Saturday, April 19, 1975: Godzilla’s Revenge (1969) / The Tingler (1959)

Synopsis: Ichiro (Tomonori Yazaki) is a lonely schoolboy who lives in Tokyo. His parents work long hours and have little time to spend with him. He loves monster movies, and by far his favorite monster is Godzilla, whom he sees as almost infinitely powerful. Ichiro is constantly being harassed by a local bully named Gabara and his gang, and his only escape from this dreary existence is dreaming of being on Monster Island, where he watches powerful creatures engage in fierce battles. On the island he befriends Godzilla’s son Minya. Minya is about Ichiro’s size (though he can grow somewhat larger when he chooses to do so) and he can also speak. He tells Ichiro that he himself is being bullied by one of the young monsters on the island — a monster, coincidentally, that is also named Gabara.

Minya wants very much to be like his father, but he isn’t very big by juvenile monster standards; and he isn’t able to breath fire like his father either. In spite of his best efforts all he can do is puff out comical smoke rings.

Nevertheless, Godzilla has impressed upon his son the importance of standing up to bullies. Minya learns that he can defeat Gabara by being brave and standing his ground.

In the real world, Ichiro tries to take this lesson to heart. But he gets more than he bargained for when he’s kidnapped by a pair of bumbling bank robbers….

Comments: As a kid I was a big fan of Godzilla movies, and I still have a great deal of affection for them.  But even as a small child I hated Godzilla’s Revenge, which is widely regarded as the worst Godzilla film ever made.

And with good reason. This movie is dreadful for lots of different reasons: it’s silly; it talks down to kids; there is little of importance at stake; the action in the movie is essentially a dream; and worst if all, it is (to borrow from the parlance of television) a clip show.

Most of the Monster Island footage was cobbled together from earlier pictures (even the scene where Godzilla tries to teach Minya how to breathe fire is taken from 1967’s  not-quite-as-terrible Son of Godzilla). As a cheap and cynical way to wring a few more pennies out of dying franchise, it’s a great idea. As a way to maintain the viability of said franchise, not so much.

To be fair, Toho seemed confident that their kaiju films had run their course. 1968’s Destroy All Monsters was supposed to be the final film in a series that was becoming visibly threadbare. Series weren’t “rebooted” or “reimagined” in the way they are nowadays. Instead, studios just ran their franchises into the ground and walked away. But Godzilla wasn’t an ordinary character like Charlie Chan or Francis the Talking Mule; he had captured the imaginations of moviegoers and he would be back. The results weren’t always great, but they were usually interesting.

All the same, Godzilla’s Revenge is unquestionably the low point, the indisputable nadir of the franchise. And no matter how many more Godzilla movies are made, I’m confident you’ll still be able to say that.

The Tingler

Synopsis: Dr. Warren Chapin (Vincent Price) is a forensic pathologist who sometimes performs autopsies for the state after condemned prisoners are executed in the electric chair. One afternoon at the state penitentiary he meets Ollie Higgins, the brother-in-law of a man just put to death. Chapin’s autopsy reveals that the spine of the executed man was shattered, but it couldn’t have happened as a result of the fatal dose of electricity he received; something else clearly happened to him.

Ollie mentions that the man was mute, and Dr. Chapin begins to wonder if this meant that he could not release his fear in the electric chair by screaming — perhaps the inability to scream creates tension inside the body that might prove fatal. Chapin says he has been developing a theory that a creature lives inside each person, one that grows as fear builds in the body. He dubs this hypothetical creature “the Tingler”.

Chapin gives Ollie a ride home, and Ollie invites him in to meet his wife Martha (Judith Evelyn). Like her brother, Judith can neither hear nor speak, and she and Ollie communicate via sign language. The couple live in an apartment above a silent movie theater, which they own and operate. As he is rinsing out a glass in the sink, Chapin cuts his hand. At the sight of blood, Judith faints. Chapin speculates that she fainted for the same reason that her executed brother died — her horror of blood created a tension in the body that couldn’t be released through screaming and she lost consciousness.

When Chapin returns home he finds his wife Isabel (Patricia Cutts) isn’t home; she sees other men freely and refuses to grant him a divorce. However, his 20-something daughter Lucy is there; she is waiting to be picked up for a date by Chapin’s lab assistant David (Daryl Hickman).

David arrives, and he and Chapin talk about the theory of the Tingler. But it isn’t long before Lucy teases them about shop talk after hours, and David and Lucy leave for their date.

Much later in the evening, Chapin hears a car pull up outside. It is Isabel, giving a languorous kiss to a paramour on the street. When she enters the house he confronts her and she laughs at him; but when he pulls a gun on her she seems genuinely frightened. He fires the gun and she drops to the floor.

Picking her up and carrying her to his laboratory, he takes an X-ray of her spine. Isabel wakes up from her faint, and his angered that Chapin fired at her with a blank cartridge. But the X-ray has provided him with something important: an image of a centipede-like creature growing in Isabel’s spine the moment at which her fear was the greatest. The Tingler, he can now prove, is real, and if allowed to grow large enough will literally cause a person to die of fright….

Comments: We’ve seen a couple of William Castle films on Horror Incorporated, (Homicidal and Mr. Sardonicus) but tonight marks the first screening of The Tingler, one of two movies he made with Vincent Price and the one that incorporated his best-remembered gimmick. The Tingler was breathlessly promoted as a showcase for the “Percepto” process, which promised that audience members would be able to feel the actual sensations emitted by the titular Tingler.

What the “Percepto” gimmick actually was has gotten a bit garbled over the years, and it’s sometimes casually asserted that patrons received a mild electric shock at various points in the film (an idea that may have been popularized by Joe Dante’s film Matinee).

But there were no electric shocks involved. Instead, military surplus de-icing motors were installed underneath certain seats and wired to a switch installed in the projection booth. When the Tingler appeared onscreen, the motors were turned on and the seats shook. Because each seat rigged with a motor represented an investment of time and effort, no more than a couple of rows in any given theater were so equipped; in fact, many theaters didn’t bother with the gimmick at all.

Gimmick aside The Tingler is schlocky fun, with a charmingly stupid premise and some very loopy scenes. It what other movie will you see Vincent Price break the fourth wall and shout at the audience to scream for their lives, or wrestle with a giant centipede, or freak out on an acid trip?

The acid trip, by the way, was the only real innovation The Tingler could lay claim to: Vincent Price takes the first on-screen LSD trip. He drops acid in order to make himself afraid so that he can study the Tingler growing inside himself. He doesn’t get much studying done, just staggers around the room, yelling “The walls! The walls are closing in on me!” Price, an actor who could go over the top without pushing you out of the movie, still can’t really sell the scene, but you can’t blame him — it’s only one of many absurd things going on in this picture.

As in The House on Haunted Hill, Price’s unsettling charm keeps us wondering if he is up to no good. The movie is aided by some solid supporting performances, particularly from Judith Evelyn and Patricia Cutts.

The film is also remembered for the striking red-tinted blood in Martha’s death scene (though as far as I remember the TV prints didn’t have the red tint). The Tingler turned up fairly often on TV in the 1970s, and it’s a little surprising that it took this long to show up on Horror Incorporated, but its delightful to see it at last.

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