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The Tingler"The Tingler", "Fright Night" and "Night of the Living Dead" on DVD

Horror, but not a Priceless Disc

Columbia/Tristar home video's DVD release of "The Tingler," is a fortieth anniversary trip down schlock horror memory lane.

Produced and directed by horrormeister/showman William Castle, The Tingler stars Vincent Price as a rather mild mannered scientist/doctor whose research into the nature of fear uncovers a nasty little crab-like creature (the title creature), that lives in one's spine and manifests itself at moments of sheer terror.

Ludicrous? Of course!

The Tingler's main claim to fame upon its release was its use of "Percepto," a typical Castle gimmick designed to sell the movie experience. It was the wiring of certain theater seats so the audience members sitting in them would receive a mild electric shock (actually, according to the documentary on the disc, it was more like a vibration than a true shock) at certain points during the action.

There aren't a lot of scares in this flick, yet it remains a classic of 1950's "schlock horror." This is probably because the movie is tongue in cheek and the whole concept can only be referred to as "campy." And there isn't really a villain in this piece. Everyone in the cast, with the exception of Price's philandering wife, is a likable enough person and even the one murderer revealed through the course of the flick isn't entirely unsympathetic.

Guess that's why they needed to wire the seats....

The final scenes in which the Tingler gets loose in a movie theater are hilarious to contemplate as you sit comfortably in your home theater. The real movie theater, the one in which 1950's moviegoers were seated, would have been completely blacked out when Price blacks out the onscreen theater and exhorts moviegoers onscreen and in real life to "scream for all they're worth." It's hard not to laugh...

Still, "The Tingler" remains at least a minor classic and watching the fortieth anniversary DVD release is, as one of the reviews quoted in the liner notes says, "an enjoyable piece of hokum."

The disc is widescreen and Dolby Digital mono, and audio/video quality are probably as good as one can expect considering the low budget nature of the source material. Extras on the disc include an entertaining "making of" retrospective in which the film and its creator are put into historical (or is it hysterical?) perspective.

Columbia also includes the "Drive in Theater" version of the "scream scene" edited into the film for outdoor moviegoers. There are also the theatrical trailers, cast/filmmaker bios, chapter stops, and a decent set of liner notes inside the package.

The Tingler, from Columbia Tristar Home Video
approx. 82 minutes, widescreen (1.85:1), Dolby Digital mono, black and white (with a dab of color)
starring Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman, Patricia Cutts, Pamela Lincoln, Phillip Coolidge
Written by Robb White, Produced and Directed by William Castle

Fright NightFright Night

Columbia's Fright Night is one of the better vampire flicks, and the DVD is one of the relatively few these days that offers viewers the choice between widescreen and pan-and-scan.

Fright Night is the tale of 17 year old Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), an imaginative kid with a penchant for the horror flicks offered up on the local TV station's "Fright Night" broadcasts. Imagine Charley's chagrin when the old house next door is purchased by someone who stores a coffin in the house, isn't seen during the day, and who regularly hosts pretty women - who later turn up dead.

Not surprisingly, the mid-1980's society in which Charley lives isn't about to embrace his warnings that there's a vampire loose in the neighborhood. In fact, his attempts at sounding the alarm result in his ridicule and give him the reputation as being some kind of whacko.

Charley is right, of course, and eventually convinces Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), host of "Fright Night" and ex-movie-vampire-hunter, to help him slay the beast, but not before some people close to him have their own run ins with the prince of darkness.

Fright Night stars Chris Sarandon as Jerry Dandridge, the vampire, and he brings the perfect blend of affability, sex appeal, and deep menace to the role. Amanda Bearse, who went on to co-star in "Married...with Children" plays Charley's - and Jerry's - love interest.

The movie is alternately funny and scary and the production values are, for the most part, first rate. Special effects were handled by Richard Edlund's "Boss Film Effects" company, the same people who wowed audiences with their work in such films as "Ghostbusters" and "2010."

