Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Blu-ray Review: MR. SARDONICUS /THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN

MR. SARDONICUS THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN 
Blu-ray Double Feature 

Label: Mill Creek Entertainment

Region Code: A
Duration: 69/92 Minutes 
Rating: Unrated / PG
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 with Optional SDH French and English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1) (2.35:1) 
Director: William Castle, Bernard McEveety
Cast: Ronald Lewis, Audrey Dalton, Guy Rolfe, Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, Oscar Homolka, Ahna Capri

Synopsis: This creepy horror classic is based on a novella by screenwriter Ray Russell (X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes), and is brought to life by William Castle (13 Ghosts), master of terror! Desperate to retrieve a winning lottery ticket, a greedy baron unearths his father s corpse. An enormous jackpot is his reward, but not without a price his face is frozen permanently into a hideous grin. He enlists his fiendish one-eyed servant to help him lift this horrible curse, but their schemes fail. Finally, he turns to a noted neurosurgeon and his wife s former lover to cure him.



There's never a bad time to watch a William Castle production and tonight was definitely the time to watch Mr. Sardonicus (1961), it was hitting almost all of the right notes for me.  There's a great foggy London-set intro from William Castle himself, ever the showman he comes off as the schlocky Hitchcock, which is very appropriate. We're introduced to a London doctor named Sir Robert Cargrave (Ronald Lewis, Scream of Fear) whom receives a letter from an old flame, Maude (Audrey Dalton, The Monster That Challenged the World) imploring him to visit her, apparently it's a matter of life and death. Once he arrives it's quickly revealed she was coerced into summoning him by her husband Baron Sardonicus, a real bastard played to perfection by Puppet Master 3's Guy Rolfe. The Baron wishes for Cargrave to cure him of a horrible affliction  the Baron  after unearthing his own father's corpse from the grave to obtain a winning lottery ticket he was stricken with a permanently grotesque smile across his face, this aspect reminded me of The Man Who Smiles (1939), if the doctor should refuse or fail to succeed in devising a treatment Maude's life hangs in the balance.

It was a blast to see Guy Rolfe as a younger man, loved him from the few Puppet Master entries from Full Moon. Early on in the film the Baron's face is hidden, shrouded in mystery beneath as mask, which was pretty great. Once the hideous affliction is revealed it's a whole new level of weird, he's a creepy villain and he comes with a one-eyed man servant named Krull (Oskar Homolka, The Seven Year Itch) who threatens to steal most of the scenes he appears in, it's great stuff. As great as Homolka is it's Guy Rolfe who definitely steals the show with his maniacal charisma, not to diminish a strong performance from Ronald Lewis as our hero and Audrey Dalton who turns in a smaller performance but as a sympathetic heroin she's quite fine.  


A fun watch, it drags from time to time, your mileage may vary depending on your temperance for black and white, it's a William Castle production so you just know that there's a gimmick, this time out it's a choose-your-own-ending feature, sorta. Unfortunately we don't get zapped in our asses with an electric shock but this is still an entertaining watch in the tradition of a twisty Twilight Zone episode. 


Synopsis: Children are mysteriously disappearing, their parents are being violently murdered and strangely enough, no one has been able to leave! When their car stalls, Ben and his family are stranded and are forced to join the sheriff, a priest and the prominent Doc Duncan in trying to unravel this frightening web of events. Suddenly, KT disappears, triggering a frantic search that results in the startling discovery of a deadly coven, led by Doc Duncan himself! Ben and the others must make a desperate attempt to stop these witches from performing a satanic ritual that transports their malevolent spirits into the innocent children thus creating yet another generation of satanic worshipers!


While not a William Castle production Bernard McEveety's The Brotherhood of Satan (1971) certainly owes a debt to the William Castle produced and Roman Polanski directed Rosemary's Baby (1968), a sweet slice of Satanic paranoia from producer L.Q. Jones who acted in many films including Martin Scorsese's Casino (1995) as well as producing and directing a few of his own, most notable the post-apocalyptic A Boy and His Dog (1975) featuring a very young Don Johnson (Django) and his telepathic dog, which I highly recommend!

