A scientist (played by Vincent Price with his usual aplomb) discovers an organism that attaches itself to the human spine and feeds on the feeling of fear from the host person. The parasite is known to be present as it makes the spine of the person feel a tingling sensation. For this reason its known as a Tingler.
Add into this premise a plot line involving a couple who own a small cinema, one of whom is deaf and mute and another story strand involving the wife of Price’s character and her potential infidelity.
I was obsessed with the film’s director William Castle as a boy as I had read so much about the gimmicks he dreamt up to make the audience’s moviegoing experience something out of the ordinary and in keeping with a ‘roll up, roll up’ circus host as well as a filmmaker.
The gimmick for The Tingler was for some of the seats in the larger cinemas to have an electrical device attached underneath so that some audience members really did feel a tingling sensation at the end of the film when Price’s character has to announce to the cinema audience within the film that The Tingler is loose in the theater somewhere. Castle also employed planted screamers in the audience and people who were told to faint at specific points. A young John Waters famously went to see this film on its original release time after time but only after checking under every seat until he found a seat that had the device attached.
As I had read plenty about Castle and his brilliant brand of showmanship it was almost as if this overshadowed the actual films. His films weren’t available in England when I first read about his work and so there was an agonising wait before I could see any of his filmography.
And here in lies his greatest gimmick. For all of the pranks and hoopla, his film’s are actually amazingly made, beautiful to look at and constantly achieve just the balance of terror, kitsch and camp.
The Tingler is no exception. It captures the opulence and majesty of 50’s American living in some scenes (check out the set design) but also a kind of affectionate simplicity of small town life symbolised by the gorgeous little moviehouse.
But then theres the pure hilarity of The Tingler which is obviously a large rubber bug. Its one of the funniest scenes in the movie when Price tries to convince fellow characters that The Tingler could in fact kill a man effortlessly and quickly. But then thats the magic of Price- a camp knowingness and deadpan delivery. A raised eyebrow from him says more than a hundred lines from an inferior actor.
Even the introduction from Castle could be evaluated as high art if it was viewed merely as a short film rather than as an intro to his movie. The filmmaker warns people of what is to come and that they should scream for their lives if they experience what is being played out to them on the screen.
High art. C’mon Criterion- release a William Castle boxset already.
In the 80s with new horror films like The Evil Dead pushing the boundaries of the genre, television companies thought that older horror films ceased to be scary and so could be shown during the daytime. And so I saw Nosferatu which was made in 1922 one Bank Holiday morning. It couldn’t possibly frighten me, right?
It scared the shit out of me. And watching it again now it still freaks me out. An unauthorised adaptation of Dracula (the estate of Bram Stoker sued and wanted all copies of Nosferatu destroyed. Luckily this didn’t happen) this is beautifully shot and directed. In fact I could look at any frame from this movie and drool. This is an early example that a horror film didn’t have to be some kind of example of low culture but could actually be art.
Max Shreck’s Nosferatu is pitch perfect and the very embodiment of evil. This film stays in your head long after its finished with certain images being so striking and horrifying that they become seered into your psyche.
I love the fact that a movie can be so original and iconic that it can inspire other films to be made. Think of Halloween (1978) and the tidal wave of slasher films that were unleashed in its wake.
This can also happen with movie posters and a film’s iconography. The Breakfast Club is a perfect example.
Take a pose that encapsulated the zeitgeist and not only is it ripe for analysis…
…but it is also open to being imitated and parodied by other movies. I love that films can nudge and wink knowingly at an audience from a movie poster or from a film magazine and know that they are in on the joke. The audience may not get the reference straightaway but eventually they will. And when they do they will marvel at the filmmaker’s ingenuity.
It took many years before I got the in-joke that these two films were making.
Below is the pose used by the cast on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) poster- a movie that was released the year after The Breakfast Club.
Similarly, here is a publicity shot from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987).
In this case the teens who went to see The Breakfast Club could very well have also constituted the demographic who went to see the two films shown above.
I also love the fact that a teen movie has been homaged by two movies as deranged and demented as TCM2 and Nightmare 3. These references to The Breakfast Club feel like, on one hand, a playful co-opting of the original movie and its iconography but also a loving homage to it at the same time. These movies were as far away from John Hughes as possible and yet they still tipped the hat to the filmmaker of all things teen whilst showing that Hughes didn’t speak for all teens with his films. Some teens wanted more twisted thrills for their money. And thats exactly what they got.
