Saturday, October 29, 1977: The Tingler (1959) / Murder in the Blue Room (1944)

Synopsis: Dr. Warren Chapin (Vincent Price) is a forensic pathologist who sometimes performs autopsies for the state after condemned prisoners are executed in the electric chair. One afternoon at the state penitentiary he meets Ollie Higgins, the brother-in-law of a man just put to death. Chapin’s autopsy reveals that the spine of the executed man was shattered, but it couldn’t have happened as a result of the fatal dose of electricity he received; something else clearly happened to him.

Ollie mentions that the man was mute, and Dr. Chapin begins to wonder if this meant that he could not release his fear in the electric chair by screaming — perhaps the inability to scream creates tension inside the body that might prove fatal. Chapin says he has been developing a theory that a creature lives inside each person, one that grows as fear builds in the body. He dubs this hypothetical creature “the Tingler”.

Chapin gives Ollie a ride home, and Ollie invites him in to meet his wife Martha (Judith Evelyn). Like her brother, Judith can neither hear nor speak, and she and Ollie communicate via sign language. The couple live in an apartment above a silent movie theater, which they own and operate. As he is rinsing out a glass in the sink, Chapin cuts his hand. At the sight of blood, Judith faints. Chapin speculates that she fainted for the same reason that her executed brother died — her horror of blood created a tension in the body that couldn’t be released through screaming and she lost consciousness.

When Chapin returns home he finds his wife Isabel (Patricia Cutts) isn’t home; she sees other men freely and refuses to grant him a divorce. However, his 20-something daughter Lucy is there; she is waiting to be picked up for a date by Chapin’s lab assistant David (Daryl Hickman).

David arrives, and he and Chapin talk about the theory of the Tingler. But it isn’t long before Lucy teases them about shop talk after hours, and David and Lucy leave for their date.

Much later in the evening, Chapin hears a car pull up outside. It is Isabel, giving a languorous kiss to a paramour on the street. When she enters the house he confronts her and she laughs at him; but when he pulls a gun on her she seems genuinely frightened. He fires the gun and she drops to the floor.

Picking her up and carrying her to his laboratory, he takes an X-ray of her spine. Isabel wakes up from her faint, and his angered that Chapin fired at her with a blank cartridge. But the X-ray has provided him with something important: an image of a centipede-like creature growing in Isabel’s spine the moment at which her fear was the greatest. The Tingler, he can now prove, is real, and if allowed to grow large enough will literally cause a person to die of fright….

Comments: We’ve seen a couple of William Castle films on Horror Incorporated, (Homicidal and Mr. Sardonicus) and tonight we’re treated to The Tingler, one of two movies he made with Vincent Price and the one that incorporated his best-remembered gimmick. The Tingler was breathlessly promoted as a showcase for the “Percepto” process, which promised that audience members would be able to feel the actual sensations emitted by the titular Tingler.

What the “Percepto” gimmick actually was has gotten a bit garbled over the years, and it’s sometimes casually asserted that patrons received a mild electric shock at various points in the film (an idea that may have been popularized by Joe Dante’s film Matinee).

But there were no electric shocks involved. Instead, military surplus de-icing motors were installed underneath certain seats and wired to a switch installed in the projection booth. When the Tingler appeared onscreen, the motors were turned on and the seats shook. Because each seat rigged with a motor represented an investment of time and effort, no more than a couple of rows in any given theater were so equipped; in fact, many theaters didn’t bother with the gimmick at all.

Gimmick aside The Tingler is schlocky fun, with a charmingly stupid premise and some very loopy scenes. It what other movie will you see Vincent Price break the fourth wall and shout at the audience to scream for their lives, or wrestle with a giant centipede, or freak out on an acid trip?

The acid trip, by the way, was the only real innovation The Tingler could lay claim to: Vincent Price takes the first on-screen LSD trip. He drops acid in order to make himself afraid so that he can study the Tingler growing inside himself. He doesn’t get much studying done, just staggers around the room, yelling “The walls! The walls are closing in on me!” Price, an actor who could go over the top without pushing you out of the movie, still can’t really sell the scene, but you can’t blame him — it’s only one of many absurd things going on in this picture.

