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Film / The Tingler

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A 1959 Horror film with a famous gimmick. Directed by the man who did it the best, William Castle.

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.

Dr. Chapin removes the beast to study it, but it escapes... INTO THIS VERY THEATER!

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.

Tropes Include:

  • Accidental Hero: Isabel drugs Dr. Chaplin and then releases the Tingler to kill him. It would've worked, but then Lucy came home. She started screaming the second she saw the sight of the creature, leaving it unable to move any further.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Dr. Chapin says he's been conducting fear experiments on himself, but he feels it's not working because he boastfully says he isn't scared of anything. Lucy shouts "Boo!" at him, which he admittedly finds amusing.
  • 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?
  • Armor-Piercing Response: During an argument, Isabel lords over Dr. Chapin that she controls the purse strings and could leave him and his assistant destitute like that. It's pointed out her vast wealth was inherited, which leads to Chaplin deflating her high and mighty tone.
    Dr. Chaplin: And where did the goodies come from?
    Isabel: My father!
    Dr. Chaplin: Yes. Nice man, too. Pity he died so "suddenly."
  • 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.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Dr. Chapin and Isabel have no love for each other, with them both barely masking disdain in most of their scenes. She's often cheating on him, though Chaplin admits to some fault for that. He's always off working and shares so few of her interests, so he actually avoids calling her out on her adultery. Instead, he berates her for her behavior towards her younger sister and other personality flaws.
  • Batman Gambit: Dr. Chapin makes a show of demanding Isabel stop interfering with Lucy's relationship or else he'll kill her and make it look like a suicide. Isabel panics, tries to call for help, and is seemingly shot before getting out the door. Chapin gets to work examining her, and she wakes up soon afterwards. It turns out the gun was loaded with a blank, and she just fainted from shock. He "thanks" her for helping in the fear experiment.
  • Body Horror: A parasitic worm-lobster lives on your spine and grows when you're scared and is strong enough to break the spine.
  • Cats Are Mean: For one experiment, Dave was tasked with getting a cat. He comes back saying he chased one through a back alley and insisting he was lucky to survive the experience. He describes the feline he acquired as a brute incapable of fear.
  • Creator Cameo: During the prologue, William Castle introduces himself to the audience and talks about the central gimmick.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory!: While subjecting himself to the first Mushroom Samba, Dr. Chapin resists the urge to scream as long as he can before finally letting one fly. As Dave and Lucy attend to him afterwards, Chapin talks about how it just seems impossible to truly resist screaming during a moment of sheer terror.
  • Emotion Eater: The tingler feeds on fear.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: In talking about how he doesn't think anyone could keep from screaming, Dr. Chapin suddenly gets an idea and leaves. Dave knows exactly what Chapin is thinking: a deaf mute can't scream.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Dave says the police have no knowledge of Martha's death. Dr. Chapin insists that makes no sense and questions why Ollie wouldn't inform the authorities after taking the body from the lab. He realizes mid-sentence why that is.
  • Financial Abuse: Isabel forbids Lucy from marrying Dave, both due to their young ages and class differences. As guardian, Isabel has authority to deny Lucy her share of their father's inheritance, and she has threatened to cut her off if defied. She also angrily reminds Dr. Chaplin that she could cut him and his work off like that, though Chaplin isn't intimidated.
  • Foil: Dr. Chapin gets two.
    • Dave is Dr. Chapin's assistant. He's just as involved in the research and often working odd hours to do his part, much to the occasional frustration of his girlfriend. However, he's more idealistic and in a much more stable relationship.
    • Ollie is less outwardly brave and much quicker to come up with excuses for his behavior. He is also unhappy in his marriage, but he is unable to admit any fault or express his disdan the way Chapin is. Ollie only insults Martha behind her back (as she can read lips) and ultimately resorts to murder, with him claiming she tried to do the same to him.
  • 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.
