Wednesday, 14 January 2015



ARTIST: Tiny Tim

Some of the most powerful film scenes use a contradictory piece of music to put you on edge and contrast with what your eyes are showing you. Think the use of Stealers Wheel’s laidback, funky Stuck In The Middle With You during the infamous ear amputation scene in Reservoir Dogs
In 2011, Insidious took this idea and ran with it.
The song was Tiptoe Through The Tulips, specifically the now iconic Tiny Tim rendition, and somehow ukulele and falsetto notes became the stuff of nightmares…

THE SCENE: The song is used few times during the film.
Arguably the best use is one that comes a little out of nowhere. As Rose Byrne’s Renai Lambert goes about some everyday housework, she pops her record player on (vinyl, natch, she’s CLASSY!) and gets busy. As she pops outside to take her rubbish to the bin the record player skips, then the sophisticated strains of Ludovico Einaudi are replaced by the sounds of Tiny Tim. Renai is quite naturally perturbed and peers back into the house - to be greeted by the site of a ghostly little boy, dressed in the clothing of another era and dancing cheerfully inside her home.
It may not sound scary, but coming out of the blue in the middle of a bright sunny day really catches the viewer unawares and leads to a great jolt.
The scene can be watched here.

The other, probably more famous scene in which the tune is used, is much later on where Patrick Wilson's Josh has astrally-projected his spirit into the otherworldly Further to track down the trapped soul of his son Dalton. 
After encountering a host of unpleasant spooks, Josh finds his way down into a dark boiler-room where he encounters the hellish entity that has taken his son. As Josh carefully picks his way through its lair, the Lipstick-Faced Demon is shown sharpening its claws on a grindstone, surrounded by creepy trinkets as Tiptoe Through The Tulips plays merrily in the background.
Tension mounts as Josh draws closer to Dalton - will he find the boy before the Demon finds him?
The scene can be watched here.

THE PIECE: While the song has since become synonymous with Tiny Tim, the song was actually written and released nearly 40 years before his version.
Written by Al Dubin and Joe Burke, the track first reached the charts way back in May 1929 when 'crooning troubadour' Nick Lucas took the song to number one. He introduced it in the musical talkie, Gold Diggers of Broadway and actually topped the chart for 10 weeks. Other artists also charted with the song that year, including Jean Goldkette and Johnny Marvin.
Interestingly, in 1930 the song featured in the very first Looney Tunes cartoon ever, Sinkin' In The Bathtub.
In 1967 the song was covered by The Humane Society before Tiny Tim's version was released just a year later. Other notable cover versions include that of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Babd.
It has also appeared in other films, notably 1945's The Confidential Agent, as the tune that Drefyus plays on the organ in The Pink Panther Strikes Again and in Lost in Space.

The song is even name checked in the Harry Potter novels!
Curiously, despite this comparatively wide pop-culture reach, the Tiny Tim version (which is far and away the best-known) only reached 17 in the Billboard charts.

Tiny Tim was born Herbert Khaury in New York in 1932. He was known for his distinctive falsetto voice and accomplished ukele playing (which he did left-handed). He was quite the celebrity for some time and released several albums right up to 1990s. His career highlight came in 1969 when his album For All My Little Friends was nominated for a Grammy. 

Tim was fascinating character and people often wondered whether his bizarre, childlike and often lonely persona was a fabrication or the real Herbert Khaury. Sadly, it seems it may well have been an accurate reflection of the man beneath the showbiz make-up. Tim passed away in 1996.
He had other hits (including Livin’ In The Sunlight, Lovin’ In The Moonlight) but none were ever as closely linked to his name as Tiptoe Thru The Tulips has become.
As an aside, Tiny Tim actually has a horror movie appearance to his name! He appeared as the thoroughly unsettling Mervo the clown way back in 1987’s Blood Harvest.

WHY IT WORKS: This is a perfect example of how seemingly unthreatening music can become deeply unsettling. It has a childish quality, and I’m sure you don’t need me to point out how creepy subverting childish things including dolls and nursery rhymes can be. In Western society in particular, children are used as common scary devices.
There are a host of reasons behind this — tapping into the inherent fear we all will have felt at leaving behind the innocence of youth as we grew; reawakening the terrors our unbridled childish imaginations could conjure up lying in wait beneath the bed or in the shadows; the very real fear that an ageing population has towards the generation that will replace it, fuelled by numerous news reports of increasing numbers of young offenders and, with them, higher numbers of serious offences being perpetrated by even younger kids. Whatever the reason, Hollywood has recognised the creepiness of childhood and by George, it has run with it!
The song also has the added creep factor of feeling very much out of time. Written in the 1920s, it has a haunting quality. It sounds nothing like the music that is produced today, seeming both familiar but strange at the same time. That it is a crackly vinyl recording rather than a crisp, clean digital reproduction, merely adds to that vibe. Relics from the past manage to scare due to any number of reasons. They were created and enjoyed by a different generation, many of whom are no longer with us. It can seem that by summoning the music of their era, we are unwittingly drawing their spirits back to a world they have long since departed. Of course, we also imbue near mystical qualities on anything that is old — a song that sounds as if it has been around significantly longer than most of the film’s audience will undoubtedly carry that extra weight.
Finally, there is Tiny Tim’s performance itself. His shrilly girlish falsetto/vibrato just sound strange. It is a haunting and bizarre voice, much like the man himself (and any knowledge of Tiny Tim, very much a misfit and decidedly strange social outcast, instantly adds a wealth of reasons to find the song as creepy as some found him to be). It is unnatural and that alone is unsettling. The eerie warbling can be laughable, but when combined with suitably unnerving visuals, it becomes something else.
That is the real truth here — the song works in perfect partnership with the movie scenes. On its own, it would be infinitely less terrifying… but without Tiny Tim gently crooning Tiptoe Thru The Tulips, these scenes would be far less frightening too.

And finally, here’s the man himself, singing his most famous song.

If you missed my previous Music of the Macabre features, you can read them below. So far I’ve covered Goodbye Horses and In The House – In A Heartbeat.
So, any suggestions for future pieces of iconic horror music I can cover?
Let me know!

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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