectly acceptable. The dissonance between normal and abnormal created by the film forges a fascination between the audience and the film characters. Just how far off the deep end is Chapin prepared to go? Do his gentle, refined manners and voice mask the mind of a madman?

This acceptance of the abnormal as normal is also demonstrated in the two marriages depicted in the film. These marriages are pathological and laced with murderous intent, but this is masked by the politics of polite behaviour, so that leaves only two people in a ‘normal’ relationship–courting couple, Chapin’s sister-in-law, Lucy (Pamela Lincoln) and Chapin’s lab assistant David (Darryl Hickman). Chapin’s first appearance in the old homestead immediately establishes marital discord when he addresses Lucy with the heavily sarcastic question “where is my darling wife?” Isabel, who obviously doesn’t trouble herself with putting hot meals on the table for hubbie appears some time later. Isabel Chapin (Patricia Cutts) seems to be a very unsuitable partner for Chapin. Sexy, blonde Isabel has the naughty habit of floozing out on the town with a series of strange men.

Another tactic used by Castle is that most people (with a few notable exceptions) in the film remain perfectly calm–almost frustratingly so. They should be objecting, refusing, questioning, but they tend to very calmly go along with the action, accepting the nuttiness as everyday stuff.

The Tingler really is a very clever film. The first time I watched it, I loved it, but the second and third times, I began to really appreciate it. The first time through, for example, the film leads us to certain conclusions about Chapin’s character, and with subsequent viewing, I came to appreciate Castle’s manipulative skill a great deal more.

Anyway, thanks to John Waters for pointing me towards this gem of a film. The DVD is excellent quality, by the way–in black and white–except for one scene that contains…well, a lot of red. The picture is clear and crisp, but the whole package is so well put together with some interesting extras, including an introduction by William Castle. Well worth the purchase, but I still wish I could persuade someone to release a version of The Tingler with commentary from John Waters.

“Scream for your lives. The Tingler is loose in the theatre!”
“Don’t tell me you’ve abandoned corpses for peeping out of windows.”

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She-Man (1967)

“I’ll dig ditches. I’ll empty the garbage, but I’m not letting her turn me into any drag queen.”

Leave it to the eclectic minds at Something Weird to reprint She-Man and unleash it on the unsuspecting public. She-Man is a tawdry tacky tale, hilariously campy, packed with bad acting and cheap sets. Given my strange tastes, I loved it, and if you’re a Something Weird watcher, then chances are you will enjoy the film too.

she-manHunky playboy Albert Rose (Leslie Marlowe), Korean War veteran and son of an affluent senator receives a message to attend a mysterious meeting. Flown by private plane, and then driven by a female chauffeur to a motel, he’s blackmailed into giving up a year of his life to serve as a maid to husky-voiced dominatrix Dominata (Dorian Wayne), who’s really a transvestite. Taken to Dominata’s “place in the country,” Albert is given hormone pills, shaved, and dressed in a blonde wig and a kinky little maid’s outfit….

She Man is hilarious and ludicrous camp fun. This was obviously a low budget film, and it shows in every scene. Albert is flown (off camera) in Dominata’s private plane, and this would indicate she has money, but then Albert is taken to a cheap, sleazy motel room for the blackmail portion of the deal. In a pitch-black room in which we can only see Albert’s face glowing in this black and white film, he listens to Dominata’s plans for his moral degradation. Some film clips include Dominata speaking while we see a silhouette of a woman’s profile, and the fact that the silhouette’s mouth isn’t moving just makes for a lot more fun.

Something Weird Video releases choice cheesy film and you really have to leave your normal film barometers of taste behind when you decide to watch of their many, many perverse titles. I love Something Weird–the trailer alone is worth the price of a DVD. That said, Something Weird titles, and that includes the immortal She-Man are not for everyone, but if you’re a camp lover, like me, when you discover Something Weird Video, you know you’ve hit the Mother Lode.

Director Bob Clark also made Porkys and Porkys II–two films I often rewatch when I need a few laughs. Clark and his son were tragically killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver in April 2007.

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Devil’s Sleep (1949)

“There’s a drive on against juvenile delinquency.”

Vandalism. Arson. Burglary. Hot Rod Racers. Yes, it “looks like the whole new generation has suddenly gone berserk.” There’s a crime wave afoot in The Devil’s Sleep. Judge Rosalind Ballentine (Lita Grey Chaplin) is determined to discover just who is giving the town’s teens “Bennies”, “Goofies”, and “Phenos” and then urging the teens to commit crimes. The Judge enlists the help of clean-cut Detective Sergeant Dave Kerrigan (William Thomason) to find the criminal mastermind behind the corruption of the city’s youth.

Kerrigan makes a few casual inquiries–beginning with his girlfriend’s teenage brother Bob (Jim Tyde). Soon, word of Kerrigan’s questions comes to the attention of Umberto Scalli (Timothy Farrell), the shady owner of a local gym.

There are some cheap laughs here. The Devil’s Sleep is a 1949 film, and it’s certainly not PC when it comes to portraying overweight people. The funniest scenes occur in the gym when a Rubenesque woman by the name of Tessie T. Tesse (obviously a play on the name Ten Ton Tessie) shows up to enroll. She’s measured, but the tape runs out before her hips do. “When I take off my girdle, I can’t even see the scale,” admits Tessie ruefully. The gym staff makes several comments about the “fat society dames” exercising at the gym. They’re described as “blimps” and “trained elephants”, and the gym workers pop the women pills to help “burn the lard off the girlies without the exercise.”

The Devil’s Sleep isn’t exciting (in spite of the cover warnings of ‘depravity’ and ‘adults only’). Some of the acting is flat, and Bob may be wearing a wig. For those of us who love cheesy camp film, then The Devil’s Sleep from director W. Merle Connell (Test Tube Babies) has some merit. My Alpha DVD black and white print is flawed. There are vertical lines through the print, and the audio track skips words at several points.

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