Friday, October 15, 2010

31 favorite monsters: The Tingler

In 1959's The Tingler, Vincent Price plays a scientist who believes that the "tingling" you feel when frightened is actually a parasitic lifeform growing in the spinal column, but that the creature dies whenever its host screams. To prove his theory, he simply scares a mute woman to death and is able to remove a massive "tingler" from her back. Naturally, the small creature packs lethally disproportionate strength and escapes for a killing spree. Even for the 50's, it's an egregiously illogical, childish premise; what about the millions of ordinary people every moment who probably experience the tingle and never scream at all? Of course, that lack of sense is a big part of the film's charm, as well as the Tingler's!

The parasite was probably just designed to look like it clings to vertebrae, but the result bears an uncanny accidental resemblance to one of my favorite animals, the Peripatus or "velvet worm," a sluggish predator related to the most ancient, basal arthropod ancestors. Oddly, I first learned of the Tingler from a children's book about Monster Movies which inexplicably described it as "spider-like" and included no pictures. What, was their entire knowledge of spiders somehow gathered via word of mouth?

"Spooky thing with legs. Gotcha."

I can't very well write about the Tingler without writing about what the film is really famous for; director William Castle made various attempts to terrify his audiences with surprising "interactive" elements, and spent $250,000 to have vibrating buzzers installed in theater seats especially for Tingler screenings. These were randomly set off during a sequence in which the Tingler more or less escapes from the movie footage.

Sadly, an awesome life-sized Tingler replica was once available from Ultratumba productions and I never found out until they were long sold out, never to return. I've always hoped one of these Halloween prop places would make a bendy vinyl version...