The Sadist

The Sadist (1963)
All Day Entertainment
Cast: Don Russell, Richard Alden, Helen Hovey, Arch Hall Jr., Marilyn Manning

It’s a rare commodity when a movie can leave a person with the impression that he’s just sat through a very, very weird flick. I have to admit that All Day Entertainment’s "The Sadist" was just such an experience for me.

I mean this in the best possible sense, however, because for a cult movie that "fell through the cracks", this one is surprisingly well done and raises questions – more than it really answers, and that turns out to be one of the movie’s strongest and most intriguing elements.

When three teachers – a mixed bag consisting of the middle-aged Carl (Don Russell), an early thirties Ed (Richard Alden) and the beautiful Doris (Helen Hovey) – on their way to Los Angeles to see a baseball game begin to have trouble with their car, they stop at a garage in a small off-road. After exploring and finding the place completely empty, Ed starts fixing the car himself while Carl investigates the place a little more closely. He grows irritated when he finds food plates set on the kitchen table, with the food still warm yet with no one in evidence.

Soon thereafter, they suspect something terrible must have happened – a suspicion confirmed when a gun-wielding young Charlie Tibbs (Arch Hall Jr.) and his feeble-minded girlfriend Judy (Marilyn Manning) appear, threatening to kill them all unless they fix the car. It turns out the two newcomers are on a killing spree that has already taken them through half the country, with police on their heels. Both are dangerously insane and infantile, psychotics who feel no remorse. Simply for fun, Charlie plays a power game with Carl, forcing the teacher to kneel in front of him, begging for his life, to no avail. Charlie puts a bullet in his head in cold blood. It is now up to Ed and Doris to find a way out of this situation, without suffering the same miserable fate as their colleague Carl.

If this storyline and the killers’ characters strike you as somewhat familiar, you’d be among the many who’ve noted that "The Sadist" seems to be the exact stencil filmmakers and actors used some thirty years later for bigger and more successful Hollywood productions.

It is simply amazing how much the inarticulate Judy resembles the white trash juvenile Adele in "Kalifornia", though Judy utters but a single line in the whole movie, and Arch Hall Jr.’s portrayal of the incalculable Charlie wearing down his victims is just as cold, hostile, and menacing as Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of Mickey Knox in "Natural Born Killers".

Much of the movie’s appeal has to be attributed to its interesting and inventive use of the camera. Academy Award winner Vilmos Zsigmond captured the movie’s ominous images on film, making them more memorable than any of the film’s actual characters. He makes excellent use of the limited set the story occurs in and he does an excellent job in visually underscoring Charlie’s changes in temper and his overall bad attitude with his clever use of shadows and light.

Unfortunately, not all aspects of the movie are as glorious as its cinematography – you will keep wondering whether the script is just so bad that all the characters behave like meatballs who have handed in their brains at the studio lot’s entrance, or whether the casting was incompetent or if, possibly, this unmatching gathering of people was arranged with a purpose.

Most distracting is the character of Ed, a muscular hunk in his thirties, who could easily outwrestle and outmuscle Charlie. Yet, he is a completely repulsive coward and never makes a move on the killer, while constantly complaining that he would need just a second of dis- traction on Charlie’s behalf. During the film, I had an urge to shout at the screen every single time he missed minutes of distraction and was just too much of a coward to make his move.

"The Sadist" comes as a single layered disc in its original 1.66:1 <$PS,letterboxed> aspect ratio. The transfer quality is generally good and proves that black and white movies lend themselves to good digital transfers, just as any other image material does. All Day Entertainment have put quite some effort into digitally enhancing the image quality of the original 35mm print they used for this disc and despite a few flaws, it is a very crisp and solid transfer. Unfortunately there is a very distracting spot in the center of the image that runs through a large part of the movie – it looks almost like a damage in the projection screen.

The movie features a very minimalist but highly effective musical score that is typical for the early sixties, when music was mostly used to heighten suspense and dramatically accentuate and foreshadow certain scenes and events, without supplying much of a solid sonic "floor" like modern day movie scores.

The disc comes with a monaural <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack and features a consistently good overall sound quality, which is very impressive for such a small budgeted movie.

"The Sadist" displays perfectly how a few care-free people on a sunny day can find themselves in a deadly environment out of their control, and how they can watch their priorities change completely while life in the outside world keeps going on as usual. The movie has its flaws but never to the point of ridicule or disgust, as is the case in many other cult movies. Actually, the chilling story and its unpredictability make it a thrilling and highly entertaining movie with an ending that took me completely by surprise.