BADass SINema Unearthed - Blu-ray Review
- Published Date
- by Loron Hays
When we get to any discussion on the films of William Castle, there are so many to consider that it becomes overwhelming. The famed director, producer, screenwriter, and actor never found a promotion he didn’t like. He was, in fact, a sheer master of filling theaters with bodies. His gimmicks, whether they be an overlay of a timer to build suspense to Homicidal’s already tense climax or the punishment poll used in Mr. Sardonicus to decide the villain’s fate, brought down the house. They also sold tickets. As movies didn’t have national openings when he was directing, the news of the gimmicks included with his releases spread from town to town and, eventually, from state to state. This allowed for a proverbial fire to blaze among movie-goers, young and old.
Columbia Pictures has started a new double-feature campaign that highlights the directorial efforts of Castle. The two films included with this release are both from 1961 and feature two of Castle’s more severe gimmicks, even if they do feature his traditionally cheeky opening and closings. In one, he threatens to kill members of the audience who spoil the shock ending and, in the other, encourages the audience to choose if the evil Mr. Sardonicus is cured of his ailment or tortured for the remainder of his days. Yeah, the cured ending was never shown. It might have never been filmed, too.
Homicidal, written by Robb White, begins with actress Jean Arless convincing actor Richard Rust to marry her. To him, she’s a random stranger at a hotel he works at. Don’t worry, she coos, it’ll be annulled the next day. She pays him for his work, finds a justice of the peace to disturb and the two “love birds” exchange vows right before she, in a rather brutal manner, stabs the hell out of the justice of the peace, killing him instantly. It is a shocking, blood-flowing murder and leaves the bellboy she convinced to marry her, well, speechless.
We, too, are shocked. Damn it, Castle, you did it again.
And so begins the strange tale of one privileged family in a small California town and the secret that threaten to unravel them. Homicidal, from beginning to end, works to create an undying flame concerning gender and family legacies. It is a B-movie through and through and still manages to rival the likes of Psycho with its own peculiar handling of familial macabre. And, Jean Arless (really Joan Marshall who appeared in just about every 1960s television series) in the dual role she plays is to be commended. She sells madness well.
The second film, Mr. Sardonicus, a winning national lottery ticket is the reason behind a grave robbery gone horribly awry. The incident leaves Baron Sardonicus (Guy Rolfe) with a permanent and rather hideous reminder of his own misfortunate. After witnessing his father’s grinning face post-mortem while retrieving the lucky ticket, the same smile finds its gruesome way onto his own face. It is so frightening that he wears a mask to conceal it and his wife, Maude (Audrey Dalton), is so disturbed by the spreading madness that she reaches out to her former flame, physician Sir Robert Cargrave (Ronald Lewis) for help.
Turns out, things are much worse at Castle Sardonicus than originally thought. Sardonicus, hell-bent in trying to find a cure to his spreading grin, has recruited his servant, Krull (Oskar Homolka), and the two are torturing their way through the fictional country of Gorslava with countless experiments.
Written by Ray Russell, Mr. Sardonicus is highlighted by the gimmick of having the audience decide upon Mr. Sardonicus’ fate. Apparently, each audience member was given a glow in the dark thumbs up and thumbs down card that, when prompted by Castle’s pre-recorded response, were to show at the projectionist. This became tricky when it came to the drive-in and audiences were encouraged to flash their headlights instead. Once the counting was done, the correct reel would be attached and the movie would continue.
Considering that footage – now dubbed the “mercy” reel – has never been found, there’s a strong chance it was never recorded by Castle and company. Regardless, the gimmick worked and while critics were less kind to Mr. Sardonicus, with the performance of Lewis as the film’s hero getting the only real praise, audiences were satisfied and Castle, writing in his memoir, has stated that the film was a favorite of his.
These two films – plus another double-feature release from Columbia containing 13 Ghosts and 13 Frightened Girls – are only a dip in the big gooey bucket of Castle’s films. Scoop them up or Castle will get you!
Available on Blu-ray - July 19, 2016
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English, French
Audio: English: Dolby Digital Mono (448kbps)
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD-50)
Region Encoding: A
In typical low-budget fashion, the 1080p transfers on these twofers are kind to the features they contain, just not the prettiest. Levels are strong throughout, with black levels holding inky and shadows defined. Of particular note is the fact that the hi-definition upgrade in video and audio quality over the previous releases makes this series of releases from Columbia easy to recommend, particularly when it’s available at such a low price for customers. Just don’t expect anything visually striking with these two films. Both films are presented in English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track.