03 March 2012



1963/Director: James Landis/Writer: James Landis

Cast: Arch Hall Jr., Helen Hovey, Richard Alden, Marilyn Manning, Don Russell


I have been hurt by others. And I will hurt them. I will make them suffer like I have suffered.
Charlie Tibbs

Most all of the movies here The Uranium Café (though not all) are low budget and/or obscure films that I have learned to have some degree of respect for. If a movie is simply too bad or has no special qualities that helps them transcend their b-movie (or z-movie) status I do not do anything with them here. That’s does not mean anybody will like them of course. I love the ted V. Mikles film Astro Zombies as well as Al Adamson’s Dracula vs. Frankenstein, though most people just do not see anything redeeming in them at all. Sometimes a film exists out there that undeservedly gets lumped in with those odd sorts of z-movie schlock. Either they end up in the same category through “guilt by association” or by the fact they were drive-in movie fair at best when they were released. And yet truth be told sometimes they are pretty good movies and deserve much more recognition than they have garnered over the decades. Such is the case with 1963’s The Sadist, produced and distributed by Arch Hall Sr.’s Fairway International Pictures, and starring Arch Hall Jr. in what is surely his most memorable film role from his brief acting career. He would soon quit acting altogether and pursue his real dream of being an airplane pilot, and on the side would be a rock singer and later novelist.

Surely the film was a bit ahead of its time in its portrayal of young thrill-killers on a road rampage. No doubt inspired by the headlines out of Nebraska at the time that told the story of young killers Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate –the models for characters in later films such as Badlands and Natural Born Killers- The Sadist was an exploration of new types of horror that was emerging in American cinema. While monsters and mutant insects were still popular, the new type of terror patterned after Hitchcock’s 1960 genre masterpiece Psycho seemed to focus on the real dangers in the world, with stories of strange, twisted killers –presented as confused teenagers or nerdy, withdrawn hotel clerks- that were often lifted from headlines of the day. In the end nobody believes insects exposed to radiation will grow to enormous proportions and invade a small town, but everybody lives with the terror of being the victim of some deranged maniac who kills either because he is driven to do it by “inner demons” or because he just likes it. The Sadist is an unsettling film and a couple cases the violence jolts you in way that not too many films up to that time had been able to do.

Before going into an examination of the general story one cannot ignore the influence of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (credited in his early films as William Zsigmond). The name is more familiar to people who like to read the credits with movies like Close encounters of the Third Kind and The deer Hunter. But Zsigmond got his early experience working with b-movie auteurs like Ray Dennis Steckler (who appears to gotten his start working with Arch Hall Sr. himself) and Al Adamson. The Sadist is his first American film and it is quite an accomplishment, and much better than some of his later 60’s film work, like Psycho A Goo Go or Satan’s Sadists, to name a couple I can remember seeing. He uses black and white here to great effect. All the action takes place in a junk yard and that could be something that could get stale really quick, but it never really does. The camera moves around from various angles and sometimes we are inside a car looking out through a cracked, bloody windshield or we are staring down the barrel of a .45, feeling the helplessness of the victims in the film. At times he employs the use of a handheld camera that shows more restraint and experience than most all of the directors who the technique nowadays. If you like to study camera angles and lighting and how the camera can make a scene work (or ruin it) then you will not be disappointed in this one.

And that brings us to the story and acting. It was written and directed by James Landis, who does not have much credit under his belt and wrote mostly for TV, and did a couple other features with Arch Hall Jr. (Deadwood ’76 and the Nasty Rabbit, both which I now have but have not seen yet) before seemingly vanishing from the movie making scene, despite showing great ability with this feature. In particular he was able to help Arch Hall Jr. through coaching and rehearsing to help develop the truly despicable character of Charlie Tibbs. In the book I Walked With A Zombie, actor Richard Alden (character Ed Stiles in the film) tells Tom Weaver working with Landis was great to work with though Landis seemed to be a real outsider and not good at “kissing ass”. Most of the cast, other than Hall Jr. and Landis had little or no prior acting experience. Marilyn Manning had played along Arch Hall Jr. in Eaagh!, while Helen Hovey was Arch Hall Jr.’s cousin and Don Russell was not an actor, rather a friend of the Hall family it seems. He did do some further work with ray Dennis Steckler in front of and behind the camera and seems he directed a 60’s “nudie” film called Tales of a Salesman with an uncredited Zsigmond doing the camera work. But still, like the rest of cast (except “outsider” Richard Alden, who had to actually audition for his part as he was not a friend or member of the family) none were actual movie world people. At yet they all give fine performances (in particular Helen Hovey in her only screen appearance ever) under Landis’ direction. His script is filled with great lines of dialog of a near Jim Thompson quality. Too bad he did not make a few more films like this, but in the end we have this one great film to remember him by.

(SPOILER ALERT!) In The Sadist three school teachers are headed to a Dodgers baseball game in Los Angeles when they have automobile trouble. They pull into a service station and junk yard in the middle of the countryside only to find nobody is available to help them repair their broken water hose. They banter on about baseball, with Carl Oliver (Don Russell) trying in vain to explain the rules to clueless Doris Page (Helen Hovey). Sweet Doris blushes as fit Ed Stiles (played by Richard Alden who pumped weights regularly on the set t seems) takes off his shirt and begins working in one of those Archie Bunker sleeveless type t-shirts. Things seem a little eerie and out of place and they wonder where the owners and crew could be. An answer is soon provided the form of snickering and gun wielding Charlie Tibbs (Arch Hall Jr.) and his girl friend Judy (Marilyn Manning, who utters not an audible sound in the film but rather whispers everything into Charlie’s ear).

