23
Oct
14

The Tingler (1959)

TheTinglerPerceptoHalloween is without a doubt the best time of the year! Not only does it give me an excuse to watch nothing but horror movies for a month (or let’s face it, longer), it means everyone else is watching horror flicks, too! I’m lucky enough to live near a theater that plays old-timey horror flicks in October, and also lucky enough to have friends that want to go! For day 22 of 31 Days of Horror, we ventured out into the real world to experience William Castle’s The Tingler.

The film starts off with a warning from Mr. Castle himself, in which he informs his audience the film they are about to watch will be frightening. Some of us in the audience are, apparently, much more sensitive than others. Those sensitive types, should they feel the urge to, must scream, for it may be a scream that saves their lives! And now it’s time for the show to begin…

Dr. Warren Chapin (Vincent Price) is used to performing autopsies on criminals who’ve been killed by the electric chair, and he’s noticed they all have one strange thing in common: their spines are broken! It doesn’t seem as though the electricity is what killed these men, it’s almost as if fear itself had a hand in their deaths! Casually chatting with Oliver Higgins, brother-in-law of the very criminal he is dissecting as he speaks, the good Doctor posits we all have a creature living inside us… let’s call it the Tingler… that lies in wait and strikes when we feel fear! If we don’t have an outlet for the fear we feel, the Tingler takes hold of our spine, crushing it and killing us to death!

Sounds like questionable science, but that’s such a 21st century thing to say. Naysayers be damned, Dr. Chapin and his faithful assistant David are hellbent on proving their theory. They know they’ll need cold, hard evidence: but how to get it? First they try frightening alley cats; the x-rays show something strange indeed, but is it enough to prove their position? No, no first the doctor must trip on LSD and scare himself shitless, all in the name of science! Yes, yes that’s it – trip on acid, don’t scream, and maybe you’ll be confronted with your own tingler! Trouble is, it doesn’t work; the doctor couldn’t control himself and screams! Now if only he knew someone who was born without vocal cords… ah yes, of course! Oliver Higgins’ wife, Martha! She is not only a mute, but also very easily scared! Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from her…

TheTinglerPhotoWow. Just, wow. The Tingler is one hilarious, entertaining experience! During its original theater run, seats in the audience were rigged to vibrate at a certain point in the film when the screen goes black and Price shouts for everyone to “scream for your lives!” It’s a shame the gimmick (dubbed “Percepto”) isn’t something we can experience in the theaters for ourselves these days, though watching it in a theater filled with movie dorks was still pretty great!

My gosh, what isn’t great about this movie? First, there’s the ridiculous premise and Dr. Chapin’s relentless attempts to document this so-called Tingler. Everyone from his assistant to an average Joe who just walked into his laboratory simply believes such a theory would be true! Then there’s the actual Tingler itself, which strongly resembles a lobster with huge pincers and, when it moves, is very obviously pulled by threads the audience can plainly see. It is just so unabashedly, gloriously low budget and absurd it is impossible to resist. Then there are the one-note characters: Dr. Chapin, who cares only about finding the Tingler. There’s his wife Isabel, a promiscuous drunk to whom he must stay married, because it’s her money that funds his silly little experiments. There’s Oliver Higgins, the put-out husband of the deaf-mute who only wants a beer, for chrissakes. There’s Mrs. Higgins (Judith Evelyn) herself, who manages to do a pretty damn good job acting in this film given what she had to work with! I absolutely loved this movie. A total riot, I highly recommend for Halloween or any time of year!

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