The Tingler (1959)

5

William Castle was the master of the gimmick. Whether offering cinema audience members a life insurance policy in case they should die of fright, sending an inflatable, glow-in-the-dark skeleton overhead during the final of House On Haunted Hill or asking audiences to vote on the fate of the main character in Mr. Sardonicus, his films have always been about more than just the onscreen content. With The Tingler he created a moment in which the titular creature actually escapes into a cinema, actually escapes into YOUR cinema. Seats were set up to buzz and people, thinking they had been shocked, would scream (if following the advice of Vincent Price, at any rate). So it’s surprising to me every time I remember that I’ve not seen many movies from this fantastic entertainer. He’s a man who loves to go that extra mile when it comes to delivering scares, just my kind of film-maker.

The Tingler is a fun monster movie, one in which you can see all the wires and puppetry but remain entertained never the less. Vincent Price stars as Dr. Warren Chapin, a man who has made an unusual discovery during numerous autopsies. People who die in extreme stress or fear seem to have extra pressure exerted upon their spinal cords, leading to damaged and even broken bones. The good doctor comes to the obvious conclusion, we all carry within us a creature that only really thrives and comes to life when we’re full of fear. A creature that he calls “the tingler”. Thankfully, screaming can relieve the tension and thus defeat the tingler, but what would happen if screaming wasn’t an option? For example, what would happen to poor deaf mute Martha (Judith Evelyn)?

Part creature feature, part whodunnit and part drug movie (Price takes LSD at one point to try and induce hysteria in himself . . . . . . but the end result depends on whether or not he’ll scream), The Tingler is great fun from start to finish. There are a number of unintentional laughs as the camp value takes centre stage on occasion, but there are also plenty of fantastic moments throughout.

The script by Robb White is full of great one-liners and exchanges like the following between Dr. Chapin and his callous wife, Isabel (Patricia Cutts).

Isabel: There’s a word for you.

Warren: There are several for you.

Simple, effective and loaded with the venom that the characters have for one another.

The acting from all concerned is fitting for the material. Vincent Price is, of course, one of the best actors to watch in this fare and he has a lot of fun with his character. Cutts holds her own as his wife, Evelyn does okay in her silent performance, Philip Coolidge is enjoyable as her husband and Darryl Hickman and Pamela Lincoln are both just fine as the young folk involved in the main storyline.

But this is all Castle’s show, don’t forget that. The man himself appears onscreen at the start of the movie to forewarn the audience and he guides everyone through the nonsense with a steady hand. In fact, one sequence that blooms into glorious colour (the film is predominantly black and white) holds up as a brilliantly effective use of the medium and one of the best moments I can think of in any fifties horror movie.

See the film when you can and even if you’re not being scared . . . . . . . . . . . . . . let out a scream. If not to fend off a tingler then at least for the spirit of Castle.

DIRECTOR: WILLIAM CASTLE
WRITER: ROBB WHITE
STARS: VINCENT PRICE, JUDITH EVELYN, DARRYL HICKMAN, PATRICIA CUTTS, PAMELA LINCOLN, PHILIP COOLIDGE
RUNTIME: 82 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

5 Comments
  1. John Chard says

    Great stuff Kev, agree totally, a smashing little movie. I’ll just add my own review here to back yours up.

    Fright effects induced by injection of Lysergic Acid LSD 25.

    The Tingler is directed by William Castle and written by Robb White. It stars Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman, Patricia Cutts & Philip Coolidge. Music is by Von Dexter and cinematography by Wilfred M. Cline.

    Dr. Warren Chapin (Price) has a notion that fear in a human being produces a parasite like organism to attach itself to the spine. The parasite will kill its host unless the fear is released by way of a scream. When a test proves Chapin’s theory correct, it gives devious Oliver Higgins (Coolidge) an idea to do away with his wife Martha (Evelyn), a death mute who can’t scream.

    Director/producer William Castle’s name became synonymous with horror gimmicks and B grade schlockers. Often derided by the critics of the time, Castle however was a popular draw card name for the thrill seeking cinema goer. His output can at best be described as varied, but even with the worst films he was attached to, one thing always rang true, here was a man desperate to entertain, a true showman. He would be homaged in the 1993 film, Matinée, directed by Joe Dante. In amongst Castle’s output are a small handful of movies that are genuinely entertaining, be it for hokey reasons or otherwise. One such film is The Tingler, the one Castle film that undeniably has the most bonkers premise at its core.

    Released in accompaniment with the Percepto gimmick, basically a marketing device that saw a few seats in theatres wired up with a vibration motor to unnerve those sitting there during the film, The Tingler is a wonderfully campy horror experience. Absurd at times, yet carrying enough of a creepy vibe to it, it’s a picture worthy of its cult classic status. Clocking in at just over 80 minutes, film slow builds for the first half, as characters are formed and berserker science explained, then Castle and his team unleash the fun as the centipede/lobster/earwig creature enters the fray. Picture also has the distinction of being the first to show a character indulging in an LSD Acid trip, where Price revels in the chance to chew the scenery with unadulterated glee. While Castle also introduces a couple of colour shots into the black and white piece to compound the terror being experienced by the menaced Martha. Cast are fine, with Price leading the way by being elegant and playing it the way it should be played, and Cline’s photography is suitably shadowy to befit the story.

    Nobody is taking it serious, and that’s the way it should be, it’s old style horror asking you to run with it to get the best rewards. 8/10

  2. Kevin Matthews says

    Great write up, sir. I really need to see more Castle movies and then rewatch the wonderful Matinee. 🙂

  3. John Chard says

    Sardonicus and Strait-Jacket are great and recommended to you with confidence. Homicidal is a nasty Psycho knock off, but it has pizazz!

    The William Castle Collection is sadly missing Macabre and there’s a couple of duffers in there like Zotz! and The Old Dark House, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable box set. I read the Castle biography, Scare Tactic, which showed him to have delusions of grandeur (a la Hitchcock), but his sheer willingness to give people a good time really shines bright.

    God bless him, I hope he and Ray Harryhausen are sharing a glass of Rye and a cigar right now.

  4. Kevin Matthews says

    I’ll definitely check those out. I love the original House On Haunted Hill, which is the only other film from him that I have seen (I THINK).
    Very sad news about Harryhausen, I may have to kick my own ass and finally watch that Sinbad triple-bill that’s been sitting on my shelf for ages.

  5. John Chard says

    PS:

    When I say a la Hitchcock, I mean he wanted to be on the same page as the maestro!

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