A film I know word for word as my brother and I were obsessed with it when we were growing up.
A classic but a problematic one. The cop who flaunts the law and the rules to catch his prey. Hes proud of hating everyone and all groups (the character in this film and in so many Clint Eastwood movies seems to be politically incorrect decades before political correctness became an actual concept). Hes a one man lynch mob who follows his instincts and isn’t afraid of blowing away a suspect and asking questions later (I wonder if one of these questions is ‘Was the dead actually guilty?!’) This character is a right-winger’s wet dream- who cares about a fair trial and the law when these things take so long and might not (seemingly) provide actual justice. The Daily Mail’s readership must love Harry.
Harry’s policing would also include beating interviewees for confessions and said victims somehow developing breathing problems whilst in police custody.
Of course in this and subsequent films Harry is always shown to be right. Its a wasted opportunity that a Dirty Harry film wasn’t made that shows that Harry blew away an actual innocent person. At the films climax there could be a scene after that shows that the wrong person was killed and that the crimes being committed beforehand were actually continuing. Its not late for such a movie to be made. It would have the ‘Bring back hanging’ mob in uproar.
But for all of the bending of rules and trigger happy exploits of the main protagonist during the course of the film it is established that whilst he may be an authority hating maverick its because he actually wants law and order and for the citizens of San Francisco to be safe. The scene in which he runs from phone booth to phone booth to save the kidnap victim shows his willingness to undertake near impossible feats if there is a chance of a saved life at the end of his toils. There is also the scene of the kidnapped girl’s lifeless and naked body being dragged from its underground lair which Harry watches from the distance. This scene is a rare moment of tenderness in such a rough and tumble movie and is genuinely moving. Harry is established as having his priorities right even if they are accomplished in questionable ways.
But to quote Last House on the Left this is only a movie. Aside from the films politics this a rollicking good ride. It perfectly captures its time effortlessly and can be seen as some kind of American time capsule regarding the era it portrays. This was a divisive and fractious period in American history which manifests itself throughout the film. Whilst this was the time of hippies and peace and love this was also the time of Charles Manson and Altamont with more dark times ahead for America.
Whilst Clint may be the star of the film there is another star that is just as important and that is the city of San Francisco itself. It is photographed to perfection with every scene being memorable due to the amazing locales. The neon ‘Jesus Saves’ sign, the huge crucifix monument, the grandeur of City Hall…the list is endless. All beautiful and integral to the film to such a degree that they feel like an actual breathing entity. This film would have been inferior or cliched if filmed in New York for instance.
An anti-hero as hard boiled and gritty as Harry Callahan deserves a villain just as idiosyncratic. Thankfully this film provides just that and then some. The character of Scorpio (named as Charles Davis in the film’s novelisation) is brilliantly depicted by Andrew Robinson as utterly unhinged, homicidal and completely batshit crazy. This character is obviously based on the Zodiac Killer who was operating in the Bay Area at the time of the films conception. In fact this is one of those performances that not only goes the extra mile but goes considerably beyond that. Watch the scene in which Scorpio hijacks a busload of schoolchildren and gets them to sing ‘Row Your Boat’ whilst saying that hes taking them to the ice cream factory. This level of insanity reminds me of Betsy Palmer’s turn as Pamela Voorhees at the end of Friday the 13th in terms of getting into ‘the zone’.
Add to this a barrage of brilliant and quirky supporting characters (shouts go out to Inspector Frank “Fatso” DiGiorgio and Hot Mary) and the stage is set for a blast of a film.
Lalo Schifrin’s score is both funky and also very, very disturbing. The music is just as brilliant as the rest of film. Thankfully the full soundtrack is available to buy both physically and as a download.
Everything is in place to make this movie a masterpiece- iconic, quotable and career defining. There was also a rash of vigilante/maverick cop movies influenced by Dirty Harry led by Michael Winner’s Death Wish (also highly recommended).
Just don’t start wishing for the kind of justice Dirty Harry or the sub-genre it spawned seem to condone.
Tales From The Crypt was released in 1972- a horror movie made up of five different tales of terror.
One of these vignettes was ‘…And All Through The House’ a Christmas based story regarding a woman who has just bumped off her hubby for his insurance. But she has more to content with…You can watch it here.
