The Tingler (1959)
I have had the honor of being invited to participate in the 2020 Vincent Price Blogathon. As such, this is a departure from the usual Manor On Movies fare (see the postscript), in that the reviewed movie is not a junkfilm.
The year was…long enough ago, I can’t pinpoint it.
Nicky Fanelli, the oldest member and consequently leader of our childhood gang, decided he was going to guide a small group of us to our local picture palace, where we would watch a monster movie. Ah, cooool!!!
This was a Big Adventure for us. The Waverly was a mile or so away—quite a trek for little-kids’ legs—and we’d never gone there without a parent dropping us off. But Nicky claimed to know the way; and, after needlessly cutting through a number of backyard hedges and zigzagging along the route, there was the Waverly marquee, in all its unlit matinee glory.
Because we were young sweethearts, we also had a Plan B: Nicky told us a monster was going to walk up the aisle; and, we were going to jump it and beat it up. Awww, weren’t we a bunch of darlings?
No monster ever appeared—Nicky was also a big fat liar—but, in actuality, our “leader” wasn’t far off the mark. The movie was The Tingler, directed and produced by master showman William Castle, notorious for promotional gimmicks such as skeletons flying over theater patrons’ heads, and nurses in the lobby for a film in which each audience member was insured by Lloyd’s Of London against “Death By Fright.”
Although, because we were seeing The Tingler in re-release, the Waverly wasn’t set up in the following fashion, during the scarepic’s first run, selected theater seats were rigged to give the inhabitants a minor electrical shock sensation at a designated point in the movie(!)
Few who saw the film actually “got a charge” out of doing so. But Castle wasn’t done there. Oh, no, he had a couple more scary gimmicks up his devious sleeve.
First off, the film was shot in black-and-white…EXCEPT for a segment where blood flowed through a bathroom sink faucet and filled a bathtub—and only the blood was in color, a high-saturation red, for full effect. A brilliant stunt, leaving such an impactful impression, I can still visualize it all these centuries after first witnessing the scene.
A second slick trick occurred later in the proceedings, this one tip-toeing along breaking the fourth wall. The scene involved patrons in a theater watching a movie—just like you, the Tingler viewer, were doing—when, suddenly, the film stock decayed and a silhouette of a “tingler” (sort of a supersized centipede) crossed the screen. Then, the film-within-a-film screen went pitch-black, which in turn put your theater in total darkness, as a panicky voice announced said monster was loose and the viewers’ only salvation was to “Scream, scream for your life!!!”
That was when the wired seats zapped the unsuspecting real-world theatergoers, an effect Castle labeled “Percepto” in ad copy guaranteeing a whatzit would “break loose while you are in the theater.”
Which bring us to the best “gimmick” of them all: the terrified speaker and star of the movie was Vincent Price.
(A good thing, considering how pointless the above intro would be if this were a blogathon dedicated to someone else.)
I am an advocate of avoiding what co-host Barry calls the “book report” form of review, i.e. going into a lengthy synopsis of a film’s entire plotline—and often “spoiling” it for those who have yet to see the flick. However, I’m not averse to providing some details to whet the appetite.
City pathologist Doctor Warren Chapin (Price) is convinced extreme fear has a physical manifestation, his obsession ruining his marriage to a two-timing tramp and hogging most of the spare time of his youthful assistant David Morris, who is also the fiancé of Doc Chapin’s live-in sister-in-law.
The Vin Man about to play another mad scientist type, right? Actually, in a rare twist, he is not, even though someone will literally be scared to death to help advance his research, and the good doctor tries out a little-known-about drug called LSD. (Yes, in 1959!)
Dr. Chapin’s theories prove to be valid, as he extracts a “tingler” from the spinal column of a recently deceased individual, hence the creature that escapes to terrorize the moviegoers.
And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Price “dials it down”—by Vincent Price Movie standards—being a consummate pro and understanding what the role requires. And beautiful Patricia Cutts shines in her small part as the scheming sluttty Mrs. Chapin.
If, while watching, you think “Hmm, ‘David Morris’ could pass for Dobie Gillis’ brother”…well, that’s because he is played by Darryl Hickman, older brother of Dwayne, star of The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis, the sitcom featuring Darryl as Dobie’s big brother Davey in three episodes.
Other cult-film faves in multiple episodes include William Schallert, John Fiedler, Yvonne Craig, Michael J. Pollard, Charles Lane and Lynn Loring, as well as some flash-in-the-pan kid zooming to obscurity and billed as “Ron Howard.”
Getting back to The Tingler, although it won’t scare you to death, it has an unusual premise, (at least) one VERY memorable scene, and solid performances; never insults the audience’s intelligence or requires them to ignore plot holes; and, features Vincent Price in nearly every frame.
As per always, Price commands the viewers’ attention—which shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone.
Even if their chair is wired to an electric generator.
ManorOnMovies.com is dedicated to rave-reviewing the very best of the very worst. I come to praise The Creeping Terror, not to bury it. If you are into the screwball fun of mostly obscure stinkeroos, yawta drop by. It is NOT your typical “bad movies” site, nor is my writing style typical. You’ll see.