Though utterly flawed, THE TINGLER is by far one of my favorite movies of all time, let alone my favorite Vincent Price film. Sure, Price delivers better performances in WITCHFINDER GENERAL and scores of other films, but none of his films stack up to the sheer amount of fun and lunacy that is contained between the first and last reels of THE TINGLER. Though his presence is important in this film as the dedicated scientist, Dr. Warren Chapin, there are so many other aspects that make this film an instant classic.
William Castle’s showman tactics were always an important factor in his films, making them an essential part of wanting to see the film in a theater, but THE TINGLER hinged on that aspect. I’ve seen THE TINGLER in the theater with Castle’s Percepto (a buzzer installed under the chairs of random seats in theaters playing the film) installed and I have to say, as some films must be seen in 3D, it is a film that is enhanced by being in a packed theater. Everything hinges on the particular scene in which the Tingler gets loose in a crowded theater. That was Castle’s money shot. All else in the film, specifically the plot, falls by the wayside in comparison to the attention to this particular scene. It’s a great scene, don’t get me wrong, but had as much attention been given to other aspects such as script, plot, direction, effects and story, it might have been more than just the cult classic it is today.
Other faults revolve around this attention to the theater scene. Characters are introduced and then exit stage left, never to return. Logic is thrown out the window in the last scene in favor of a final jolt scare. The string that pulls the obviously rubber Tingler across a carpet is all too visible. But despite all of that B-movie hokiess, the film is still one of the coolest horror films ever.
So why is this such a cool film? Many reasons. There’s an absolutely hair-raising fright sequence as a mute woman (played with campy glee by Judith Evelyn) is scared to death because she can’t scream and she’s overcome by the Tingler’s steel grip. The climax of this sequence ends in a bathtub filled with Technicolor blood that leaps from the screen (TV or silver) from the black and white background. Other highlights include Vincent Price’s acid trip which again is played to the campy max. Seeing Price trip out is a scene to behold and filled with fun.
Despite the campiness and all of the structural flaws, Robb White’s script deserves mention. The scenes between Price’s Warren and his cheating wife, Isabel (Patricia Cutts), are my absolute favorite scenes of the film. Price’s wit is dry and biting, knowing his wife is conniving, money hungry, and not to be trusted. The back and forths between the two are classic: “There’s a word for you.” snaps Isabel. “There are several for you.” Warren responds. How about this one; ”The only way Dave Morris will marry my sister is over my dead body.” shouts Isabel. To which Warren retorts, “Unconventional but not impossible.” This witty repartee in the script elevates it to a more sophisticated level while keeping the tone darkly fun. One of the most unsatisfying parts of the film is that Isabel leaves halfway through the film and is practically forgotten by the final act. There is no resolution to the rocky relationship in the end, leaving it a dangling plotline, pushed out of the way in favor of the Percepto experience.
Full of goofy science, campy dialog, cheesy effects, and sequences both hilarious and horrifying, THE TINGLER is a true classic. Even though the flaws are abundant, it doesn’t take away from the sheer fun in each and every second. Cementing this as a classic is Price’s Warren Chapin character, a staunch and dedicated scientist, not unwilling to bend the laws of ethics to find out the secrets of fear itself. I loved this film so much, when the opportunity to write a comic book sequel fell into my lap, I leapt at the challenge and hoped to honor it with my two part special VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS (here’s a link to #1 and #2 and a follow up two-parter is set to be published later in the year from Bluewater). THE TINGLER is without a doubt one of my favorite films. If you’ve seen it, you know why. If not, get out there and seek out the campy fun that is…THE TINGLER!