The Tingler! (in Percepto!)

Ladies and gentlemen, please do not panic! But SCREAM! Scream for your lives!

Starring: Vincent Price, Phillip Coolidge, Judith Evelyn, Patricia Cutts
Rating: 8/10
Directed By: William Castle
Runtime: 82 minutes

Director William Castle has been known to pull out a gimmick or two to promote his films, and this one was perhaps one of his best. He called it Percepto, and it essentially involved attaching buzzers to the bottom of theater seats that were set off at a certain point in the film (I won’t ruin the surprise for you). He also made audience members sign a waiver, a sort of life insurance policy, before they were allowed into the movie. Some sources have erroneously claimed that Castle had the seats wired for electricity and would literally shock the audience members, but this has been denied by Castle himself as well as audience members of those original 1959 screenings.

I, along with my monkey counterpart, was among some of the first viewers to experience The Tingler in Percepto! since 1959, thanks to the good people at Fantastic Fest and the Alamo Drafthouse. Was it cheesy and hokey? Of course! Was it still charming and fun? Hell yes! The best part of the experience, I think, is that the movie is fantastic even without the gimmick.

The story centers around Dr. Warren Chapin (the magnanimous Vincent Price) and his quest to understand the nature of fear. His ultimate goal: find out if someone can really die of fright, and what might cause such a fatal reaction. The answer: THE TINGLER!! What is a “tingler”, you might ask? Well, we learn that it’s a living organism that resides in every person’s spinal column, and grows bigger and bigger as a person gets more afraid. The only way to defeat the Tingler: “Scream! Scream for your lives!” Chapin first decides to test the theory on himself by injecting himself with LSD in order to become frightened. Side note: this was the first film to ever depict on screen a person experiencing LSD, and while it’s no Fear And Loathing, it was a decent scene with Price strangling in his own clothes, clawing at the ever-encroaching walls, and peering out the windows in paranoia. Bad trip, man. Afterwards, with the help of his young lab assistant, Chapin decides to test the scream theory on a woman he met only hours before who happens to be a deaf mute, unable to scream. I won’t spoil the whole plot for you, but things get hairy and the Tingler gets loose, leading to the exciting climax/audience participation…and trust me, it’s more fun if you play along.

One of my absolute favorite parts of this film were the interactions between Chapin and his chronically-unfaithful wife Isabel (Patricia Cutts); you can really feel the ire when Chapin unleashes zingers such as “I was going to use this cat [for my experiment], but you made a much better subject. Have you two met, in the same alley perhaps?” A few times I laughed out loud at their brilliant exchanges. Phillip Coolidge and Judith Evelyn also offer up great performances as the eccentric owners of a silent picture moviehouse whose lives cross with Chapin’s thanks to a eerily bizarre autopsy. The film is in black-and-white, but includes an impressive scene where color images are spliced in and we get to see the bathroom faucets run red with blood and a disembodied arm rise from the blood-filled tub. Pretty awesome!

In all, The Tingler is creepy and funny and bizarre and I loved it. This movie needs no gimmick, but god bless William Castle for giving us one anyways!

During Fantastic Fest, this film was paired with the documentary “Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story”

And here’s the trailer, introduced by the genius himself, William Castle!

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