I Think I'll Call It 'The Tingler'
The Tingler (1959) is the second of two films pairing the exquisite talents of B-movie aficionado William Castle — who will forever be remembered for his innovative and entertaining gimmicks — and the one and only Vincent Price. Price’s spine-tingling co-star is an absurd-looking cross between a lobster and velvet worm: the Tingler. It is difficult for most viewers to not laugh the first time they lay eyes on the film’s antagonist. Regardless, The Tingler continues to enthrall and entertain cinephiles six decades later.
Writer Robb White’s storytelling and dialogue are often maligned. But there is an element of fun and whimsy that the overly critical often overlook. For instance, Warren (Price) and his wife Isabel (Patricia Cutts) argue about whether Dave (Darryl Hickman) and Lucy (Pamela Lincoln) should marry.
“The only way Dave Morris will marry my sister is over my dead body,” Isabel says as she threatens her husband’s authority.
“Unconventional but not impossible,” Warren says with a menacingly sarcastic tone.
White creates many memorable moments like this in both the narrative and dialogue. So, don’t let the snobbish critic or unenlightened Twitter troll detour you from such an entertaining reminder of the bygone age of horror in the late 1950s.
And if you’re lucky enough to live near fan screenings and revivals of “The Tingler” on the big screen, book your tickets. Be sure to check under your seats for Percepto. This classic Castle gimmick takes the moviegoing adventure to a whole new level. But even in the comfort of your own home on your favorite devices, “The Tingler” is must-see cinema.
Here are 21 Things Fans Should Know About The Tingler.
“The Tingler” celebrates its 60th anniversary on July 29, 2019. The film was produced for a budget of approximately $250,000 and holds at 76 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with an audience score of 66 percent.
Regardless of how fake and inauspicious the creature in question might appear on screen — the monster awkwardly lumbers along like a dog refusing to go for a walk, as a consequence of being clumsily pulled by the clearly visible wire — the Tingler prop is simply a large model of the peripatus. Also known as the velvet worm, the peripatus’ name Onychophora comes from the Ancient Greek “onyches” which means claws and “pherein” which means to carry. Are there any fans of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (2002) out there? “And there you go.” If you didn’t get the reference, “put some Windex on it.”
Filmmaker John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Hairspray, Serial Mom) claims “The Tingler” is the best movie ever made. Conversely, Joe Dante (The Howling, Gremlins, Innerspace) feels William Castle’s third gimmick-based horror film “has one of the most preposterous plots” of all time. There is definitely some room for middle ground with “The Tingler.” What absurdity might exist in the storytelling and dialogue is quickly quelled by Vincent Price’s authentic performance. Price sells the film and creates the much-needed suspension of disbelief so many of the best horror films and B-movies possess.
A remake of “The Tingler” was planned for 2009 — helmed by Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2, Hatchet II, Everly) — but the project never came to fruition. Honestly, there are some films which shouldn’t be remade. “Casablanca” (1942), “Gone with the Wind” (1939), and “The Tingler” is another. These motion pictures are classics for a reason and continue to stand the test of time. Reproducing such flicks is like pouring cheap, off-brand mustard all over a five-star plate of Foie gras.
“The Tingler” is the first motion picture made under William Castle Productions. The success of Castle’s freshman and sophomore gimmick-based horror flicks — “Macabre” (1958) and “House on Haunted Hill” (1958) — prompted Columbia Pictures to welcome the filmmaker back with open arms and finance Castle’s upcoming projects. This was the beginnings of Castle’s legacy which he left behind for all of his film fans for generations to come. He was the King of the Gimmicks: a showman and renowned filmmaker.
Dal McKennon — who was also credited as either Dale or Dallas over the years — portrayed the projectionist in the Higgins’ movie theater. Uncredited in the motion picture, McKennon was a well-known voice actor whose career impressively spanned from 1942 until 2014. His credits include voicing characters in “The Woody Woodpecker Show” (1957), “Lady and the Tramp” (1955), “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” (1971) and “Gumby The Movie” aka “Gumby 1” (1995) among many others. Do you remember “The Cat from Outer Space” (1978)? McKennon was the farmer.
Actress Judith Evelyn played the mute wife of Ollie, Martha Higgins. “The Tingler” was certainly not her only brush with the horror genre. Evelyn portrayed Jeff’s (Jimmy Stewart) isolated neighbor known as Miss Lonelyhearts in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (1954).
“The Tingler” is the first American feature film to depict Lysergic acid diethylamide trips on screen. And Vincent Price brings his A-List acting abilities to the table when his character Warren experiments on himself with the mind-altering drug. At that time, LSD was not an illegal substance. It is definitely one of Price’s more memorable performances.
In the earliest, unrestored prints of the motion picture, the filmmakers fail to hide the obvious wires used to tug and pull the prop Tingler along on screen. For many fans, this is the one, unforgivable low-budget moment in “The Tingler” that challenges audiences’ suspension of disbelief. It’s hard not to be taken out of the movie you’re watching when the wires are visible in the special effect’s shot.
Would you believe a man could fly in “Superman: The Movie” (1978) had the cables attached to Christopher Reeve appeared on screen? Do you remember how you felt while watching “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” (1987)?
