Archive for the ‘Throwback Thursday’ Category

Directed by William Castle

“Amazing NEW TERROR device makes you a living participant in the FLESH-CRAWLING ACTION!  PERCEPTO!”

In The Tingler, Vincent Price plays a scientist named Dr. Warren Chapin, who is obsessed with a people’s reactions to fear.  He has performed a number of autopsies, and has noticed interesting things relating to a person’s vertebrae when they die in great fear.  He thinks that there is some type of creature that causes this to happen when one is afraid.  The movie begins with a man being executed, with Dr. Chapin performing the autopsy after the execution.  The brother-in-law of the executed man, named Oliver “Ollie” Higgins (Philip Coolidge), has come to watch, and Dr. Chapin tells the Ollie about his hypothesis.  Ollie speaks of the tingling of the spine that happens when one is afraid, and this is what gives Dr. Chapin the idea to name this supposed creature, “the tingler”.

Dr. Chapin brings Ollie home, and we meet his wife, a deaf-mute, Mrs. Martha Higgins (Judith Evelyn).  She and Ollie own a silent-movie theater.  Ollie invites Dr. Chapin in, and Martha comes up soon later.  It seems she has some quirks about her.  She constantly checks the safe in the apartment, she washes her hands very often, she won’t shake hands, and she has a sever fear of blood.  Unfortunately for her, Dr. Chapin cuts her hand while he is there, and she faints.  Dr. Chapin later explains to his research assistant, David Morris (Darryl Hickman), that this was not a regular fainting spell.  Apparently, because she has no outlet to release her fear with a scream, the reaction builds up in her, causing her to faint as an outlet for her fear.

Dr. Chapin soon goes home, where we meet his sister-in-law, Lucy (Pamela Lincoln), who is waiting for Dr. Chapin’s assistant to return, as he is her fiancé.  We also learn that Dr. Chapin’s wife Isabel (Patricia Cutts) is a controlling, mean-spirited, unfaithful woman, who cheats on Dr. Chapin, stays out late every night with different men, and also is very controlling of Lucy, and will not allow her to have her share of their inheritance.  She is also getting in the way of Lucy and David’s engagement.

When she gets home that night, Dr. Chapin confronts her, and scares her into a faint, pretending to shoot her.  As soon as she faints, he x-rays her back.  The next day we learn that he was trying to get x-rays of her back to see if he could find proof of this tingler, as it needs to be caught in the moment of fear.  It seems that when a person is very fearful, this organism, which lives in everyone, is able to take hold of the spine, but a normal reaction to fear (screaming), is what kills it.  What would happen though if a person could not scream??!! Dr. Chapin performs some more experiments, he even experiments with LSD so that he can be fearful, and feel the tingler himself.

Later on, Ollie appears at Dr. Chapin’s, concerned for his wife because she is having trouble sleeping.  Dr. Chapin goes over to Ollie’s and injects her with something that will help her sleep.  He leaves, and Martha starts seeing strange things- windows, and doors close by themselves, a monster-like creature comes out of the closet, and when she enters the bathroom, the sink and bathtub are filled with what looks to be blood.  This is the only use of color in the movie, the blood is bright red, when everything else around it is still black and white.  I thought it looked quite beautiful, and was really interesting to use just one color in the movie, for that one scene.  Pretty soon she is scared to death.  When Ollie discovers that his wife is dead, he brings her to Dr. Chapin, gives him permission to do a quick autopsy and Dr. Chapin discovers the tingler, still alive, and attached to Martha’s spine!!!!  He removes it of course, and this is where the trouble begins….there are a few twists and turns which I won’t spoil here, but I will say that the tingler escapes at one point!!

