Sunday, March 20, 2011

'The Sadist' is surprisingly effective

The Sadist (aka "Profile in Terror") (1963)
Starring: Arch Hall Jr, Helen Hovey, Richard Alden, Marilyn Manning, and Don Russell
Director: James Landis
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Three friends (Alden, Hovey, and Russell) are subject to terror mind-games and cold-blooded murder when car trouble lands them under the power of a psychotic killer (Hall) and his deranged girlfriend (Manning).

Here's a film that anyone who is trying to make a horror movie on a low budget needs to see. That goes double if you have your heart set on making the latest, greatest torture porn epic. Even in this age where even comedies feature vicious brutality, "The Sadist" has several effect and shocking moments.

One thing "The Sadist" has going for it is that it wastes no time in getting started, and it keeps a steady pace through to the very end. The movie starts with our hapless victims stuck in a deserted junk yard and we are given their back story as the creepiness of the place builds... and the titular sadist and his twisted girl sidekick make their appearance at just the right moment. Another is the fact the murders are varied--one has a long build and tension-filled build-up and another comes suddenly and shockingly. Finally, the movie closes with an ending more effective than I would ever have expected from a cheap film like this. It is also refreshing that the characters stay consistent through to the end--it's nice to see that there was a time where screenwriters could write a suspense film where characters don't inexplicably transform from cowards to Kung-Fu fighting bad-asses in the final reel.

One surprisingly effective part of the film is the performance given by Arch Hall Jr. When he first made his appearance as the killer, walking as though he has crapped his pants and squinting and grimacing and speaking a voice that is anything but menacing, I thought this movie that started so strong had just veered into "so bad its good" territory.

But as silly as Hall seems initially, his over-the-top performance develops a frightening quality, because there is no doubt whatsoever that this is one guy who is completely off his rocker. The funny walk is probably Hall's way of trying to show the murderer is barely more than an animal, as there is a simian quality to his gait. (He mostly drops the walk during the film's climactic quarter hour, an extended game of cat-and-mouse between him and his victims. And it is during this part of movie where Hall is genuinely scary.)

The rest of the cast are adequate, giving solid performances of well-drawn and consistent characters, making this a surprisingly entertaining movie that is worth seeking out.