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Scream for your lives
on August 20, 2006
William Castle was the king of gimmick horror, juicing up his sometimes-great-sometimes-really-hokey horror flicks with everything flying skeletons to two-tone glasses.
For "The Tingler," it was a buzzer in the seat called Percepto, which would be a shock to anyone watching the movie. The movie itself was a rather uneven but original idea, with Vincent Price playing a borderline doctor who discovers the very roots of human fear. It's entertaining, but has some big flaws.
Dr. Warren Chapin (Price) is performing autopsies at a local prison, where each dead man died in the electric chair -- and something crushed their spines. To further his research, he frightens his nasty wife and X-rays her, and finds something that appears when afraid, and vanishes when the victim screams. He tries taking acid to frighten himself, but the experiment fails.
Then the deaf-mute wife of an acquaintance is frightened to death by some ghastly visions, and Chapin extracts an enormous, centipede-like worm from her spine -- the "Tingler." After Chapin's wife almost kills him with it, he decides that some borders should never be crossed. But before he can return the Tingler to its dead host, it escapes.
All B-movie goodness, complete with a rubber worm and deliciously vitriolic dialogue. While the idea of a spinal parasite fed by fear is a really hokey idea, Castle plays it so straight that the audience doesn't really have an opening for scoffing. Like a good fantasy story, it creates its own reality.
Castle was at his best when he was doing nasty dialogue, and he's in good form here ("There's a word for you." "There's several for you!"). He builds up a sense of rising tension throughout the straightforward plot, which is only broken when the movie ends. And despite tubs of blood and giant worms, Castle also shows his talent for the understatedly creepy when Chapin takes acid.
In fact, "The Tingler" would be a great B-movie if it weren't for two very hokey scenes. One is of a black screen, with Price's voice exhorting, "The Tingler is in the theatre! Scream for your lives!" Very awkward. The other is the final scene, which makes absolutely no sense, and has nothing to do with what comes before it. I guess Castle just needed a shock ending.
It must have been nice for Price to play a non-villain for once -- his Chapin is obsessed and a little twisted, but he isn't insane or nasty, and by the last act he's realized that science isn't the end-all. Patricia Cutts and Philip Coolidge give good performances too, as David's toxic wife and as a sweaty theatre manager who isn't as timid as he seems to be.
"The Tingler" is a fairly entertaining cult horror movie, with good acting and a big rubber worm. If only it weren't for those two scenes.