William Castle was known for his gimmicks, and The Tingler was no exception.  He employed the use of what he called PERCEPTO.  Small electric buzzers would be placed under certain audience members seats so that they could be jolted at certain times in the movie.  Fainters were also hired, and they would scream and faint during the movie, and be taken out by ambulance, only to return for the next screening.  When the tingler escapes into the movie theater in the film, the screen goes pitch black, and a voice-over by Vincent Price was heard, saying that the tingler had escaped into the audience, and encouraged people to scream for their lives. So going to his movies would be an interactive experience, something like some of the shows at Universal studios, or Disney.  I think it sounds like a lot of fun!!  I think more movies these days should use gimmicks to make it more of an interactive experience.  Although movies already cost an arm and a leg, so it may not be too cost effective.  But think of what fun it would be!!

I thought this movie was a very fun experience, and it would have been awesome to see this in the theater.  Some of the movie is somewhat silly, and unrealistic, at least in this day and age.  I’m not sure what it was like in the 50’s, but today a doctor wouldn’t just be able to cut someone’s back open after they died, even with the permission of the husband or wife.  Also, when Dr. Chapin takes out the tingler, he then tells Ollie either to notify the police and morgue that night, or he can wait until the morning, ummmm, I’m pretty sure that they’d want to be notified immediately in a case like this.  The design of the tingler was also a bit silly.  It’s not too realistic, and in certain scenes you can quite obviously see the string/wire that was attached to it to make it move.  I have to say though, it was a much better looking design than the creeping terror!!

Some quick facts and tidbits

–        This was the earliest film to show an LSD trip, and this movie was made when LSD was still legal.

–        Pamela Lincoln (Lucy) and Darryl Hickman (David) were engaged in real life.  Darryl Hickman only agreed to be in the film when he was convinced that it would help his fiancée’s career.  He was so convinced that he did the film for no salary.

–        Darryl Hickman had to wear lifts in his shoes to off-set the difference in height between him and Vincent Price.  Darryl Hickman was 5’10”, whereas Vincent Price was 6’4”

–        The Tingler was Vincent Price’s second appearance in a William Castle film, and his last.  The first was The House on Haunted Hill.

–        The cost of the electric buzzers used in the theaters added another $250,000 to the budget of the movie.

–        An alternate warning from Vincent Price was recorded for Drive-In theaters, where he would warn the audience that the tingler was loose in the Drive-In instead of the theater.

–        In the scene in the bathroom with the bright red blood, William Castle filmed the scene with color film, and the set and actress were painted with monochromatic paint, and make-up to get the desired effect.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

“Nothing you have ever witnessed before has prepared you for such sheer stabbing shock!”

The Birds begins in San Francisco where we meet our main protagonist, Melanie Daniels (Tippi HedrenMarnie, Pacific Heights, I Heart Huckabees), a rich socialite, as she enters a pet store.  (**Look for Alfred Hitchcock’s signature cameo here**)  She is at the store to pick up a mynah bird (some sort of talking bird) that she is buying as a gift for her aunt. (We later learn that she wants to teach the bird some bad words to shock her prim and proper aunt!) While in the store, a man enters, who we soon learn in Mitch Brenner (Rod TaylorThe Time Machine, Giant, Inglorious Basterds).  He spots Melanie, and as she has a reputation for being a practical joker, decides to “mistake” her for the salesgirl and begins asking her questions about lovebirds, as he wants to buy a pair for his little sister’s birthday.  She pretends to be a salesgirl, and answers his questions, but he soon makes her look like a fool, and then makes it aware that he does know who she is, and that he doesn’t like practical jokers, and he will see her in court.  My heavens!!!

Melanie soon finds out who he is by getting his license plate number, and calling up the newspaper that her father owns, and then decides that she will get back at him by buying him a couple of the lovebirds, and dropping them off at his apartment.  As luck would have it, when she gets to his apartment, his neighbor tells her that Mitch is out of town for the weekend, and has gone up the coast to Bodega Bay.  Well, since Melanie has nothing better to do, she drives up to Bodega Bay, and is soon asking millions of questions of the residents there- Where does Mitch live?  Which exact house?  How can she get there without him seeing her?  What is his little sister’s exact name?  Nothing suspicious at all, and of course she gets all the answers she is looking for.  (Would people nowadays be so forthcoming with all this information?)  Once she finds out his little sister’s name, which is Cathy (Veronica CartwrightInvasion of the Body Snatchers, Alien), from the schoolteacher, Annie (Suzanne Pleshette), she rents a boat, and sneaks across the bay to Mitch’s house.  She enters the house as of course it is not locked, drops off the birds, and leaves.  Mitch enters soon after she departs, sees the birds, rushes out of the house, and then spots Melanie in the boat.  He drives to the other side of the bay to meet her.

