The Tingler (review by Doug Smith)

The Tingler is yet another “gimmick” movie from William Castle. In this particular outing, the gimmick was called “Percepto,” which was simply just some vibrators attached to the bottom of random theater seats. Because the movie dealt with fear killing people, the theater patrons were instructed to scream whenever they felt the “tingle,” otherwise it may kill them. As for me, I think I’d rather just sit in the chair and enjoy it.
Of course, the biggest name in this movie is legendary character actor, Vincent Price (Dr. Warren Chapin), who perhaps had one of his most over-the-top big screen moments in this film when he takes LSD. Darryl Hickman, who had his big screen debut in 1938 in the coveted role of “Child” in “If I Were King,” plays Dr. Chapin’s sidekick, David Morris. Former Broadway actor Judith Evelyn plays the deaf, mute Martha Higgins. Patricia Cutts is the drunken wife of Dr. Chapin, Isabel Stevens Chapin. Rounding out the cast are Pamela Lincoln and Philip Coolidge. Pamela plays David Morris’ love interest, Lucy Stevens. Philip is Martha Higgins’ cue-ball-head husband, Oliver “Ollie” Higgins.
The film opens with William Castle warning the audience that they will feel things the actors do. That’s pretty terrifying, because bankruptcy and desperation are incredibly scary things. Mr. Castle tells us that if at any point we feel a “tingling sensation,” we’re supposed to open our mouths and “let rip with” all we’ve got. I’m pretty sure we don’t need the tingling sensation to make us scream, as this movie is quite painful enough without it. After the grave warning, we see a bunch of floating, disembodied heads screaming at us at excruciatingly shrill levels. Then we’re whisked off to a prison where a porous, very moist gentleman with large nostrils is being dragged off to get executed while a bald guy watches. Kinky. Meanwhile, Dr. Warren Chapin is getting ready to perform an autopsy on the inmates’ body and it looks more like he’s going to do some deep cleaning with Witch Hazel as he pulls his latex gloves on.
Once the sweaty fellow is executed, they bring him in to Dr. Chapin who immediately starts cutting. Soon enough, the bald guy walks in. Turns out that the guy that was executed is the bald guy’s wife’s brother and he’s got some sort of morbid curiosity about death. I understand in-laws can be a pain in the ass, but getting a thrill out of their execution and autopsy is just plain wrong. As Dr. Chapin proceeds, he discovers that the dead guy’s vertebrae are cracked. He’s not at all surprised, as he’s seen it many times before and states there is a force of fear in everyone that can cause such things to happen. He’s probably right, because I know my spine feels like it’s going to crack whenever I hear an Amy Winehouse song. Thanks to the bald guy, Dr. Chapin comes up with a new name for this “force;” The Tingler. And, within five minutes of the opening scene, we have our title, ladies and gentlemen! At any rate, basically what it amounts to is this scene is major plot exposition and Dr. Chapin has been researching being scared to death for the past several years. After the autopsy, the bald guy finally introduces himself as Oliver Higgins and asks for a ride home. Dr. Chapin obliges and soon enough they arrive at the Higgins’ household, which happens to be above a silent movie theater Oliver’s wife, who’s deaf and mute, owns. Oliver takes Dr. Chapin upstairs for some coffee. It’s amazing how many fifties movies revolve around a good cup of java.
In the next scene, a lot of small talk happens. Oliver introduces Dr. Chapin to his wife, Martha, who’s deaf, mute, a germ freak, and loves money. All is pretty normal until Dr. Chapin breaks a dish and then cuts himself. Upon seeing the blood, Martha passes out. Of course, this fascinates Dr. Chapin. Since Martha is mute, she can’t “release the tension” that builds up from the fear, so her fainting is a psychosomatic release. Sure, Doc, whatever you say. The doctor revives her and then proceeds to go home.
Upon walking through the front doors of his very large house, Dr. Chapin chats with his wife’s sister, Lucy, who’s dating Dr. Chapin’s assistant, David. During this oh-so-riveting conversation, we learn that Dr. Chapin’s wife, Isabel, goes out drinking nearly every night and doesn’t approve of Lucy dating David because Lucy is “too young and he’s too poor.” It’s also mentioned that Isabel can decide whether Lucy gets any of some big inheritance.
