William Castle’s barely suppressed smirk before a blank screen as he warns those "unfortunate, sensitive people" in the audience is Nabokov's, unmistakably (recall Lolita’s "John Ray, Jr., Ph.D."). "Dying for science" is the joke, which is virtually given away with Vincent Price’s introduction at the autopsy room. His treatise on "fright effects" leads to a great moment in ghoulish medicine, the discovery of an oversized rubber centipede which materializes to hug the human spinal cord during moments of horror and can only be vanquished by screaming. Experiments in fear include firing blanks at his gold-digging wife (Patricia Cutts) and feeling the walls closing in after injecting himself with LSD; the ideal subject is the housewife (Judith Evelyn) whose silence prevents her from dissolving the creature. Can it be just a coincidence that a film featuring a germaphobe who gives birth to a quivering liver with pincers of steel came out in the year of Naked Lunch? "The tingler... is in the theater!" Like any genius pitchman, Castle straddles the line between carnival barker and conceptual artist -- he tints the celluloid crimson to fill a bathtub with blood, and filches Herrmann’s first seven harp bars from Vertigo before letting the electric organ take over. The lesson is that weird science can’t compete with the nastiness married people do to each other, Cronenberg (Shivers) and Russell (Altered States) glean a detail or two. The climax is set in a silent-movie revival house, just so that the Griffithian montage of Tol’able David on the screen can yield to the shadow puppetry of a spinal lobster crawling over the projector. With Philip Coolidge, Darryl Hickman, and Pamela Lincoln. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce