A raw, unnerving low-budget thriller photographed by future Oscar-winner Vilmos Zsigmond and starring Arch Hall Jr. as a teenage serial killer.
- Digitally mastered from 35mm master print
$19.99 • 91 minutes • Cinematographer-approved special edition
Special note: this was the very first DVD published by All Day Entertainment
17 year old drive in star Arch Hall Jr. gives the performance of his life as a serial killer based on the real-life Charlie Starkweather. This thriller was the first film photographed by Vilmos Zsigmond.
For over a generation, The Sadist has been a well-kept secret of cult movie aficionados--a top notch horror thriller that will leave you trembling on the edge of your seat.
Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) made a profound and lasting impression on the world of shock cinema, and was followed by many imitators. Whereas Psycho became a major and influential hit, though, films like Frantic and Peeping Tom were derided by critics and ignored by audiences. It was one thing to accept experimental storytelling techniques and visceral onscreen violence from an established film celebrity like Hitchcock, but quite another to stomach such tricks from foreign and independent filmmakers. Only today are movie fans rediscovering these Psycho-wannabes and realizing what excellent films they are.
The Sadist was an attempt by low-budget exploitation guru Arch Hall Sr. to cash in on the craze. Hall's company, Fairway International, had already subjected audiences to schlock in the form of Eegah! (about a giant teenage caveman) and Wild Guitar (a typical 60's era teen exploitation flick)--both starring Hall's teenage son Arch Hall, Jr. Both films were hastily made and of no consequence.
In 1963, though, Fairway contracted writer-director James Landis to helm a Psycho style thriller, which Landis did with more wit, intelligence, and sheer gut-wrenching style than anything Fairway churned out before or since. In fact, The Sadist is so different from Fairway's other output, that the question is begged how it came to pass that lightning struck just once.
One possibility is that Landis (who, by the way, is no relation to director John Landis) actually contributed less to the end product than did his cinematographer--Vilmos Zsigmond. Zsigmond had already collaborated with Ray Dennis Steckler on previous Fairway pictures, but The Sadist was his first solo gig. Indeed, the film displays a powerful visual sense, with crisp photography and inventive compositions. With little money to pay for sets or effects, The Sadist works wonders with its small cast and single set merely by its photographic bravado. Zsigmond logged a few more hours in the exploitation movie business before graduating to Oscar-winning stardom on such films as Deliverance, The Deer Hunter, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blow Out, The Two Jakes, Bonfire of the Vanities, and Ghost and the Darkness.
Landis' script involves a pair of teenage killers on a murder spree, who encounter and torture a group of school teachers on their way to a baseball game. The gripping cat-and-mouse games that ensue will leave you breathless. The story is loosely based on the real-life case of teenage killers Charlie Starkweather and Caril Fugate. In the late 1950's, Starkweather and Fugate murdered 10 people in a multi-state killing spree, including Fugate's family.
17-year old Arch Hall Jr. turns in a riveting performance as the crazed serial killer, effectively playing off his previous screen persona as a rock-and-roll singin' teen idol good guy. He sneers and staggers with a manic glee, in an over-the-top performance that predates Woody Harrelson's Natural Born Killer by a good thirty-plus years.
The film also predates the genre of mad-slasher films that proliferated in the 1970's and 1980's. Not to give too much of the plot away to those of you who haven't seen it, but the structure of the film is the same throughout the genre. But whereas the mad-slasher movies get their kicks from gore, The Sadist earns it thrills from genuine suspense. The simplicity of the film (five characters in a junkyard) not only kept the budget down, it turned the project into the kind of formal exercise usually associated with Hitchcock. Like Hitchcock's Rope, The Sadist unfolds in real time, chronicling 94 minutes of these people's lives (and deaths).
Co-starring with Arch Hall Jr. is Marilyn Manning as the Fugate-inspired girlfriend Judy. Manning drips with animalistic passions, and plays the role without ever speaking--that is, until her one-word line in the film's climax. Hall's cousin Helen Hovey makes her film debut as the virginal blonde Doris, and Richard Alden plays the dashing young man whose courage fails him under stress. (Remember the "rules" of horror movies as outlined in Wes Craven's Scream, and pay close attention to who survives and who dies).
Following his work on The Sadist, Zsigmond joined again with director Ray Dennis Steckler to make The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed Up Zombies, which is now an infamous cult favorite, endowed with one of the best exploitation movie titles ever. Originally, Fairway paired The Sadist with Incredibly Strange Creatures as a double feature. However, Steckler became upset that Arch Hall Sr. was putting more muscle into promoting The Sadist (the superior film, an artistic achievement, and a starring vehicle for his son) rather than Steckler's second-billed zombie musical. So, Steckler bought back his film and released it himself separately, starting a successful career as a minor cult celebrity.
Meanwhile, The Sadist never achieved the recognition it was due. Fairway's earlier efforts had conditioned distributors, critics, and audiences for another piece of movie cheese. Audiences expecting another bout of teen critics were unwilling to acknowledge quality filmmaking outside Hollywood's hegemony. The Sadist fell through the cracks.
All Day Entertainment is proud to bring this thriller to a wider audience. We have remastered the film from an original 35mm print. The print in question was actually screened at a drive-in--but not in 1963, recently! After reviewing a preview copy made from an earlier film transfer, we were disheartened to discover the print had suffered some (minor) damage since then. Although the image quality was sharp, there were some scratches, which sometimes effected the soundtrack as well, and a few seconds had been spliced out of one reel.
The film was transferred by veteran colorist Bob Johanson at Washington's Interface Media Group, using a CCD-based Philips Quadra Telecine and a DaVinci Renaissance color corrector. Using digital noise reduction techniques, we removed the specks and flashes of dirt that did not come off when cleaned, stabilized the image, and eliminated the dappling of dried developing chemicals. So the digitally remastered Sadist actually looks better in some respects than it ever has.