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!]

Suspiria 2018

When The Rite of Spring premiered in 1911, Parisians cat-called, protested and even brawled in the audience. It’s hard to think of something as genteel as the ballet eliciting such reactions today. But here we are with Suspiria 2018, the balletic ballet horror film which has bifurcated gore-hounds. Luckily,  nobody’s come to blows.

Oscar Wilde often warned against the permanence of truth claims in art, which has been borne out when you see how the likes of jazz and impressionist paintings are received today compared with their debuts: casual indifference. They’ve faded into bourgeoisie acceptance.

While its detractors feebly point out that its cinematography is out of date and its story-line, quaint, the original Suspiria is still held in very high regard (not the least of which by us here. It’s in our Top 10 Horror Films of all Time). So, when Luca Guadagnino came along with the brass balls to remake the beloved Argento masterstroke, the pre-reception to the announcement foretold a Stravinsky-type blowback.

And so it goes. You’re damned if you do, in these circles.

But IF you do, do it Guadagnino style and go for broke. Unlike David Gordon Green’s beat-for-beat retread of Halloween, which, despite getting the Carpenter imprimatur remained “stuck in the mud” as Conor McGregor might say of his opponents, Suspiria 2018 is VERY DIFFERENT from its predecessor. And hell, that’s half the battle right there. Halloween 2018 is “everything to all people,” but ultimately signifying nothing. And for all its many faults, Suspiria is a force to be reckoned with, and deserves treatment as an independent entity.

Gone is the simple witch story, as well as the luscious pinks, reds, and blues you get from a Dario vision (instead, the film’s starkly bi-chromatic…with a palette not unlike The Witch, speaking of covens). Gone is Suzy Bannion’s teen innocence. In its place, oodles of backstory, gobs of historical context, lots of internecine witch squabbling, and most noticeable, dancing aplenty. The role of the psychiatrist is amped up, and like its forebear, there is spectacular (and hugely memorable) violence.

Dakota Johnson is gorgeous, game, and physical. And Tilda Swinton outstanding. Still, there are bits of howler dialogue where you half-expect Dieter from Sprockets to pas de chat across your screen. The Red Army Faction / Baader-Meinhof Gang + Nazi subplot is confusing, and tethers the film glumly to history (compared with Argento’s uniquely otherworldly sense of place, inspired by Snow White). And if it’s one thing both detractors and boosters will concede, this one’s criminally overlong.

Still, there is just too much funky weirdness and atmosphere to dismiss it. Time will tell how Suspiria will be remembered as we sit back, enjoy, and digest.

*** (out of 5)

[Listen to our discussion of the new Suspiria film on the
Really Awful Movies Podcast!]