The Tingler (1959)
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