Tag Archives: cult cinema

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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The Woman Chaser (1999)

 “Thanks for the party, kid. Any night, you feel like you want it, come on over.”

Bizarre, perverse and subtly subversive, The Woman Chaser from director Robinson Devor is difficult to define and will, unfortunately appeal only to certain tastes. If I knew you, I’d take a guess whether or not you’d appreciate this unusual gem, but instead, read this review and decide for yourself whether or not you want to take a chance.

I recently came cross The Woman Chaser reviewed on the marvelous Film Noir of the Week blog (see link on blogroll or http://filmnoiroftheweek.com ), and I’ll happily accept the genre of noir in order to categorize this strange yet wonderful film. Based on the pulp novel of the same name by Charles Willeford, The Woman Chaser is the story of Richard Hudson, a used car salesman who “possesses a pimp’s understanding of the ways in which women (and men) are most vulnerable–and justifies his seductions with a highly perverse logic.” I took that definition, by the way, right off the back of the VHS box. This isn’t something I normally do, but this description is so perfect, I can think of none better.

woman-chaserAnyway, Richard (played brilliantly by Patrick Warburton) arrives in L.A. and buys an existing used car lot for his San Francisco based employer. He then hires a manager, and then sets out to start raking in the money. He’s halted, however, in his drive, by a different kind of ambition–the creative urge. Richard becomes obsessed with the need to create something. He returns to his home–his bizarre, vain and self focused ex-ballerina mother (Lynette Bennett), and his stepfather, Leo (Paul Malevich), a has-been director. In Richard’s mind, Leo is the only man he knows who possesses any principles. Richard comes up with an idea for a film, and he wants Leo to direct. Together they approach the Man at Mammoth Studios….

I don’t know what I expected when I watched this film, but The Woman Chaser was so good, so unique, so damn peculiar that I watched it three times in a row–each time seeing something new and catching subtle things that I’d missed before (at one point for example, Richard is reading a book titled Much Ado About Me). I think it’s sadly quite possible that a great number of people could watch this film and dismiss it as campy trash, but it isn’t. The Woman Chaser is pure genius.

The main character, Richard, uses people–particularly women–without the slightest remorse whatsoever, but as he uses them, he rewrites his actions, and his motivations in the most off-kilter style. This is all achieved by a heavy voiceover narration by Richard throughout the entire film. This allows the viewer into the most peculiar corners of Richard’s twisted thinking. He’s a living, walking example of moral dissonance, and he unabashedly, proudly boasts of exactly how he manipulates people into getting what he wants.

Richard’s film, his baby, is called The Man Who Got Away. It’s a slim story about an angry, anti-social truck driver who runs over a child and her dog, and then proceeds to lead the police on a chase throughout California. It’s unclear whether or not the truck driver commits his crime deliberately out of a sense of misplaced rage or whether it’s just an accident. Richard grasps so many accuracies of human behavior, and yet the utter perverseness of his plot (which reflects his nature) seems to elude him.

Filmed in glorious black and white (which is perfect for this film), Patrick Warburton plays Richard as if he was born for the part. Operating with the sociopath’s emotional detachment, Richard is a large man, confident, with a large black hole when it comes to conscience. He is a frightening construct of all that’s wrong in society. Perfectly happy to dominate, intimidate and manipulate his way to the top (and to the bedroom), he’s crushed when the same thing is done to him. And one of the film’s great ironies is that Richard, the master manipulator, who understands just what fears, vices and vanities appeal to the human consciousness, finds himself outmaneuvered and out manipulated.

I was so intrigued by this film, that I chased down a copy of the book wanting to see if the novel was as perverse as the film or whether the film’s off-kilter look at life through Richard’s warped perceptions was the creation of the filmmaker. I was thrilled to discover that the film is amazingly like the book with the dialogue taken directly from the novel. That said, the film does add one embellishment in creating a very well done frame story, but at the same time the film leaves out one very disturbing detail that takes place between Richard and his secretary Laura (Emily Newman). Too bad this was cut from the film as I think this act of Richard’s really puts his moral depravity in a nutshell. Special note too for the film’s fantastic camera shots: Chet Wilson throwing a match into a puddle in which the clouds are reflected, front shots of Richard’s car, the lift traveling to the basement of the L.A. Museum, the angle of the camera during the scenes with the head of Mammoth Studios….

