Movie Reviews 258 – The Tingler (1959)

The TinglerThe Tingler is as much an event as it is a literal spine tingling movie. Directed by master showman William Castle who was renown for promotional gimmicks, Castle promised the film would shock viewers who watched it. And ‘Shock” them he did, reputedly placing buzzers under the seats of unsuspecting audience members in select theaters at the time of the release.

Given both the title and the histrionic laced background of the film it would be easy to conclude that it would be nothing but more that a humble B movie, created as a quick cash grab and meant to fade into obscurity once it’s theatrical run was over.  But The Tingler should not to be overlooked as a mere stunt and delivers on more than one account.

Dr. Warren Chapin (played by the legendary Vincent Price) and his protégé David (Darryl Hickman) are obsessed with the study of fear and have been researching the matter by capturing stray animals and subjecting them deadly fright. Warren notices that when death is induced by fear, the spines of the subjects are sometimes mangled by an unexplained force.

When not dealing with his research Warren’s has to contend with his adulterous wife Isabel (Patricia Cutts), a vixen who constantly taunts her husband, openly gallivanting every night with other men. Fed up, Warren awaits her one night and quickly dispatches her, much to her own surprise and shock. Having planned ahead, he uses the occasion (such a professional) to x-ray her spine in a series of consecutive shots. What he discovers is the temporary presence of a sluglike creature that has quickly grown out of nowhere to envelope the spine, then receding back to nothing in a short period of time.

The two scientist postulate that this creature, the Tingler, takes form when subjects are prohibited from expressing their fear, the unspent energy thus manifesting itself as the creature. With the knowledge that a scream prohibits the emergence of the Tingler, Warren believes he can capture one before it can recede by having a subject unable to scream at the time of death by fright. When he befriends a tranquil movie house owner whose wife is a deaf mute, the opportunity to gather a Tingler becomes obvious. But how that creature comes about is not as straightforward as you would think. And therein is just one of the many surprises this movie has in store.

Beginning with a somewhat plausible plot, we’re also treated to fairly neat creature look for the Tingler itself. Aside from a few shots where the guide wires are clearly visible, the Tingler looks quite realistic and creepy, and can put up a mean fight. While the movie was shot in black and white it has select few scenes involving blood where the screen is convincingly colored red only for the blood portions. But best of all is that the audience is really thrown for a loop storywise with a well thought out and genuine surprise towards the end.

So don’t let all the silliness fool you. This is actually an entertaining movie and well worth watching even if you aren’t just a Vincent Price fan. If you can get your hands on the 40th Anniversary DVD (shown above), be sure to watch the special features that document the history of both Castle and the film itself.

Hold on, I’m sensing a tingle under my seat! Nah, it just the Black Russian I’m sipping on as I write this…

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