The Tingler

So tempting to “toy” (ahem) with the idea of including a racy joke about The Tingler, but in the interest of keeping this post Google-searchable, will impose restraint.

Vincent Price is Dr. Warren Chapin, a penitentiary coroner who is consumed with the study of fear. (If there was ever a movie that proved FDR’s dictum, “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself,” this is it).

In one of Chapin’s examinations, the doc discovers a phenomenon that is not so much spine-tingling, as it is spine-shattering: a gaping spinal splinter appearing on X-ray of a man who’d been recently executed.

Why the state would waste finite resources on doing autopsies when the cause of death is clearly known is a question for another time, but hey.

Chapin posits that there’s a fear response so intense that when it’s sufficiently built up, it becomes fatal.

Chapin, a consumed, obsessive, unethical (and very frequent) violator of the Hippocratic Oath, fires a starter pistol at his estranged wife to generate the response, and then examines her while she’s passed out. His hypothesis: fear forms a solid spinal mass, which is dissipated through the tension release of a scream. It’s an insanely stupid, yet hilarious idea.

Soon, his friend and deaf mute wife (who are proprietors of a silent film house. Whoa, the jokes write themselves!) become involved in the shenanigans.

The Tingler is the brainchild of William Castle  (Macabre, The House on Haunted Hill, producer of Rosemary’s Baby). Castle, a hype man of the highest order (whose modern exemplars include site pal Lloyd Kaufman and John Waters), was known for taking out insurance policy for those who dropped dead from fright, and for jerry-rigging theater seats to generate a mild electrical current. The so-called Percepto buzzers were a bit of a bust, but still…you couldn’t help but get behind his go get ’em Barnum & Bailey hucksterism.

As for the film?  It’s hilariously absurd and fun. What a premise.

And a bonus…it was the first recorded use of LSD on celluloid.

*** (out of 5)

[Please check out our podcast discussion of The Tingler on the Really Awful Movies Podcast!]


Radio dispatch exposition is a classic hoary film staple, second only to the spinning newspaper headline for shoving a plot forward.

In Unhinged, three college girls’ raunchy joke road trip banter is interrupted. Turns out, an escaped lunatic is on the loose. Back to “traffic and weather together on the 1s,” Led Zeppelin deep cuts and Morning Zoo blather.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, what was once balmy weather turns into a Gothic downpour, and slick precipitation pushes their little sedan into a ditch, accompanied by a burping synth score.

When they wake up, they’re being tended to by a battleaxe matriarch, her spinster Virginia Woolf tight-hair bun daughter, and their creepy manservant.

They’re forced to convalesce, and unfortunately their new sprawling mansion accommodations do not include a phone.

Later that evening, in a Lovecraftian gale-force, all the girls are treated to a dinner hosted by the matriarch, a proper finishing school Barbara Bush-styled ball-buster.

What do you get when you cross Mrs. Doubtfire with a former First Lady of the United States? This evil matriarch

So far so good, and the girls (Nancy, Gloria and Terry) make arrangements to notify the proper authorities in the morning and to get their car fixed. 

As she’s preparing to turn for the evening Terry finds a tooth under her bed, and more ominously, hears grunts and heavy breathing from nearby.

It’s the leering psycho-sexual elements that put Unhinged (1982) on the infamous Video Nasties list, although the rest of the film isn’t nearly that explicit.

Made for next to nothing (and a regional horror from the Pacific Northwest), Unhinged is an odd duck indeed. There are a few sleepy-eyed performances and more padding than an NFL locker room, but more importantly…there’s also gobs of atmosphere, a fun plot, a terrific soundtrack and a whiz-bang denouement.

Who knew?

***1/2 (out of 5)

[Check out our Really Awful Movies Podcast discussion of Unhinged!]