Tonight we return to the wonderfully gimmicky world of William Castle, the B-Movie King of the 50's and 60's, the filmmaker responsible for such beloved genre schlock as House on Haunted Hill (1959), The Tingler (1959), 13 Ghosts (1960), and a driving inspiration/cinema idol for later directors like John Waters and Robert Zemeckis. His publicity gimmicks were legendary; from life insurance policies in case theatergoers died of fright with Macabre (1958), to "Percepto", shock buzzers fastened to the bottom of theater seats, in The Tingler (1959), to the "Punishment Poll" of tonight's feature, where audience members held up card with glow in the dark thumbs to vote whether or not the titular fiend, Sardonicus, should suffer further or not. Of course, legend has it that no audience ever voted to pardon him for his crimes, bypassing the kinder, gentler ending that Castle himself said was filmed and screened a few times... however unlikely the existence of such footage is, say I.
"I misplaced the Twister mat, we'll have to play Leech-face again, instead...," quips Krull (Oscar Homolka).
Enter Sir Robert Cargrave (Ronald Lewis), a David Hasselhoff lookalike/eminent physician in 1880's London, whose groundbreaking work with tissue massage (pronounced MASS-age, of course) and proficiency with experimental instruments such as the "hypodermic needle" have traveled as far as Gorslava, a central European region beset with dry ice and miniature landscapes, where a certain mysterious Baron named Sardonicus (Guy Rolfe) has requested the good doctor's presence through an urgent letter penned by his wife, Maude (Audrey Dalton), a former flame of Cargrave's. Robert is deftly carriaged off past crappy set pieces to the carshole by Krull (Oscar Homolka), not to be confused with the British big budgeted sci-fi adventure of the same name, rather, he's a one-eyed grinning underling of the Baron, who gets his kicks laying live leeches on the faces of screaming servant chicks who've effed up. How difficult is it to hire good help these days, indeed.
"Del Shannon! Delllllllll! Oh my GODDDD!!! I LOOOOOOOOVE YOU, DELLLLLL!" At the aforementioned carshole, Sardonicus proves an enigmatic chap, draping his grill in an emotionless Ben Cooper-looking mask at all times, and sickeningly slurping slop in secret in his chambers like Michael Moore on a bottomless vat of chicken rice soup at Old Country Buffet. He relates his tragic tale to the physician, in hopes that it will sway him to lend his talents to the Baron's current facial dilemma. It seems he was once a humble normal-faced Euro-peasant married to a hypergamous greenback-crazy harlot, when a winning lottery ticket is mistakenly buried with his father, forcing him to explore the definition of "ghoul" on a personal level, by digging up his dad's corpse and rummaging through his pockets for the winning numbers. Only, he's shocked to find his father's remains locked in a sardonic death-grin, and so shocked, in fact, that his own facial muscles are frozen in the same expression, leading to his current state of lonely solitude, save for that infrequent call from Hollywood, asking him to stunt double for Cesar Romero. Will Cargrave give the Baron's rotten puss a revitalizing rubdown? Will Maude make off with her former flame, who's never enjoyed the company of another woman since? If you're not sure of the answers to these and other questions, I suggest you pick up a copy of Sardonicus, and answer them for yourselves...
That new Whiskey toothpaste has done wonders for your bicuspids.
Castle, a favorite of mine since I was knee high to my old man's 1930's shoeshine box, may have been the last of the true Hollywood showmen, always adding mirth and mayhem to his low budget productions with goofy gimmicks and corny cameos, and tonight's review is no exception to any of these concepts. Speaking of my old man and regarding Sardonicus, he'd often tuck his upper lip up into his face and stare at you until you mentioned something, back then. Yeah, Dad, yeah. Mr. Sardonicus. I know. I blame the Famous Monsters of Filmland cover art by Basil Gogos on Issue 126 for the frequent annoyance. He also did a horrendous imitation of Peter Lorre that we won't elaborate further upon. Sardonicus is available in a five movie box set collection of Castle cult classics that's inexpensive enough that you've got no good excuse for failing to see it. Two Wops.
"If they don't get the joke...pull the rope and let them choke! Ooh, hoo, haa-haa, haa-haa! How delicious!"