Vincent Price plays Dr. Warren Chapin, who is researching the shivering or "Tingling" sensation fear causes within all humans. Dr. Warren is introduced to Ollie Higgins, the relative of a criminal sentenced to the electric chair, while completing the autopsy of the corpse. Ollie asks for a lift from Dr. Chapin and introduces his deaf-mute wife, Martha, who manages a theater of her own.
He gives her Acid and Ollie "helps" unbeknownst to the Doctor.
When Martha dies of fear, Dr. Chapin performs her autopsy and finds a creature that lives inside every human being, a thing he had theorized about and jokingly referred to as "The Tingler", which appears to feed on fear and is kept in-check by screams. Martha was unable to scream, being mute, and was frightened to death. The Tingler grew from a microscopic creature to the size of a human arm.
Yes, that was the gimmick.
Inside the theater were actors who were 'attacked' by the Tingler, and joy buzzers hidden under certain seats, as if the tingler were attacking individual audience members. Although this gimmick is probably the main reason the movie is remembered, it's actually a pretty fun watch, featuring an excellent central performance from Vincent Price.
- Afraid of Blood: Martha is. Of course, the bathtub filled with blood would have freaked out most other people as well, especially because it's in color.
- Ambiguous Situation: Did Warren inject Martha with LSD, knowing she couldn't scream and save herself or was it all Gaslighting on her husband's part? Or both?
- Attack of the Killer Whatever: It's a living thing, that's true, but beyond that, no one figures out what exactly the tingler is. It looks like a Velvet Worm, super-sized.
- Body Horror: A parasitic worm-lobster lives on your spine and grows when you're scared and is strong enough to break the spine.
- Emotion Eater: The tingler feeds on fear.
- For Science!: Dr. Chapin's primary motivation. He later regrets his actions.
- The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: Ladies and gentlemen, please do not panic. But scream! Scream for your lives! The Tingler is loose in this theater!
- Fright Death Trap: Ollie's plan to kill his wife. An (possible) LSD shot from the doctor helps exacerbate things.
- Gainax Ending: Yes, really. Ollie is left in his room and for no reason, the doors and windows lock and his dead wife rises...Is it because of the Tingler or somethng else?
- Mushroom Samba: Contains quite possibly the first Acid Trip put to film. Not once, but twice.
- Rich Bitch: Dr. Chapin's wife cuckolds him regularly.
- Scare Chord: All over the place.
- Splash of Color: Blood pouring in a sink and filling a bathtub appears red in an otherwise completely black & white picture.