Shot in real time, The Sadist’s plot is unassumingly simple: Three schoolteachers on their way to a Dodgers ballgame – Carl (Don Russell), Ed (Richard Alden), and Doris (Helen Hovey) – have car trouble and pull into an isolated auto yard. There, they run into crazed killer Charlie (Arch Hall, Jr.) and his young, nubile girlfriend Judy (Marilyn Manning).
Working from his own script, director James Landis does a superb job of creating tension. Even early in the film, as the teachers arrive at the auto yard, Landis sets the foreboding tone: When Ed yells for assistance and all he hears is his echo, it’s clear any later cries for help will fall on deaf ears.
The Sadist also features fantastic camerawork, including great use of foregrounds and depth by a young Vilmos Zsigmond, whose later legendary cinematography includes Deliverance, The Deer Hunter, and an Oscar for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Just as Charlie shows no mercy for his hostages, Landis gives no relief to the audience. The Sadist is shockingly brutal and graphic for its time: Charlie verbally and physically tortures the teachers, and several scenes are indeed sadistic. The best example is the infamous “soda scene,” where Charlie tells one of his victims he’s going to shoot them in the head once he’s done his bottle of soda – all while the victim is on their knees, begging for their life. (An additional form of torture: Carl, Ed, and Doris can hear the ballgame they’re missing as it plays on the car radio.)
Hall’s performance as Charlie falls between nutjob killer and goofy caricature, and this combination is what makes him so frightening. With a twisted grimace and a maniacal giggle (which Hall admits he stole from Richard Widmark’s hitman in Kiss of Death), Charlie also shows on several occasions that he may be crazy, but he’s not stupid. He’s often one step ahead of his captors, whether it’s counting the number of bullets he’s used or showing he knows more about cars than Ed thinks he does.
One of the first films loosely based on 1950s serial killer Charles Starkweather (followed by the better-known Badlands and Natural Born Killers), The Sadist still packs a wallop nearly 50 years later. With a cast of five, one location, and a premise that (sadly) still resonates today, it’s a gem worth seeing.
aka Sweet Baby Charlie.
Is it suitable for your kids?No. Charlie menaces Carl, Ed, and Judy nonstop, threatening them with a gun and a knife. That’s on top of the actual violence: Charlie pistol-whips Carl and assaults Doris, kicking her and shoving her face in the dirt; Doris is slapped by Ed and Judy on separate occasions; a man is shot in the head in close-up; four others are shot dead; two other bodies are shown dead (shot by Charlie before Carl, Ed, and Doris arrived); Charlie talks about people he's killed in his travels; and a person is bitten to death by snakes. Also, Ed utters a minor profanity.
Will your FilmMother want to watch it?The Sadist’s combination of violent content and being shot in black and white may not be appealing to some viewers. Unless your FilmMother has a penchant for ‘60s B-movies or films about thrill-killers, you may be watching this one alone.
Outta my way…I wanna carve my initials on this tree.
Watch The Sadist in its entirety:
* Director: James Landis
* Screenwriter: James Landis
* Stars: Arch Hall Jr., Richard Alden, Marilyn Manning, Don Russell, Helen Hovey
* MPAA Rating: N/A
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