The flying harness ropes were clearly visible on both Reeve and baddie Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow). Horror movie host Svengoolie aka Rich Koz hosted a digitally restored cut of “The Tingler” on his program in which those pesky wires were digitally removed from the film’s “terrifying” creature.
“The Tingler” is the second and final teaming of filmmaker William Castle and horror movie maestro Vincent Price. The duo worked together in 1958 to film another macabre classic “House on Haunted Hill.” Price was already a bonafide movie star, so Castle could not afford to pay Price his exorbitant salary for either motion picture. Rather, Castle paid Price a percentage of the films’ profits to secure his star’s talents.
David (Darryl Hickman) and Lucy (Pamela Lincoln) were also real-life lovers just as their characters in the movie. The couple was engaged during the production of “The Tingler” and later married on July 29, 1959 which is the same year “The Tingler” was released. Darryl and Pamela had two children, but their love affair did not last. They were divorced in December of 1982. 1982 also marked Lincoln’s final film role. She portrayed the secretary in Sydney Pollack’s romantic comedy “Tootsie.”
“The Tingler” is the third of filmmaker William Castle’s movies to feature his now famous and cinematically significant promotional gimmicks. Following up the genius of “House on Haunted Hill” and its Emergo effect, “The Tingler” featured Percepto.
During the scene in which the Tingler breaks loose in the theater, actual auditorium seats in select cinemas were equipped with small joy-like buzzers attached under certain chairs. The projectionist would press a button during the iconic scene and give select patrons a small buzz to simulate the Tingler attacking.
“In the final count, I think we must have buzzed 20,000,000 behinds,” Castle revealed in his biography.
The sensation was undoubtedly akin to sitting on your smartphone when it’s set on vibrate. The wildly popular Percepto has even accompanied many revival screenings of “The Tingler” in recent years.
Actor Philip Coolidge gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as Ollie in “The Tingler.” Coolidge appeared in half a dozen episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” (1956-1959) over the years as well as “North by Northwest” (1959). Coolidge is a dead ringer for character actor Raye Birk. Birk is perhaps most famous to younger generations as Pahpshmir in “The Naked Gun” movies (1988, 1994). Trekkies will immediately point to his two Trek appearances. First, he played Tarellian Wrenn in the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode “Haven” (1987), and later he appeared in the feature film “Star Trek: Insurrection” (1998) as Son’a Doctor.
“The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood’s Worst” (2005) by John J.B. Wilson lists “The Tingler” among its top 100 best of the worst. “The Tingler” appears in the chapter titled “When Mad Scientists Go Bad” alongside “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” (1962), “Frankenstein’s Daughter” (1958) and “The Island of Dr. Moreau” (1996) all of which are vastly inferior to “The Tingler.”
“The Tingler” was released by Columbia Pictures in October 1959. It was part of a double feature with Arthur Dreifuss’ musical “Juke Box Rhythm.” Wait, what? Pairing a William Castle, B-movie horror flick with a jaunty feature doesn’t seem like the best of moves by the studio, at least for “Juke Box Rhythm.” Have you ever heard of it? It’s pretty clear which of the movies on the double bill fared better over the years.
At the behest of Vincent Price, actress Judith Evelyn was hired to work on ‘’The Tingler.” Price and Evelyn acted together on Broadway during the 1941 production of “Angel Street,” which was based on the play “Gaslight” by Patrick Hamilton.
While Percepto became the gimmick of “The Tingler,” it was by no means the only way William Castle was planning to scare audiences in 1959. Castle had the idea of rolling bean bags through theaters to hit the legs of moviegoers. Castle also wanted to mount speakers in auditoriums to blast noises at patrons to coincide with the Percepto buzzers.
Scenes from director Henry King’s silent film “Tol’able David” (1921) can be seen in Martha (Judith Evelyn) and Ollie (Philip Coolidge) Higgins’ movie theater when the Tingler breaks loose and terrorizes the audience.
To heighten his Percepto gimmick, William Castle dared to up the ante when it came to scaring audiences. In addition to the Percepto buzzer hidden under theater seats, Castle employed fake cinema customers to attend screenings.
They were paid to scream and faint at certain moments in “The Tingler.” Actors and actresses disguised as nurses and doctors were planted in the lobby in order to help the faux fainters out of the theaters on gurneys. And to incite even more terror, Castle employed ambulances to park outside movie theaters.
While “The Tingler” was shot in black and white, Evelyn clearly sees bright red blood flowing from the sink. And a bloody hand stretches out from the bathtub. The effect was easily achieved.
That particular sequence was shot with color film stock being utilized to tint the on-screen ichor a beautiful blood-red. Castle had his crew cover the set with black, gray and white paints while actress Judith Evelyn was costumed with a similarly colored make-up scheme.
“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982) features Tingler-like creatures of its own. They take the form of the deadly and disgusting Ceti-Alpha V eels, which Khan (Ricardo Montalban) places in Commander Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Captain Terrell’s (Paul Winfield) ears. The Ceti eels visually appear to be the result of the Tingler mating with a pine cone. If one of those hideous creatures slipped undetected into a theater during a screening of “The Tingler,” all hell really would break loose. It seems a safe bet that the props department and production team of “Wrath of Khan” were inspired by Castle’s creation.