Mr. Sardonicus (1961)

I have to tell you guys I’m really enjoying checking out these old William Castle movies again as I’m working my way thru the William Castle Film Collection.  Next up is Mr. Sardonicus, which is a nifty little movie about a man with an unfortunate condition.  The movie opens in the past, I’m thinking sometime during the Victorian era.  We are introduced to a doctor, Cargrave who specializes in muscle therapy.  He receives a letter from a woman that he loved, but who married someone else.  It begs him to come to her home and help her.  He drops everything and goes to her aid, only to find out that it is her husband who needs assistance.  We are shown thru a flashback that Baron Sardonicus is a wealthy man because he defiled his father’s grave to recover a lottery ticket.  In the process of doing so he face was permanently frozen in a death grimace!  Now he demands that Cargrave help him “unfreeze” his face or his former love, Sardonicus’s wife will suffer. 

This is another cool and creepy outing from director Castle.  The movie does take a little while to get rolling, but once it does it is a blast.  The Baron Sardonicus character is very creepy and the actor that portrays him, Guy Rolfe, does a great job making him a sympathetic character before his “accident” and then a cold, evil one afterwards.  The movie does a nice job of building up some tension before finally revealing what the Baron’s disfigured face looks like.  I also enjoyed the interaction between the Baron and his put upon assistant (every classic bad guy needs a sidekick!) Krull.  This is especially fun when you get to the final twist of the movie, which I refuse to spoil for those that haven’t seen the flick yet.  Oh and there is a fun gimmick that Castle always seemed to come up with, but it has to do with the ending and again I wont’ ruin that here. 

Technically this is a solidly made movie.  You again have some decent camera work and lighting that help set the mood and tone of the movie.  This adds to the already creepy setting of the castle, which looks great on screen.  One of the things that I’ve never really understood is why so many people goof on the makeup job done on Sardonicus.  I know it is a bit dated, but the big reveal still gets me every time.  The look of the character is creepy as hell and I think is one of the better makeup jobs I’ve seen from the 60s.  It is far from the silliest thing that I’ve seen in a William Castle movie for sure (the Tingler anyone?). 

I want to take a couple minutes to discuss the special features included with Mr. Sardonicus on the DVD that I watched (from the William Castle Film Collection).  There is a very short (7 minutes long) feature called Taking the Punishment Poll that briefly talks about the origins of the story and some of the cast members.  It also mentions the punishment poll, which was the big gimmick Castle came up for Mr. Sardonicus.  There is enough her that I think it is worth spending a couple minutes watching it.  Other than this you have a trailer for the movie and an episode of Ghost Story, which was a T.V., show created by Castle. 

I really recommend that everyone check out Sardonicus.  Hell to be honest if you are a fan of William Castle or of the horror movies of the 50s and 60s you really ought to do yourself a favor and pick up the William Castle Film Collection.  No joke this is quickly becoming one of prizes of my collection and I’m only 2 movies into it!

3 out of 4

reviewed by John Shatzer

© Copyright 2009 John Shatzer