Friday, 29 November 2019

The Tingler (1959)

A well-paced, imaginative, creepy, absurdly funny and weird offering

Directed by William Castle
Produced by William Castle
Written by Robb White
Music by Von Dexter
Cinematography Wilfred M. Cline
Edited by Chester W. Schaeffer
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Running time: 82 minutes
Budget: $250,000


Vincent Price as Dr. Warren Chapin
Judith Evelyn as Mrs. Martha Ryerson Higgins
Darryl Hickman as Dave Morris
Patricia Cutts as Isabel Stevens Chapin
Pamela Lincoln as Lucy Stevens
Philip Coolidge as Oliver "Ollie" Higgins



Fright-Filled SHOCK Thriller! 
Ghastly Beyond Belief! 
Amazing NEW TERROR Device 
Makes You A Living Participant 

In Screamarama!!!! 

Can You Take PERCEPTO? 

The screen's first 

Fun Film Fact 

"Percepto!" was a gimmick whereby electrical "buzzers" were attached to the underside of some seats in theaters where The Tingler was screened. The buzzers were small World War II surplus airplane wing de-icing motors. This vibrating device was activated with the onscreen action.

Read on more......
Spoilers follow below.....



"I am William Castle, the director of the motion picture you are about to see. I feel obligated to warn you that some of the sensations—some of the physical reactions which the actors on the screen will feel—will also be experienced, for the first time in motion picture history, by certain members of this audience. I say 'certain members' because some people are more sensitive to these mysterious electronic impulses than others. These unfortunate, sensitive people will at times feel a strange, tingling sensation; other people will feel it less strongly. But don't be alarmed—you can protect yourself. At any time you are conscious of a tingling sensation, you may obtain immediate relief by screaming. Don't be embarrassed about opening your mouth and letting rip with all you've got, because the person in the seat right next to you will probably be screaming too. And remember—a scream at the right time may save your life."

Now That We Have Your Attention……. 

Pathologist, Dr. Warren Chapin (played by “The Master of Menace,” Vincent Price) is obsessed with the concept of fear. While conducting autopsies on the bodies of executed prisoners, he has observed that the vertebrae crack precisely at the moment of execution, as if they were under an immense pressure. He believes that this is not due to electrocution, but is instead evidence of a fear-generated force that resides in a space at the base of the human spine. Chapin is determined to prove that this force has a physical existence which he has dubbed….

'The Tingler' 

Apart from his work in the prison morgue, Dr Chapin conducts experiments in a home laboratory financed by his wealthy alcoholic, unfaithful lush of a wife, Isabel. Aided by his able young apprentice David, Chapin continues to conduct experiments on fear in living things. Up until now, kidnapped alley cats have sufficed as test subjects, but it soon becomes clear that only human subjects will do.

A Parasite That Feeds On Fear? 

Dr Chapin is certain that a state of extreme fear causes a tingling of the spine in states of extreme fear due to the growth of a creature, a parasite or “Tingler” that is attached to the human spine. There it resides curled up, feeding and growing stronger whenever its host experiences fear. Without some kind of release, it can effectively crush a host’s spine if curled up long enough. The parasite can, however be weakened by the host’s screaming.

We soon see that Dr Chapin’s relationship with his wife is a toxic one, itself a product of a kind of venomous fear. Isabel fears wasting her life with a man (over whom she exercises financial power) who is obsessed with his work, while Chapin as he waits up for his unfaithful wife at nights fears the loss of his wife and marriage along with the kind of humiliation that would bring. The poisoned nature of their relationship is reflected in their contemptuous caustic verbal exchanges:

Isabel Stevens Chapin: There's a word for you.
Dr. Warren Chapin: There are several for you.

Isabel Stevens Chapin: The only way Dave Morris will marry my sister is over my dead body.
Dr. Warren Chapin: Unconventional but not impossible.

Isabel Stevens Chapin: I'm tired, I think I'll go to bed.
Dr. Warren Chapin: Stay up a bit, who knows? The next time you go to sleep it might be forever.

