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One thing I get a lot of requests for while maintaining this site is for more reviews of drive-in style B movies of yesteryear. And while the cult film is a perennial favorite of mine, I tend to try and keep up with new releases and throw other various bits up to try and keep the site current. But occasionally, as in the case of TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, I'll dig out a zinger of a classic horror film and give a bit of my insight on it.
I originally witnessed THE TINGLER, in fact, at a drive-in some time back, and had recently been thinking about just how well this movie stands out among other chillers of its era. For those unfamiliar with William Castle, he was responsible for churning out roughly fifty films during the 40's, 50's, and 60's, primarily those in the Spaghetti Western and Horror genres. In some years he would churn out five or more films at a time, a feat that even surpassed his peers such as Ed Wood and Roger Corman. Some of his better known films, such as 13 GHOSTS and HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, have recently been made as big-budget Hollywood features. Castle definitely was an innovator of sorts, and nothing quite demonstrates that more than THE TINGLER.
What's so special about this movie anyway, you ask? Well, in one word, it's "Percepto". You see, when this film was originally shown in theaters half a century ago, a gimmick was rigged wherein theater seats would be wired with buzzers that when activated at key points during the film would give the viewer a simulated electric shock. At the time this was released, this basically scared the living Bejeezus out of moviegoers and caused some people to flee theaters. But it isn't like they didn't have fair warning. The movie actually opens with a shot of Castle himself explaining that the audience would indeed feel the sensations that the characters onscreen would. He explains, as is an integral part of the storyline of the actual film, that the sensation can be stifled by screaming. We'll get in to all this in a moment.
Once Castle is gone and we actually get to the story here, we learn a little more of what he was referring to. The movie's opening scene involves a prisoner being led to his death via the electric chair, with him basically throwing a hissy fit. After this fella is dead, we meet our star working on his autopsy. Now why would you bother doing an autopsy on a man killed in the electric chair? Funny you should ask. Well, first off, our star is Dr. Warren Chapin, played by the immortal Vincent Price, and as we all know, Mr. Price can do whatever he wants. But more importantly, it's because he's been experimenting on those who have been in a state of fear before death and has been noticing their vertebrae crushed. HE wonders if it has anything to do with that tingling feeling that people get when in a frightened state. We also meet theater owner Ollie Higgins, who happens to be married to a deaf mute germophobe who freaks out at the sight of blood.
Dr. Chapin returns home to find his assistant's wife. Dr. Chapin is looking for his wife Isabel, Lucy is looking for her beau David. Lucy also happens to be Isabel's little sister. Oh, and Isabel is a royal bitch who cheats on Warren and killed her own father for the inheritance. See, there's already a whole lotta buildup going on here. David arrives and lets Dr. Chapin in on their new "prescription", which just happens to be LSD. As in Acid. Floyd. Trip. Whatever. A good decade before Tim Leary tried to petition the government to put the stuff in our drinking water, William Castle made it into a plot device. Now, the plan here for the doctors is to use this stuff to help with the fear experiments. But you just know this is going to get interesting now.
That night while Warren is working in his lab, his whore of a wife comes home after galavanting about with one of her johns. Dr. Chapin confronts her and threatens her life. She eventually passes out from sheer terror, and he begins running some x-rays on her. And here, we meet the title creep itself: The Tingler. The Tingler is a parasitic type thing that looks like a big centipede and lives along the spinal column. At moments of great feart, the Tingler preys, clamping down on the spine and causing the tingling sensation. Duh. Dr. Chapin and David hypothesize that what keeps the Tingler at bay is the release of the fear, usually accomplished by screaming. Warren does a little experiment with an overdose of LSD and testing his fear, but he manages to scream and run the tingler off before he gets the desired results. In order to properly test their theory, however, they're going to need to run their tests on someone who can make it all the way to their death without screaming. Gee, I guess it's a pretty neat coincidence that Dr. Chapin was lucky enough to meet a deaf mute germophobe who freaks out at the sight of blood, huh?
Warren pays a visit to Ollie and Martha and tries to explain some medical mumbo-jumbo to Ollie about how he's going to help Martha get over her condition with the blood and all. Of course, we all know he's going to dose her up on Acid and make her freak her shit. So he does so, and the scene of scenes begins. Martha begins hallucinating, seeing windows open and close and rocking chairs sway and then there's this scary zombie dude chasing her with a machete. Running from the monster, she winds up in a her bathroom, where the bathtub and sink are full...of blood! But the cool thing here, and part of why this movie is such a milestone, is the fact that the blood is bright red, even while the rest of the film is done in Black and White. Now, of course, it's already been established that Martha has an inherent fear of blood, so she's wigging her shit at this point. An arm reaches from the blood, so Martha runs to the medicine cabinet, and witnesses the final straw that causes her to keel over: her own death certificate.
Dr. Chapin returns home, where he has yet another confrontation with his harlot of a wife. Ollie then shows up with his dead deaf mute germophobe of a wife who freaks out at the sight of blood in the car, and they bring her into the lab to run an autopsy. They go behind a curtain, and Warren pulls the Tingler from Martha's spine. This is yet another really cool effect, as the whole scene is done in a creepy silhouette. Unfortunately, Warren doesn't handle the Tingler tight enough, and it bites him. When Warren screams, though, it lets go and drops to the floor. Isabel, however, is aware of the power of the Tingler. Suddenly she gets all devious and drugs Warren's glass and makes him pass out. Then, while he's out, she unleashes the Tingler on him. Warren's in touble until Lucy runs in and screams, saving Warren from imminent death. Oh yeah, somewhere around this point we learn that it was Ollie who scared Martha to death after all too. Nice.
Now, there's a lot more coolness in this movie I've yet to get to, but I don't want to just go off and summarize the whole thing for you. There's a lot more cool stuff, including a real zinger of a suprise ending, that you just need to see for yourself. If you've not seen it, I definitely suggest getting a hold of a copy. It's definitely a winner for anyone who likes campy horror stuff, as well as a cool film to watch for its novelty. Castle really unloaded the goods here with THE TINGLER, using so many little cinema tricks like the colored blood and the silhouette shots that the theater gimmicks were kind of just the icing on the cake. Oh, to be around in 1959 and be subjected to the shock of "Percepto".
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