The Tingler (1959)

My first William Castle! Not the inept Hitchcock knockoff nor shoddy 50s creature feature I was expecting, but a totally unique crackpot horror invention all of its own. Featuring one of the most pleasurably convoluted plots I’ve ever encountered, The Tingler constantly twists, turns, writhes and coils itself out of shape before snapping back into coherence in service of Castle’s ballyhoo theatrics.

In this world you’re never quite sure of who’s good and who’s bad and it takes a minute to adjust to the shifting character relationships, but it all adds to the aura of confusion and the sense that something otherworldly could occur at any moment. It also helps that everything is animated by the giddy tone which strikes a balance between cruelty and camp effortlessly, making it the perfect starring vehicle for Vincent Price.

It’s hard to go into just how much unfolds in Castle’s breakneck 82 minutes. Every scene seems to have its own whiplash arc, setting up or cutting off endless possibilities of where the film could go and choosing to pursue avenues that are still surprising. There’s an astounding set-piece featuring a mute woman encountering a bathtub full of blood, with the blood itself being presented in gorgeous colour while the rest of the image remains monochrome, that really took my breath away. Beyond that The Tingler also boasts the first on-screen LSD trip (before Corman no less) and has enough bug-nuts body horror puppetry to make Shivers-era Cronenberg envious.

I loved this so much and would kill to see it in a cinema with the original “Percepto” experience intact. Might be the ultimate 50s B-Movie, and one that now feels borderline experimental in its melding of entertainment and audience participation. Less of a gimmicky cash-grab on film stock than a living breathing funhouse transmitted live onto a cinema screen. A wacky, oddball work of outsider art.

Watched on Indicator blu-ray

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