Isabel Stevens Chapin: I had nothing to do with my father's death, and you can't prove that I did.
Dr. Warren Chapin: Would you like me to prove it isn't nonsense?
Isabel Stevens Chapin: You can't prove it. Anyway there isn't anything to prove.
Dr. Warren Chapin: But you wouldn't like me to try. And you should remember this, organic poisons are like old soldiers, they never die, they just lie smoldering in the grave, and I'm not bad at autopsies either.

Dr. Warren Chapin: Either you give Lucy half of all the money you have and leave her alone, or you commit suicide right now.
Isabel Stevens Chapin: Suicide? You mean murder.
Dr. Warren Chapin: When I finish rearranging things, it'll look like suicide.

Chapin and Isabelle’s marriage is clearly dysfunctional. She is unashamedly unfaithful to him and stays out until the early hours of the morning and even gives her lover a farewell kiss outside the front of their residence. The evidence of her unfaithfulness is even carelessly left around the place in the form of two used glasses of wine and a forgotten tie clip which Chapin can plainly see. Isabelle does not deny her unfaithfulness and almost justifies it by accusing her husband of neglecting her by spending so much time secluded in his laboratory. Since he does not seem to crave contact with living people, Isabelle believes that she has no choice but to seek human affection wherever and from whoever she can.

Chapin’s primary interest in the human race is determined by the extent it can further his experiments. He continues to suffer the torment and humiliation of his wife’s conduct because he needs her wealth to finance his work.

"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?"

As part of a deliberate and calculated scheme, Chapin callously performs an experiment on Isabel, by threatening her and then apparently deliberately shooting her with a gun in order to induce the required degree of fear within her. Isabel, however is unaware that Chapin’s gun has merely fired a blank bullet. While she is unconscious, he X-rays her and discovers a mass at the base of her spine—evidence that seems to validate his hypothesis. 

Bad Trip, Man 

Chapin soon decides to experiment on himself with LSD and recording his responses to the resulting hallucinations. 

We then witness Chapin convulsing and thrashing about in his lab in a very exaggerated and stylized manner feeling that he is suffocating and believing that the walls are closing in on him. Before the fear he experiences can reach its crescendo, Chapin lets out a terrific scream.

Fun Film Fact 

The drug LSD was legal at the time the The Tingler was screened. It is the first major motion picture depiction of LSD use. Writer Rob White had experimented with LSD at UCLA after hearing about it from Aldous Huxley and decided to work it into the script. 

The title of the book that Dr Chapin reads before taking LSD, “Fright Effects Induced by Injection of Lysergic Acid LSD25” is printed on the back of the book in order to provide a better shot of the title.

Here are a couple of fascinating experiments involving the use of LSD from the 1950s and 1960s:

Compare the account of the LSD trip given by that truly lovely 1950’s housewife (above) with that of Vincent Price’s on-screen depiction in which his eyes flit from side to side with growing apprehension of his surroundings. This is followed by visions of windows being nailed shut, and walls closing in on him before he finally succumbs to the urge to scream. For the lady in the clip, her experience was - all too beautiful.

As for the LSD test involving the army lads (above) – what a way of bringing warfare to an abrupt halt! Better having soldiers giggling inanely and climbing trees instead of shooting at each other!

Another unhappy union involves the marriage of Ollie and Martha. Ollie Higgins is a silent movie theater owner and is a friendly acquaintance of Dr. Chapin. He’s an odd little character who doesn’t seem to mind keeping Chapin company during the latter’s autopsy work! 

Higgins's wife, Martha is a deaf mute and comes across as being a text book case of obsessive, compulsive and phobic traits. Take for instance, her gollum-like hoarding, locking away and constant checking of the proceeds of the ticket sales! At one point Ollie goes as far as to claim that his wife would have killed him if she could!

Martha takes on the role of an ideal candidate for Chapin’s research. Like a character in one of her movie theater's silent films, she can only communicate her thoughts and emotions via a kind of pantomime. More importantly as far as Chapin is concerned, Martha is physically unable to scream, and lacking any real outlet for her fears, she tends to lose consciousness at the apex of the fear that she experiences.

