The Tingler

The Tingler ★★★½

I had never knowingly seen a William Castle film before but like anyone with an interest in movies, I knew who he was – cinema's ‘gimmick’ man. I knew about the stunts he pulled to provide audiences with an immersive experience. I knew that he largely produced schlock horror. I think that he was best known in America. I could be wrong about that but I’m not aware of him having much traction in the UK.

Anyway, this was my first time dipping my toes in the bloody waters of a Castle film and I have to say I enjoyed the experience – I expected to, mind you. The gleeful way in which he appropriates the horror aesthetics of EC Comics (and possibly even Eerie magazine) is kind of infectious.

The Tingler starts in slightly off-kilter film-noir mode with pathologist Dr Chapin (Vincent Price) having a conversation with a chap called Ollie (Philip Coolidge), who is the brother-in-law of a recently executed fellow that lies on the slab in front of him. This is the first of many leaps of logic required by the viewer – Ollie just wanders in on the autopsy and Chapin seems okay with this. Castle and writer Robb White clearly aren’t going for verisimilitude; they just want to advance the plot – and in double-quick time.

The noir vibe continues when we meet Chapin’s wife, Isabel (Patricia Cutts), a femme fatale if ever there was one. The couple isn’t getting along, to say the least. He’s obsessed with discovering the titular entity that snaps a victim’s spine (from within) at the point of extreme fear. She, meanwhile, is carrying on with whomever she likes and does little to disguise her antics.

Chapin and Ollie meet at the latter’s cinema, which is actually run by his wife, Martha (Judith Evelyn), who is deaf-mute. The doctor observes that she would be unable to scream if terrorised and thus would be unable to weaken the Tingler’s power. “Hmmm”, he thinks…

None of what follows really makes much sense but that doesn’t matter because The Tingler is just so darned entertaining. All the characters are played completely straight, no matter how daft things get, which is a particular strength of the movie – there’s no sense of the material being sent up.

The little splashes of colour (well, one colour) were a genuine surprise to me; I’d never seen anything like that before (but have since learned that this idea had been used in other films). And although the Tingler is clearly just an oversized rubber insect, there were a couple of times when it sent an involuntary shiver down my spine, which means I was being tingled, I guess.

Mission accomplished, Mr Castle!

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