The film begins with a great scene which sorta blurs the lines of reality and fiction as a bratty kid playing with a toy tank crushes and entire family in a station wagon, it's pretty bloody, too. Next scene were onto a family outing in the desert with, there's the father Ben Holden (TV's Charles Bateman) and his annoying daughter K.T. (Geri Reisch, I Dismember Mama), also along for the ride is Ben's girlfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri, Enter the Dragon). They're on the road when they come across the bloody and twisted wreckage from the start of the film, they do what pretty much anyone would and drive into the nearest village to alert the authorities. However, when they arrive the entire town is in a state of pure panic and paranoia, even the town Sheriff (L.Q. Jones) treats the family pretty hostile, a man attacks Ben with an ax screaming "You took them from me!" and the trio jump back in the car just barely escape the mob with their skulls intact. Driving down the road a ways Ben swerves to avoid striking the apparition of a young girl and the car is kaput, stranded on the side of the road as the noon day sun beats down they have few choices other than to head back to the strange village. 


Once there things are a bit less hostile but just as weird and only get weirder, the Sheriff and his Deputy (Alvy Moore, A Boy and His Dog) along with the priest (Charles Robinson, The Cable Guy) and the town doc Mr. Duncan (Strother Martin, The Wild Bunch) set about sleuthing the heinous murders of adult-population and the mysterious disappearance of the town's children. The townsfolk are stressed, sleep deprived, paranoid and at their wits end. It turns out a Satanic Cult is committing the ritualistic murders and turning the town's tots into Satanic occultists in an attempt to gain unholy immortality, and guess what, it's the grandfatherly doc that's the cult leader! 


This is such a great watch, Martin is amazing as the feisty cult leader, maniacal and just chewing up the scenery while leading a group of satanic seniors bent on immortality in services the the Dark Lord. It's drenched in great 70's atmosphere and there's a ton of blood and dismemberment for a PG film, one victim is clawed to death like skinned rabbit tossed into a chicken pen, it's pretty grotesque for PG rating! This schlocky Satanic nightmare is peppered with murderous children, creepy killer dolls, and spooky woods oozing with fog, this was quite the ocult production with some great set pieces.


The finale is superb and unhinged in all the right ways as the cult gather in an underground tomb to perform their unholy ritual with diabolically over-the top incantations "Greetings Dear One, 'Tis We!", only Burgess Meredith could have outdone Martin's elderly satanic MC, this is a fantastic watch and the only thing that irked me was Geri Reisch, who was quite an annoying child actor!


Blu-ray: Over the years Mill Creek has acquired a decent reputation for some very nice public domain budget collections if not for exactly known for stunning transfers but lately we've seen some rather nice 1080p presentations from 'em and I am impressed with what we get here. Both films licensed from the Sony/Columbia Pictures catalog receive pleasing AVC encodes in their original aspect ratios. Mr. Sardonicus' black and white cinematography is crisp and finely detailed with a nice grayscale and decent contrast levels, the print is not pristine and we do get the occasional white speckle but overall this is a fantastic presentation. The Brotherhood of Satan is presented in wonderful color, it's not exactly stunning but there's some nice film grain intact and along with it a pleasing amount of fine detail, it's a very attractive presentation. 


The double feature disc sports English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 with Optional SDH French and English Subtitles for both films and while it's free of annoying hiss, crackle and pops it's flat and pretty narrow in it's range, it's  acceptable and Von Dexter's eerie score for Mr. Sardonicus comes through quite nicely. The disc is bare-bones affair and there are no special features included but a very nice transfer and acceptable audio are much appreciated. 


Verdict: After the fantastic Happy Birthday to Me/When a Stranger Calls double feature Blu-ray this is my favorite Mill Creek title to date, a great 1080p transfer for two fantastic tales of terror! The Brotherhood of Satan is the highlight here, a colorfully creepy slice of satanic cinema that would make a great double-feature with Race with the Devil (1975). This budget-minded release gets a high recommend, so dig in! 4 Outta 5 


2 comments:

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    1. Mr. Sardonicus is really a classic vintage horror film of 1961, and a very cool plot to boot. The story of Sardonicus is a real spooky chiller with very good acting but I like to focus on the character Anna played by Lorna Hanson.

      A perky peasant woman maid who had leeches applied to her but I don't favor her face I would like to have seen the focus on actress Lorna Hanson's bare feet.

      I wonder what went thru the mind of Lorna Hanson when she accepted this part and decided to remove her shoes and stockings and bare her feet for leeches and if she had a boyfriend or husband see the scene and what he must have thought watching Lorna’s performance. Even my own wife Cathy shocked me after we watched Mr. Sardonicus together she boldy remarked to me: "If they paid me enough as an actress I would have had Oskar Homulka apply leeches to the soles and toes of MY bare feet as you and other men in the audience watched" I asked her if she considered me as “just another man” watching in the audience? She remarked "well,…. yeah". What is it with this woman? Can another man tell me?

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