Later on, Dr Chapin is informed by Ollie that Martha is feeling unwell. He then pays her a visit and administer a sedative. Martha eventually opens her eyes to a new and terrifying reality in which she seemingly finds herself in a room full of slamming doors and weird supernatural entities and events.

A monochrome Martha tries to escape to the monochrome safety of the bathroom only to be confronted by the unnerving sight of a tub full of lurid red blood while bright red blood flows from a black and white sink. Her terror rises as she witnesses something akin to a grotesque version of the lady-in-the-lake hand and forearm rising from the bath-tub but this one being coated in red blood.

The last thing that Martha sees is the bathroom medicine cabinet door opening to reveal her own death certificate. Unable to scream, she collapses to the floor and literally dies of fright.

Fun Film Fact 

The Tingler was filmed in black-and-white, but the short color “bloody bathtub” sequence was spliced into the film for effect. This scene reputedly involved having the set painted white, black and gray along with the application of gray makeup to the actress to simulate monochrome. It is also claimed that the scene was merely filmed in black and white and that the "blood" red colour was painted on the film. Which do you think seems more likely?

After Chapin has returned home, Ollie arrives there carrying his wife's body. Martha is placed on the examination table in the lab where Chapin confirms that she has been dead for at least an hour. While Chapin records the details for Martha’s death certificate, her sheet-covered body rises up on the table but soon settles back down again. Ollie is convinced she is still alive but Chapin assures him that she is definitely dead. Nevertheless, Chapin needs to know why she moved.

Dr Chapin proceeds to conduct an autopsy on the body of Martha. In a visually dramatic scene, he draws screens around the examining table, and in silhouette, we witness him extracting a shadowy monstrous form from the deceased Martha's spine.

"Strong enough to kill a man, easily and quickly." 

The Tingler resembles a revolting slug-like earwig with pincers. It is nevertheless a crude effect indeed. there’s no mistaking the wires that pull it around nor its obvious rubber construction. Still, it manages to exude a sufficient degree of nightmarish repulsiveness for audiences caught up in the story.

Before Chapin can secure the creature, it pinches his arm causing him to scream which in turn results in the creature releasing its grip on his arm before falling seemingly lifeless on the table.

A little while later after the creature has been secured in a wire mesh carrying case, Isabel manages to spike her husband’s drink while they have a somewhat distrustful celebratory drink. Chapin soon passes out while Ollie is explaining to him over the phone that Martha is at a funeral parlor and that he has called the police.

We next see confirmation of Ollie’s role in his wife’s death as he gathers up the items he used to scare her to death. Meanwhile, as Chapin lays unconscious on the couch, Isabel approaches with The Tingler in its wire mesh carrying-case. She then lets it loose to inch its way over to Chapin.

When it reaches the doctor’s throat, the creature proceeds to strangle him with its pincers. At that moment Dave’s fiance, Lucy arrives home, hears Chapin struggling and screams causing The Tingler to loosen its grip on the doctor's throat and fall to the floor.

“To break the laws of nature is always a dangerous thing. We've not only broken laws, we've violated some basic principles. We had to, but now we're going to stop.” 

The next day in the lab, Dr Chapin tries to destroy The Tingler with a blow torch but soon realizes that “nothing affects it” and that they “can't destroy the thing." Chapin, unlike your typical on-screen mad scientist, decides that he is not going to share the discovery with anyone in any way for according to his way of thinking,

"The Tingler exists in every human being we now know…. It's an ugly and dangerous thing. Ugly because it's the creation of man's fear. Dangerous because a frightened man is dangerous. We can't destroy it, because we've removed it from its natural place."

Chapin decides that the Tingler must be put back inside Martha's body where it will hopefully be re-absorbed. After learning from Lucy that Isabel has moved out. Chapin takes the caged Tingler and departs for Ollie's place.

Ollie as we know is a small theatre owner who works hard for little real return. It is a hard life and one which he hopes to escape and this seems to provide the motive for his murdering his wife by frightening her to death knowing that she could not scream on account of her being mute. 

