Mr. Sardonicus / The Brotherhood of Satan Blu-ray
Enter William Castle in trenchcoat on foggy exterior overlooking the Thames River. A foghorn bellows. Castle attempts to strike a match to light his ubiquitous cigar.
Oh confounded fog. It makes the matches so damp you know. Ah there we are. This of course is London and I am William Castle. Oh its good to see you again my homicidal friends. This time our story is of a different kind. It’s an old-fashioned story full of gallantry and graciousness and ghouls. You know about ghouls don’t you? They are —well let me find you an exact definition. Let me see [he pulls out a dictionary]: GHOOM. Well that’s an odd word. It means to search for game in the dark. GHOST. Ah here it is. GHOUL: An evil being who robs graves and feeds on corpses [Castle smiles]. Ahhh yes just an old-fashioned story. I hope you enjoy it and I hope your nightmares are nice ones. So nice to have met you again…
I took some time off to tackle a Steelhead run on the Rogue River in western Michigan. While I was taking a break a few Blu-rays arrived, including this Mill Creek double bill. Along with House on Haunted Hill (1959) and The Tingler (1959), Mr. Sardonicus (1961) is my favorite William Castle film. Rosemary’s Baby (1968) is his finest film (Castle produced), but that is director Polanski’s vehicle all the way.
Sardonicus really was shocking the first time I watched it and it holds up well today. Leeches and masks freak me out. Thematically it resembles a Twilight Zone episode and the earlier Val Lewton-Robert Wise-Karloff classic The Body Snatcher (1945), based on the Robert Louis Stevenson story which was loosely inspired by the Burke and Hare “graverobber” murders that occured in 1828 Edinburgh, Scotland. In Sardonicus, Welsh actor Ronald Lewis (Sir Robert Cargrave) plays a sympathetic doctor much like Snatcher’s medical student Donald Fettes (actor Russell Wade). He is summoned by the mysterious masked 6’4″ Baron Sardonicus (Guy Rolfe). I am still especially creeped out by the scenes of the dispicable toady Krull (Oscar Homolka at his nastiest), with a sutured eye socket, stringing a servant up on her tip-toes harnessed by her thumbs and applying leeches to her feet. Take note of Oscar-winning cinematographer Burnett Guffey’s (Bird of Alcatraz, 1963) use of shadows where a bedframe suspiciously looks like the skeletal remains of a human pelvic gurdle.
Sardonicus is disturbing material —even by today’s remake of Evil Dead standards. Ben Lane’s (Salem’s Lot, 1979) reinterpretation of Jack Pierce’s The Man Who Laughs (1928) makeup is effective, although it is somewhat familiar now. This new blu-ray looks great, but lacks supplemental features. Nothing. Zippo. Not even a trailer. For $9 why gripe?
One question. Has anyone heard of the word ghoom? I’m not sure what Castle is referring to in the prologue.
The second film on the disc is the colorful The Brotherhood of Satan (1971).
Frankly, I don’t understand Mill Creek’s pairing of films. I found Brotherhood unsual, but bland. Some folks consider it a mini-classic, but it left me flat. There are some effective scenes, including a terrific decapitation sequence and creepy doll shots. Strother Martin (Doc Duncan) is always good and we’ve seen cowboy L.Q. Jones (The Wild Bunch, 1969)(read what L.Q. has to say about Sam Peckinpah here) in hundreds of similar roles. For some reason this film reminded me a bit of Manos: The Hands of Fate. Does anyone else see a resemblance?
Still, Brotherhood is worth seeing, but I wouldn’t buy it as a stand alone disc. This double-feature is Sardonicus all the way!