Mr. Sardonicus

I have to admit, the only William Castle films that I've seen are The Tingler and House on Haunted Hill. For whatever reason, the bulk of his resume has escaped me. After viewing Mr. Sardonicus, I'm going to make sure that I see the rest of his genre outings. The titular character seeks out the help of a doctor who has made a breakthrough in treating paralysis. Why? Well, I don't really want to tell you, but since every synopsis of this film reveals the reason for Sardonicus's desperation, I'll go against my better judgment. You see, his face was frozen in fear when he disinhumed a winning lottery ticket from the coat pocket of his dead father. This was post-burial, mind you...awkward!

Mr. Sardonicus was released in 1961, but it feels like it came out in the late 30's/early 40's. It shares the mettle of Universal monster movies. In fact, the first act is lifted from 1931's Dracula. This is no ripoff, though. The plot is rather unique. Perhaps my favorite thing about the whole production is the dour atmosphere. We're treated to dead trees, billowing fog, a Gothic castle, a luminous full moon...the works! I love that stuff. Everything is played straight, barring the hammy prologue (delivered with verve by William Castle) and the interactive epilogue (delivered again by Mr. Castle).

At the end of the film, the audience is asked to take a "punishment poll," voting with either a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. Let's just say that the fate of our lead ghoul lies in your hands. I know that sounds gimmicky, but as I said earlier, the meat of Mr. Sardonicus is stonefaced. That's not to say that it isn't fun. Personally, I had a blast with this flick. The story is compelling, the acting is brilliant (Guy Rolfe and Oskar Homolka give incomparable performances as Sardonicus and the one-eyed Krull, respectively) and the camerawork is sharp. It does move slowly at times, but for the most part, the pacing didn't bother me.

If you're a William Castle fan, then chances are, you've already seen Mr. Sardonicus. So I can only plead with those of you who aren't familiar with Castle's handiwork. This is must-see material.

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