We next see Ollie at home packing and emptying the safe of cash. Chapin soon arrives and confronts him. It quickly becomes obvious to him that Ollie tried to frighten his wife to death. As the two men argue and before the procedure to return the Tingler can be performed, the creature escapes from its cage and gains entry to the theater below by means of a loose floor board.


The climactic movie-within-a-movie scene is a clever piece of audience participation. There is a dual opposing process going on in which the audience is being encouraged to be drawn into the action of the film and yet it is being made plainly clear that this is nothing more than a…! It’s as if there’s barely a discernible distinction between the film’s actual live audience and movie audience within the film itself!

Having already been primed to “ remember the instructions” as to “how you can guard yourself from attack from... The Tingler,” the Cold War ‘duck and cover’ generation is only too willing to comply!

The Tingler has inched its way into the theatre and has begun crawling up a girl's leg, Chapin suddenly pulls the lights and the theatre along with the very screen we are watching is plunged into blackness. Deprived of the power of sight our imaginations are fired up by the sound of screaming coming from the sound track. Despite Chapin’s reassurances that there is no cause for alarm, you add your screams to the screams from the soundtrack as the "Percepto" device is triggered.

Meanwhile, the Tingler has managed to crawl into the projection booth and break the film print off the projector. On both our screen and the screen of the movie-theatre-within-a-movie, there appears the huge frightening shadow of the Tingler. Suddenly darkness descends once more as Chapin announces;

"Ladies and Gentlemen, please don't panic, but SCREAM. Scream for your lives. The Tingler is loose in this theatre. If you don't scream, it will kill you."

What’s a young movie-goer living in a repressed conservative world going to do? Any opportunity to let loose with a scream and do what everyone else is doing! Beats being told to shut up or keep quiet all the time. Nothing like a good old hysterical primal scream to release pent up tension and fears.

Fun Film Fact

It’s important to remember that The Tingler was not intended to be viewed at home alone via a streaming service. It was intended to be screened and seen in a theater full of people. It was therefore intended to be part of a shared experience involving a measure of audience participation. 

This is evident during the climax of the film in which The Tingler is unleashed in the movie theater, while the audience watched Tol'able David (1921), in which a young woman escapes the unwanted advances of her boyfriend and is targeted. 

In the theater, a woman would scream and pretend to faint. She was then taken away in a stretcher, which was all just a pre-arranged part of the show. Castle hired fake screamers and fainters which were planted in the audience. There were also fake nurses stationed in the foyer and an ambulance outside of the theater. The pretend fainters would be carried out on a gurney and taken away by the ambulance only to reappear for the next showing.

Vincent Price’s voice would then be heard referring to the fainted lady and would request the audience to remain seated.

After the film-within-a-film resumed, it would be interrupted yet again with the film appearing to break as the shadow of the Tingler moves across the projection beam. The image of the film would then go dark, and all lights in the theatre would go off! There would just be Price's voice warning the audience,

"Ladies and gentlemen, please do not panic. But scream! Scream for your lives! The tingler is loose in this theater!" 

Suddenly the Percepto! Buzzers would be activated giving some audience members a jolt. The screams and shrieks of the theatre audience along with the voices of equally scared theatre goers coming from the screen, would be replaced by the voice of Price, explaining that the Tingler had been paralyzed and that the danger was over. 


After Chapin reinserts the Tingler into Martha’s body in order to neutralize it, he departs leaving Oliie alone. Suddenly, the door slams shut and locks itself followed by the window closing by itself. The tingler then causes the body of Martha to rise from the bed and stare fixedly and horrifyingly at her husband. Echoing what had happened to his wife, Ollie is so terrified that he is unable to scream…….

With the fading of the screen, the voice of Vincent price warns us:
"Ladies and gentlemen, just a word of warning. If any of you are not convinced that you have a tingler of your own, the next time you are frightened in the dark ... don't scream". 


Note: The author of this blog post does not in any way condone, promote or encourage the use of illicit drugs.

©Chris Christopoulos 2019

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