It is here that we get our first bird attack.  As Melanie is crossing the bay, a gull swoops down, and hits her on the head, cutting her.  Mitch brings her into a diner, where they clean the wound, and even though it was strange, no one thinks much of it.  Later on, Melanie has been invited to dinner at Mitch’s house with his sister, and aloof mother (Jessica TandyCocoon, Driving Miss Daisy, Fried Green Tomatoes), and Cathy asks her to stay for her party the next day.  Melanie says that she can’t, and as she is leaving to go back to Annie’s where she has decided to stay the night, she and Mitch have a little scuffle.  When she gets back to Annie’s they talk a bit, Mitch calls and she decides to accept his invitation.  A little while later, a bird flies into the door of Annie’s house, getting killed.  Another weird event.

Well, the bird attacks escalate from here.  They attack Cathy’s birthday party, peck out the eyes of a neighbor, attack the school children as they are leaving school, attack the downtown area and generally wreak havoc.  Eventually Melanie, Mitch, Cathy, and the mother hole up in their house….  Will they escape from the birds??!!

I think that this is a wonderful “when animals attack” movie, and it is also one of my favorite Hitchcock films.  You might think that birds would be easy to fight off, and I think that would be true for a few, but when you have hundreds of birds coming at you…that would be terrifying.  I love the scene where Melanie goes to the school to check on Cathy, and as she is sitting on the bench waiting, the birds slowly take over the playground behind her.  Now if that was me, and when I sat down on the bench there were no birds, and a minute later there were a thousand, I would be petrified, especially if the birds had attacked me before.  This movie has such an ominous tone to it, with our residents not knowing why the birds are attacking, when the next attack will be, and if the attacks will ever stop.  The soundtrack to the movie works perfectly to give it even more of an ominous tone, as really the only sounds we hear (other than when Melanie plays the piano, and the children singing in the school), are the sounds of the birds.  Of course the ending is unforgettable too, as we watch the family drive off, with thousands of birds just watching them- it gives me the chills.

Some quick facts and tidbits

–        This movie was based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, named “The Birds”.  She also penned the books, Jamaica Inn and Rebecca which were both adapted into films directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  Another notable work that was adapted into a movie was her story “Don’t Look Now”, which was directed by Nicholas Roeg.

–        The scene, near the end of the movie, in which Melanie is attacked by the birds up in the attic, took a week to shoot, and afterward she was hospitalized for exhaustion.

–        For those that are interested in cars, the car that Melanie drives in the movie is an Aston Martin DB2/4 drop-head coupe.

–        One ending that was considered for this film, was to have the final shot be of the Golden Gate Bridge completely covered in birds, but it was scraped because it would have been too expensive to film.

–        The dogs that Alfred Hitchcock was walking in his cameo were actually his own dogs.

Directed by Terence Fisher

“The creature created by man and forgotten by nature!”

The Curse of Frankenstein is an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein, and was produced in 1957 by Hammer Films.  It is the story of Victor Frankenstein’s (Peter CushingDracula, The Mummy) pursuit to create a living man out of the body parts of the dead.  The story begins with Victor Frankenstein in jail, asking to speak to a priest so that he can tell his strange tale.  He tells him of how, after his parents died, he hired a tutor, Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), to school him in science, medicine, and other areas of knowledge.  They become friends, and also partners, and perform science experiments together.  In an experiment they perform towards the beginning of the movie, they bring a dead dog back to life.  After this, Victor Frankenstein decides that the next thing he will pursue will be to create a living man out of the parts of the dead.  Krempe does not agree with Victor’s new pursuit, and eventually tells him that he will not help Victor.  He stays in the house though to try and protect Victor’s bride-to-be, Elizabeth (Hazel Court), from Victor’s experiment.  Victor goes around collecting body parts, and eventually resorts to murder in order to procure a brain.  Of course the monster (Christopher LeeDracula, The Mummy, The Wicker Man) is brought to life, and is not the nice, cooperative man that Victor thought he was creating (due in part to Krempe’s damaging the brain that was placed in the monster).  Death and destruction ensues…

