The greatest of the “gimmicks”, Castle’s Tingler is known more for delivering buzzes to unsuspecting viewers than any real scares, but the film is a fantastic watch even if your home isn’t wired for “Percepto”. The plot is at first glance silly, and at second glance horrifying, occupying hallowed ground in my youth: the aforementioned “tingler” is a centipede-like parasite that lives in the human spinal cord. The “tingling” sensation we feel when we are afraid (“spine-tingling”) is the creature growing and curling around our spine. The spine will be crushed by the creature’s growth (“dying of fright”) if the terrified person does not scream. Silly. But to a little kid, that idea, of a parasite laying dormant inside my body, waiting to slice my spinal cord at the right moment of utmost terror, was surprisingly potent.
Deaf and mute Martha, who is really in the wrong movie for a mute, falls victim to the parasite after a series of terrifying hallucinations, explained away by the first-ever depiction of LSD in a film (then legal).
Of course, the real story about The Tingler is really about Castle placing “buzzers” under the seats of a few patrons, buzzing them at a key sequence and encouraging the frantic patrons to scream for their lives. This ingenious bit of shock-tactic would be impossible today (some patron would probably sue), when gimmicks are relegated to over-bloated “3D” films. Still, watching The Tingler, I’m reminded of the best that campy horror can be: bizarre, improbable, creepy, and endlessly enjoyable.
Britta R. Moline 3/24/12