The Tingler (1959)

OCTOBER 30, 2012


I gave up on Jaws 3-D, I to this day haven't seen Rocky Horror in a theater, but I put my foot down and REFUSED to ever see William Castle's The Tingler until I could do so in Percepto - aka the gimmick where joy buzzers were placed in certain seats and went off at a few key moments in the film, adding to the fun. The Cinefamily has done it a couple times now, but this was the first time I was able to make it, and got there early enough to ensure I had a seat with a buzzer.

And my diligence paid off, as there really is no reason to watch the movie at home without Percepto (or another in-theater gimmick that I won't spoil - somehow I had managed to avoid hearing about it, so maybe you aren't privy either). The plot is ludicrous even by Castle standards, and worse, it's SLOW. It takes almost an hour for the damn thing to make its first appearance, and by design it doesn't DO much, just crawls (reads: is pulled by visible strings) along near people and occasionally attacks by wrapping around their necks, but as soon as they scream it crumples to the floor and goes into a Tingler coma. In fact we never even see what would happen if the Tingler was "attacking" and you failed to scream - would it crawl inside your throat? Kill you by strangulation and then move on? Resuscitate you itself to demonstrate how meaningless it all is?

Or would it just attach itself to the new victim's spine, replacing the old Tingler? In this movie's (admittedly cool) concept, the tingle you feel up your spine when you're scared is actually this parasitic creature waking up (and growing to a size that's a bit too exaggerated, even for this movie), and after hero scientist Vincent Price discovers this, he sets about trying to extract one. After a botched LSD trip, he finds one when the wife of a friend of his dies... because she is mute and thus can't scream. The movie's OTHER idea (which is actually more insane) is that a mute person is unable to relieve their body of the stress caused from getting scared, so when a mute is REALLY scared they simply die. The simplicity of the movie's "rules" is what makes it so silly - obviously neither of these things would have just been noticed after centuries of medical study, so perhaps if they ever remake this one too, they can make it a little more complicated. Maybe a Tingler only appears when you're frightened by seeing your mom strap on a dildo and sodomize your grandfather or something else that's equally rare.

But really it's the slowness that would keep me from ever wanting to watch this as a regular movie. Unlike 13 Ghosts or House On Haunted Hill, the gimmick doesn't enhance the movie, the gimmick IS the movie. Strip out the showmanship and you're left with a slowly paced, nearly zero body count horror movie where the monster moves at a snail's pace and never really does anything. The design of the thing is cool, but the insane size and laughably bad "animation" cancels that out. And the end is abrupt; Price wanders away from a murder, an unexplained supernatural event happens, and then it ends, leaving us wondering if Price's assistant ever returned or at least let out that dog that was in his car (he picks it up on Price's orders, but as he goes to get it out, Price says he doesn't need it anymore, so he walks inside and leaves the dog in his backseat. Never mentioned again).

However, Price still makes it fun to watch, as always. He's not as devilish as he was in his other Castle effort (Haunted Hill), but he's got a similarly love/mostly-hate relationship with his wife, who is stepping out on him ("There's a word for you", she says, after he confronts her about it. "There's several for you," he quickly replies, and the next four lines are drowned out by the audience's cheers). It's a perfect Price role, as it toes the line between hero and villain, but then you add in his perfectly dry delivery and considerable charm, and suddenly it doesn't matter that you're 40 minutes in and the title character has yet to appear. I also like the random way that he met his future accomplice - the guy just wanders into his lab while he's performing an autopsy, claiming that the guy he's working on is his brother-in-law who was sentenced to death for murdering two women. From then on, they are best friends, and since his wife is a mute she never talks about her brother being a killer or if it had anything to do with her being mute.

Another thing I learned last night was that the film actually has a small connection to the Cinefamily. In the 50s it WAS a silent movie theater (like its old namesake suggested; it was only recently renamed to Cinefamily), and apparently William Castle was walking by, bemoaned that it was the last of its kind, and then had the idea of a monster loose inside of a silent movie theater. The silent part of it didn't have a damn thing to do with it, but it's a cool little anecdote all the same, and I'm sure Castle would love the full circle-ness of it, as people like me now bemoan that places like the Cinefamily are among the only ones still showing movies on 35mm (though not exclusively, as the New Beverly is for all intents and purposes*), and also keeping his gimmicks alive. It's a shame we don't have a modern day counterpart; there's 3D (and occasional "4D", where they blow fog and fake snow into the theater), but no one that makes it as specific to the movie as Castle did - Percepto wouldn't have made sense with 13 Ghosts, nor would Illusion-O have any place here. He'd probably weep at people converting random films to 3D just to cash in on a trend.

So if it comes to your town, I can't recommend it enough - it's among the most fun I've had at the theater all month, which is saying a lot since I've gone almost every day to SOMETHING (my friend also scares more easily than I do, so that helped my amusement). Also if you're a Price fan it's another solid, vastly entertaining turn from the man. However as a standalone movie, it's one of Castle's lesser efforts (of the ones I've seen), a bit too slow to get to the fun parts, and so silly that it's hard to even call it a horror movie.

What say you?


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