Ladies and Gentlesirs, a declaration: William Castle, the producer/director of this motion picture, was a genius filmmaker who was decades ahead of his time. Oh, many a critic and historian have made mention of his dazzling showmanship and marketing acumen. Such as during the initial screenings of The Tingler, when Castle equipped seats with extra-large Joy Buzzers, to provide that “tingling” sensation; or in the final act, which actually takes place in a movie theater, and the lights go out. Vincent Price starts telling the on-screen audience (and, by proxy, us) to “SCREAM! scream for your LIVES!” On top of that however, Castle was still an effective director, who was able to elevate incredibly banal stories into effectively creepy pictures.
Case in point: The Tingler is about a spinal parasite that feasts on fear, and can only be destroyed by screaming. Yep, that’s the entire premise right there. And yet, Castle was still able to craft an edge-of-your seat picture, especially in two memorable sequences, one of which involving a splash of bright red blood in an otherwise black and white picture.
Of course, when we screened it at our event, we discovered an entirely different plotline at work. While director Castle, writer Robb White, and star Vincent Price would have us believe this is a horror film about a large spinal parasite, we found that the film was actually about something else entirely:
The Female Orgasm, and the invention of the G-Spot Vibrator.
Before I continue, allow me to present this dialogue exchange:
Price: Well, it affects some people like that. Did you notice how rigid she became just before she fainted?
Coolidge: She Always Does. It’s interesting.
Price: Because she has no vocal chords, she can’t release her fear tensions vocally as we can. So they continue to mount, until at last, she can’t endure it.
Exchange the word “fear” for “sexual,” and you have an entirely different story going on here. Conversations like this go on throughout the movie, permeating every aspect of the script:
Price: Her unreleased tensions grow so great…that she goes into a Psychosomatic Blackout!
Hell, one of the villains in the story is a woman whose primary crime is that she doesn’t love her husband anymore and is sexually independent. That’s about the gist of it…until she tries to kill her husband, of course; which even then is mostly laughed away as a prank.
As the story continues, a “tingler” is eventually extracted from a human host and put on display for the audience…revealing it to be a rubbery millipede that resembles nothing less than a “toy” intended for a woman’s pleasure. As we watched, our audience speculated that the irresponsible Mad Scientist (and yet somehow not just the protagonist, but actually the “hero”) played by Vincent Price went on to design the first prototype of said device, raking in millions.
All that aside, we're left with the final question: Is The Tingler a “good” movie? That depends on how much you appreciate 50’s low-budget horror. However, if you’re hosting a Vincent Price Cavalcade Event, this film is a surefire winner on all levels.