9/22/2017

Mr. Sardonicus (Review)

Title: Mr. Sardonicus
Director: William Castle
Writer: Ray Russell
Cast: Oskar Homolka, Ronald Lewis, Audrey Dalton, Guy Rolfe, Vladimir Sokoloff, Erika Peters
Min: 89
Year: 1961

In 1880, respected London physician Sir Robert Cargrave (Ronald Lewis) receives an urgent letter from his former girlfriend Maude (the lovely Audrey Dalton). In it, she tells him to come see her and her husband, a man named Mr. Sardonicus (Guy Rolfe), as her life depends on it. He wastes no time and heads to Castle Sardonicus. There he encounters Sardonicus' loyal servant Krull (Oskar Humkola) who is torturing another servant by putting leeches on her face.
It soon becomes apparent that Sardonicus is a cruel and evil man, that loves to torture and torment people. Even, Krull with his undying loyalty has suffered under his wrath having lost an eye thanks to him! Maude knows that if Cargrave does not do what Sardonicus' wishes she will suffer, too.

When, Cargrave meets Sadonicus, he is wearing a creepy and lifeless mask. He eventually tells him the origin of his mask. Years ago Sardonkis' father bought a lotto ticker for him, then named Maley Toleswaski, and his hot but money hungry wife, Elenka (Erika Peters). It's a winning ticket, but his father dies and is unknowingly buried with it. At Elenka's behest, he digs up the body. When, he sees his dead dad's horrific grin, his takes the same misshapen form. Now, he tells Cargrave that he most cure him and bring his face back to normal, no matter the method, or he will torture Maude.
Horror director and producer (doing both of that here) William Castle made a name for himself in the 50s and 60s for his gimmicks to get audiences to go see his movies. The gimmick here was a "punishment card", where at the end the audience would hold up thumbs up or down as to whether or not Sardonicus should be punished for his evil. Let's put it this way, an ending where he doesn't get his come upends was reportedly never shot. The ending, itself, is good, but at the moment that I saw it, I wish more had happened. But, I immediately thought more about it and realized just how satisfying the outcome really was!

The film lacks some of the more campy aspects of Castle's classics like The House on Haunted Hill or Thirteen Ghosts, but it is definitely for the best. As this aspect of film works wonderfully. For you see, in this movie, Castle's crafts a twisted. Gothic tale.
And, much of it is thanks to Rolfe, who would go on to play Andre Toulon in Puppet Master III (the best in the franchise, me thinks) among other memorable roles. He chews up scenery with glee is so perversely awesome as Sardonicus, that you cannot help but hate the villain. There is a coldness to his evil, that it makes him stand as one of the best villains in a Castle movie, if not the best one. The rest of cast does a nice job as well, especially Lewis as Cargrave. He makes for a very likable hero, a great counterpoint to Sardonicus' evil.

The film looks good, and makes a nice use of its Gothic setting. There is a definite Edgar Allen Poe influence, that makes this a must see for fans of this type of horror. He also achieves some genuinely creepy moments. I imagine that, back in the day, the torture scenes and, in particular, the look of Sardonicus would have freaked some audiences out. It probably did the same for kids who watched this back when it would air on TV. Nowadays, much of the movie may come off as dated and decidedly tame, but that could be said of just about any older film.
Mr. Sardonicus is an entertaining bit of Gothic horror. It serves a nice change of pace from some of Castle's other movies. The villain is easy to hate, and Rolfe is great in his portrayal of him. He is assisted by the rest cast, all of whom also give good performances. The twisted tale has a gleeful bit of perverseness and leads to a fitting ending. It's a great choice for fans into classic horror, as well as a good one to show, and creep out, a younger viewer getting into horror. The movie is currently streaming on Shudder and is also available on DVD and on Blu-ray, where it is on a double feature with Homicidal (which I have never seen, by the way).


3.5 out of 4

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