director William Castle
The second film of my mini-William Castle film festival was his 1961 film, Mr. Sardonicus.
Mr. Sardonicus differs from the other of Castle’s films that I’ve seen in that it’s a period piece, set in London in the 19th century. It echoes perhaps of the films of Val Lewton or classic Univeral horror films in a way.
It’s the story of a man whose face has been contorted permanently into a crazy ghoulish grin due that came about when he dug up his dead father to retrieve a winning lottery ticket. His face is supposed to mimic the rictus on the face of his father’s corpse. He lures a talented surgeon to his castle to try to cure him of his permanent problem. But he’s a most unscrupulous man, testing all kinds of heinous tortures on women, just as gruesome in the soul as on his face.
The image of Mr. Sardonicus is one of those odd icons of horror made forever famous by Famous Monsters of Filmland. So it was kind of cool to see it in context.
The dialog is actually pretty good in the film, written as it was by Ray Russell from his short story “Sardonicus” to which Castle had purchased the rights. As a horror film on its own, it’s a bit more straightforward and less gimmicky than Castles other films.
Not to say it’s without a gimmick. This film featured a vote by the audience, to further punish Mr. Sardonicus or to let him off the hook. Audience members were given a voting card, and of course, Castle appears onscreen and counts to votes in the momentary break with the narrative. Of course, the audience votes to see further punishment, even when you watch it on tv like I did.