William Castle's "The Tingler" tingled theatergoers in 1959
3-D, Smell-O-Vision, Cinerama... Ah, those wonderful theater gimmicks!
Today's spotlight is on "The Tingler" by that master showman William Castle.
Castle employed several unorthodox methods engineered to lure people away from their television sets and back into the faltering theaters of that period.
For "The Tingler" he used Percepto. What is Percepto? Well, let's get to that in a minute. First here's a synopsis of the movie:
This ultimate Castle-White "murder by fright" exercise was released in 1959 by Columbia, the director's former home base. They jolted a familiar storyline with a misconceived, though unique, quasi-reptilian organism called the "tingler." This morose refugee from the Saturday kiddie matinees made the plot liberties taken in MACABRE and THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL seem minor.
Vincent Price returned to the Castle soundstages for the last time. As Dr. Warren Chapin, who discovered the tingler, Price delivered another sincere and controlled performance. While researching the causes and effects of human fear, the scientist finds an alien organism, thriving within the corpse of a deaf-mute woman who had been frightened to death by her husband. Chapin concludes that a massive dose of fear will actually trigger the birth of this life form. Positioning itself over the spinal column, the "tingler" can crush the spine's bones if it is not promptly destroyed by a piercing scream. Great, cheesy B-movie stuff! But wait, that's not all! (Here's the Percepto part.)
You also get some in-your-face excitement! Or rather, in your buttocks. Small electric motors installed under random theater seats shocked viewers out of their minds with a mini-bolt of electricity during especially tense moments. Can you imagine?!
Castle also planted fake members of the audience who would, at strategic moments, let out a blood-curdling scream and faint. The film would stop, the house lights would turn on, and theater personnel would carry the unconscious person outside.
Whew! As a real audience member, depending on your particular personality, you might find this to be hilarious, or extremely frightening, or maybe somewhere in between like uncomfortably entertaining.
At any rate, if you ever watch a copy of this movie (in the safety of your own home) just remember that you're not going to quite get the full effect that audiences got back in 1959. Now you just get more schlock — than shock. Not that that's a bad thing...