scare the pants off

The Tingler

The Tingler is a 1959 horror-thriller film by the American producer and director William Castle. It is the third of five collaborations with writer Robb White and stars Vincent Price, Darryl Hickman, Patricia Cutts, Pamela Lincoln, Philip Coolidge and Judith Evelyn.


A pathologist, Dr. Warren Chapin (played by Vincent Price), discovers that the tingling of the spine in states of extreme fear is due to the growth of a "tingler" -- a spinal parasite which can kill the host unless it is destroyed by screaming. An acquaintance of the pathologist, whose wife is mute and cannot scream, uses his discovery to frighten her to death. In an autopsy, Dr. Chapin removes the Tingler from the wife's spine. The centipede-like creature soon escapes, and mayhem ensues.


The financial success of House on Haunted Hill was reason enough for Columbia to produce The Tingler. Vincent Price was on board again, this time with Darryl Hickman playing his assistant and newcomer Pamela Lincoln playing his sister-in-law. Patricia Cutts played Price's beautiful but unfaithful wife, Isabel.

Director William Castle was never one to miss an opportunity for publicity. He convinced Pamela Lincoln's real life fiancé Darryl Hickman to join the cast as her fiancé in the film. At first Darryl declined but finally agreed after William Castle convinced him it would help Pamela's career. According to Darryl, William Castle did such a good job of convincing him it would help Pamela that he did the part for no salary.

Judith Evelyn was hired at the request of Vincent Price who previously worked with her on Broadway. She also received attention in another prominent "non speaking role" as the suicidal "Miss Lonelyhearts" in Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954).

Robb White, story author said he was inspired to write The Tingler after seeing one of the rubber worms makeup artist Jack Dusick designed for House on Haunted Hill. There are, however, no rubber worms in the release version of House on Haunted Hill. Robb White had experimented with LSD at UCLA after hearing about it from Aldous Huxley and decided to work it into the script as well. It is the first depiction of LSD use in a major motion picture. At the time the drug was still legal.

The Tingler was Vincent Price's second and last outing with William Castle and the fifth performance that would ultimately brand him as "The Master of Menace".

Film Prologue

Much in the manner of Universal's groundbreaking Frankenstein (1931), William Castle opened the film with an on screen warning to the audience:
"I am William Castle, the director of the motion picture you are about to see. I feel obligated to warn you that some of the sensations— some of the physical reactions which the actors on the screen will feel— will also be experienced, for the first time in motion picture history, by certain members of this audience. I say 'certain members' because some people are more sensitive to these mysterious electronic impulses than others. These unfortunate, sensitive people will at times feel a strange, tingling sensation; other people will feel it less strongly. But don't be alarmed— you can protect yourself. At any time you are conscious of a tingling sensation, you may obtain immediate relief by screaming. Don't be embarrassed about opening your mouth and letting rip with all you've got, because the person in the seat right next to you will probably be screaming too. And remember— a scream at the right time may save your life."
--William Castle, opening scene


William Castle became famous for his movie gimmicks, and The Tingler featured one of his best, "Percepto!". Previously he had offered a $1,000 life insurance policy against "Death by Fright" for Macabre (1958) and sent a skeleton moving above the audiences' heads in the auditorium in House on Haunted Hill (1959).

Percepto: "Scream for your lives!"

For "Percepto!" William Castle attached electrical "buzzers" to the underside of several seats in the auditorium. The buzzers were small surplus vibrators left over from World War II. They had been installed inside the wings of air craft and when activated would vibrate to help de-ice the wings by shaking and cracking the ice. The cost of this equipment added $250,000 to the film's budget. It was predominantly used in the larger theaters.

During the climax of the film, the tingler escaped into a movie theater. On screen the projected film appeared to break as the silhouette of the tingler moved across the projection beam. The film went black, all lights in the auditorium were turned off and Vincent Price's voice warned the audience "The Tingler is loose in THIS theater! Scream! Scream for your lives!" This cued the theatre projectionist to activate the buzzers and give several audience members an unexpected jolt.

An alternate warning was recorded for Drive-in Theatres, this warning advised the audience the tingler was loose in the drive-in. Vincent Price's voice was not used for the Drive-in version.

William Castle's autobiography Step Right Up!: I'm Gonna Scare the Pants off America, erroneously stated that "Percepto!" actually delivered electric shocks to the theater seats.

Fainting Customers & Medical Assistance

To enhance the climax even more William Castle stationed fake "nurses" in the foyer, an ambulance outside of the theatre and fake "screamers and fainters" planted in the audience. The "fainters" would be carried out of the auditorium on a gurney and whisked away in the ambulance only to return for the next showing.

The Bloody Bathtub Scene

Although The Tingler was filmed in black and white, a single b&w/color sequence was spliced into each print of the film. It showed a sink (in black and white) with bright red "blood" flowing from the taps and a black and white Judith Evelyn watching a bloody red hand rising from a bathtub filled with bright red "blood". Castle used color film to film the effect. The scene was accomplished by painting the set white, black, and gray and applying gray makeup to the actress to simulate monochrome.


The script by Robb White contains many acerbic and often quite funny lines:

  • Isabel: "The only way Dave Morris will marry my sister is over my dead body".
  • Warren: "Unconventional but not impossible".
  • Isabel: "You know, Warren, you've lost contact with living people. Nobody means anything to you anymore, unless they're dead and you can root around in them with your sharp little knives. There's a word for you."
    Warren: "There's several for you."
  • Warren: "I was going to use this cat [for my experiment], but you made a much better subject. Have you two met, in the same alley perhaps?"

A transcript can be found at Script-O-Rama




Columbia released a Special Edition 40th anniversary DVD in 1999. As of August 2008 the DVD is still available.

External links



Heffernan, Kevin (2004). Ghouls, Gimmicks and Gold: Horror Films and the American Movie Business, 1953-1968. Duke University Press. ISBN 0822332159.

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