Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Mr. Sardonicus (1961)
Mr. Sardonicus (1961) - Ronald Lewis (Sir Robert Cargrave), Audrey Dalton (Baroness Audrey Sardonicus), Guy Rolfe (Baron Sardonicus/Marek Toleslawski), Oskar Homolka (Krull). I adore William Castle films. They are horror cheesiness with fabulous acting. The stories seem ridiculous, but their fun. The wonderful acting makes what could be an unmemorable flop, a gem. The story in this film reminds me of a horror story I heard on an old radio show like Hermit's Cave or Light's Out. Guy Rolfe plays Marek, a poor country man with a wife who craves money. Marek's father plays the lottery to try to gain a fortune. Naturally, they never win. Low and behold, one day they do win the lottery. The only problem is that Marek's father died and is buried with the winning ticket. While Marek is sad but content with this, his wife forces Marek to dig up his father's body to get the ticket. Since the film takes place in what seems to be Eastern Europe, Hungary I think, the peasants are suspicious about such ventures. The second Marek opens his father's grave he is so startled that his face is forever frozen in a freakish smile.
Enter Ronald Lewis as Sir Robert Cargrave. He was in love Audrey, but her father would not let them marry because he was a nobody. Audrey's father marries off to the mysterious Baron Sardonicus. It turns out that the Baron is Marek. He bought a title and his first wife killed herself because of his freakish face. Now known as Baron Sardonicus, he purchased a title and castle and know has Audrey as a new bride. She won't go near him because of his face. Sir Robert Cargrave, recently knighted, is known for his work with paralyzed individuals. The Baron asks him to come to his castle, hoping he will be able to unfreeze his face. If he won't, the Baron threatens to destroy Audrey's face.
The Baron has a rough life, but for some reason, he know kidnaps village girls. I'm pretty sure he murders them, even if the film never explicitly says so. Life may be tough, but why take his horrors out on beautiful people? Apparently he gets thrills from torturing those who are lovely.
A fun side character is the Baron's lackey Krull, played by Oskar Homolka. Krull will literally do anything the Baron says, from torture people to make dinner. At one point in their relationship, Krull refused to carry out the Baron's orders and lost an eye for it. I'm thinking Krull's life was tough enough, but the Baron had to go and blind him? I still can't figure out why Krull would stay, let alone seem to have no problem hurting innocents. For some reason, he does feel bad about hurting Baroness Audrey because of her loveliness. Why is Audrey's loveliness more important than the others? Krull is one of the characters who you never are quite sure what they will do and where his loyalty lies.
The doctor naturally helps the Baron because of his love of Audrey. He creates a "cure" allegedly using an altered form of poison. But all the doctor uses to cure him is himself. He scares his face back to life. It turns out that fear is what caused his face to become stuck to begin with. The Baron releases Audrey from their marriage and starts what he believes is a new chapter on his life. Unfortunately, he can't open his mouth. How can you speak or eat without opening your mouth? You can't.
Because it's a William Castle film, it must have some sort of gimmick. The gimmick for this one is voting for the ending. Viewers were given a "thumbs up/thumbs down" sign they could use to vote for the fate of poor Mr. Sardonicus. Did you want him cured or did you want him to suffer? Spoiler - There really was no choice. The only ending they filmed was the suffering one. Part of me loved the ending. Krull was able to get his revenge by chowing down in front of a closed mouthed Sardonicus. Some how even though Krull was his minion, one who chose to stay there by the way, he becomes the good guy. So he had revenge for his eye, but he would willingly torture people. I just can't get over that.
It was deliciously fun for Krull to get revenge, but I also felt bad for poor Sardonicus. He lived with ugliness and had to teach himself to speak and eat again. He had to figure out a way to live again and interact with people. I struggle with this every day, so I could feel that pain in him. He wears a creepy mask to cover his ugliness. When the mask came off it was a shock, as expected. But the mask wasn't that much better either.
In the end, I would give this fun horror romp 8 out of 10 Bobs, enjoyable for its creepy plot, great acting, and wonderful cheesiness.