The Tingler

September 16, 2010

First class of the Fall semester, two weeks ago, was like a William Castle movie. William Castle was a gimmicky film director of 1950s era grade-B schlocky pulp horror movies that employed interactive gizmos in the theater to shock the audience. Movies like House on Haunted Hill featured “Emerg-O,” (a floating skeleton over the crowd) and Homicidal, which offered a “Fright Break” for terrified theater viewers, or Mr. Sardonicus, where audience members decided the fate of the characters by a “Punishment Poll.”

I’m not saying that, in my first class, the seats buzzed or Psychedelo-rama lit up the walls of Razran Hall, but that, instead of just rehashing the syllabus and overviewing the class material, the Prof. engaged the class to do stuff with objects, as a device to portray the nature of the course.  It is a Library & Info Science class, where I am studying for a Certificate in Archives and the Preservation of Cultural Materials.  Basically, I just wanna graduate and get to work with cool rare shit.

Usually students hate it when you have to pair up with other students right off the bat – the usual anti-biorhythm discomfort of unknowns – but it is typically a productive method.  A graduate studies program is especially a melting pot of intentions. In any classroom, the group dynamic is full throttle.  After having not be in a college classroom in thirteen years, it all came back in a hot swoop last spring 2009 when I first enrolled at QC. There is always the one or two people whose voices must be heard, by everyone, right away, and they must incessantly let teacher know that they get at all times what he/she is teaching, whether the student is psychically indisposed to chemical balance, or just a buttinsky.  Sometimes you want to turn around with reserve and tell them politely and quietly, OK, you can shush now.  Of course that would be bad scholarship.  Anyhow, these are only jarring exceptions to the enthusiastic camaraderie of intellect and multi-situational subtly of my uniquely peerless fellow library students – and future professional colleagues.

This past Labor Day weekend, I participated in a William Castle retrospective of his movie The Tingler, starring Vincent Price, at Film Forum on Houston Street.  In the movie, the Tingler is a giant half lobster-half cockroach creature that feeds off human fear, and strangles your neck with its two-pronged fore-claw.  At the appropriate scene in the movie, when the Tingler is let loose to wreak deadly havoc in a movie theater, the actual Film Forum theater went dark and the ushers caused panic with their flashlights, “The Tingler is in the theater!”  The audience screams, and I – a shill all along – stand up with a rubber Tingler around my neck, shrieking in death throes, and with the flashlights on my ravaged person I stagger out the exit door to perish.  It was a star performance to a sold out crowd – the old showbiz!

Fear factor aside, my involvement with The Tingler was an Archival experience, very relevant to my QC studies.  The technologies employed in William Castle movies are rarefied and vintage and long out of practice.  Film Forum’s repertory office of enlightened information scientists directed a series of performance with old-timey, unused and acutely collected  materials: the Tingler doll, seat-buzzers, LSD light shows, scripted actors, etc.  Ideas of theatrical instance come back to life, and the ticketed moviegoer is part of the action.  For me, an actorly participant and victim, I tried to get internship credit towards my Library Science degree, but the academic committee snootly refused.  That’s OK – I let the Tingler loose in Room 1104 at Kiely Hall.