The Tingler

release date July 29 1959
studio William Castle Productions
director William Castle
writer Robb White
starring Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman

The Tingler

Supposedly, the majority of the nation’s drive-in movie theaters closed down after William Castle’s death. Circumstantial? Maybe.

If any individual filmmaker could have such an impact, it would be Castle. Consider The Tingler. There were two versions: one for indoor theaters (which you see on video today) and one specifically tailored for drive-ins. In the latter version, the director himself provides a voice-over that warns the audience the title monster has been spotted in the very drive-in the movie is playing in.

Yes, Castle’s gimmicks were, uh, gimmicky. But they were brilliant gimmicks. Yes, he knew he was making movies that might not be very good if they didn’t have gimmicks, but they are good and stand the test of time. This time, he made a genuinely good movie that doesn’t need the gimmicks. Even so, this one has the best.

The Tingler’s main gimmick was designed with one goal in mind: to make the audience scream their heads off. The movie opens with screaming heads floating toward the camera. William Castle himself warns that what you’re about to see can kill ya. Your only defense is to scream. It’s an experience that makes you feel like you’re part of an experiment group, not an audience.

House on Haunted Hill is probably a better movie when you strip away the gimmicks, but The Tingler was my first and still is my favorite Castle film. The tingler is a parasite that lives in everybody. It grows and becomes lethal when the host is scared, it shrivels up and hibernates when the host screams.

There’s more plot, but it doesn’t matter much, which isn’t to say it’s bad. All you really need to know is that Vincent Price manages to surgically remove a full grown tingler from a mute woman who tripped heavily on LSD (the tingler killed her because of her inability to scream) and soon, the monster escapes for the obligatory rampage.

As if the imaginations of sensible fifties moviegoers wasn’t enough to stir mass hysteria, Castle took the gimmick one step farther by employing what he enthusiastically called, “Percepto!” In many of the theaters the movie played in, random seats were rigged with hidden electronic devices that would cause the seat to vibrate during a key scene in which the monster manages to get loose in a movie theater. The audience members who were unexpectedly buzzed in the bum were sure to scream and get the rest of the crowd to join in.

There are gimmicks, then there are little details Castle goes out of his way to include. During one of the famous LSD hallucinations, a hand reaches from a bathtub full of blood; the blood has been colorized to stand out amid the monochrome. You wonder, “Why bother?” But you’re glad that Castle did.

William Castle suggests an important rule that should be applied to all good horror films: “Scream! Scream for your lives!” Too bad many youngsters’ first encounter with Castle is through bad remakes. This one is on the way to the Hollywood retread, too. Let’s hope Paris Hilton doesn’t get a part.

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