Teaching Mrs. Tingle

Directed by Kevin Williamson
Starring: Helen Mirren, Katie Holmes, Barry Watson, Marisa Coughlan.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic content, violence, sexuality, language and some teen drinking.

Review by Matt Heffernan
August 20, 1999

In the past three years, Kevin Williamson has gone from complete obscurity to being one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood. He wrote the original screenplay for Wes Craven's Scream, and since then has written several successful teen horror films. He even created the popular teen series "Dawson's Creek" for The WB. Now he has taken the opportunity to direct one of his screenplays, without the guiding hand of established directors like Craven and Robert Rodriguez. Sometimes, when opportunity knocks, you should just pretend you're not home.

Helen Mirren stars as the title character, an essentially evil high school history teacher. She enjoys crushing the spirits of her students, including potential valedictorian Leigh Ann Watson (Katie Holmes). Leigh Ann's ranking is threatened if she doesn't get an A in her class. Unless she gets the top spot, she won't be able to get a scholarship for college (please hold back your tears). Her classmate, Luke (Barry Watson), gets a copy of Mrs. Tingle's final exam answers, and brings them to Leigh Ann and her friend, Jo Lynn (Marisa Coughlan). Of course, Mrs. Tingle catches them during her usual walk through the gym. She goes off to the principal's office, but he has left already. So, tomorrow she plans to rat the three kids out.

They discover their situation, and decide to pay their beloved teacher a little visit. They first try to reason with her, which was futile. Then they threaten her, inadvertently graze her forehead with an arrow from a crossbow, then tie her to her bed. They keep her there until they can think of a way to rectify their situation.

After the school shootings in Colorado, the title of this film was changed from Killing Mrs. Tingle to the more neutered Teaching Mrs. Tingle. Some TV shows have also changed things around because of that tragedy. In the case of this film, it lost one of its only two saving graces, the remaining one being Mirren. She is clearly too good for this teen schlock-fest. It doesn't work as a horror film or a psychological thriller. Not a single nanosecond of suspense is created. Williamson is certainly not ready for the director's chair.

Every character is completely one dimensional. Mirren tries to squeeze every drop out of Mrs. Tingle, but every line is completely cliché-ridden. She wants Lady Macbeth, but gets the Wicked Witch of the West. Plus, you'd think that after Scream, Williamson would let his characters be aware of horror conventions. Leigh Ann is supposed to be the smart one, but she doesn't seem to act more intelligently than anybody else. Perhaps Williamson thinks that intelligence is merely being a goody-two-shoes. He certainly presented nothing resembling intelligence here.

A week ago today, Hitchcock would have turned 100 years old. The Master would not be happy if he were alive today. After watching this sorry excuse for a suspense film, I almost envy him.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999)

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Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999) -- VHS
Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999) -- DVD
Teaching Mrs. Tingle: Original Soundtrack -- Compact Disc
Teaching Mrs. Tingle: Original Score -- Compact Disc

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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan