I’ve previously penned about William Castle’s cinematic escapades, specifically regarding THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and the influence of Castle on Joe Dante’s work (and THE TINGLER? Definitely an influence. You can see it not only in MATINEE, but also GREMLINS 2).
Yet again, my favorite local arthouse theater — the Music Box — hosted another Castle screening by the same folks (this time presented in Percepto! Whatever that is!), all interactive and enthralling!
If you are or have been an avid MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 viewer, you’ve seen THE TINGLER before. They, well, they do eviscerate it. Despite a rocky premise and a number of clumsy lines and awkward special effects, it’s far smarter than they give it credit.
The always magnanimous Vincent Price is a scientist who is investigating the physiological logistics of fear. He postulates that fear is imbued by a creature — the titular Tingler — that only manifests itself when one is terrified. He sets out to prove his point, and matters escalate.
I don’t need to tell you that Price is amazing here — he always shows up and gives his all, no matter the material — but the film is surprisingly gorgeous, especially the print that we saw. The contrast of blacks and whites are measured but effective; there’s a surprising amount of center-framing, and well, everyone just looks splendid, even the Tingler! (Yes, the Tingler definitely is poorly puppeteered, but the design is great and it glistens like it’s real!)
What is most astounding about this work — and unfairly discounted — is its reliance on a deaf and mute individual. This is one of the earlier genre films I can think of that utilizes ASL and deafness as a plot point without belittling the character. Said character is the wife of an older man, and together they pointedly run a theater that exclusively shows silent movies. Her husband mostly communicates with her via ASL, despite the fact that she can read lips.
(I will note that this film does slightly disparage her by briefly labeling her as ‘deaf and dumb’. She is not dumb.)
This is a film that explicitly asks you to scream at certain points. (I’ll note, everyone at the Music Box gamely participated, myself included! It was a lot of fun!) However, the crux of the film is centered around a woman who cannot scream, who has no voice, who can only communicate via visual motions. What’s more filmic than that?
Castle gets a lot of shit for being a schlocky, gimmicky director. Yes, he definitely more than leaned into that, but hell, so did Hitchcock. Did Castle rig up electrical shocks in theater seats to thrill audiences? Yes. Did I attend a screening featuring a number of campy interactive performances, solely meant to titillate? Yes. However, the work does have an empathic heart beating under the schlock.
If you do choose to watch THE TINGLER, please bear that in mind.