“The Tingler” (1959)
WARNING: The following review contains plot spoilers.
If Vincent Price eventually became labelled with the unwelcome moniker of “The Master of Horror”, it might be confidentially stated that he is also the Duke of Domestic Discontent, a somewhat overlooked facet within his filmography, that is put to the test in William Castle’s 1959 bizarre horror film “The Tingler”, Price’s second collaboration in as many years with the notorious director and shameless promoter of theatrical gimmickery, after “House on Haunted Hill”; yet another example of cinema chills generated in an atmosphere of homicidally fractured matrimony, which would extend as a characterizing constant through much of Price’s 60’s horror output, especially his Poe collaborations with Roger Corman.
In “The Tingler”, Price plays another of his preoccupied husbands ill-matched with a wife to whom there is never the whisper of a clue as to what might have explained a mutual attraction in the first place, except to provide the film with the convenient marital schism which will either encompass the entire conception of the film (as with “House on Haunted Hill”), or act as a handy motivating catalyst (as in “Pit and the Pendulum”). In the case of “The Tingler”, there would appear to be no relevant context of narrative immediacy fueled by the combative Chapins, though there is a curious cumulative effect to the method screenwriter Robb White (who also penned “House on Haunted Hill”) employs by telling the entire story within the intimate circle of three different pairings: the Chapins, the Higgins’- who, though secondary in prominence, will be the eventual catalysts to every important action in the film -and the unattached though romantically involved couple, David (Darryl Hickman), Warren’s lab assistant, and Lucy (Pamela Lincoln), Isabel’s younger sister. With its rather absurd abundance of the murderously inclined pas de deux on display, the script presents a bleakly cynical view of spousal devotion; a perspective made manifest in the script’s narrow but consistent relationship blueprint depicting all of the men as parasitically indebted to their women for financial support, which, in the film’s view, leads to anxieties of emasculation with an inevitable escalation into murderous impulses.
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