April Fool’s Day

Confinement adds a bit of an intrigue to a slasher, whether it’s the high gate in Hell Night or the dreamscape of A Nightmare on Elm Street. April Fool’s Day smartly employs an island to get more mileage out of its Ten Little Indians conceit.

[Check out our accompanying April Fool’s Day podcast]

A group of college seniors gathers at a dock for a spring break getaway. And compared with other films of this ilk, these folks are positively restrained when it comes to all the good vices. Instead, they talk about their futures (this was back when college students had a future. Today, the average student loan borrower has US $37,172 in student loan debt, 20k higher than a decade and a half ago). Unsolicited advice: pick a trade and stick to it.

They mug for the camcorder and banter about utility curves and Paradise Lost (to the extent that that’s even possible) before sailing over the island, accessible only by ferry and complete with its own sprawling mansion (the family home of Kennedy-esque WASP elite Muffy St. John, the host of the shindig).

As the group settles down to supper, they experience a slew of April Fool’s-related pranking that includes falling doorknobs and spray faucets.

When one goes missing, the joking ceases. And they have to contact cops on the mainland, post haste.

Fred Walton directs (he who gave us the sporadically fun if overly procedural, When a Stranger Calls) and he’s in full command of his craft here, as there are some legitimate little scares. But the real star is writer Danilo Bach (Beverly Hills Cop) who gives April Fool’s Day whip-smart dialogue, almost too good than it deserves (an outlier for the slasher boom, that’s for sure, which was sputtering to its end around the late 80s)

Like Sleepaway Camp, this one will be mostly remembered for its top-notch denouement, a dynamite pretzel-worthy twist.

***1/2 (out of 5)

The Tingler

So tempting to “toy” (ahem) with the idea of including a racy joke about The Tingler, but in the interest of keeping this post Google-searchable, will impose restraint.

Vincent Price is Dr. Warren Chapin, a penitentiary coroner who is consumed with the study of fear. (If there was ever a movie that proved FDR’s dictum, “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself,” this is it).

In one of Chapin’s examinations, the doc discovers a phenomenon that is not so much spine-tingling, as it is spine-shattering: a gaping spinal splinter appearing on X-ray of a man who’d been recently executed.

Why the state would waste finite resources on doing autopsies when the cause of death is clearly known is a question for another time, but hey.

Chapin posits that there’s a fear response so intense that when it’s sufficiently built up, it becomes fatal.

Chapin, a consumed, obsessive, unethical (and very frequent) violator of the Hippocratic Oath, fires a starter pistol at his estranged wife to generate the response, and then examines her while she’s passed out. His hypothesis: fear forms a solid spinal mass, which is dissipated through the tension release of a scream. It’s an insanely stupid, yet hilarious idea.

Soon, his friend and deaf mute wife (who are proprietors of a silent film house. Whoa, the jokes write themselves!) become involved in the shenanigans.

The Tingler is the brainchild of William Castle¬† (Macabre, The House on Haunted Hill, producer of Rosemary’s Baby). Castle, a hype man of the highest order (whose modern exemplars include site pal Lloyd Kaufman and John Waters), was known for taking out insurance policy for those who dropped dead from fright, and for jerry-rigging theater seats to generate a mild electrical current. The so-called Percepto buzzers were a bit of a bust, but still…you couldn’t help but get behind his go get ’em Barnum & Bailey hucksterism.

As for the film?¬† It’s hilariously absurd and fun. What a premise.

And a bonus…it was the first recorded use of LSD on celluloid.

*** (out of 5)

[Please check out our podcast discussion of The Tingler on the Really Awful Movies Podcast!]