‘When the screen screams, you’ll scream too… if you value your life!’
The Tingler is a 1959 American horror film produced and directed by William Castle. It is the third of five collaborations with writer Robb White and stars Vincent Price, Darryl Hickman, Patricia Cutts, Pamela Lincoln, Philip Coolidge and Judith Evelyn.
Dr. Warren Chapin (Price) is a pathologist who regularly conducts autopsies on executed prisoners at the state prison. He has a theory that fear is the result of a creature that inhabits all of us. His theory is that the creature is suppressed by our ability to scream when fear strikes us.
The doctor gets a chance to test his theories when he meets Ollie and Martha Higgins, who own and operate a second-run movie theater. Martha is deaf and mute and if she is unable to scream, extreme fear should make the creature, which Chapin has called the Tingler, come to life and grow. Using LSD to induce nightmares, he begins his experiment…
In line with several other Castle horror films, including the 1958 Macabre and 1959 House on Haunted Hill, Castle used gimmicks to sell the film. The most well known for The Tingler was called “Percepto!”.
“Percepto!” was a gimmick where Castle attached electrical “buzzers” to the underside of several seats in movie theaters where The Tingler was scheduled to be screened. The buzzers were small surplus vibrators left over from World War II. The cost of this equipment added $250,000 to the film’s budget. It was predominantly used in larger theaters.
During the climax of the film, The Tingler was depicted escaping into a generic movie theatre. On screen the projected film appeared to break as the silhouette of the Tingler moved across the projection beam. The film went black, all lights in the auditorium (except fire exit signs) were turned off, and Vincent Price’s voice warned the audience: “Ladies and gentlemen, please do not panic. But scream! Scream for your lives! The Tingler is loose in this theater!” This cued the theatre projectionist to activate the buzzers and give several audience members an unexpected jolt.
To enhance the climax even more, Castle hired fake “screamers and fainters” to plant in the audience. There were fake nurses stationed in the foyer and an ambulance outside of the theatre. The “fainters” would be carried out of the auditorium on a gurney and whisked away in the ambulance, only to return for the next showing.
Although The Tingler was filmed in black and white, a single colour sequence was spliced into each print of the film. It showed a sink (in black and white) with bright red “blood” flowing from the taps and a black and white Judith Evelyn watching a bloody red hand rising from a bathtub filled with bright red “blood”. Castle used colour film to film the effect. It had been suggested that the scene was accomplished by painting the set white, black, and gray and applying gray makeup to the actress to simulate monochrome, however a recent discussion on the 1950s Sci-Fi and Horror Film Board would appear to contradict this notion.
The Tingler also features the first mention of LSD in a major motion picture. At the time the drug was still legal. The title of the book Vincent Price’s character reads before taking LSD—”Fright Effects Induced By Injection of Lysergic Acid LSD25″ —is printed on the back cover of the book, not the front. This appears to have been done intentionally for a better shot for the expositional title of the book explaining the effects of LSD to the audience.
‘Rapidly paced, luridly plotted, and enthusiastically executed by everyone involved, The Tingler shows off all of Castle’s strengths as a master showman and filmmaker. While Hitchcock was crafting elegant Hollywood entertainment, Castle simply tried to grab his patrons by the throat and give them a rollicking good time, which he delivers here in spades.’ Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital
‘Based as it is around gimmicks and cinema-base stunts, The Tingler is a film that doesn’t have much story and that takes so many narrative short cuts it is impossible to treat it with any seriousness, but it retains the potential to be serious fun.’ Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film
“Vincent Price is typically great and as always commits himself fully to the proceedings, even if it’s utterly absurd.” Kyle Anderson, Nerdist
“Ludicrousness aside, Tingler is still one of the more confident Castle pictures: a well paced, at times intentionally, funny parody of 1950s domestication, with every couple in the story trying to off one another for a variety of amusingly convoluted reasons.” Chuck Bowen, Slant
” …for those of us who deliberately seek out knuckleheaded chuckle fests of the “thrills and chills” variety, Castle’s The Tingler is his mondo-bizarro masterpiece.” John Wilson, The Official Razzie Movie Guide
“Campish mini-classic … enhanced by a tongue-in-cheek flavor.” John Stanley, Creature Features
Cast and characters:
- Vincent Price … Dr. Warren Chapin
- Judith Evelyn … Mrs. Martha Ryerson Higgins
- Darryl Hickman … Dave Morris
- Patricia Cutts … Isabel Stevens Chapin
- Pamela Lincoln … Lucy Stevens
- Philip Coolidge … Oliver “Ollie” Higgins