This segment is noteworthy for many reasons. The fabulous story with a twist in the tail, the gaudy and quite fantastic 70s decor, the Tales From The Unexpected on crack feel to the proceedings.
But the best ingredient is the casting of The Very Ms Joan Collins in the lead role. She is perfect in this (shes pretty much perfect in everything). Never has anyone looked so exquisite- even when shes being throttled by a maniac Father Christmas.
For more 70s Joanie horror fun check out The Within Her aka I Don’t Want To Be Born aka Sharon’s Baby. One of the best movies of the 70s. And one of the most demented. But I’ll save that for a future blog post.
I feel like I’ve grown up with the Friday the 13th movies. Jason and his lovingly psychotic mother feel like friends to me. Through the many twists and turns of life they have remained a constant. Even if that constant is stalk, kill, repeat. Yet it would seem that the British board of Film Classification (BBFC) didn’t share my love of this misunderstood film hero. Watching the films when they were first released on video in Britain was a frustrating experience.
My first foray into the series was when I watched Part 3 which had just been released on video. I saw a poster for the film in the window of my local corner shop/off licence which would rent out any film to any person of any age (because of this I had a great relationship with them). Originally shot in 3D I watched it on video in 2D and cut by the BBFC but its brilliance still shone through. Jason acquired his trademark hockey mask and was dispatching of irritating teens in ingenious and brilliant ways. All was right with the world. I was 12 years old and already obsessed with Jason.
A little later Part 4: The Final Chapter was released in which Jason meets his maker and is killed off for good (yeah right!). I rented this at a video store near my friends house so that we could watch it together. We both loved it. The film loses the somewhat camp tone of Part 3 and gets down to the serious business of murders committed in the nastiest ways possible. However there was the issue of walking home in the dark after watching the film. I hadn’t figured on how scary the film would be. One whiff of a hockey mask wearing psycho and I’d actually become catatonic. My friends Dad gallantly offered to walk me home. Not cool- but I’m still alive.
Again as with the previous film, this entry was cut by the BBFC. As this film was more serious in tone and because make-up legend Tom Savini was back onboard the kills really were something to behold. Even with the more graphic killings being trimmed by the censors or cut out altogether (no machete slide!) the film was still very nasty indeed. Which is how a horror movie should be.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that the release of Parts 3 and 4 were actually delayed by their video company CIC. They were due to be unleashed earlier but by then the video Nasties furore had taken hold. CIC Video must have foreseen that if Mary Whitehouse had been introduced to Jason in his hockey mask at this time there would be a good chance that she would have made him and the movies that he appeared in the main focus of her puritanical destruction of other people’s fun. Jason would have been represented as Public Enemy Number 1. Jason is so iconic and terrifying in his hockey mask that Old Maid Whitehouse would have thought all of her Christmases had come at once. Great publicity but not so great if the films were banned. CIC even went so far as to issue a statement saying that in the current climate they would wait to release further Friday the 13th films. Very wise.
Whilst in 1987 things were seeming to settle down regarding horror videos a new version of the original film was released by Warners. Longer gore scenes and completely uncut, the previous version had been the cut US version which was released as a sell through video in 1983. The uncut version that was released on rental VHS the year before had been seized by the police and so Warners used the cut US version instead. This may also explain CIC’s decision to delay the release of the film’s sequels until Mrs Whitehouse and her cronies found something else to try and ban. This was possibly the only good reason for Warners having distribution rights of the original film in CIC’s eyes.
I then went and sought out the first two films. I devoured both Parts 1 and 2 and loved them unreservedly. The first was like some kind of whodunnit- like an American giallo film that was bloodfilled and only revealed the killer at the end. And boy, what a reveal! Betsy Palmer goes the extra five miles in her role as Pamela Voorhees and is one of the best performances in horror history. The second film introduced Jason to the world- sack over his head with only one eyehole as a tip of the hat to The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Friday Part 2 was an amazing film and nasty as hell. Machete to the face anyone?! I also loved the equally nasty and ominous video artwork- an electric blue outline of an anonymous malevalent figure carrying an axe against a black background.
CIC Video then got down to the task in hand- releasing the new Friday the 13th installments uninterrupted. Watching the CIC ident before watching the movies became a forewarning that we were in for a treat.