Anyway, The Woman Chaser is brilliant, bold and one of the most faithful adaptations of a novel I have ever come across. I suspect author Charles Willeford, who died in 1988, would be satisfied with the film version of his “psycho-pulp” classic.

Quotes:

I didn’t want Becky involved with some immature, tattooed youth who’d work the word love into his pitch. That would be unnecessarily emotional for her.

I had saved the girl from any physical or emotional involvement for a long time.

When a man starts doing stuff like that, he needs a woman in the worst way.

His evil parody made the notion of love and tenderness obscene.

Somehow, I had got dreams mixed up with reality.

I felt as though I was an unreal person creating a reality that might become unreal.

This movie isn’t cynical, it’s bitter.

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Gambling With Souls (1936)

“You filthy operator of a sex exchange.”

Strict censorship rules of the Hays Code spawned the production of many sexploitation films–films that were presented as exposes of the lurid charms of various human vices. These films took a strong moral stance against these vices and illustrated the inevitable consequences of sin while indulging the audience with an excuse for puerile voyeurism.

In Gambling with Souls, Mae Miller (Martha Chapin) is married to a doctor (Robert Frazer). He’s devoted to his career, and she’s left to her own devices for long periods of time. She becomes friends with Molly Murdock (Vera Steadman) who quickly introduces her to gambling. Gambling is just the first step into luring Mae into prostitution to pay off the money she owes to gambling club owner, Lucky Wilder (Wheeler Oakman).

Gambling with Souls from director Elmer Clifton contains a strong strain of Victorian melodrama (“you who thrive in the slime of life”)–with the righteous husband appearing (“women are not always to blame for their downfall”), and the wicked, repentant wife sobbing her way through a confession of her life of sin.

For camp fans, there’s a mild degree of entertainment here. Some of the lines are very funny, and there’s one scene in a club that shows a girl dancing, but she’s more of a contortionist than a dancer. She gets up on top of one of the tables, and hikes her skirt up, displaying her undies as she performs contortionist acts. It’s supposed to be sexy–at least that’s the impression I get from the men in the audience drooling as they watch her performance. There’s another scene with a chorus line, and the camera focuses on the girls’ bottoms for an inordinate amount of time. One scene (reminiscent of Hylas and the Nymphs) shows a country bumpkin lured off to a bedroom by a gang of pushy prostitutes. My favourite scene shows Mae returning from a drunken night out. She strips in her bedroom, and even her underwear has become fancier as her sins increase. Those moments provide a vague amusement, but that’s about all. The moralizing is too heavy handed and the characters serve to fill their stock roles only.

The Alpha Video print isn’t that great–there’s some skipping and crackling, but it is watchable.

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Trash Trio: Three Screenplays: Pink Flamingos, Desperate Living, and Flamingos Forever by John Waters

“I’d like to report a lewd and disorderly party.”

I’m a John Waters fan. I love his films, and to me, one of the very best things about a Waters film is the dialogue. Those funny lines come fast and furiously. Sometimes I’m so busy laughing at one line, that I miss the next one. The book Trash Trio is the answer for me. Here in print–at last–are the immortal scripts of Pink Flamingos, Desperate Living and Flamingos Forever. The latter script is especially valuable, for as fans know all too well, Flamingos Forever was never made (sob). But now there is no reason to mourn–for here I can drool over every nasty word to my heart’s content. In fact, I’ve highlighted my favourite lines and plan to memorize them for special occasions.

Included in the book are–not one–but TWO–yes, let’s count them people–TWO introductions by the master himself–John Waters. One introduction was written in 1996, and the other was written in 1998. Waters mulls over the cast for a remake of Pink Flamingos, and he also explains why he never made Flamingos Forever.

Each of the scripts contains a cast list, and scene directions–along with treasured photographs of the many memorable moments from each film. As much as this pains me to admit it, John Waters is not for everyone–but for Waters fans, this book brings hours of enjoyment and many filthy memories.

Now I have no excuse to forget these immortal words:

“Filth is my politics, filth is my life!”
“Tell her this isn’t some communist day-care centre.”
“After Divine is humiliated and destroyed, Maryland will be ours!”
“She’ll be a heroine–even to non-filthy people.”

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Die Mommie Die (2003)

 “They found me being spun around nude on the lazy susan.”

