There’s always that one teacher you remember. The tough one. The strict one. The one who made you feel sick before class. The one who dished out punishment just because they could. The one with an evil vendetta. The one who made your life a living hell. The one you wanted to tie to a bed in an effort to blackmail her out of upholding school policies… That is certainly the case for a threesome of students on the brink of graduation when they go toe-to-toe with one of the cruelest professionals the public school board has ever encountered in 1999’s teen thriller, Teaching Mrs. Tingle. Don’t you love a good alliteration?
It’s one of those popcorn flicks you may have caught in the theaters back on the brink of the millennium and forgotten by the time possession films flooded the box office, but Teaching Mrs. Tingle is one of my favorite recommendations to anyone looking for something fun to watch on a night in. With all the controversy surrounding grade changes, fraud, cheating, and payouts for education, Teaching Mrs. Tingle has a strange way of remaining relevant and modern. It may even teach the modern world of horror a thing or two that it’s failed to retain since the late 90’s.
“Like a shiny red apple, Teaching Mrs. Tingle remains simple and sweet enough to sink your teeth into.”
The only surface downside to this literally old school scandalous treat is its rating. Utilizing a traditionally paced 96-minute runtime, this film makes good use of its safe PG-13 rating even though it would have greatly benefited with more R-rated content. Like a shiny red apple, Teaching Mrs. Tingle remains simple and sweet enough to sink your teeth into. The cheesy soundtrack is a little unbearable, but there’s plenty more to the story and production that earn high marks across the board. Why do I think Teaching Mrs. Tingle is ‘A’ material? It keeps you guessing until the end. Who’s Schooling Who?
Written and directed by a post-Scream Kevin Williamson, Teaching Mrs. Tingle is a true black comedy that draws intensity and teen drama through its simplistic, albeit far-fetched, plot. Overachiever Leigh Ann, dramatic Jo Lynn, and heartthrob Luke find themselves in a serious predicament when their difficult teacher, Mrs. Tingle, catches them in the act of cheating… well, planning to cheat on their final exam. With everything on the line and nothing to lose, the students try to reason with her. Putting spite and authority ahead of sympathy, Tingle refuses and the three desperately turn a misunderstood accident into a messy game of blackmail. Teaching Mrs. Tingle puts mind over matter, pits the young against the old, and creates scenes of delicious tension and witty dialogue.
Although it falls hardly anything in comparison to any of the Scream franchise installments, Teaching Mrs. Tingle has that familiar Williamson tongue-in-cheek vibe. Similar to a mix between Jawbreaker and Swimfan, there is nothing truly terrifying or horrific about the narrative or basic imagery, but the suspense and tantalizing play between Tingle and her pupils is more than enough to hold your attention. The shift in control is intriguing and unique with a hint of 90’s glamour and sex appeal added for good measure. Teaching Mrs. Tingle is ultimately a sharp, enjoyable story with a good few cutting-edge twists and clever characters.
It’s safe to say that most of us agree Dame Helen Mirren is a fantastic actress. A part in Teaching Mrs. Tingle might be a strange one for her resume, but the role of Eva Tingle was practically made for her. If no other reason catches you, just know Helen Mirren is worth watching this alone. Tingle is the teacher that instantly clears the halls with her uptight and dismissive demeanor. Both students and staff avoid her silver-tongued rudeness as she makes the academic campus a living nightmare. Armed with biting attitude and wit, Mrs. Tingle makes for a perfect villain. She’s dangerous in the most human way and does not need a blade, a bullet, claws, or teeth to destroy you.
Proper and condescending, Mrs. Tingle is the real kind of monster. She consistently remains calm, composed, and observant all the while she watches those around her. Tingle finds that her ammunition lies within the very people who dare to combat her and those who just happen to exist around her. She’s the kind of woman you love to hate as her accusatory and bitter hatred makes her all the more real as the villain of Teaching Mrs. Tingle. She’s the kind of history teacher you’d expect to have at some point in your life, the real agent of observant evil. She knows people’s secrets, knows how to use those secrets against them, and knows how to play them against each other. Would you want to be sized-up by Helen Mirren? Me neither.
Teaching Mrs. Tingle is a fun game, but the players make it even better. Katie Holmes (Dawson’s Creek), Barry Watson (7th Heaven), and Marisa Coughlan (Super Troopers) make up our focal teenage trifecta of seniors who are a week away from graduation. I know I can’t speak for everyone, but I usually find it very difficult to relate to teenage characters and these are some that I find easier to watch than most (it must be because they’re actually in their late twenties). As Leigh Ann, Luke, and Jo Lynn, the trio add sexy and cool factors to this flick with semi-experienced levels of acting that build on an impending love triangle. While Leigh Ann tries to keep her eye on the prize, Jo Lynn attempts to catch Luke’s eye, and all Luke wants to do is get Leigh Ann’s attention. They all fall instantly into the hands of Tingle even if she is the one at their mercy.
The shallow layers of deception, trickery, and jealousy are tantalizing and keep you engaged from start to finish. Holmes is great at playing the innocent victim, Watson and his “wrought-iron ass” (straight from the script) is sweet, nostalgic eye candy, and Coughlan does an absolutely fantastic imitation of The Exorcist. Tingle know no bounds when it comes to torment, even when it comes to the school staff rounded out by a list of beloved actors including Molly Ringwald (Sixteen Candles), Vivica A. Fox (Idle Hands), Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development), and Michael McKean (This Is Spinal Tap). Going back and forth between helpless and daring, this story plays on the characters ability to escape their fate of never leaving town and growing up. It’s an interesting, but informal coming-of-age romp with plenty of juice and even more fun.
“…an interesting, but informal coming-of-age romp with plenty of juice and even more fun.”
If irony is the opposite of what is or what might be expected, Teaching Mrs. Tingle is a prime lesson in clever late-90’s storytelling. If you’re expecting this to be a typical 90’s teen thriller, you may be right… or it might be the entertaining, underrated gem you’ve been looking for. Teaching Mrs. Tingle is streaming for free on Vudu, but can also be rented on YouTube, Amazon Prime, iTunes, and Google Play.