  • Funny Background Event: Just as Lucy is finally going to get to leave for her dinner date, Dr. Chapin again chats up Dave about their work. While the men talk in the foreground, a frustrated Lucy takes a seat in the background.
  • 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?
  • Good All Along: Up for interpretation, but Chaplin could be considered an example, depending on whether you believe he did something highly unethical by giving Martha LSD under the pretense that it was a sedative, or that he really did just give her a sedative and the extremely frightening visions that resulted in her death were purely her husband's machinations.
  • He Knows Too Much: Since Dr. Chaplin made it clear he both suspects her of murdering her father and could possibly prove it, Isabel tries to kill him the first chance she gets.
  • I Can Change My Beloved: Averted. Lucy acknowledges how she sometimes would prefer Dave worked a normal job with a set schedule rather than constantly being off doing errands for Dr. Chaplin, but she says she loves him so much that she doesn't want to change him.
    Lucy: Golly, is that abnormal?
    Dr. Chaplin: Refreshing.
  • I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine: Price got Judith Evelyn (Martha) hired, as the two had been on Broadway together.
  • It's All My Fault: Dr. Chapin actually doesn't hold Isabel's constant cheating against her, as he's always working in a lab, hates the socializing that she enjoys, and falls asleep during her activities (either due to being tired or apathetic). He takes her to task for other reasons, but he lets the adultery slide out of guilt. When she finally walks out on him, he actually hopes she finds a more fulfilling relationship.
  • Karma Houdini: Isabel is never found out for deliberately releasing the Tingler to try to kill Dr. Chapin. She had also been suspected of murdering her father for the inheritance and looked noticeably nervous when Chapin brings up the old man's demise.
  • Mushroom Samba: Contains quite possibly the first Acid Trip put to film. Not once, but twice.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Averted. Dr. Chaplin speaks fondly of Isabel and Lucy's late father.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Isabel being nice to Lucy and Dave is cause enough for both of them to be concerned. Her later being pleasant to Dr. Chapin also leaves him quite confused.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: When the Tingler wraps around his arm, Dr. Chapin is in great pain. He later likens it to being stuck in a hydraulic press, sounding surprised it could be so strong.
  • Raised Hand of Survival: One of the horrifying sights that Martha encounters during her Mushroom Samba is a hand emerging from the Blood Bath.
  • Rich Bitch: Dr. Chapin's wife cuckolds him regularly.
  • Scare Chord: All over the place.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Dr. Chapin alludes to how Isabel and Lucy's father died rather suddenly. Isabel immediately becomes very nervous and insists there's nothing to prove. Chapin retorts there are indeed ways to prove it one way or another should he ever feel the need to, which makes her even more nervous.
  • Shipper on Deck: Dr. Chapin fully supports Lucy and Dave's relationship, and he calls out Isabel for constantly interfering with them.
  • Silent Movie: Ollie's movie theater only shows these. The climax shows that Tol'able David is playing on the screen.
  • Splash of Color: Blood pouring in a sink and filling a bathtub appears red in an otherwise completely black & white picture.
  • Spoiled Sweet: Lucy is a pleasant young woman who couldn't care less about her boyfriend being substantially poorer than she is.
  • Stealth Insult: The not-so-happy couple when pretending to be civil.
    Isabel: There's a word for you.
    Dr. Chapin: There are several for you.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Dr. Chapin and Ollie when they realize the Tingler has escaped into a movie theater full of people.
  • Til Murder Do Us Part:
    • Dr. Chapin threatens to shoot Isabel for her treatment of Lucy, though it turns out to just be for the sake of an experiment. Isabel later tries this for real, drugging him so he'll fall asleep and releasing the Tingler. When this attempt fails, she outright leaves him.
    • Ultimately, Ollie admits he killed Martha, though he insists she tried to do the same to him.
  • Wham Shot:
    • As Dr. Chapin and Ollie are discussing in the lab the details of Martha's death, her body suddenly sits up.
    • After talking on the phone, Ollie picks up the mask and knife from Martha's last moments, demonstrating that part wasn't her imagination.
  • You're Insane!: During an argument, Dr. Chaplin pulls a gun on Isabel.
    Isabel: You're crazy. You really are.
    Dr. Chapin: Isn't everyone?