Friday, March 12, 2010

Mr. Sardonicus

I've recommended a couple of William Castle's films in the past. Another one's coming up overnight as part of TCM Underground: Mr. Sardonicus, at 4:15 AM ET tomorrow.

Ronald Lewis plays Robert Cargrave, a prominent doctor in Victorian London who's known for his scientific experiments. One day, he gets an urgent letter from a Baron Sardonicus (played by Guy Rolfe), living somewhere on the continent, having married a woman Cargrave used to know (Audrey Dalton). Sardonicus needs medical help and, believing Cargrave is the only man left who can help him, is basically making Cargave an offer he can't refuse. Of course, there's also the chance to see his old flame, so he sets out to the creepy Sardonicus estate.

What he finds there shocks him. He's met by Sardonicus' assistant Krull (played by poor Oskar Homolka, making the viewer wonder how Homolka's career fell to having play parts like this) and, when he first enters the castle, sees a woman who's been the subject of experiments with leeches. Not only that, but Sardonicus is wearing a mask. Cargrave investiagtes and isn't so sure that he can help, but Sardonicus considers him to be the last hope, and because Sardonicus also has a mean streak in him, more or less holds Cargrave hostage until he helps Sardonicus. The problem turns out to involve an old winning lottery ticket that Sardonicus' father had, and with which he was accidentally buried. Sardonicus dug up the body to get that lottery ticket, and that somehow resulted in his medical condition....

I've avoided stating specifically what that condition is, in part because that's one of the highlights of the movie. I won't post the photo here; instead, you'll have to go to Photobucket if you want to be spoiled. That's one of the Castle gimmicks in this movie. The other comes near the end. Cargrave performs a medical procedure on Sardonicus, at which point Castle stops the movie and gives audiences the right to vote on whether that procedue should be successful or not. In theory, there would have been two endings made, one with the procedure working and one not, but apparently only one was made, and that's the one that always gets shown. A silly idea to be sure, but like all of William Castle's gimmicks, it's fun.

And fun is the whole point of Castle's movies. The acting isn't great, and the script is no better than most horror movies of that genre. But William Castle had a sense of showmanship that make his movies much more memorable today than the other horror movies from that era. Mr. Sardonicus is no different.

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