22 December 2011



1967/Director: Michael Reeves/ Writers: Michael Reeves, Tom Baker

Cast: Boris Karloff, Elizabeth Ercy, Ian Ogilvy, Victor Henry, Sally Sheridan, Susan George   

Michael Reeves was an aspiring and ambitious young British director who only directed three films before his untimely death at the age of twenty-five by barbiturate overdose. It has never been assumed his death was a suicide and that he simply took a little too much of the strong medications (often over prescribed in the 60's) to alleviate his depression and anxiety. His first film is nothing too fancy and often people assume that The Sorcerers was his first project. He actually filmed the low budget Italian horror film Revenge of the Blood Beast (La Sorella di Satana) in 1965 which featured the British actress Barbara Steele who was working in Italy at the time. His last film is considered not only his best but one of the best British horror films of the period, The Witchfinder General. AIP insisted that the film feature Vincent Price and legend has it that Reeves was none too impressed with Price's trademark overacting and the two were often in heated debate as to the proper interpretation of Price's Matthew Hopkins character. At one point Price became so infuriated with Reeves' criticisms that he pronounced Young man I have made 84 films. What have you done?" to which Reeves replied "I have made two good ones".In the end Price was to come around to Reeves' point of view and was more than pleased with the finished product and the two became and the two would work together on The Oblong Box though Reeves' directorial involvement was cut short due to his premature death.

The 1967 film The Sorcerers, featuring Boris Karloff, Catherine Lacey, Elizabeth Ercy, and Reeves' dangerously attractive good friend, who starred in most of his work, Ian Ogilvy, is a low budget film with a whacky concept that actually works very well. This is in no small part due to Reeves' direction and the spirited performances of the entire cast. Horror icon Karloff looks weak and tired and yet turns in a fine performance as the aging and slightly embittered hypnotist Prof. Marcus Monserrat. Ogilvy is perfectly cast as the jaded London teenager Mike Roscoe who is bored and burned out and is looking for something to jolt him out of his doldrums. But really excellent and disturbing is the once stunning Catherine Lacey as Karloff's wife Estelle, an old and weary woman who has never had the chance to experience the life the way she always wanted. Monserrat's hypnotist career has severely suffered after a journalist attempted to expose him as fraud some years earlier. The experience has left him disillusioned and me can only maintain his practice by posting little index card type ads on the front of local markets. Marcus and Nicole live a mundane and near squalid existence and seem to have nothing better to do than wait for the Reaper to pay them a visit. But Marcus has not been sitting by idly in his waning years. He has been developing a sort of mind/thought transfer machine in the spare room. He feels the machine, which he wants to use to assist people with depression and anxiety, is ready to test but they need a suitable subject. Who could be suitable than the bored and apathetic Michael who spends his time at a local club with his girlfriend Nicole (the lovely Elizabeth Ercy) and his pal Alan (Victor Henry) watching people dance and listening to bands play hip, psychedelic rock music with horrible 60's style guitar solos. Michael leaves the clubs in a state of utter boredom and this suits Alan just fine as he can now dance with Nicole who he obviously fancies.

Marcus zeroes in on Michael at a local restaurant and offers him a chance to have a fantastic experience, one that will basically blow his mind. Michael is suspicious but how dangerous can this old guy be and he follows him back to his musky old flat. He meets Nicole and soon is ready to get on with it and he is ushered into the "secret" room where he sees the mind control contraption. The device is pretty low budget, sci-fi laboratory material but we must remember that Prof. Monserrat lives on pretty modest means he has put this together piecemeal over a period of many years. But to be fair, the machine and peripheral devices-reel to reel recorders, slide projector and gogo bar lights does not look too bad. Michael is treated to a weird light show and dissonant sound effects and when the machine is turned off his mind, unbeknownst to him, is now controlled by Marcus and Estelle. They have him do some small tasks, like selecting a particular egg in the frig and then breaking it, by remote suggestion as he waits in the living room. He is told he can go and that he will remember nothing of what happened. But the truth is Marcus wants to test Michael from a distance, to see if he and Estelle can still control his mind. They are soon experiencing the sensations of the night club that Michael returns to. Still later they experience Michael taking a dip with Nicole in a swimming pool. It is all thrilling and wonderful for the old couple who have grown too old to have such wild and exuberant sensations. In particular Estelle seems captivated by the vicarious adventure she is having through Michael. She sees this as a chance to catch up the life they have been deprived of because of Marcus' ruined career and their subsequent poverty. Marcus is not too thrilled with the idea but gives and next he and Estelle are living out the experience of Michael breaking into a clothing store to steal a fur coat Estelle has long coveted. He barely manages to escape from the police and cuts his hand in the process. Both Marcus and Estelle look and see they have received cuts on their hands as well. This creates personal issues for Michael as he stood up Nicole on a date by leaving with no explanation. Later she calls Alan who is beaming with joy at the prospect of going dancing at the club with Nicole alone. He does not think Michael treats her the way she should be treated. He is right of course but guess whose bed she is always warming?

Soon Estelle is pushing the limits of the experiences against Marcus' protests. Her powers of mind control are stronger than his and he is soon exhausted and too weak to fight back. Soon Michael swipes Alan's motorbike and takes Nicole on a high speed joy ride that terrifies her. Later when Alan confronts him Estelle has Michael get into a fight and brutally beats Alan and his boss senseless. Michael runs off confused as Nicole stares in terror. Marcus has had enough but Estelle has gone over the deep end now. Not only is her will stronger but she has no qualms about kicking Marcus' walking stick out form under him sending him crashing to the floor, where he spends the rest of the film. Things are spinning out of control for Michael and he seeks the company of an old lover named Audrey (played by a waifish but still naughty looking Susan George). Estelle raises the stakes as far as they will go and she has Michael murder Audrey with a pair of scissors. This makes Estellle nearly drunk with glee. I make something clear here that I was never so relieved that Estelle did not want to experience Michael having sex with Audrey. I just think that would have been too freaky. Later she has Michael strangle a singer at the club he frequents. A patched up Alan and Nicole see him leave with the girl and the next day confront him at the antique store he works at after they read the headlines. The cops get into the matter and after Michael whoops Alan's ass again he is off in a car followed by the cops and Nicole and Alan. The film concludes with Marcus gaining enough will power to intervene and soon Alan loses control of the car and burns to death, which results in Marcus and Nicole having the same grisly experience.

The film works well. Ogilvy plays the typical British teenager lad of the time. Suspicious of authority, bored with life and tradition though stuck in the middle of it (as with his prosaic job as a sales clerk in a hoity-toity antique store). His acting style is lose and more of the method acting style that was developing in the States at the time. Karloff and Lacey's acting style is old school and it all meshes together fine. Karloff could have done a simple mad scientist role but he chose to make his Prof. Monserrat a man stricken with age and despair but not one stricken with grandiose dreams of ruling the world with his invention. What was surprising for me was the transformation Estelle went through as she changes from a docile housewife to a psychotic maniac. Karloff liked the role very much and offered many rewrite suggestions related to his character. It is a film that could have become just campy and corny in lesser collective hands. One cannot help but wonder what Reeves may have went on to do had he not died such a young man.


The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I quite liked this, too. Karloff was great in it though I agree that Lacey stole the show. I think she also has a part in one of those Hammer mummy movies I still need to see.

Bill D. Courtney said...

I may give this a rewatch shortly. Very interesting film now that I think about it.

Johnny Mains said...

If you would like an opporunity to read the original screenplay - you can now pre-order it here: http://www.pspublishing.co.uk/the-sorcerers-jhc-by-john-burke-1849-p.asp

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