It’s Horribly Entertaining: 'The Sadist' Retrospective
Original Movie Poster
Some May Laugh, Some May Scream
A few years ago there was a programing block on TCM called TCM Underground, which featured old cult classics and exploitation films. There was one film in particular that really caught my attention, one that looked interesting but quickly became a favorite. That film is called The Sadist, a black and white exploitation thriller that came out in 1963 and was directed by James Landis.
The plot follows three school teachers, Ed, Doris, and Carl as they travel through the desert on their way to a baseball game. Along the way they stop at a gas station for car assistance. While there they are quickly held at gunpoint by a large young man named Charlie and his girlfriend Judy. As Ed fixes the car, Charlie tortures the trio for his own amusement.
The entire film is based off of the real-life events surrounding spree killer Charles Starkweather. The character Charlie resembles Starkweather both physically and in terms of goals. You find out later that like Starkweather, Charlie was on a long killing spree with Judy before they arrived at the gas station.
The film features a relatively unknown cast. Richard Alden plays Ed Stiles, one of the three teachers. Charlie forces him to repair the car with the intent on stealing it and killing the three teachers; however Ed keeps his cool and stays positive for the others despite having a gun pointed at him.
Helen Hovey plays Doris, a young woman who’s obviously very ladylike and delicate, which Charlie takes full advantage of. While she speaks her mind about Charlie’s antagonistic ways, her unwillingness to fight back makes her an easy target for him. Don Russell plays Carl, similar to Doris, he too is non-confrontational, which makes him another easy target for Charlie's wrath. The oldest of the cast, he attempts to reason with Charlie and Judy though he ultimately fails.
While a villain, Charlie is the film's central character. He’s played by Arch Hall Jr. who does an over-the-top role as a psychopath. True to the film’s name, Charlie takes extreme pleasure at tormenting others around him. He goes out his way to make everyone as uncomfortable as possible. Throughout the film he fires several shots at the teachers missing on purpose just to rattle them. This also reflects on his mannerism, while torturing his victims he always has a large crooked smile across his face. He also usually keeps his eyes closed, only opening them when angered or when energized. He speaks with slang that’s unique to the 60s, such as calling people ‘yellow’ when they’re scared or calling Ed ‘big man’ to challenge his manhood.
Finally, there’s Judy, played by Marilyn Manning. Judy is Charlie’s girlfriend and is just as sadistic as he is. She has a very playful side that she’s not shy of sharing with Charlie in addition to showing jealousy towards Doris. Her main feature is her mute-like status. She is quiet for nearly the entire film; in fact besides giggling she only has one word of dialogue.
The film is a horror thriller that’s based off of real life events. Once Charlie and Judy appear the entire film feels tense and puts you on edge. Charlie’s behavior, the way he interacts with others, his twitching and the way he scrunches his face when he speaks just adds to his character. Personally, while I too was on edge seeing the film, honestly after watching it a second time I couldn’t help but burst out laughing at Charlie for being a large ham. Hall’s over-the-top acting added a special flare, a type of charisma that paints the film a certain way. Basically Hall’s performance is the driving force that shapes the movie.
It is strongly hinted that Charlie and Judy had bad experiences with teachers which is why they go the extra step in torturing the three, but not exactly why they harm others. In the opening narration we hear Charlie state that he harms others because they harmed him but it doesn’t go into detail as to what they did to him. We do learn about Judy’s backstory and why she’s the way she is but not too much about Charlie.
Overall the film’s a pretty interesting film. As I said the most interesting part of the film is Hall’s performance as Charlie. Just the way he talks, interacts with the cast, and his mannerisms is what makes the film. It’s one of those films where one can talk about, but ultimately one has to experience first-hand to get a full perspective of what it is it’s saying. The Sadist is definitely a film worth checking out. It’s not well known and may not leave a lasting impression, but it will leave some disturbed and others entertained.
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