body horror

[Movie Review] The Tingler (1959) ★★★★☆

The Tingler attacking a man in the theater in The Tingler 1959

The Tingler will make you scream with great joy.


The Tingler is a science fiction horror comedy that stars Vincent Price as a scientist. It’s a film written by Robb White and directed by William Castle and was released the same year as House on Haunted Hill. Again this trio has created a wonderful original film with a great gimmick called Percepto, that still has a fun effect for a home audience. 

But in theaters Castle made sure that the audience got a maximum effect to scare them silly. And that is just what this film is about. It’s about fear and to be scared to death, for real. It is full of campy fun with some great monstrous gags, experimental science and even a little sneer to marital life. It’s a highly enjoyable film with a few nice surprises.


Plot

Pathologist Dr Warren Chapin performs autopsies on people who were sentenced to death by means of the electric chair. Now he is close to make a scientific discovery that one can be scared to death, namely through a parasite that lives in the spine and grows when one is scared. When experiencing extreme fear that parasite grows very large, but when one screams it lets the fear out, causing the parasite to shrink. When one can’t scream, the fear becomes unbearable and the parasite too big and one dies.

He wants to prove his theory and when he gets acquainted with Ollie Higgins who is married to Martha he gets his chance. While Martha owns a movie theater that shows silent movies, for she is deaf and can’t speak. So she can’t scream…


Why you should watch it

Although the plot hints at Vincent Price playing the mad scientist as Warren Chapin, he is anything but. Warren is married to his very rich wife Isabel and they can’t stand each other. The same goes for Ollie and Martha and Ollie wants to get rid of her. It doesn’t create an idyllic picture of marriage. But that doesn’t make Warren a bitter man. He roots for his sister-in-law Lucy and her almost fiancé Dave Morris who is also a doctor, to get married. This plays out in the background and forms a cynical and yet hopeful take on marriage. It’s the setup of what kind of horrors are to come. 

The Tingler as Warren calls the parasite, looks like a kind of earworm big and long as his underarm. It’s not only the brilliant gimmick of the film but the plot device itself. It’s all about proving it’s real and to catch it. To accomplish that Warren uses himself to experiment on and wants to give himself a terrible fright by taking hallucinogenic drugs. That results in a very creative and surreal scene in which Price can revel and it shows the fun. But it’s also greatly shot adding creative cinematography. The Tingler itself is also a creature that when it is set free, it is going on a killing spree, to add more horror fun. 

The whole film has great storytelling, with great subplots, but also great cinematography, that can be enjoyed throughout the film in different scenes and with different effects. Someone is trying to scare Martha to death. A hairy hand that wants to grab her from behind a door. A bath that has bloodied colored water. Which is a fantastic effect while the whole film is shot in black and white but the red colored water is indeed red. A window that opens all by itself and a figure with a mask that rises from the bed are all creepy images that add to the ominous vibe and create also a touch of the supernatural. 

The idea that we need to scream to literally let the fear out is such fun and is cause for a whole lot of fun and the brilliant gimmick that Castle came up with.


My favorite part

All the special effects are great to create surreal and fun campy humor, but the gimmick again is a brilliant one. It has a great inception effect and mixes what’s on screen in the movie theater with the real life audience. Fun part is that the gimmick plays out during a scene where people are in the silent movie theater watching a film, when the Tingler has escaped and breaks loose inside the theater. How great is that. And it doesn’t end there. 

The screen goes black and the real life audience sits waiting in the dark while they hear Vincent Price/Warren Chapin say: ‘Ladies and gentlemen there is no cause for alarm. A young lady has fainted. She has been attended to by a doctor, and is quite all right. So please remain seated. The movie will begin again right away.

That’s how the gimmick “Percepto” comes to life. They pretend the Tingler crawling around in the real theater. To create even a 4D effect, Castle has hired actors who sat amongst the real life audience who then started screaming. And, very daring, he had placed some buzzers underneath a couple of seats to make the audience  get a ‘tingling feeling.’ Then the actors were transported out of the theater on a stretcher by fake paramedics.  

The lights go on again and on the white canvas the shadow of the Tingler is seen. Whereas Price/Warren commands the audience to scream for their lives. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please do not panic. But scream! Scream for your lives! The Tingler is Loose in this theater. And if you do not scream, it may kill you! Scream! Scream! Keep screaming! Scream for your life.’ 

Then some buzzers go off again and the actors say they saw the Tingler crawling by. Then finally the danger has passed. ‘The Tingler has been paralyzed by your screaming. There is no more danger. We will now resume the showing of the movie.

Wow, how great that must have been. It’s not just a movie anymore, but a whole theatrical experience. When you bought a ticket to a William Castle movie you knew you were in for something special. 


Ratings

Rating: ★★★★☆

Fun factor: ★★★★☆

Scare factor: ★★☆☆☆

Originality factor: ★★★★★

Entertainment factor: ★★★★★


Cast and crew

The Tingler is directed by William Castle and written by Robb White. It stars Vincent Price (Dr Warren Chapin), Judith Evelyn (Martha Higgins), Darryl Hickman (David Morris), Patricia Cutts (Isabel Chapin), Pamela Lincoln (Lucy Stevens) and Philip Coolidge (Ollie Higgins).

Duration: 82 minutes. Music: Von Dexter. Cinematography: Wilfrid M. Cline. Edited by: Chester W. Schaeffer. Produced by: William Castle. Production company: Columbia Pictures, William Castle Productions. Distributed by: Columbia Pictures.


Check the trailer below


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