A Movie A Day: THE SADIST (1963) To inflict moral insanity on the innocent. That is his twisted pleasure!
Published at: Oct. 29, 2009, 12:17 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the newest October special horror run of A Movie A Day!
[For the entirety of October I will be showcasing one horror film each day. Every film is pulled from my DVD shelf, recorded on the home DVR or streamed via Instant Netflix and will be one I haven’t seen. Unlike my usual A Movie A Day or A Movie A Week columns there won’t necessarily be connectors between each film, but you’ll more than likely see patterns emerge day to day. At the end of each standard AMAD I’m going to include a recommendation of a genre film that is either one of my personal favorites or too good of a double feature with the AMAD title to pass up a mention.]
As further proof of how misplaced expectation can be, I went into this movie thinking it was going to be a silly cheese-ball exploitation flick starring a dude doing his best to ham it up having seen clips of it appear in Joe Dante’s infamous Movie Orgy.
I was kind of right. Arch Hall, Jr. sure isn’t underplaying the lead role of Charlie Tibbs, a psychotic murderer, but silly this movie isn’t. In fact it’s quite brutal and shockingly modern in its approach to storytelling.
The opening of the movie is right out of a modern studio thriller. An unassuming threesome comprised of teachers including a fatherly older man, a Doris Day-ish young woman and her musclebound love-interest pull into an autoshop/junkyard with car trouble while on their way to LA for a Dodgers game.
Unbeknownst to them a young man has killed the owners and watches as they try to repair the car themselves. Turns out this squinty-eyed kid is Arch Hall, Jr. and he’s not alone. Joining him is his just as crazy girlfriend. Think of them as a Mickey & Mallory type. In fact, both serial killer pairs were based on the real-life boyfriend/girlfriend team of Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate.
When Hall makes his appearance the first we see of him directly is his hand holding a gun on the unassuming teachers. That gun is his position of power. He might be full of crazy, but the muscular Richard Alden could take him if it wasn’t for this gun.
So here I was expecting a little Petrified Forest or Key Largo situation where a group is held against their will, but figure out a way out… or maybe the bad guys are human afterall. No way, Jose. This movie shows us it means business within the first half-hour as Hall not only pistolwhips the older man into submission, but then shoots him in the head just for the hell of it.
The Sadist really is ahead of its time in showing such pure, unexplainable human cruelty and doing so bluntly. This isn’t a pleasant thrillride movie, but a gritty off-putting exploration of an insane mind given license by the cowardice and optimism of his victims.
Charlie doesn’t just kill his victims, but he torments them, giving them false hope, teasing them, chipping away at their humanity. There’s one great scene where our heroes are trying to figure out how many shots he’s fired and if he’s run out of bullets. So, Alden begins quizzing the nut, finding out how many people he’s shot. Charlie abides, relishing in recounting his past triumphs.
But he knows what the good guy is up to and says he can count to and spends one more bullet (which should theoretically mean he’s holding an empty gun) and taunts Alden, saying now is his shot. If he’s so sure the gun is empty why not take him out?
After Alden wusses out, Charlie pulls the trigger, it clicks. In a flash he replaces the clip, giggling all the way.
In short, Hall is playing the character like a teenage Joker. He gets his kicks from the game, not just the final score.
The ending (which I won’t ruin) is fantastic. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go by the time it arrived and it plays almost like Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but with a great, great bit of comeuppance for Hall.
Final Thoughts: The Sadist was a very pleasant surprise. Good script, great unhinged performance from Arch Hall Jr., great doomed tone and all photographed beautifully by master cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. This is his first American film and his sheer talent at photography could have elevated this movie out of B-movie hell just by itself, but luckily enough there’s a smart script and a good central performance so he doesn’t have to save this movie all by his lonesome.
My recommendation title is something I remember sneaking down to watch on TV as a kid. It was past my bedtime and this one was supposed to be too intense for me. A half hour later I snuck downstairs and my mom was asleep on the couch with this movie having just started on cable.
So this is one of my early memories, watching this movie crouched behind the couch with my sleeping mother on it… nervous of being caught and creeped out by the evil Australian men in the masks on the TV screen.
Now Fortress is actually an Aussie TV movie, but still creepy. For the longest time I was trying to find out the name of this flick and it was actually a talkbacker that pointed me in the right direction. I bougth the DVD and rewatched and the movie still holds up.
Basically the movie’s about a group of masked men that take a young teacher and her schoolkids hostage. Much like The Sadist this flick focuses on the many attempts taken by our victims to escape their captors and, in many ways, becoming just as violent as their tormentors when they finally decide to make a stand.
So the movie builds up to a group of kids, aged 10-16 and their teacher, fighting evil men wearing scary masks to the death.
The movie is pretty intense and captures a great, eerie tone, especially for the young me. The accents and Australian outback were new to me and added to the mystique of the movie. That isn’t the case so much anymore, but the eerie tone is still there.
There’s threats to children, horrible kid-made booby traps and a swimming scene that makes me feel short of breath just thinking about it… and that’s not just because Rache Ward strips down to her bra and panties… The group is hiding out in a cave and have to swim through an underwater tunnel that may or may not lead to a way out. Ward shepherds the younger kids and on one of the trips gets turned around, finding only a small bubble at the cave’s roof, just shallow enough to allow her lips up to suck in air.
Really intense scene and one of many memorable moments in this movie.
And you’ve never been so scared of Santa, or, as he is known to territories which recognize the Queen, Father Christmas. That makes this creepy little gem of a movie the perfect segue to the next AMAD.
Here are the final run of Halloween AMAD titles:
Wednesday, October 28th: CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)
Thursday, October 29th: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE? (1969)