Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: The Sadist

I have a friend, a Finnish movie critic who started his writing career already in the late fifties, going on during all these years (he's now seventy, but he still occasionally contributes). He's an aficionado of old American B movies, and he's told many fascinating stories about films he's seen already when they were new. Surprisingly many films of this kind were brought to Finland in the sixties and seventies - many that are not on DVD even now!

One of these once rare films seems to have been available for some time now: James Landis's The Sadist from 1963. My critic friend once told me that he saw the film when it was banned in Finland (seems like this took place in 1967), but the distributor held a press viewing for those who were interested. The print was probably demolished after that. And my friend said he really liked the uncompromising little thriller, even though the Finnish censors had deemed it immoral. I was of course interested, and I was very pleased when another friend of mine lent me the pretty new DVD of the film. I was pleasantly surprised: the film still seems quite uncompromising, although made on a minuscule budget.

The Sadist is the first film that deals with Charlie Starkweather, who was made famous by Terrence Malick in Badlands. And he's played by Arch Hall, Jr. of all people! Hell, he even looks like Charlie Starkweather! Hall overacts, but manages still - or just because of that - to be scary as can be. He giggles, mumbles, grins - all the way down to hell. His girlfriend says almost nothing during the film - she whispers some lines into Hall's ear, but the rest of the time she just giggles. It's scary! The rest of the bunch - the normal folks - is not so good, but they are manageable.

The Sadist seems an important precursor to films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (and, Todd, I know you don't like the film!). There are only shrieks and screams on the soundtrack for the last ten or fifteen minutes - and the ending is very downbeat, foreshadowing what will happen in Tobe Hooper's film ten years later.

Crude, but effective, shot in black-and-white with verve by young Vilmos Zsigmond, ten years before Deliverance and The Long Goodbye (what a career the man had!), The Sadist is highly recommended if you like your thrillers gritty and dark.

More Tuesday films at Todd Mason's blog.

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