A recent theatrical screening of The Tingler proved two things: 1. William Castle’s 1959 “Percepto” epic is a lot of fun and 2. Vincent Price is a national treasure. The film is low budget, the direction is crude, the other performances are adequate at best, the creature is a rubber centipede on a visible wire, and the exhibition gimmick is borderline cruel. Yet Vincent Price’s performance towers over everything—never condescending to the material, and always selling it with a visible joy in his performance in every scene. Vincent Price is the cherry, the whipped cream, and the varicolored sprinkles that turn a plain scoop into a fucking sundae.
Castle and Price re-teamed at the end of the year to make The Tingler, with Price again agreeing to a percentage of the profits. For the movie’s gimmick, Castle had motorized buzzers installed beneath a few of the seats in theaters showing the film. At a key point in the film, the monster supposedly gets loose in the actual theater (don’t ask how a rubber centipede can break the fourth wall—IT JUST CAN.) From the darkened screen, Vincent Price implores audience members to “scream for the lives,” while the projectionist presses a button in the booth that gives “lucky” patrons a tingle in their fannies. Fun? I guess?
Well, from what I have read about The Tingler (which is plenty), in 1959 this gimmick played.
One scene in The Tingler finds Price really earning himself his percentage of the profits. In an effort to scare himself sufficiently to manifest his own tingler, Price decides to take LSD, a drug that was not yet illegal in 1959. Price locks himself in his office, shoots up, and then narrates his drug trip into a tape recorder. He whines, he moans, he wails, he makes funny faces—this is not “LIKE Vincent Price tripping on acid,” this is literally Vincent Price tripping on acid—and somehow he never stops talking. The resulting scene is like a Shakespeare soliloquy projected through the lens of a 1950s exploitation horror film. It is five minutes that defines why we all love these movies.
Watch him in The Tingler. He is generous with co-stars, consistently dreams up inventive line readings, maintains our focus even through dreadful tedium, never “phones it in,” never projects a veneer of “I am above all of this,” and never relents when it comes to an actor’s main duty: selling the narrative to the audience.
I love Vincent Price.