The exploitation film The Sadist (1963) strives to be shocking, & has an over-the-top score to help keep it dramatic. It takes place over a short period of time with a small cast in an automobile junkyard, so as low-budget as can be.
The acting is interesting if hammy, & the b/w cinematography was good enough to pass for film noir, thanks to Vilmos Zsigmond (future Oscar winner) behind the lens.
And most of all, the nihilistic villain is so wonderfully overplayed in a variety of moods from indolent-rebel-against-the-class-system to angry-young-sociopath, as to be authentically thrilling.
What could've been a grindhouse stinker turns out instead to be one of the best examples of low budget indie filmmaking of its era.
The Sadist was filmed in six weeks on a budget of $33,000. The script by director James Landis was based on the real-life case of Charlie Starkweather & Caril Fugate, who were also the source for the characters in Badlands (1973), Natural Born Killers (1994), Wild at Heart (1990), True Romance (1993) & Kalifornia (1993). History's Charlie was a Nebraskan youth in love with hot-rods, guitars, guns, & his fifteen-year-old girlfriend Caril.
After Caril got angry & shot her mom & dad in the head & clubbed her baby sister to death, Charlie came over to help her hide the bodies before they headed out in his souped up '49 Ford.
They soon found refuge in an isolated farmhouse wherein Charlie killed the residents. The murder spree continued for two months from Nebraska to Wyoming, until a hundred-man posse brought the couple's reign of terror to a close.
Along the way there were additional killings at a garage & home wherein Charlie bound, gagged, & stabbed to death an entire family; upon that incident the film The Sadist focuses its fictionalized account.
Doris Page (Helen Hovey) is a riding with two other school teachers, Ed Stiles (Richard Alden) & Carl Oliver (Don Russell), on their way to a Dodger's baseball game in L.A.
They have engine trouble & pull into a run-down, out-of-the-way auto yard. The proprietor fails to answer to their call.
The owner of the garage & auto yard fails to come to their call. The owner's home is on one side of the junkyard. They knock on the door, find the door unlocked. A table is set for four, & a cobbler pie is still hot from the oven. But nobody's around.
Ed goes into the junkyard to begin helping himself to replacement parts. That's when a scarry-looking country thug, Charlie Tibbs of the Elvis hairdo steps out with a pistol, together with his petite attractive but apparently slow-witted girlfriend Judy (Marilyn Manning) who'll prove only slightly less psycho than him.
Arch Hall, Jr., as Charlie Tibbs, is intentionally channelling the weirdly chuckling "Tommy Udo" played by Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death (1947), but crossed with James Dean as the Rebel Without a Cause (1956).
The charisma he brought to the screen he also brought to the the concert stage, as a damned good rockabilly or beach-guitar musician who is still performing to this day.
It's not long before Carl is pistol-whipped, on his knees begging for his life before shot in the head.
Simpleton Judy spends a lot of time playing with Doris's purse & the stuff in it, like a kid with a toybox. Charlie menaces Doris & threatens Ed. But as he can't fix cars himself, he keeps Ed alive to repair the broken-down car so he can steal it.
With the sadist's goofy maniacal laugh, his juvenile delinquent maliciousness, his soft spot for Judy, he's really quite an entertaining bad-guy. Ed is played as the frustrated hero who can't get past that gun.
Doris is played as if she's on downers, probably from being a poor actor but it comes off as a stylized, almost surreal performance that adds considerably to the texture of the piece.
[SPOILER ALERT!] It has a couple very nice action scenes, a final confrontation with Charlie pursuing Doris across the desert, & a screaming horrific ending for Charlie in a rattlesnake pit.
If Doris had been a little more than a "run & hide" sort of heroine, this might have been a precursor to Halloween (1978) in which the heroine turns on her attacker & wins.
But as it stands, she just got lucky. The coda with Doris as sole survivor, leaning on the car listening to the ballgame on the radio, is entirely effective. [END SPOILER ALERT]
Because of the limited setting & no particular plot beyond "bad guy's got 'em," it does get tedious here & there. But in the main, as a minor exploitation flick it's a hell of a lot better than average.
Unjustly, the independent production never got the distribution it certainly deserved, & remains a much more obscure film than it ought to be. Long available only in a poor & incomplete transfer, it didn't get an uncensored release until 1999.
It is now available in its original widescreen format from a well preserved 35 mm print, with extras including a commentary track by the film's well-known cinematographer.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl