Friday, September 19, 2008

Target #231: The Tingler (1959, William Castle)

TSPDT placing: #597
Directed by: William Castle
Written by: Robb White
Starring: Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman, Patricia Cutts, Pamela Lincoln, Philip Coolidge

William Castle, with the greatest respect, was a poor man's Alfred Hitchcock. He was not concerned with making art, but rather with keeping his audience as entertained as possible, and everything he does with his films is working towards this end. Every plot development, every artistic decision is very deliberately planned and executed – with no amount of subtlety, it must be said – to provide maximum thrills, laughs and screams from his patrons. Even among B-movie directors, Castle found a unique way of distinguishing himself, through the use of unnecessary theatre gimmicks, and his form of showmanship {clearly seen in his introduction to the picture, and his theatrical trailers, in which he can barely contain his jubilation at what the audience is about to experience} was unsurpassed even by the Master of Suspense himself. His enthusiasm is absolutely infectious. In fact, for the entire 80 minutes, you can almost see Castle's grinning face superimposed over the screen. He's absolutely loving it, and I'll be damned if I didn't love it, as well.

Considering the director's association with low-budget schlock, I had expected a film with unquestionably shoddy production values. Instead, 'The Tingler (1959)' is impeccably shot by Wilfred M. Cline and generally well-written (Dr. Chapin referencing both his wife and a stray cat: "Have you two met? In the same alley, perhaps?"). Horror icon Vincent Price is the film's charismatic star, but excellent supporting performances are given by Judith Evelyn as a deaf and dumb cinema owner, Philip Coolidge as her anxious husband, and Patricia Cutts – sexy and acerbic – as Dr. Chapin's unfaithful wife. The story does occasionally descend into silliness, but Price nonetheless manages to deliver even the campiest of lines with unmatched class. The Tingler itself looks glaringly artificial, a rubber contraption that is pulled along the floor with wires, but its initial entrance is still something to behold. I leaned forward, my mouth agape in revulsion and disbelief, as the slimy, pulsating creature – seen only in silhouette – was extracted from its host's body, and deposited, wriggling gruesomely, into a pet cage.

Unlike countless awful 1950s sci-fi/horror films, The Tingler isn't merely in the business of (ostensibly) scaring its audience; it aims to entertain them – to elicit screams, laughs and everything in between. Castle takes you aside with a mischievous wink, lets you in on the joke, and invites you to enjoy the film's effect on the lesser masses. Whether or not his film actually caused any cinema hysterics or fatal heart attacks is difficult to deduce {one of Castle's other tricks was to plant shills in the audience, who would scream on cue}, but there's no doubt that his picture genuinely involved the audience. Every single unsubtle technique utilised by the film – most memorably, the black-and-white suddenly punctuated by blood red, a little trick he learnt from Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945) – is a nod to the participation of its viewers. This makes the film abstract, surreal, almost interactive; when Vincent Price implores the cinema audience to scream, we know he's talking to us, and when the Tingler's stark silhouette creeps slimily across our movie screen… well, don't forget to scream.

Currently my #7 film of 1959:
1) Die Brücke {The Bridge} (Bernhard Wicki)
2) North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock)
3) Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder)
4) On the Beach (Stanley Kramer)
5) Le Quatre cents coups {The 400 Blows} (François Truffaut)
6) Pickpocket (Robert Bresson)
7) The Tingler (William Castle)
What others have said:

"[Castle's] tingler is a cheap rubber model that looks like a lobster crossbred with a centipede. When it moves through a faux animal skin rug, the fur ruffling past the otherwise stiff extremities creates an illusion of the legs actually moving, but for the rest of the film Castle is content to show the thing wobble across floors and over potential victims, yanked by unconcealed strings at times.... The Tingler is more gimmick than movie and it lacks the level of tension and terror of other productions, but the showmanship is still a lot of fun."
Sean Axmaker, Turner Classic Movies Online

"And you know something? It is fun. It is as much fun - deliberate, campy, tongue-in-cheek fun - as any movie from that grand era of drive-ins and Saturday matinees. It is a very silly movie, but a movie that has no desire to be thought of as serious. It is very possibly the most fun of all the William Castle films I have seen... and though I am tempted to call it a good bad movie, there's nothing really bad about something so good-natured, a film that laughs along with us at its ludicrous science and rubbery monster and combustive melodrama."
Tim Brayton


tosser/ressot said...

Wow. Sounds...really awesome.

ackatsis said...

You have no idea, tosser!