Definitely one of the more outrageously dull horror films that’s grown into a minor legend; just like William Castle’s emphasis on the promotion of his films, rather than the films themselves, “The Tingler” can best be enjoyed for what is unintended rather than for what’s there on the screen.
Vincent Price is a dedicated pathologist, the kind who has a lab right in his own house and employs a young assistant while working him into the ground. Together they experiment on a theory that fear can manifest itself into a living organism. They discover that a bizarre creature, which resembles the offspring of a lobster and an earwig, forms along the spines of vertebrates, and during moments of extreme fear, this creature suddenly swells in size and squeezes the spine. Fortunately it is immediately dissolved by a person’s screams. Yes, that’s the plot.
Leave it to Vincent Price to carry a film like this based solely on his unique ability to seem serious and deliberately camp at the same time. There’s also some serious drinking and drugging going on in this movie, before it was called out for what it is: Vincent guzzles scotch, takes an acid trip on screen, then blithely prescribes sedatives and barbiturates for one of his patients and tells her “They’re barbiturates, they’re not dangerous!” Not surprisingly she winds up dead, although not from pills; she happens to be deaf/mute–without vocal cords! Hence, the inability to scream stops her from shrinking her tingler, and it kills her. Some unbelievable stuff happens then that shatters all previously held notions of propriety concerning the ethical conditions for reporting a death and conducting an autopsy, not to mention the reality of keeping a fresh corpse in your home for a long period of time. The final assault on logic and basic human reactions comes at the end of the film, when all motivations go topsy-turvy; Price confronts the deaf/mute’s husband for frightening her to death, uncovers proof of it, then informs the husband he’s going to tell the police. Despite this, the husband takes time out to assist Price in capturing the tingler when it escapes in his theater, then after they accomplish it, he pulls a gun on Price–but not to kill him, but simply to force him to leave. Uh huh.
But this, my friends, is how “The Tingler” is best enjoyed, as camp, as well as an example of how a movie this silly could be made, sold, and passed on into Hollywood legend. It was pure showmanship.