THE TINGLER

(1959) 1hr 22min

We were inspired to screen William Castle’s 1959 cult horror after watching Charlie Lyne’s film essay FEAR ITSELF. Both are about the theory and feeling of fear in the cinema. In contrast to Lyne’s hypnotic clip-fest, Castle imagines fear as a centipede-like manifestation that has the power to crush your spine in a split-second. With this cosy set-up in place, Castle’s plot allows the Tingler to escape into the movie theatre, threatening the very audience that has been watching the film.

Getting hands-on in ways that have vanished from the modern multiplex, Castle appeared alongside THE TINGLER, making personal appeals for calm from the stage, planting hired lungs amongst the audience and, most audaciously, bolting the PERCEPTO buzzer under selected cinema seats. The only way to save yourself was to scream, scream as hard as you can!

Elevated like so many films of its era by the clammy presence of Vincent Price, THE TINGLER is hardly a great film, but we love it simply because it so brazenly aspires to greatness. From the fourth-wall busting script to the wires tugging the titular creature along, THE TINGLER wears its huckster heart on its sleeve: the movie simply wants to scare the shit out of you (and make good money doing it).

A pioneer of so-called gimmick effects and audience interaction, Castle made a career out of showmanship. Other notable efforts included launching a skeleton on a zip wire above the heads of his audience in HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) and a “fear break” that invited terrified audience members to leave before the climax of HOMICIDAL (1961). Adored by filmmakers including John Waters, Robert Zemickis and Joe Dante, Castle’s producing role for what became Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) was an effort to secure a serious filmmaking legacy.

Slumbering through ROSEMARY’S BABY again recently, we feel Polanski could have done with a gimmick or two. Although, Ruth Gordon’s outsized performance as neighbour Minnie Castevet comes close to Vincent Price tripping on LSD in pursuit of THE TINGLER.


IN MOVING PICTURES?

  • A grasping hand emerges from a bath of red blood in an otherwise black and white frame.

HUNGRY FOR MORE?

Watch THE TINGLER on-demand at Amazon Video or get the splendid DVD.

  • Don’t be afraid of the nonsensically retitled 13 GHOSTS (1960) remake, THIR13EN GHOSTS (2001). The back-story vignettes on the DVD give delicious detail about the excellent character design and VFX (it’s just a shame they abandoned the ghost viewer/remover glasses Castle gave out in 1960).
  • Joe Dante’s MATINEE (1993) is based on the life and work of a Castle-type figure and features a great performance from John Goodman.
  • RADIANT CIRCUS’ spirit animal – Werner Herzog – has fun with another movie gimmick – 3D – in CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS (2010).

Featured image: THE TINGLER (1959), lobby card.

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