When Hammer Films decided that they wanted to produce a new version of Frankenstein, they originally wanted to film it in black and white, hire Boris Karloff to play Victor Frankenstein, and have it be a more close adaptation of the 1931 version of Frankenstein.  However, Universal Studios did not want any aspects of their version to be duplicated, so an entirely new adaptation had to be created.  Of course, the novel was in the public domain, so the story is still very similar, but Hammer Productions decided to film in color, and new make-up had to be created for the monster, by make-up artist Phil Leakey.  In this version both Victor Frankenstein, as well as the monster, are much less sympathetic characters.  Victor murders in order to get a brain for his creation, and he also has an affair with his maid (Valerie Gaunt), who he then has the monster kill when he learns that she is pregnant, and plans to blackmail him into marriage.

Both the 1931 film and this version of the Frankenstein story are both great films.  I actually prefer the monster’s character design in the movie, better than the 1931 version.  It seems much more realistic to me, and more terrifying, because this monster actually looks like a dead person come to life.  I also like that this version adds a layer of ambiguity to the movie.  The story that Victor Frankenstein tells the priest from jail can be taken literally, but can also be interpreted as a figment of Victor’s imagination, or a story created by Victor to try and get out of the murder of his maid.  Since the whole story of the monster is in his words, and no one actually verifies his story, we can make up our own minds how we want to interpret the movie.

Some quick facts and tidbits

–        This was Hammer Film Production’s first color film, and also the first version of Frankenstein to be filmed in color.

–        Christopher Lee’s monster make-up, created by make-up artist Phil Leakey, was designed at the last minute, and was a combination of cotton and household materials.  It had to be crated from scratch each day of filming.

–        Although this movie was not the first time Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing had been in the same film, this was the first time that the two actors actually met.

–        Christopher Lee was chosen to play the monster primarily due to his height of 6’4”

AKA The Conquerer Worm

Directed by Michael Reeves

“There’s lots of screaming when there’s this much at stake!”

Witchfinder General takes place in the year 1645 in England, during the English Civil War.  It concerns a man  named Matthew Hopkins, played by Vincent Price, who is a lawyer, and witchfinder who has been appointed by Parliament to investigate claims of witchcraft.  He and his partner John Stearne (Robert Russell) travel around the country, torturing those that have been accused of witchcraft until they get a “confession”, and then kill the confessed witches- by hanging or fire.

They come to a town named Brandeston, where earlier we met a woman named Sara (Hilary Dwyer), and her uncle John (Rupert Davies), who is a priest, and her fiancee Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy), who is a soldier fighting for Oliver Cromwell, who has just left  the town to return to his regiment.

The uncle has been accused by some locals of being a witch, and so some torture ensues.  When Sara learns that her uncle is being tortured, she agrees to have sexual relations with Hopkins in exchange for the safety of her Uncle.  When Hopkins’s partner finds out about this, he takes the opportunity when Hopkins is away to  chase after her, and rape her.  When Hopkin’s finds out about this, he has the uncle tortured, “confessed”, and hung.

When Richard returns to Brandeston after learning about the witchhunting going on there, he finds Sara, marries her, and vows revenge.

Some quicks facts and tidbits

– Witchfinder General is based on a novel of the same name, written by Ronald Bassett, based loosely on a historical figure named Matthew Hopkins who was a self-appointed witchfinder.

– Donald Pleasance was considered for the role of Matthew Hopkins, but American International Pictures insisted that Vincent Price play the lead.

– This was Vincent Prices 75th film!

– Robert Russell’s voice was dubbed by another actor when the director decided that his naturally high pitched voice was unsuitable for his role as Hopkin’s assistant.

