The Tingler

The Tingler ★★★

A delicious plateful of cinematic cheese, William Castle's "The Tingler" is a silly, fun, ridiculous, and totally watchable horror film. Functioning now as a document of theatrical gimmickry in a time where filmmakers would try anything to sell tickets, the film is also a compelling observation of fear, movies, and the intersection that finds the two coming together. William Castle may have simply wanted butts in seats, but he creates something that speaks volumes about late 1950s moviegoing and the pull of horror entertainment.

The ridiculousness of "The Tingler" begins with its story which has something to do with a surgeon who makes a potentially groundbreaking find about human fear. Throw in a movie theater owner and his wife, the surgeon's own paramour, and two plucky twentysomethings, and the story begins to take shape. That shape finds those characters involved in the discovery of the slug-like organism that can kill people with their own fright. There is also LSD tossed in for good measure.

The narrative ranges from interesting to incomprehensible, but Castle only needs the story as a set-up for the real show. In the movie houses of 1959, that show included seats wired to vibrate any time the titular creature wriggled its way across screen. Viewing the film today does not include such gimmicks, but it creates added historical interest.

Castle may have been more showman than arstist, and "The Tingler" is awash in typical compositions to argue that fact. He builds a rough-around-the-edges production elevated by Vincent Price. The flatness of Castle's direction does not prevent the film from being memorable, however, and some scenes are atmospheric and, perhaps, even harrowing.

Its meandering pace, almost-no-frills production, and half-cooked story aside, "The Tingler" is an enjoyable horror film. With the always-great Vincent Price in tow, Castle creates an audience-friendly experience that is smarter than its limitations suggest. The film is an appealing genre exercise.

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