The pair is soon terrorizing the trio and forces Ed to continue working on the car, hiding little intention as to what their fate will be after his work is complete. There is plenty of sharp and most of the time clever dialog back and forth between Ed and Charlie. When Carl tries to reason with Charlie his promptly pistol whipped. Charlie is really on edge with the fact that the three are teachers, and that teachers have never thought too highly of himself or Judy, so why should he think highly of them in return. He takes pleasure in degrading Doris, making her eat dirt. In a scene that is shocking even by today’s standards he shoots Carl right in the face, after taunting him slowly while drinking a soda pop to cool off from the heat. The scene is very surprising and you just don’t see it coming (unless you have read this review first and I’ve spoiled it for you, sorry about that). It may be the first such scene in movie history, or at least where it is so graphic. You see poor Carl’s head take the impact. After this Ed and Doris know they are done for and Ed does what he can to stall Charlie. But Charlie ain’t having none of it. He lets know Ed he is dead one way of the other, but he live a little longer so long as he is fixing the car, but he had better hurry it up.

The tension in the scenes never really wears out as Ed and Doris stand off the best they can against the two thrill-killers. (I am not sure, but this may be the first film to coin the term thrill-killers. If anybody knows of a prior film to use the phrase please let me know and I will amend this.) Things shift gears when a pair of motor-cycle cops arrive to get gas. Charlie dispenses them without much problem, but it changes the situation enough to finally give Ed and Doris a chance to get free. After getting a face full of gasoline Charlie accidentally shoots Judy and Ed and Doris flee into the junk yard. Charlie is soon playing cat and mouse with them, but he has a gun and they are basically defenseless. The scene could grow tedious but the fine camera work keeps it going. Ed is often criticized as being a wuss but in fact he does the best he can do against a maniac with a loaded gun. In the end he almost even gets his hands around Charlie’s neck, only to be gunned down as he charges the killer lion a bull. It is good scene and we are rooting for Ed as Charlie’s gun start clicking on empty shells, but we all forget, as does Ed, that Charlie picked up and extra gun from the cops he killer earlier.

It is not a big surprise that Charlie gets what is coming to him as he chases Doris through the desert hills. But it is not the justice we really want. We want Doris to run a stick through his eye or something, but instead Charlie accidentally falls into a pit of rattlesnakes and is bitten over and over. Like the gun scenes that used live ammo, the snake scene used live venomous snakes and Arch Hall Jr. was none too thrilled with the situation. In the end Doris survives by a fluke of fate more than final girl skills and appears distraught and disoriented as the film closes. For a moment the film seems to go in the direction that Doris may meet a dealt end and that Charlie would survive to go on killing without Judy. But it ends the way a movie like this normally should end, with evil being stamped out and good prevailing but being pretty roughed up.

The film is full of little twists and surprises. Not the least of the surprises is the freaky performance by Arch Hall Jr. himself. Prior to The Sadist he had played fairly safe roles, good guys in Wild Guitar and Eaagh!, and a juvenile delinquent with a conscience in the Choppers. But here he goes all out and his over the top performance adds to the believability of Charile Tibbs rather than detracts from it. At first his squeaky voice and strange grimacing seem comical and you wonder what is going on, but by the time he blasts the begging Carl in the face with a .45 slug you have become fairly uncomfortable with the character. And while Judy is seemingly mute she is also dangerous and appears to goad Charlie on with whispered suggestions. Of course like movies of this caliber and budget there are some problems and this or that, in 20/20 hindsight, could have been done better. But those issues, as far I am concerned, are so few and far between I see no reason to mention them. Maybe you have heard of this film and have yet to get around to it since you associate Arch Hall Jr. with things like The Nasty Rabbit or Wild Guitar (which is a good movie too in my opinion) and think he is not able to carry the role of a “sadist” for an entire film. But the man does a great job, as did all the players in crew in this sadly over-looked and under appreciated thriller.




Alex Jowski said...

I picked up this film recently on one of those massive discount collections of mostly public domain movies. Haven't gotten to it yet because of Arch Hall Jr in Eegah. Seems this movie is not as bad as I've feared.

Bill D. Courtney said...


Give it a shot. Hell, you might not like it, but it is worth a watch for sure. Much better than Eegah to be sure.

Dr Blood said...

I thought this movie was great. It was also one of the first to pair a psycho with a cat indicating that psychos love animals (who are more akin to their own predatory nature) but hate people. I'm not sure how much scientific truth there is in that though.

Just like Alex, I also got this in a Mill Creek budget pack with a load of other worse movies.

Bill D. Courtney said...

Dr. Blood

yea it gets lumped into the whole "bad movie" category and the baby gets tosses out with the bathwater in this case. Of course to some people it may be a bad movie. Quite a few hate a movie if it is in b/w and cannot give it a chance!

I have read somewhere about people who are super kind to animals (or children) but hate adult people having some sort of serious issues.

Retro-Zombie said...

Attn: HBA Members,

"The Horror Blogger Alliance" is having a "Give Blood [Money]" Drive,
March 10th to April 1st 2012, for
more details: http://horrorbloggeralliance.blogspot.com/

Thank You,
Jeremy [Retro-Zombie]
HBA Curator

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