The cast turns in uniformly good performances in this ensemble piece (McDowall is particularly good as the fake vampire killer who's out of his league when it comes to real vampires), and Brad Fiedel's music is appropriately creepy.

Columbia/Tristar home video should be complimented on including both widescreen and pan-and-scan version on the same disc - though they're on opposite sides of the disc, which means the widescreen/"fullscreen" labeling is etched in tiny letters around the disc's spindle hole. This is very hard to read.

A better solution would be to put 'em both on one side (there's plenty of room considering this is a 106 minute movie with limited extras) and let viewers access them from an onscreen menu.

Picture and sound quality are terrific. The movie remains in its original Dolby Surround (not 5.1 digital) configuration, and this is fine.

Other extras include decent liner notes, chapter stops/listing, and the trailer.

In an era in which horror movies usually mean either graphic slashing violence or unbridled sexual content, it's nice to see a "good old fashioned" horror flick that relies on writing, acting, music, and mood to create its thrills.

Fright Night, from Columbia/Tristar Home Video
106 minutes, widescreen (2.35:1) and Pan and Scan versions, Dolby Surround
Starring Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Stephen Geoffreys, and Roddy McDowall.
Produced by Herb Jaffe, Written and Directed by Tom Holland.

Night of the Living DeadNight of the Living Dead

George Romero's 1968 classic was shot on a budget of about $1.98US, and it showed. Despite that, however, it was the most frightening movie I'd ever seen - and ever have seen. Remakes generally fall short of their originals and, while the new "Dead" follows the original storyline quite closely, it doesn't pack quite the visceral wallop of the grainy black and white original.

As a DVD, however, it's quite good, and gives you a lot of insight into the making of - and philosophy behind - the updated film.

Night of the Living Dead follows a group of people who hole up in a newly abandoned farmhouse to escape the title creatures - recently deceased people who don't have the decency to stay dead but, instead, walk the earth and feed upon the living.

Starring Tony Todd and Patricia Tallman, the remake features updated makeup effects that outdo the original's, and a positively creepy musical score that enhances the tension very well. The first half of the movie is a very good remake, following the original (at least, as far as my memory can recall back to 1968). But rather than just reshoot the original screenplay, George Romero couldn't resist updating things a bit (understandably), and ends up messing with success.

One thing that's different is Patricia Tallman's part of Barbara. In the original she pretty well goes into a state of shock near the beginning of the film and doesn't really come out of it. Now, however, she's a much stronger, 1990's-type woman and, like Sigourney Weaver's "Ripley" in "Aliens," when she decides to take action she really decides to take action.

Other changes see the original's shocking and depressing ending changed quite a bit and, unfortunately, I think the original worked better.

The graphic violence of the original has been toned down, too - to ensure the movie didn't get an "X" rating in the US, according to the documentary that's also on the disc. The "X" apparently means box office poison, but unfortunately it also means the zombies don't feed as much on camera as they did before, and the murders in the basement of the farmhouse don't pack the emotional wallop they once did.

Tom Savini directs the new version. He's best known for his horror makeup for the other "Dead trilogy" films as well as Friday the 13th and the Romero/Stephen King horror hoot Creepshow).

The DVD is in widescreen and Dolby Surround (not AC-3, but that's okay) and the picture and sound quality are very good. Extras include the aforementioned "making of" featurette (a reasonably complete one and entertaining one, too), and there's also a feature length commentary from director Savini. Naturally, you also get chapter stops, trailers, cast/crew info, and even a decent set of liner notes. Subtitles are in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

In all, even though this "Dead" doesn't leave one shaking and sweating coldly, it's a decent horror flick in its own right and if I'd never seen the original I'd probably be very satisfied with the scares it inflicts.

Night of the Living Dead, from Columbia/Tristar Home Video
approx. 88 minutes, widescreen (1.85:1), Dolby Surround
Starring Starring Tony Todd, Patricia Tallman, Tom Towles, McKee Anderson, William Butler, Kate Finneran, Bill Moseley.
Produced by John A. Russo, Written by George A Romero, Directed by Tom Savini


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Updated May 13, 2006