When I first heard that the next film would be called A New Beginning I imagined a TV movie style affair with family members of past victims coming together, sitting on chairs in a circle and consoling each other whilst sharing memories, hands held, about their dead loved ones. I still think my idea for the movie is better than the actual end product. It was a departure not just because the killer wasn’t Jason but the feel of the film is different from that of the first four. It felt more stylised and slick- a Friday the 13th that was trying to capture the attention of the MTV demographic. Gone was the innocence of the first four that appealed to the Fangoria reading audience.You got the impression that the series was now trying to appeal to the wider teenage moviegoers who would be happier going to see the latest John Hughes fare.
Years later I’ve warmed to this film- kinda. Just as many Halloween fans hated Halloween 3: Season of the Witch there are also many who love this. Being a fan of the runt of a franchise’s litter makes it’s fans who actually like it more passionate and extol its virtues even louder. Apprently this is Quentin Tarantino’s favourite entry. Which says so much…
I stole a standee for this film from my local video store at the time. Just sayin’. Whilst this has been lost in the sands of time there are pictures on the internet still of this valuable artefact.
Part 6 rightfully saw the resurrection of Jason with a great homage to Frankenstein and an even better homage to James Bond in it’s title sequence. The film is still as gruesome as ever but the humour, early examples of metacinema and title song by Alice Cooper (Paramount must have been feeling generous) make this an entry that makes changes to what came before but doesn’t stray far enough away to alienate fans like they had with Part 5. Whilst this film is a fan favourite this film will never be one of my favourites in the series.
Part 7 in my opinion is so much better than the just OK Part 6. Its basically Carrie (named Tina in the movie) vs Jason- and it works really well. Kane Hodder really did feel like the ultimate Jason as he brought a physicality to Jason that the previous actors hadn’t really mastered. He also had a great way of making the kills look as brutal as possible but whilst being delivered with a flourish. Its within this film that bizarrely enough Jason uses a lot of gardening impliments to kill his victims. A nice touch- objects intended to make the lives of the normal folk being used to kill them instead.
I had high hopes for Part 8 which was called Jason Takes Manhattan. I used to get a glossy film magazine imported from America at this time called Premiere and they carried a feature on the filming of the movie. My appetite was well and truly whetted.
However when I came to see the film I was left thinking ‘What the fuck was that?!’ Only the last third of the film was based in New York (*cough* CANADA! *cough*) whilst the rest of the film takes place on a boat. And the worst ending of the whole franchise- Jason is melted in toxic waste to become a boy again. And not even the hydrocephalic child Jason who is seen in the first film. Don’t you just hate it when a director makes a franchise entry but doesn’t even bother watching the original film or any of the films in the series?! My opinion of this film was changed at a screening I attended about 20 years after first seeing the film. But as they say, more about that later…
Next followed the terrible Jason Goes To Hell : The Final Friday. After an inspired first ten minutes this film falls flat on its face. Jason’s evil soul inhabits different characters in the film so that they commit murders for him. Its Part 5 all over again but with different people acting as a surrogate Jason and a supernatural element thrown in for good measure. Not what I wanted from a Friday the 13th movie. The rights for the franchise had just been bought by New Line Cinema resulting in a very cheesey Freddy Krueger’s glove cameo in the movie.
In 1997 I had the priviledge of seeing Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3D at a cinema. The National Film Theatre is probably the most highly esteemed cinema in the UK as its the official cinema of the British Film Institute. It was showing a series of films in their original 3D. The cinema would be packed with Friday 13th fans and also cineastes who who normally be watching the work of some highfalutin auteur.
The cinema snobs laughed at the ending of Part 2 which acts as a recap for Part 3. This prologue was of course filmed in 2D. I thought that these purveyors of fine film might ruin the whole film watching experience for me by laughing at the whole film. But then the impossible happened- the 3D kicked in and everyone howled with delight. The 3D process used on this film is amazing! The filmmakers really went all out with what the audience member sees when watching the film and expolits the 3D medium to its fullest. As soon as the titles started ever single person in the sold out cinema crowd started gasping, laughing and screaming.
This lasted until the end credits. People were leaving the theatre smiling and commenting on how brilliant the film had been. This is probably the best cinemagoing experience I’ve ever sat through. The NFT repeated the screening the year after and I dutifully attended. The experience was just as brilliant.