 

die mommie dieFormer glamorous songstress Angela Arden (Charles Busch) is unhappily married to Hollywood director, Sol Sussman (Phillip Baker Hall). Spoiled brat, daughter Edith (Natasha Lyonne) has a slightly incestuous relationship with her darling daddy, but loathes her mother. Angela can’t stand Edith, but pampers son Lance (Stark Sands). Angela and Lance even share a secret language. To console herself for her unhappy marriage to her misery of a husband, Angela amuses herself with toyboy gigolo/ tennis coach, Tony Parker (Jason Priestly). But when grumpy Sol (who suffers from chronic constipation) puts his foot down and cancels Angela’s credit cards, she decides to kill him with a poisoned suppository.

If you love camp, then Die Mommie Die is the perfect film for you. Some films end up being campy without intending to be so, but Die Mommie Die is a campy homage to 50s tearjerkers, and the film succeeds very well indeed. Die Mommie Die uses some passe filmmaking techniques to add to the general campiness and cheesiness of the film. For example, there is one scene in which actors sit in a stationary car against the backdrop of moving traffic. Other scenes recall some of the great films from the era (Sunset Boulevard, for example). Some of the lip synch singing scenes are deliberately off on the timing, and most of the acting is over-the-top.

Die Mommie Die is incredibly funny. I think my favourite scene (and it’s hard to choose) takes place when Angela is persuaded to sing again, and she decides to entertain the guests. The lines in the film are original, cheeky and some of the funniest ones are too rude to place here:

I own you just like I own every toilet in this house.
You eat normal or we’re going to shut you up in an institution.
There were 8 of them.
You can’t discard me like one of your false eyelashes.
I’ve got money now. Stocks, bonds, and a supermarket in West Covina.
Being a man of the world, I have friends in interesting places.
I always knew you were nothing but trash washed over from the Canadian border.

Charles Busch plays Angela Arden, in drag, of course, and he plays the role with a serene, resolved, yet slightly pretentious Bette Davis air–although there are a couple of scenes worthy of Joan Crawford thrown in for good measure. I read several professional reviews of the film, and the reviewers seem to be less-than-amused. Most reviewers refuse to see camp as the art form it truly is, but for me, as a lover of the tacky, the bawdy and the camp, this film was perfect. From director Mark Rucker.

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Child Bride (1938)

 “I’d put her in boiling oil and watch her fry.”

It’s amazing what you can get away with even when you have censors breathing down your neck. With the Hays Code of film censorship enforced in 1934, a number of films were made which appeared to be moral crusades. In reality, these films gave an excuse for a titillating glimpse at some lurid element. It was also important, in these ‘moral crusade’ films to include moral statements–usually at the beginning of the film–making it clear that the film is some sort of attempt to expose a wicked social ill, and educate the public about it at the same time. These moral crusade films include such titles as Cocaine Fiends and the well-known Reefer Madness. Child Bride (alternate title: Child Bride of the Ozarks)–made in 1938 falls into the same category. In this case, however, the social ill is supposed to be limited geographically to those regions in America that allowed early marriage.

child-bride1Child Bride is set in the Ozarks, and some seriously bad acting plagues the film. Jennie Colton (Shirley Mills) lives with her parents in a squalid shack and attends school with the other ragamuffins. Freddie (Bob Bolinger) is her innocent sweetheart, and the two children spend a great deal of time together. There are several extremely cheesy scenes of Jennie in the pigpen, Jennie at school etc., but the real action begins when the schoolteacher begins campaigning to raise the legal marrying age in the area. Seems the men wear their women out, and when one dies off after bearing a number of children, the widower just selects another pre-pubescent girl for his next victim.

The film includes two scenes that amazingly sneaked by the censors. One scene involves the schoolteacher whose ripped nightgown gets more tattered with every step and is practically falling off by the time the action reaches a crescendo. The other scene was quite startling and involves Jennie swimming nude in a river. Jennie’s nudity is observed by the film’s wicked villain and salivating Peeping Tom, Jake Bolby (Warner P. Richmond). The film emphasizes the notion of pedophilia when Jake courts little Jennie by giving her a doll. Jennie is a plump cheeked, angelic, sunny little girl, and the idea of her being married has some really sick implications, but this film, amazingly, slid by the censors. With bad acting, and a sappy plot, the film’s main value is as an artifact. Collectors and film history aficionados will be interested in the film, but that’s about its limit. The picture is a bit grainy, and the action includes a few minor skips, but it’s certainly watchable quality.

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