Film Review: The Tingler (1959)

During his sixty-three years on earth, William Castle made movies that had no other purpose than to entertain.  The best of his mostly-forgotten works were a series of horror pictures released during the late ’50s and early ’60s.  While they admittedly were not very well-made, their appeal to the audiences of that time made them hits at the box office.  (One of these cheaply-made successes, House on Haunted Hill, even inspired Alfred Hitchcock to make his own low-budget classic, Psycho.)  Castle was not a great filmmaker, but instead, an excellent showman.  The gimmicks that he created for a small number of his films gave the audience an experience in the movies that they had never had before or since.  One such example is his campy horror flick, The Tingler.

During showings of this Vincent Price vehicle, certain viewers experienced short electrical shocks due to small vibrators planted on the bottom of their seats.  Not only did this deepen the audience’s fear, but it also helped to sell tickets.  Thanks to clever advertising, many moviegoers were intrigued to see the new Castle film because it featured the director’s newest gimmick called, Percepto.  Today however, Percepto no longer exists, and those watching The Tingler at home will not have any reason to jump.  The fright that this film inspired of its audiences in 1959 has not survived either, yet there are still reasons to see it.

Despite being completely in black-and-white, there is one one memorable scene in the last half of the picture that displays a small splash of bright red.  This brief image of blood is surprisingly effective.  Perhaps the most significant landmark that The Tingler reaches lies within the scene in which Price’s Dr. Warren experiments alone in his lab.  Earlier in the film, Warren discovered a centipede-like creature called the “tingler” that lives clinging to the spinal cord of every human being.  This horrid creature grows larger at the sign of fear in their host, making it medically possible to die of fright.  At the beginning of his experiments, the doctor does what no other movie character in cinema history had done before.  Warren used LSD for the purpose of experiencing fear and ultimately, the full impact of the tingler.

With a combination of Percepto and a desperate scene in which the tingler enters a movie theater full of unsuspecting watchers, Castle produced interactive entertainment.  His gimmicks and his amusing references to his viewers treat us as one of the characters.  Even though it has many visible flaws, it adds up to a film that B-movie fanatics should not miss.

Rating: 3.5/5