Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Tingler

The Tingler
seen @ Film Forum, New York, NY

So... who has two thumbs and recently said something along the lines of how William Castle movies don't get played often anymore?

[this guy]

For a brief time during last month's Castle-thon, it seemed like there was a bit of a resurgence in the horror director's popularity, at least on Twitter - though both Monstergirl and Goregirl had something to do with that, I'm sure. Castle may never attract more than a niche crowd of cinephiles, but if nothing else, they're devoted cinephiles.

I was reminded of this again when I (finally!) saw The Tingler on Sunday at Film Forum. It was part of an end-of-summer classic sci-fi series, with lots of great old genre movies that, if I had the time and money, I'd probably spend on the whole thing. The line for admission, as you might imagine, was out the door and far down the street. Good thing my pals John & Sue got there before me so I wouldn't be too far back. I invited the two of them along; I hadn't seen them in awhile and I knew they'd go for this.

Now, the Forum advertised this showing as being in "Percepto," which, as we learned from my Castle post, requires sticking vibrating motors underneath random audience seats and activating them during the movie. I had speculated that if this sort of thing were done today, there'd be fighting over seats and people would leak the locations of those seats online. 

There was no fighting that I saw on Sunday, and as for advance knowledge, well, I admit, I asked Will, who had already seen Tingler at the Forum, if he remembered where the rigged seats were. He was convinced there were very few of them, if any, and as it turned out, he was right. I didn't see any rigged seats to the left and the right of me, nor did I see any in the row in front of me. Needless to say, I was bummed... but what the Forum offered turned out to be not so bad. 

In Tingler, Vincent Price plays a scientist who discovers a parasitic life-form that resides at the base of the human spinal column and grows whenever somebody gets scared, and only screaming can control it (just go with it). To test his theory, he shoots himself up with LSD - which may make this 1959 film one of, if not the very first, films to depict LSD use. I remember thinking at that moment that gee, it would be cool if we could see him tripping in color. Sure enough, the print was overlaid with a color filter which looked like tie-died liquid squishing around. It was a nice touch - and it was just what I wished for!

There's a skeleton in Price's lab, and naturally, that made me think of "Emergo" from House on Haunted Hill - the skeleton that pops out from behind the screen and hovers over the crowd during a key moment. Well, wouldn't you know it, during a big "scary" moment in Tingler, what should come out of nowhere but the Emergo skeleton, to the cheers of the near-sellout crowd? It hung from a wire running at a diagonal above the auditorium. It dangled around back and forth for a few moments, and at one point an entire arm fell off the skeleton and into the crowd! That got a huge roar of approval! 

This scene is supposed to be colored this way.

Eventually it stayed in place, hanging in front of the screen as the movie continued. It stayed that way for several minutes, as whoever was in charge of it twitched it first one way, then another, as if unsure which way to pull it. One guy in front shouted "Wrong way!" when it moved away from its hiding place. Personally, though, I suspect that it was deliberately kept out a few minutes longer than necessary, just for the hell of it.

The best was yet to come, though. In the film, the Tingler parasite is extracted from a human corpse, and in a bit of meta-narrative, it eventually escapes into, of all places, a movie theater, and since screaming is supposed to neutralize it, Price implores the theater audience - and by extension, us - to scream like crazy. This is when the buzzers are supposed to go off, but what happened on Sunday was the ushers stormed into the auditorium with flashlights, frantically running around looking for the "Tingler" as everybody screamed like madmen. Somebody - a plant, no doubt - pretended to grapple with something that looked like the Tingler and wrestled it out of his seat and down the aisle and out the emergency exit and everybody went bananas over the whole thing, myself included.

The movie itself is not that great. Besides the questionable (at best) premise, one can clearly see the wire used to make the Tingler move, and Price on an LSD trip can never be taken seriously. As I've said before, though, Castle's films are less about quality than they are about entertainment, and even if this wasn't really presented in "Percepto" as I understood it, I was entertained.

Tingler played as part of a twin bill with Homicidal, complete with a Coward's Corner which two more plants escaped towards at the appointed moment in the film. I was glad to see it again because now that I knew the secret of that film, I could look at it again and see how the pieces of the puzzle fit, which I totally missed the first time. John had seen it before, but Sue hadn't, so she was surprised by the big twist towards the end. 

Castle himself, from his introduction to Tingler

Plus, this screening had people I knew in attendance; I saw an old comics acquaintance, Abby, who was there with a friend, and Will was there too, which I didn't expect, since he had seen it already. When it comes to movies, though, he really gets around; after this twin bill, he went into Brooklyn to see another movie! He told me later on Twitter that he has memberships at many New York film theaters, so he gets in cheap. That would explain it.


  1. Thanks for the mention, Rich. It was good to see you. I think I've seen THE TINGLER more than any other Price film. It's not my favorite, but it's fun. Enjoyed your story.

  2. The feeling's mutual, and many thanks in return. I guess it was too much to hope for that the Forum really would rig the seats, but at least they gave us something!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.