The Tingler

The Tingler ★★★★

Hooptober 2020 – Epilogue: reviews | list

"Where is that all-for-science attitude?"

The Tingler feels like William Castle's directorial thesis statement, the purest articulation of his desires as a filmmaker. Vincent Price is studying fear, which he finds manifests itself apart from the human body in a separate corporeal entity that can only be pacified by screaming, and eventually this fear-monster gets loose in a movie theater. Price is Castle's avatar in the film, the mad scientist who's maybe just a little bit horny for fear, who wants to understand the biological and psychological mechanics of horror and its effects on the body and the mind, and who is perhaps a bit too willing to test out his theories and run his experiments on his friends and family.

There's a detail about the functioning of the Tingler that feels obvious precisely for how brilliant it is: the fact that it's subdued by screaming could easily be misconstrued as a gimmick to get real-life audiences in the mood to holler—there's certainly good enough reason to not write the creature this way: why make it most vulnerable to exactly the natural human response it elicits?—but Price's explanation of how the Tingler works, however falsifiable by today's scientific standards, should be taken literally. The Tingler is subdued by screaming because it is a physical manifestation of fear-tension buildup in the body, and screaming releases that tension.

Because if we take the Tingler literally, we begin to see the appeal of horror as a genre for Castle. And then, as if to make the connection even more obvious, to walk the audience through exactly what we're supposed to do, the Tingler gets loose in a movie theater and must be subdued by an audience's member's shriek. Whether this physiological theory is scientifically accurate or not, it does seem to be Castle's raison d'être: the message of the film is that it is literally physically healthy to go to the movie theater and shout yourself hoarse, to absolutely yell your lungs out. Screaming releases tension from the body. Watching horror movies is good for you.


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