It was then several years before there was another Friday 13th movie. Maybe the stench of Jason Goes To Hell lingered on. Jason X arrived in 2001. It was basically Jason In Space and worked brilliantly! I went to see the film three times on its initial release. The filmmakers obviously knew the demographics they were aiming for- the fans of the series, sci fi fans and geeks who were inro Star Trek: The Next Generation, Lexx, Deep Space Nine and their ilk. The kills were graphic, the film was great in its use of atmosphere and tongue was firmly in cheek. This could have failed miserably but it didn’t. It worked wonderfully. And their was even a David Cronenberg cameo.
Jason X continues to be derided by many franchise fans. But the Friday fans who like the film do so with real passion just like with Part 5.
It was also around this time that I got to see what I had been missing out on. All previous cuts to the films by the BBFC were suddenly waived meaning that the film would now be completely uncut. I had seen a screening of The Final Chapter uncut by accident when it was shown on Sky Movies a few years before this. They could show films uncut even when they were still cut on video. Bizarre logic there. I was unaware of the proper ending to the film and actually screamed in both horror and glee at unexpectedly seeing the notorious ‘machete slide’ scene for the first time. It was poetry in motion.
Now that all cuts were waived I started to buy the films for the first time on DVD. The transfers were amazing and showed that in fact the films looked beautiful when presented in their correct aspect ratios and in pristine prints. I was so glad that finally common sense prevailed and we could see what the Tory Government and Herr Thatcher hadn’t allowed us to before.
I knew Freddy vs Jason would be terrible. And I was right. I lasted about 20 minutes before I left the cinema. I desperately wanted to see Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child beng slaughtered (any music fan would) but just couldn’t hold on. I’ve since seen the scene I was trying to stay in my seat for. The fact that Kelly’s character calls Freddy a ‘faggot’ just makes me applaud my decision to leave anymore. It was Hollywood crap which held nothing for true Friday fans. Whats more Jason wasn’t played by the brilliant Kane Hodder. No dice.
The remake of Friday the 13th was inevitable. Even though it wasn’t a straight remake of the first film. Why waste a whole film on a mystery killer like the original when you can just jump to what the studio thought everyone wanted- Jason. The film was better than I thought it would be and was genuinely scary and innovative. Jason was portrayed as a kind of survivalist which was interesting and a nice twist.
In 2012 was a very special event that I travelled all the way over from Leeds (where I was now living) to London for. At the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square they were showing the first 8 Friday the 13th films in a row. This would take 16 hours and start at 18:30 and then finish at 08:30 the following day. The event itself was more than awesome. In the queue waiting for the cinema to open was someone that the cinema had employed to dress up as Jason resplendent with machete. Nice touch.
The cinema had managed to get most of the original 35mm prints of the films and so they had their original old school BBFC X certificate cards before the actual films. Between each film there was a break of 15 mins in which people could go outside and have a cigarette, grab a can of Red Bull to try and stay awake or just stay seated to be entertained by all manner of old trailers. I only fell asleep during Part 5 (thats telling!) and got to reappraise Part 8. Its a pretty good movie- great humour and I had forgot about the scene with the boxer. The crowd roared when they saw it.
When I eventually left the cinema I thought I was Jason Voorhees as sleep deprivation kicked in and I wondered off in search of breakfast. What an amazing event and a wish on my wish list was well and truly fulfiled.
My life with Jason Voorhees has been an incredible journey. From the days of cut VHS tapes through to uncut DVDs and finally through to the films looking betting than ever on Blu ray. Growing up with these films means that watching them holds so many memories as I can trace back to when I first watched them on ther initial releases. Whilst Paramount Pictures might be embarrassed by them and horror snobs may sneer and deride them they’re clearly missing out on a brilliant and very evocative franchise.
But Mr Meathook Cinema- what are your Top 10 Friday the 13th movies? Thanks for asking dear reader. It just so happens that I’ve made a video answering your question. It contains trailers, rare TV spots, my favourite kills and a scene that was shot but not used. You’ll find it here.
As some of you may know I’m a huge Prisoner Cell Block H fan. I actually think its the best TV series ever made. If you’re into cult film, cult TV or video nasties/exploitation cinema then chances are you’ll love Prisoner.
I’ve just made a video documenting some of the most outrageous moments from the series.
All the juicy stuff is present and correct- drugs, lynchings, murders and brandings. Theres even a sequence that will have you shaking your head in disbelief.
The videos here. But beware- its not for the faint hearted!