“I’ll give you black sensations up and down your spine…”-AC/DC
Fear is the emotion we feel when confronted with a perceived dangerous threat to our body or mind. Some fear factors are physically present in our daily lives. Some elements of fear are conjured up in our minds when facing the unknown. We all react differently to fear. Some scream, some faint, some run, some soil their pantaloons, and some freeze in shock. Screaming is the only defense mechanism guaranteed to save your life in today’s fright feature. So lock your doors, draw the curtains, and check under your bed because here comes horror classic, The Tingler (1959).
In typical William Castle fashion, our friendly filmmaker forewarns us of the horror we are to experience:
“I am William Castle, the director of the motion picture you are about to see. I feel obligated to warn you that some of the sensations—some of the physical reactions which the actors on the screen will feel—will also be experienced, for the first time in motion picture history, by certain members of this audience. I say ‘certain members’ because some people are more sensitive to these mysterious electronic impulses than others. These unfortunate, sensitive people will at times feel a strange, tingling sensation; other people will feel it less strongly. But don’t be alarmed—you can protect yourself. At any time you are conscious of a tingling sensation, you may obtain immediate relief by screaming. Don’t be embarrassed about opening your mouth and letting rip with all you’ve got, because the person in the seat right next to you will probably be screaming too. And remember—a scream at the right time may save your life.”
Now that you are trained for the terrifying trip into the dark recesses of the mind we are to venture, let’s proceed.
Dr. Chapin, Vincent Price of Theatre of Blood (1973), is a hardworking pathologist who researches the cause of fear in humans and the variable effects from instinctual individual reactions. With much diligence, Chapin discovers human bodies host a parasite living along the spinal cord feeding off of fear growing larger every time a fright occurs (sounds like David “Shivers” Cronenberg area of expertise). An odd, but effective explanation for goose bumps or the tingling sensation one gets when spooked. OK, I’m game. Chapin comes to the conclusion that this parasite, which looks like the spawn of a lobster and centipede, is only subdued when its host lets out a blood curdling scream.
The Tingler is a fun little flick that addresses a lot of different subjects in its short 82 minute runtime. Castle addresses the state of the movie industry of the late 50s with discount second rate movie houses screening silent films that were commonplace for the time. There are still some of these theaters around today, I suggest you visit one. They are stunning structures of cinema nostalgia. Chapin spends a great deal of time with the owner of a local film house, Oliver, Philip Coolidge of North by Northwest (1959). Oliver lives above the theater with his deaf mute wife, Martha, Judith Evelyn of Rear Window (1954). Martha shows signs of having OCD, toppled by other maladies that keeps Oliver chained to his life there, remaining almost broke from the upkeep of the theater and spouse.
Martha is the victim in a clever scene which was constructed with the creative splice of color, when red blood is present in this 99% B/W feature. It’s not the first time the artistic decision of switching between color and b/w film in a feature was employed, this technique was most notable in The Wizard of Oz (1939) and A Matter of Life and Death (1946).
Chapin obsessed with his work, neglects his wife Isabelle, Patricia Cutts of the Battle of the Coral Sea (1959), leaving her to explore the wanton nightlife with other men, while Chapin explores every facet of fear in the primitive physiology/psychology of the “Tingler.” Desperate for an answer, Chapin dismisses his assistant, David, Darryl Hickman of Network (1976), for the evening before he locks himself in his lab and injects the powerful hallucinogen, LSD 25 into his arm. Vincent Price’s trip is the first recorded psychedelic adventure with LSD ever in film. Price’s reaction is a little over the top, noting every detail of his trip like a good scientist, before he succumbs to the Fear and freaks out. The Tingler broke new ground introducing this new party favor LSD, still legal at the time until 1968, into the American consciousness years before the bizarre and trippy, The Mask (1961) was released, and close to a decade before it was part of the counterculture daily regimen displayed in The Trip (1967) and Easy Rider (1969). Just ask college campuses and the government (Project MKULTRA) about all of the experimentation with LSD starting in 1950s America after its conception in late 30s Switzerland.
Chapin at one point does extract the “Tingler” from the spinal cord of a victim that was scared to death. Before you know it, the “Tingler” escapes and invades the movie theater attacks the audience before Chapin takes charge, kills the lights, and orders the entire house to scream. It’s a very neat scene and reminiscent of the infamous Colonial Theater scene in The Blob (1958).
The Tingler was produced/directed by William Castle of 13 Ghosts (1960) with a screenplay by longtime collaborator, Robb White of House on Haunted Hill (1959), based on an encounter White had with a tropical centipede in Caribbean. Filmed on the meager budget of $250,000, The Tingler received mixed reviews and was not as successful as Castle’s last big hit, House on Haunted Hill, which was released six months prior. The Tingler has achieved the status of a campy cult classic revered by loyal schlock fans and filmmakers, John Waters of Pink Flamingos (1972) and Joe Dante of Matinee (1993).
Castle, the godfather of the cinema gimmick, hyped The Tingler with “Percepto!” Simple buzzers that would vibrate giving the sensation that a cinemagoer was being shocked on cue with the “Tingler” running lose in the movie theater scene. Castle really turned on the creepy charm by planting hired actresses to scream and faint throughout the film, only to be rushed out by fake nurses to an ambulance standing by, all part of the promotion plan and employees on Castle’s payroll. What a card! This was the last film collaboration between Castle and Price, as Price would go on to star in Roger Corman’s popular Edgar Allan Poe adaptations of the 60’s, and Castle helming more features through the decade before receiving a producing credit for Rosemary’s Baby (1968).
The Tingler is a must see for all 50s/60s creature feature enthusiasts, horror lovers, or anyone in the mood for something light, and a little weird. The Tingler will have you screaming with delight, which is much better than fear…sometimes. Stay safe, stay scared.
Check out The Tingler Trailer
View the full movie of The Tingler
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- Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker, film/music historian, and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rick.baldwin.568
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