As in The House on Haunted Hill, Price’s unsettling charm keeps us wondering if he is up to no good. The movie is aided by some solid supporting performances, particularly from Judith Evelyn and Patricia Cutts.

The film is also remembered for the striking red-tinted blood in Martha’s death scene (though as far as I remember the TV prints didn’t have the red tint). The Tingler turned up fairly often on TV in the 1970s, and it’s a little surprising that it took so long to show up on Horror Incorporated, but it’s delightful to see it.

Murder in the Blue Room

Synopsis: Linda and Frank Baldrich are throwing a party at their mansion out in the country. 20 years earlier Linda’s first husband, Sam Kirkland, died in the mysterious “Blue Room” of the house. The death was ruled a suicide, and the room has been locked and abandoned ever since.

The house has a reputation for being haunted, but that doesn’t detract from the celebration. The party is in full swing: attendees include Linda’s daughter Nan (Anne Gwynne), who has recently returned from time spent singing on the vaudeville circuit; Larry Dearden (Bill Williams), a family friend who’s long nursed a crush on Nan; Steve Randall (Donald Cook), a mystery writer invited to the party by Nan; and Dr. Harry Carroll, longtime family friend and physician.

For entertainment, Nell has booked the Three Jazzybelles (Grace McDonald, Betty Kean and June Preisser), a wisecracking singing trio, and we learn they are friends of Nan’s from her time as a vaudevillian.

Larry half-jokingly tells Nan that he plans to propose to her tonight and she laughs it off, then introduces him to Steve Randall. Larry is jealous but it intercepted by Dr. Carroll, who pulls him aside and tells him he has important news that will explain why he can never marry Nan.

The Jazzybelles are a hit, and when Frank comments on how talented they are, Nan suggests that he book them in the chain of theaters he owns. Realizing that Nan invited the girls to the party for just this purpose, Frank gives the trio his card and promises them a booking. Delighted, the girls return to the city.

That night, Larry insists on sleeping in the Blue Room. The next morning, someone from the Blue Room buzzes the kitchen, but when Edwards the butler goes to the room, he finds the door locked and no one answering the door.

Frank, Dr. Carroll and Steve force the door and find there’s no one in the room, but that the windows are wide open.

The police are called, and the JazzyBelles are brought back to the house as suspects. There are many strange goings-on in the house: a piano plays by itself, and the three singers see a ghost walking around the grounds. They decide to stay up all night by drinking coffee, but someone puts sleeping pills in the coffee pot and they end up falling asleep. Steve insists on sleeping in the Blue Room himself, but the next morning he is gone, replaced by the body of Larry, who has been shot to death. But by whom?

Comments: This is the third remake of the 1932 German film Geheiminis des Blauen Zimmers, all of which we’ve seen on Horror Incorporated (the others are 1933’s Secret of the Blue Room and 1938’s The Missing Guest). Unlike the other versions of the Blue Room chestnut this is an extremely light confection, clocking in at exactly one hour, and even that brief running time is padded with a few musical numbers.

At the center is a trio of wisecracking vaudevillians, the Three Jazzybelles. Their boogie-woogie stylings are charming enough if you’re in the right frame of mind, but their banter is strictly of the corn-pone variety:


Don’t tell me you’re afraid of a little trip to the cellar!


I don’t have to tell you — my knees are beating it out in Morse code!

Apparently written as a vehicle for the Ritz Brothers, it works pretty well as a showcase for the Jazzybelles, who seem to have been assembled just for this picture; they don’t appear to have done anything before or since. Forced to become amateur sleuths in order to clear their names (implausibly, the cops suspect them in Larry’s disappearance) they creep around the old dark house and crack wise, and when things threaten to get too dark they do a quick musical number and everything’s okay again. A real ghost shows up now and again, perhaps to mitigate the disappointment at the explained-away ending, and as you might expect it’s strictly there for comic relief, asking the girls for a light and directions to the local cemetery.

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