Bonus Reviews: The Tingler (1959) and The Woman in Black (2012)
Horror Bulletin Bonus for Week 183
For this week’s bonus films, we’ll look two more great films: 1959's Vincent Price masterpiece, "The Tingler" followed by Daniel Radcliffe in "The Woman in Black" from 2012.
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1959 The Tingler
Directed by William Castle
Written by Robb White
Stars Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman
Run Time: 1 Hour, 22 Minutes
William Castle, the director of the film, comes out on stage to introduce the film. He feels obligated to warn us that some of the physical reactions that the actors on the screen will feel will, for the first time in motion-picture history, also be felt by certain members of the audience. If, at any time, the audience feels the tingling, they can feel immediate relief by screaming. “Let it rip with all you’ve got!” he says. “A scream at the right time may save your life!”
A man in prison takes the walk to the electric chair as credits roll. He screams. Dr. Warren Chapin prepares to do an autopsy on the prisoner, which shouldn’t be hard in this case. The man’s brother-in-law, Oliver Higgins, comes to watch the autopsy and asks many questions. The law requires the autopsy, but Chapin says it’s never really necessary.
Chapin explains that the prisoner was terrified before he died. The fear literally fused his spinal column. “Maybe it’s the force that makes your spine tingle when you’re scared,” says the visitor, and Chapin finds that amusing. “I’ve been experimenting with this force for years, but I’ve never had a name for it until now. I think I’ll call it the tingler,” he smiles. He experiments with fear.
Higgins asks for a ride and offers to get coffee with Warren. Higgins talks to his wife, Martha, using sign language through the window to let her know about the coffee. The Higgins’ run a theater that specializes in silent films. Martha is completely “deaf and dumb” but can read lips. Warren cuts his finger, and Martha faints right there in front of them. Chapin explains that since she can’t scream, she can’t release the fear, and it overcomes her. When she wakes up, she goes straight to the safe full of money and checks on it. Dr. Chapin watches all this curiously before he leaves.
Warren goes home and talks to Lucy, his sister-in-law and legal ward, who is preparing to go on a date with David Morris. David works for Warren. They talk about Isobel, his wife, who is drifting away from Warren and now goes out without him. Lucy is ashamed of her sister, and Warren promises that things will be different when his work is complete. Isobel regularly threatens to disinherit Lucy if she doesn’t do everything she says.
David finally arrives; he had a hard time catching a cat for their next experiment. David also picked up the prescription that Warren sent him for. It’s pretty powerful stuff, he says. They talk about Martha’s weird condition, and David says it’d be cool to do some tests on her.
Later we see Warren reading about fear-induced with LSD. The drug David brought home was LSD (from a pharmacy?). He stays up and catches Isobel coming home and kissing her date goodnight. Warren spots this through the window and takes out a pistol. Isobel refuses to allow Lucy and David to get married, but Warren hints that Isobel may not live much longer. They argue back and forth for a bit, and he ends up shooting her. It’s only a blank, but she faints. While she’s out, he takes several X-rays of her. She wakes up, threatens him, and leaves.
He shows David the X-rays, and they both see the tingler on her spine. Screaming seems to stop the tingler from doing what it does. The tingler may even be a living thing on its own.
Warren wants to experience it for himself, but he can’t scare himself. He tries using the LSD on himself. He wants it to give him wide-awake nightmares. He starts hallucinating and gets terrified, which is the plan. David and Lucy watch through the door, but they don’t try to stop him. It gets worse and worse until he finally screams. He couldn’t help it; he just had to scream.
After he recovers, he doesn’t think anyone could resist screaming under those circumstances. Then he remembers one woman who can’t scream: Martha.
Warren goes over to see Ollie and Martha, and he examines her. He gives her a shot of sedative and a prescription for barbiturates, “Sleeping Pills,” he explains. Ollie goes out for a beer, and Martha starts hallucinating. Warren didn’t give her a sedative after all. She sees a scary, disfigured bald man with a knife in her room. She runs into the bathroom, and the sink is running with bright red blood (this is a black-and-white film except for the blood). Her terror continues to grow, but she cannot scream. She eventually passes out.
