The Tingler (William Castle, 1959): USA

Reviewed by Byron Potau. Viewed as part of the 2011 TCM Classic Film Festival.

The Tingler

In an ever frustrating theater experience where people see fit to talk, text, sleep, and find countless other ways to annoy you, for one night all of that was put aside and the simple joy of going to the movies was felt. TCM’s screening of William Castle’s classic, cheesy horror film The Tingler was the perfect reminder of how fun seeing a film in the theater could be. If it was only this fun all of the time.

Vincent Price plays Dr. William Chapin, a pathologist who is studying the effects of fear in humans which results in an organism that appears on the spine which he dubs “the tingler.” Chapin also discovers that screaming will diffuse the tingler’s power and make it shrink. When Chapin meets a theater owner with a deaf mute wife he finds the perfect subject to find out what happens to the tingler when the person cannot scream.

From director Castle’s opening warning about screaming possibly saving your life to the tingler running amok in the theater the film is meant to be experienced in a theater. In fact, viewed alone in your home it would be a decidedly inferior viewing experience. TCM played up their role with a skeleton dangling in front of the screen and staged patrons attacked by the tingler. Unfortunately, there was no Percepto gimmick where the seats had a buzzer in them to give a tingle to the audience at just the right moment, but oh well. We can’t have everything.

The plot is clever enough for its purpose and the dialogue is handled amusingly by the actors whose odd delivery at times has only served to strengthen the film’s cult status. Some may find a few mildly frightening moments, but most will see them as more funny than scary.

Among the film’s highlights are an acid trip to induce fear while trying to intentionally experience the tingler, and some effective use of color in this otherwise black and white film.

The Tingler is a great example of 1950’s campy horror film fun at its best. I don’t think it plays as well at home so if you get the chance see it in a theater. It’s one of the few times seeing a film in a theater will actually enhance your experience.

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