Thursday, 7 May 2009

The Sadist (1963)

The Sadist was one of the half-dozen movies made by Arch Hall Sr’s production company Fairway International Pictures, all starring his son Arch Hall Jr. The movies ran the gamut from prehistoric monsters (Eegah) to teen rock’n’roll romance (Wild Guitar) to The Sadist, an exceptionally violent (by the standards of 1963) juvenile delinquent movie about a couple of teenage thrill killers. It was based on a real-life case that occurred in 1958.

Three very strait-laced conservative school teachers on their way to a baseball game pull in to an apparently deserted gas station. Their car has broken down, but they can’t find anybody to fix it. The reason for this soon becomes apparent. The owner of the gas station and his family have been slaughtered by 20-year-old Charlie Tibbs and his 18-year-old girlfriend Judy. Charlie and Judy are both clearly very crazy and very dangerous. They like killing people. But they like to make them beg for mercy first. They’ve already committed a number of murders.

The three school teachers find themselves held hostage while one of them repairs a car for Charlie and Judy to use to make their escape. In the meantime the three are subjected to physical abuse and psychological torture. For a 1963 movie it’s very nasty indeed, with a couple of scenes that are quite surprisingly and shockingly violent.

No-one is seriously going to argue that Arch Hall Jr could act, but this performance in this film does work in its own twisted scenery-chewing way. He really does appear quite psychotic and to take a great deal of pleasure in inflicting pain. Most of the actors were amateurs, and they do an adequate job. Marilyn Manning is convincingly out-of-control as Judy.

This is not a slick and polished major studio production. It’s an ultra low budget exploitation flick, but it delivers the goods. It’s effectively horrifying, and it has a couple of very clever plot twists up its sleeve. Writer-director James Landis didn’t exactly have a glittering career following this promising start but he manages to maintain the tension rather well. Having Vilmos Zsigmond as his cinematographer would have helped, and the atmosphere of isolation and desolation works well.

This was certainly not the first movie to be made in Hollywood about violent criminal lovers on the run but it did up the ante quite considerable as far as the level of violence as concerned, and for better or worse pointed the way to the future for such movies. It’s certainly worth checking out.

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