Eventually, David arrives and has found a cat to experiment on. I’m calling Betty White! He also gives the doctor some LSD and warns him not to experiment with it alone. Woohoo, way to go Doc! Take a magic carpet ride, baby! David and Lucy try to leave for supper, but Dr. Chapin keeps on blabbing about his experiments with fear and tells David about the deaf-mute with her fainting spells. After more talking … and more talking … and a little more talking, it’s decided that whatever causes a person’s spine to tense up must be a tangible, visible thing and they need to capture someone at the exact second of terror. I’ve got an idea. Just tell someone they’re going to be forced to watch every episode of “Mad About You” in chronological order without any breaks.
At about 1AM, Isabel gets home and comes inside, but not before making out in the front yard with some guy the old floozy managed to pick up at whatever martini bar she was carousing at. Warren gets his gun. Everybody run. What did his daddy do? Wait, sorry, got lost there for a second. He waits in the shadows for a while, as she thinks she’s being all sneaky. That’s right, make the bitch look stupid first, that’s what I’d do. They exchange some sarcastic comments for a while and then she decides she needs a nightcap, apparently because the gallon of gin she guzzled wasn’t quite enough. As she’s lounging on the couch, Warren starts talking about how she should leave David and Lucy alone. She says the only way they’ll ever get married is over her dead body. The doctor responds something amounting to “that can be arranged” and then goes into how much he liked Lucy and Isabel’s father. If it weren’t for him, they wouldn’t have the huge house or the lab, etc., and then tells her that he suspects she killed him. At this point, he pulls the gun on her and forces her into the lab. Yeah, death by lab rat! Once inside, it turns out it was just an elaborate trick. He pulls the trigger, she passes out, and then he takes some x-rays of her. It turns out the gun was loaded with blanks for the purposes of his experiment. She obviously doesn’t like this too much, and vows some sort of revenge.
The next day, when David arrives, Dr. Chapin shows him the x-ray pictures of his wife’s spine. There seems to be some sort of mass that covers the entire spine immediately after she passes out, but then slowly dissipates. They then go into a progress review, and by this point in the movie the only thing really frightening is the amount of inane dialogue. What they know is that this thing in the spine has mass and makes the spine rigid. What they think they know is that perhaps when a person screams, it makes the thing recede. What I know is that I’m about to start drinking in order to get through this movie and what I think I know is that I’ll probably go through an entire bottle of Citron by the end. In conclusion, they decide that if someone can withstand the intense pain the Tingler inflicts on the spine until the point of death, they’d have a Tingler they could work with.
A bit later, Warren gives David the night off and tells him to take Lucy to a movie. Suspicious that the doctor will try something stupid, David and Lucy stick around and peep through the lab window. Sure enough, Warren decides to shoot up with a double dose of LSD. It takes about ten minutes, and pretty soon he’s freaking out all over the place. First he thinks the walls are closing in on him, and then he thinks he can’t breathe and then seeing his lab skeleton really sends him over the edge. He tries not to scream, but to no avail. He screams and passes out. When he comes to, he tells David how much intense pain there was. Yeah, now you know how we feel, pal. He then has a thought; perhaps the only person who wouldn’t scream would be … A MUTE! Queue suspenseful music.
Later that night, Dr. Chapin stops by to see Ollie and his wife. Ollie is concerned because ever since she saw the blood, she doesn’t eat and can’t sleep, so the good doctor offers to examine her. He gives her a shot to make her sleep, and then issues a prescription for sleeping pills. Contrary to what the movie makes you believe, he does not give her LSD. However, she wakes up and begins having what we think are hallucinations; monsters, axes being thrown at her, blood from the faucets, etc. She, of course, becomes terrified and, since she can’t scream, the Tingler in her spine kills her. Her husband doesn’t realize she’s dead, so he takes her to Dr. Chapin, where the doctor discovers the Tingler living inside her body. There are a few more plot twists and turns before the movie finally ends. The doctor’s wife drugs him and tries to kill him with the Tingler, the doctor figures out Ollie is the one who scared his wife to death and the Tingler gets loose in a theater.
All in all, the movie was ok. The gimmicks that William Castle comes up with are quite ingenious, but it doesn’t exactly translate well to a DVD. I give it 2 ½ yaks.