Warren goes home and catches Isobel with another man again. Ollie brings Martha to Warren’s lab. Could it be a reaction to the shot he gave her? Warren explains that Martha has died. As the two men discuss the details, Martha sits up under the sheet. Warren checks again and confirms that she really is dead. He does an autopsy on her while Ollie watches. Warren cuts her open and removes the tingler, which looks like a big centipede.
The tingler grabs Warren’s arm, which hurts. He screams, and the worm falls out. While he talks about the tingler, Osibel comes in and steals some drugs, which she pours into a drink. Isobel offers him the glass, but he wants the other one. She gives him that one instead. Which glass did he end up with?
Ollie takes Martha’s body home and says he’ll call the funeral parlor in the morning. When he gets home, he puts away the mask of the disfigured bald man and the props he used to scare Martha to death. Maybe Warren didn’t give her the LSD after all...
Warren got the drink with the sedative in it; she knew she’d want to switch the glasses. When Warren passes out, Isobel releases the tingler in the room with him and shuts the door. It starts to kill him just as Lucy comes in. She sees it and screams, which makes it release him. Meanwhile, Isobel packs up and leaves Warren.
The next morning, Warren finds that the tingler is indestructible; it can’t be killed. He wants to put the tingler back inside Martha where it belongs and pretend it all never happened. When it’s returned to Martha, it should die as it should have. The funeral home doesn’t know anything about Martha; Ollie never called them. Ollie is home taking all the money out of Martha’s safe when Warren arrives. Warren finds out what Ollie did to Martha when he finds the mask and knife. While they talk, the tingler gets out of the cage.
The tingler sneaks downstairs into the theater where David and Lucy are watching an old film. Ollie and Warren start looking for the creature as the movie plays on. It tries to crawl up Lucy’s leg, but she screams, driving it off. It crawls into the projectionist’s booth, and soon everyone sees it crawling across the projector.
The screen goes black, and we hear Warren (or is it Vincent Price?) yell, “Ladies and gentlemen scream for your lives! The tingler is loose in this theater!” It’s all dark, and we hear dozens of people screaming. He announces again that your screams have driven the creature off, and they can now resume the movie.
Warren and Ollie head to the projection booth. They lock the Tingler into a film canister and take it back to Martha’s body. They put it back into Martha, and it goes quietly. Ollie then pulls a gun on Warren, but Warren walks away unafraid. Now it’s Ollie’s turn to be frightened to death as Martha sits back up.
This was the first on-screen depiction of LSD use in a motion picture.
Warren seems like a really nice guy who cares about his family, and not just his work, as Isobel claims. He’s certainly not an evil man, just a bit unethical. Once he gets the idea in his head about Martha, things start going south. Ollie seems especially calm for a man who just watched his wife be autopsied and a giant worm cut out of her. Later, he’s very cooperative once Warren says he’s going to call the police.
The tingler creature is just a big rubber worm, but it works here; its movements are stiff and rubbery, but it works. It’s ridiculous, as is the whole plot, but somehow, it still manages to be fun, even with all the silliness.
The black-and-white film isn’t unusual, but once the bright red blood shows up, it’s a neat gimmick. Of course, our seats weren’t wired for joy-buzzers the way the seats in the 1950s were, but that was a product of the times as well. William Castle was well-known for his in-theater gimmicks; anything to make the film stand out, which this one easily does. Breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience of this theater while the scene takes place in that theater was also a fun touch, but it doesn’t work so well if you’re watching this on TV.
2012 The Woman in Black
Director: James Watkins
Writers: Susan Hill, Jane Goldman
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer, Ciarán Hinds
Run Time: 1 Hour, 35 Minutes
Three little girls are playing with dolls in the playroom. They all see something, then all three stand up, walk to the window, and jump out, to their deaths. Credits roll.
