Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Tingler

Film: The Tingler [1959, usa]
Where I saw it: Los Angeles @ Cinefamily
Who with: SJ
Rating for complete film experience: *****!

For film lovers, the name William Castle should conjure up visions of the B-movie era of the 1950s and 1960s when there were a glorious slew of low-budgeted films marketed toward the young-adult matinee audiences. I've been waiting to see a Castle movie the way they are meant to be seen for decades. I finally got to knock that small goal in life from my list of things I want to do before I die. Small victories! Castle was the master of what could be thought of as "gimmick" cinema. Interactive movie watching is in vogue right now with sing-a-longs, quote-a-thons and there's even the text-friendly program MUV Chat that let's the audience's texts appear on-screen as the film runs. Castle should be thought of as the godfather of interactive movie watching.

It helped Castle's Vincent Price starring The Tingler that it was being shown at Cinefamily on Halloween night. The house was stuffed with 175 people with at least half of them in costume which added to the festive atmosphere. I saw "Frank Booth" from Blue Velvet, lots of zombies, members of the SAMCRO motorcycle gang Sons of Anarchy, the Black Swan ballerina, a human beaver creature and an assortment of naughty costumes with [mostly] female flesh on display. A movie like The Tingler is going to be a lot more fun with a crowded theatre full of rambunctious people ready to have a good time, and this audience was ready to laugh, scream and enjoy the campiness of The Tingler.

The Tingler was one of Castle's early gimmick pictures known for being filmed in "Percepto". That pretty much means that the seats of the theatre were rigged with electric shocks that go off during specific moments of the film to really rile up the audience. It doesn't hurt, at least these at Cinefamily didn't. It's just a slight buzz of electricity vibrating from the seat. Had I not known it was going to come at some point and if I would have been a teenager in 1959, I can only imagine the sheer fun and delirium in the audience when the theatre is urged to scream together as the electric shocks are going off on the seat.

Some of Castle's other gimmicks he did to bring people to the theatre and whip them into a frenzy were taking out $1,000 life insurance policies from Lloyd's of London in case anyone died from watching the Macabre [1958]. He really ramped this one up as he'd have nurses in the lobby and even hearses outside the theatre to haul off the dead if someone died of fright during the screening. House on Haunted Hill [1959] was filmed in "Emergo," a glow-in-the-dark skeleton that floated over the audience on wires during key moments. "Illusion-O" made an appearance in 13 Ghosts [1960] and involved colored strips that could remove the ghosts if you were too frightened. 1961's Homicidal had Castle coming up with the "Coward's Corner," which was a series of public humiliations administered by bewildered theatre employees. Castle's movies might not have been actually "good" in the old-fashioned sense of the word, but you can not deny the fact that events such as these were tremendously fun.

At least I finally got to see a Castle movie, as I've longed dreamed of, and it was everything I expected and more. The Tingler is actually a very clever movie the way it engages the audience to pull them into the film with a twist that involves a projection booth, an on-screen movie theatre and theatre goers screaming their heads off. Cinefamily did this screening right by having an audience member go nuts during one key scene. The house lights come on as a old-school, dressed in white nurse comes running down the aisle to help this person to their feet so the film can start again. Castle was known for pulling stuff like this and encouraged it as the film goes black with a voice over urging the audience on in their shared frenzy.

The Tingler was such a fun experience, I wish that Cinefamily would try a few of Castle's other interactive films that I listed earlier. Check out Joe Dante's 1993 film Matinee if you want to see a semi-recent movie that uses Castle as inspiration as John Goodman plays a Castle-like film maker who has brought his film to Florida during the Cuban missile crisis. I had such a great time at this and loved the spirit of the event, I'm probably going to become a member of Cinefamily even though I'd need to go 2/3 times a month to screenings to make it worth it. They seem to have a bunch of interactive styled screenings and bring in a lot of guests and it's very close to where I live. Now, I'll have New Beverly and Cinefamily to tempt me regarding how I spend my time.

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