Friday, 28 October 2011

Friday Night Film: Mr. Sardonicus

It's Halloween in  a few days, so it would be wrong not to make this weeks FNF a horror film.

The genial Mr. Castle.
'Mr. Sardonicus' is a 1961 William Castle film and comes highly recommended indeed. Producer / director/ personality Castle specialised in gimmicks, ranging from insuring audience members against dying from fright, installing motors under cinema seats to give a jolt at crucial moments to encourage screaming, or simply whizzing a rubber day-glo skeleton over the audience on a wire. Naturally, he had a great gimick for 'Mr. Sardonicus', but we'll get to that in a bit.

In front of the mask.

Daddy's looking rough.
The trauma is written all over his face.

Mr. Sardonicus is a mysterious and secretive man who lives in secluded luxury on a large country estate. When seen in public, he always wears a mask. The truth is that he was once a simple peasant called Marek who had the good fortune to win the lottery but the bad fortune to have inadvertently buried the ticket along with his deceased father a few weeks earlier. Desperate, Marek breaks into his Dad's coffin to retrieve the prize - and promptly loses his mind. Seeing his father's mouldering corpse, the decomposing face fixed in a terrible rictus grin, Marek's own face is contorted into an awful and unnatural expression which, despite his new found riches and experiments on kidnapped young women (!), he is unable to cure.

Not a particularly successful blind date.

Castle with his beloved gimmick.

Fifty percent Gothic, fifty percent pure hokum, 'Mr. Sardonicus' delivers much in terms of atmosphere and basic entertainment - it's a lot of fun, but with some genuinely creepy moments. The gimmick is pure Castle - simple, silly, brilliant, devious, sensational. Towards the end, Castle interrupts the proceedings to hold a 'Punishment Poll' - the audience were asked to vote with pre-printed cards for mercy or punishment for Sardonicus. Film audiences being what they are, they always voted for punishment - which is just as well, as, despite his claims to the contrary, Castle only ever filmed one ending.

I'm taking a couple of weeks off to watch more stuff, but I leave you in the capable hands of Glimmung and Dolly Dolly, recently voted, of course, the joint second sexiest men in the blogosphere.


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