Mr. Sardonicus (1961)

Article 2202 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-27-2007
Posting Date: 8-23-2007
Directed by William Castle
Featuring Guy Rolfe, Oskar Homolka, Ronald Lewis

A doctor is called to a castle in a distant country to help cure a baron whose face has been contorted into a hideous smile as a result of a time where he dug up his father’s grave to get a lottery ticket. When the doctor refuses to try certain dangerous methods to cure him, the baron tries to force his hand by threatening to torture the baroness, who was once a lover of the doctor.

In general, this William Castle horror thriller is one the favorites of his fans, and I can see why; it has some memorable scenes, some interesting plot points, and the gimmick is great. The latter consists of allowing the audience to vote on the fate of the title character. This is not to say that the movie has more than one ending; Castle was a shrewd enough judge of human nature to figure out what the vote would be, and since the vote was only counted by a projected image of Castle himself, there was no chance of there being more than one ending to contend with. Still, I always find myself a little disappointed by this one; there are no scares here to equal the best ones from HOMICIDAL , HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL or THE TINGLER , and a number of the scares seem forced or contrived, a circumstance I attribute to the fact that there’s really not enough story to fill out the length of the movie. I also find myself noticing that the scenes between the scares are rather dull, and I don’t think Castle really manages to maintain the mood during these sequences. As a result, the movie is like the proverbial glass of water than can be seen as either half full or half empty, depending on how you look at it. I’m afraid I notice the half that’s empty too much for me to get really attached to this one. Still, the movie is helped by a good performance from Oskar Homolka as the baron’s manservant.


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