Sunday 12 August 2007

The Tingler (1959) William Castle

I recently got to see a couple of movies at a local IMAX, not the regular documentary fare but feature films projected onto the biggest of big screens. What surprised me most was the introductory passage by an unknown voice that explained how the size of the screen and the reality of the action might make some of us believe we were actually in the film and anyone unable to cope with it should close their eyes or leave the theatre. It sounded to me very much like the sort of thing that William Castle used to come up with half a entury ago, and here, finally, I get to see one of his most notorious attractions.

Sure enough, he's here at the beginning to introduce The Tingler, and to point out that for once the feelings experienced by the characters on the screen will also be experienced by certain selected members of the audience, and the only way to relieve that tension is to scream. Using a system Castle called Percepto, he planted vibrating buzzers under selected seats in the theatres and planted shills too to make sure there were screams and indeed people fainting. The foyer was populated by nurses to ensure that such people were taken care of. Watching at home on TV on a Sunday afternoon just doesn't match the experience.

Price is Dr Warren Chapin, a pathologist who is fascinated by the process of fear. He believes that there is a palpable force that grows within us when we are frightened, something powerful enough to shatter vertebrae and which can only be relieved by a specific release mechanism, such as screaming, for instance. We come into his story at the point when he is given a name for the force, the Tingler, and meets a young lady who has no release mechanism, being a deaf mute. If you can't scream, how can you relieve your fear?

In fact everyone here seems to be a solid character, 2D characters mostly and hardly explored to the depth of a serious novel but amazingly well nonetheless for a blatant exploitation flick only an hour and 22 minutes long. Chapin is a dedicated scientist, who works according to the scientific method but with a little manipulation of scruples. He even moves behind a screen when he takes X-rays of people. How's that for realism in an exploitation film? Well there's plenty of bad science along with the good, especially the light speed autopsies and, well, the whole Tingler thing. And yes, it's a pretty bad monster.

Anyway, Chapin resorts to experimenting on himself, hardly subjective or safe, given that he injects himself with a large dose of LSD. The resulting trip, the first such ever seen on film, is a perfect opportunity for Price to strut his stuff and combine what he does on screen with what he does on radio. He's married to Isabel, an heiress he suspects of murdering her father for his money and who lives it up around time, blatantly cheating on her husband. Her sister Lucy is as good as she is bad and she's engaged to Chapin's assistant David Morris (played by real life fiancees Pamela Lincoln and Darryl Hickman), always a good way to help reduce the number of cast members. This film really only has six, with a few others wandering past the camera at points, which gives everyone more screen time.

The remaining two are Ollie and Martha Higgins who run a silent cinema. Martha is a deaf mute with more issues than that: she's an obsessive compulsive as well, but with all her characteristics sympathetically shown. She gets some awesome scenes herself, with some powerful use of colour in a black and white film. She's played by Judith Evelyn, who gave another powerful performance without using her voice as Miss Lonelyheart in Rear Window. Unfortunately this was her last of only nine films. She does an awesome job here but it's hard to outdo Price and in this instance, William Castle. I won't spoil what the pair of them get up to but I will say that I'm not surprised that this one was notorious for its audience manipulation.

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