– During Rupert Davies’ torture scene, live rats were placed on his body.

A new feature in which I will watch a classic horror flick (pre-1975ish), and will throw out some thoughts, give a brief synopsis, and probably do a longer review, if inspired.

The first of my Throwback Thursday films will be Black Sabbath, not a movie about the band, but the movie that inspired the band’s name.  If you would like to read the history of how Black Sabbath got their name, click here!  In summary, they were inspired when a movie theater across the street from their rehearsal room was playing Black Sabbath, and the band started wondering about why people pay to go see horror movies.  After Ozzy Osborne wrote a dark and ominous song with the name “Black Sabbath”, they changed the band’s name to this as well to better match their new sound, which was the musical equivalent of a horror film. Well enough about that, let’s get on with the movie!

Black Sabbath (1963)

(AKA The Three Faces of Fear) (AKA I Tre Volti Della Paura)

Directed by Mario Bava

Black Sabbath is an anthology film directed by Italian horror maestro, Mario Bava.  His more famous film is Black Sunday (1960), and he also directed Blood and Black Lace (1964), which is one of the earliest giallo films, and also is said to have inspired the “body count” of the slasher film.  The three segments of the film are “The Telephone”, “The Wurdalak”, and “The Drop of Water”.  Boris Karloff is our host to these three unrelated segments.

The Telephone

In “The Telephone”, a woman, Rosy, returns to her apartment after a night out, and begins getting strange calls from a man, who tells her that she will find out who he is, right before he kills her.  He obviously can see her as well, noting things about her appearance, and her apartment.  Understandably the woman is terrified, and calls her friend Mary, who is a hinted at being a former lover of Rosy’s.   What happens next I will leave a mystery, as I don’t want to ruin the twist!  Scream’s opening was obviously inspired by this short film.  Also notable, is that this segment was the first Italian thriller to be shot in color, according to IMDb.

The Wurdalak

“The Wurdalak” is about a man, Count Vladimire d’Urfe, who comes upon a headless corpse with a knife stabbed in his back while he is travelling.  He stops at a house to inquire about the body, or possibly to stay the night, and sees that the knife that was in the man’s back, matches some knives that he sees on the wall of the house.  One of the men who lives in the house, after introductions, tells the Count that the knife is his fathers.  He tells him that his father has been gone for five days, he was out to hunt down an evil man, a wurdalak, and he told his family that if was not home within five days, that they were to kill him.  Well, the father, played by Boris Karloff, does return, but right after the five-day mark, so the family does not know what to do.  Do they let him in, or do they kill them.  He seems somewhat normal, but also slightly off.  Our main character, the Count is confused, but one of the women, who he has fallen in love with at first sight, tells him that they fear the father has become a wurdalak.  In her words, “The Wurdalacks are bloodthirsty corpses.  They yearn for the blood of those they loved most when they were alive…The more they’ve loved someone, the more they long to kill them, to suck their blood.  Those killed in this way also become wurdalak until someone manages to stab them in the heart.”  So the wurdalak is very similar to the vampire.  To find out what happens, you’ll just have to watch for yourself.  One of my favorite parts of this segment are the colors that are used in the filming, especially in the outside scenes.  To me, this segment has an almost fairytaleish/dreamlike quality.

The Drop of Water

The final segment, “A Drop of Water”, is about a nurse who is called to her employer’s house late one night, because the old woman who lives in the house has died, and the housekeeper is scared, and wants the nurse to help dress the old woman, as she has experience with dead people.  The housekeeper tells the nurse that the old woman did not die of a heart attack, as the doctor has declared, but due to a the spirits she brought out during her weekly seances.  While dressing the old woman, the nurse is drawn to a ring on the woman’s finger, and removes it, and takes it for her own.  After this she begins to experience strange things, she is bothered by a fly that will not go away, and she keeps hearing the magnified sound of dropping water.  She returns to her apartment, where these weird things seem to follow her.  This segment also uses the blues and purples of the previous segment.  The thing that stands out to me the most is the terrifying face of the old woman!