The Tingler

The Tingler


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

And when you are afraid, for Heaven's sake don't hesitate to scream.

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The Tingler is famous as one of the first ever audience participation cinema experiences. Originally released in 1959 it was supported by trailers in which director William Castle cautioned audience members about the risks associated with what they were about to see. Fear, you see, can have a dangerous effect on the human body. Uncontrolled, unreleased, it has a physical power that can snap the spine. If you can release your fear by screaming, you may still be saved. So don't be shy - a scream at the right time could save your life.

This is, of course, unfortunate if you're a deaf mute (not that there are really any deaf mutes out there incapable of producing any kind of noise, but we can overlook that - this is the sort of film for which scientific knowledge should be politely set to one side). The deaf mute in this case is all the more vulnerable because she also suffers from anxiety disorders. She co-owns a cinema with her husband and it is through him that she meets pathologist Warren Chapin (Vincent Price). Chapin happens to have dedicated years of his life to studying fear, which he suspects is caused by a parasite attached to the human spine. Now he may have the opportunity to capture a live specimen - but, all moral concerns aside (every character here is quick to forsake them), can he really control it?

Based as it is around gimmicks and cinema-base stunts (the original audience all received unexpected electric shocks from their seats at a critical moment), The Tingler is a film that doesn't have much story and that takes so many narrative short cuts it is impossible to treat it with any seriousness, but it retains the potential to be serious fun. Price is sublime as always, lending gravitas to the silliest of lines, and some of the banter between him and his semi-estranged wife is delightfully vicious. The Tingler also features the first ever onscreen depiction of an LSD trip ("It's not a drug, it's an acid," Chapin's young assistant explains to his girlfriend), not entirely realistic but certainly entertaining. As for the monster itself, well, I would advise against going to see this film if you have a phobia of rubber.

Opening the door for endless experiments in making more out of the cinema experience, The Tingler is one of the most important genre films of its time, and it has enough humour to remain endearing to this day. Catch it on the big screen if you can - preferably at a special showing. But you'll have to be prepared to face your fears - and if you should see a tingler in the audience, don't forget to scream.

Reviewed on: 19 Feb 2011
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A pathologist discovers a dangerous parasite that feeds on fear and can only be killed by screaming, but when a mute woman becomes infected, all Hell breaks loose. Famous for the pranks played on audiences at its original screenings.
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Director: William Castle

Writer: Robb White

Starring: Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman

Year: 1959

Runtime: 82 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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