Submission for the reader review writing contest #4 by Shane Wilson
“In the final count, I think we must have buzzed 20,000,000 behinds.” – William Castle
DIRECTED BY: William Castle
FEATURING: Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman (the older brother of “Dobie Gillis” star Dwyane Hickman)
PLOT: There are two plots running simultaneously in The Tingler. In the first, Dr. Warren Chapin (Price) frees the parasite that lives in the human spine and grows when the host experiences fear, and must save the unsuspecting public from the menace he’s unleashed by stressing the importance of screaming. In the other plot, film director William Castle raises his penchant for outrageous gimmicks to new heights by running shocks of electricity through auditorium seats.
- As was his wont, director/producer Castle supported the release of The Tingler with several gimmicks, including hiring actresses to play nurses to stand outside the theater and planting audience members to scream and faint at key moments in the picture. His piece de resistance was called “Percepto.” For the theatrical release, Castle arranged for a handful of auditorium seats to be wired with war-surplus electric vibrators. At a key moment during the film’s climax, the projectionist would activate the zappers, buzzing unsuspecting viewers (or eagerly-hoping viewers) with a jolt of electricity, thereby breaking the fourth wall in a way 3-D never could.
- William Castle earned his reputation for his attention-getting publicity stunts. Beneath his huckster’s heart, however, lays a surprising credibility. Castle served as assistant director on Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai, and produced the horror classic Rosemary’s Baby.
- Directors Stuart Gordon and John Waters both included The Tingler in their Top Ten lists for “Sight and Sound”‘s 2002 Top 10 poll.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: A blank projection screen, onto which ambles the shadow of a large rubber insect puppet, followed immediately by blackness, the sound of faux audience members shrieking their heads off, and the unmistakable command of Vincent Price: “Scream! Scream for your lives! The Tingler is loose in this theater!”
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: William Castle always dabbles in oddness. The Tingler’s means of engaging the audience certainly ups the ante in this regard. Whereas previous auditorium gimmicks were content to merely startle theater patrons, The Tingler was now actively complicit in harming the audience, by attempting to electrocute select viewers. On another level, though, The Tingler represents a fascinating metatextual experience. On the one hand, Percepto pushes the film beyond the boundaries of the screen by affecting the audience physically, rather than through the usual avenues of picture and soundtrack. The movie not only breaks the fourth wall, but actually rebuilds it behind the audience. Consider Price’s admonition: “The Tingler is loose in this theater!” He means the very theater we are sitting in. We have suddenly assumed the role of the audience in the film-inside-the-film, and for a moment, we are actually part of the action, not merely in front of it. Castle’s prank destroys the proscenium. Many films play games with the insurmountable distance between the screen and the seats. Castle is happy to throw it away entirely.
COMMENTS: Vincent Price’s legend is built on a reputation for portraying elegant, velvet- Continue reading READER RECOMMENDATION: THE TINGLER (1959)