One reason I wanted to cover this movie is that it's one of the most famous B movies in regards to audience participation. Another is that it has to do with a centipede-like creature, and I hate the ever-blazing hell out of those things, and would drop a nuke on one to kill it. Director Wiliam Castle opens the film by informing the audience that some of them may experience a strange tingle while watching the film. He further tells us that we can protect ourselves by screaming at the appropriate time. This is followed by a bunch of loud, screaming heads, and the film opens up.
One day, a pathologist named Dr. Warren Chapin (Vincent Price) makes an astonishing discovery, and something actually pretty horrific to think about. It turns out that when one experiences fear and the spine tingles, it's due to a centipede-like creature that dwells within all spines of humankind. He calls it a "tingler", and that idea is creepy enough on it's own. Not only does this movie play on audience fears of centipede-like creatures, but parasites that dwell within us. The very idea of things like tapeworms or even lice is enough to gross just about anyone out. Now just imagine one that goes up the length of your back.
It turns out that these "tinglers" feed, and grow stronger with fear, so that if one is afraid enough, the tingler crushes the spine. However, screaming keeps the thing at bay. This concept is furthered with a movie theater owner named Oliver Higgins (Philip Coolidge) and his deaf and mute wife, Martha (Judith Evelyn) who can't scream. One night she dies of fright, owing to her inability to scream, and the tingler within her spine eventually growing and breaking it. This is removed during an autopsy, and soon Chapin has to figure out how to stop it before it... tingles everyone, I guess? It latches on with its pincers but doesn't really do much. And once again, simply screaming keeps it at bay. It's gross, but hard to see as a real threat.
When all is said and done, this is a dumb movie. But one has to give it at least a touch of credit for being as self-aware as it is. There's so much about it that makes it a popcorn movie, simply meant for the theater. This includes scenes taking place in a theater (much like with 'The Blob') and camera tricks, like throwing the color red into the water in an otherwise black and white film. To top it all off though, in a world where gimmicks were taking off in an attempt to save independent movie theaters, William Castle introduced "Percepto" here. This was where a select few theater seats in the audience buzzed at appropriate times - perhaps what the film is most famous for.
At this point in the game, it's just a fun thing to throw on for a laugh. It's cheesy, not scary at all, and is very much a product of its time. The tingler itself looks almost too "puppetty" at times, even for 1959, and you can see just how gimmicky the whole thing is. That unfortunately dates it, but it's important to remember that a lot of the B movie era was all about gimmicks as much as 3D took off like hellfire around 2009. It's easy to find, it's fun for what it is, and an interesting piece of cinema history when researching old horror. It's short too, so if you're looking for a good laugh of creepy proportions, it's decent enough.
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