We see Arthur Kipps, a not-so-recent widower, says goodbye to his four-year-old son and his nanny, and leaves for his new job. We see in a flashback that Arthur’s wife died in childbirth several years ago, and he’s still not over it. Old Mrs. Alice Drablow has died, and Arthur, a lawyer, needs to go straighten out her affairs, especially to find out if there is a more recent will. His boss gives him a final warning, that this is his last chance to prove himself.
Mr. Daily gives him a ride from the train station to the inn. Daily invites him to dinner tomorrow night. The innkeeper is rude and tries to deny him a room, but the man’s wife takes pity on Arthur and shows him to the attic. He stays in the room where the three girls died; the innkeeper and his wife were their parents. Everyone in town seems to avoid Arthur, and he doesn’t know why.
He goes to see Mr. Jerome, the local lawyer who’s been handling the case. When he explains that he plans to work on the papers for several days, Jerome acts strangely. No one wants him to stay in town. He gets a driver to take him to Eel Marsh Island, and they pass a distinctive grave on the way. The driver explains that he can’t return when the tide is high, as the whole area is flooded.
The house seems deserted. A typical, isolated, old-house-on-the-moors kind of place. He gets started working on the paperwork, and he finds a death certificate for seven-year-old boy who drowned in the swamp. He then sees a figure standing in the cemetery near the house. Of course, when he investigates, there’s no one there, but he does hear screaming and other voices in the fog.
He goes to the police in town about the screams, and they say the house has been empty for years. While he’s there, a little girl comes in saying she drank some lye; she pukes up blood and dies in his arms. He goes to dinner at the Daily house. Mrs. Daily has some mental issues. The two men have a discussion about the afterlife, seances, and communication with the dead. Nevertheless, Arthur decides to stay with them and avoid the inn.
The next day, Daily and Arthur are stopped by some men. They say Arthur saw the woman at the house, and another child has died because of it. He goes back to the house with plans to work through the night. He starts seeing someone in the house, but on a second look, there’s never anyone there.
He finds papers that indicate that little Nathan wasn’t really Alice’s child, but Jenette, Alice’s sister, who gave him up very unwillingly. She blamed Alice’s husband George for letting little Nathaniel die in the swamp. Jenette late killed herself.
That night, he sees Nathaniel rise from his grave out in the swamp. He sees a large number of dead children right outside the house. He sees the ghost of a woman hanging herself and also of Nathaniel running around.
He runs from the ghosts until Mr. Daily shows up at the door. When they return to town, another child is killed, and Arthur sees the woman in black in the fire with her. Mrs. Daily explains that every time the woman in black is seen, a child dies in the village. They took her child, so now she takes theirs. Arthur remembers that his own son is due to come to town really soon.
They decide to reunite Nathaniel and Jenette by finding Nathaniel’s lost body. They can use Daily’s car to haul the carriage out of the swamp. Arthur dives into the black muck, and they recover the body. The ghost screeches in and sees the boy’s body. They place the boy’s body in Jenette’s grave. Will that solve everything?
Arthur’s son and nanny arrive on the train. At the station, Arthur sees the woman in black, and little Joseph walking on the train tracks. He jumps down to save the boy, and they are both killed instantly.
Arthur and Joseph see Arthur’s dead wife. They’re all dead now, and they go off together in a “happy ending.”
It looks great, the acting is good, and Hammer was back doing period-specific horror. It all fit together, and it turned out to become the highest grossing British horror film in twenty years. Getting Daniel Radcliffe to star in it, fresh after the final Harry Potter film, didn’t hurt the bottom line either.
It is, however, very slow paced. You might call it a slow burn; you might call it boring. If you want to enjoy the creepy atmosphere and cinematography, it’s great. If you’re looking for action and non-stop scares, this isn’t the film for you. As far as “ghost stories” go, this is one of the creepier ones.
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