Monday, November 2, 2009

Scream, Scream For Your Lives! - The Tingler (1959)

William Castle was a cool dude. He directed a handful of neat little horror films - a couple of which went on to be remade (one good, one not so good) - and while he will never be confused with the man he most wanted to emulate, namely Alfred Hitchcock, he will go down in history for trying his own brand of scare tactics. For example, if you were to have seen The Tingler in theaters, you could have been one of the lucky audience members to receive an electric jolt from your chair in the hopes of scaring you even further. Did the tactic actually work? I wasn't there to find out, but it probably did work on some people. Others probably thought it was annoying. My point is that Castle was at least inventive enough to try different, out of the box things to make his movies more exciting. He also produced Rosemary's Baby. Bonus points for that. The Tingler had moments of brilliance, to be sure, but it also left something to be desired in the monster that gave the picture its title.

The Tingler centers around the "scientific" (we all know how loosely the term is thrown about in horror films) experiments of Dr. Warren Chapin, played by the great Vincent Price. There's already something going for your horror movie if Price is starring in it, and The Tingler is no exception. He doesn't play the mad scientist type like one would expect. For the most part, he's actually a pretty decent guy. There's an incident with his bitch of a wife early on, but she deserved it. That bitch. Anyways, Dr. Chapin thinks he can isolate a physical being attached to the spinal column of every human being in the throes of absolute fear. The only problem is performing an autopsy on someone who died at the height of fear, while at the same time never vocalizing it by screaming. Where would you find someone like that? Why, Dr. Chapin just happens to know a deaf mute! Great success! Now, all he has to do is scare the shit out of her until she dies. I said Dr. Chapin was a decent guy for the most part. He still obviously has maniacal tendencies, but my only point was that he doesn't play the part of the unwittingly asshole-ish scientist who neglects everyone around him. Other than his going too far for the sake of science, he's pretty normal, which is nice to see.

Here's one of the more dramatically horrific scenes in the movie. It's a cool effect, even though you can tell an obvious quality difference in the camera used for the scene.

So after succeeding in killing a deaf mute for the glory of science and reason, Dr. Chapin then goes about trying to study the Tingler that was inside her. Of course, it escapes, and madness and mayhem briefly ensue. In fact, a Tingler isn't actually seen until right around that part in the movie, which, as it turns out, was for the better. The puppet they used for the Tingler was pretty damn awful, and it was only made worse by watching the strings pull it around every time it moved. And by every time it moved, I mean every time it moved. Oh, well, I guess. You get the good effects with the bad when you watch older movies. The clip above is an example of good effects.

But for the better part of the film, it doesn't rely on the stupid stringed puppet to elicit fear. To me, at least, it was more about going too far when it's obvious what you're doing is putting people in danger. Yea, yea, we've all seen a shit-load of movies that deal with that very same subject, but I think Price's performance makes it a little better than most other films that tried the same thing. The Tingler takes a two-pronged approach when dealing with what should and shouldn't be considered ethical and moral. Dr. Chapin thinks he's only doing what's necessary, while condemning another character for going too far. It's interesting to see a man rationalize his own behavior and actions, only to then go and scold someone else for doing something roughly equivalent.

The one thing I'll say about Vincent Price, even though I loathe to say it, is that he isn't the best overly dramatic actor. When a scene requires that he go a bit over-the-top, it doesn't usually work out very well. The same goes for when he needs to do something physically demanding. I think Price is at his best when he's cool, calm and collected. He can be creepy as all hell, a total prick, or the nicest guy in the world. But just like the rest of us, he isn't perfect.

This movie was made in 1959, and I don't think LSD was something the audience could identify as easily as we could now. Still...not a very convincing acid trip.

All in all, I'm glad I own The Tingler. It handles itself well when it comes to believable characters, and the morality play it was striving to be overrides the Ed Wood-esque monstrosity it tried to pass off as the actual Tingler. Vincent Price is awesome, that neat color trick I showed you above was cool, if a little gimmicky, and the two characters the story really dealt with kept me invested. I wish Dr. Chapin's wife (that bitch) would have got more of what was coming to her, though. It happened to Price once, so why not?

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