MR. SARDONICUS ($25) has always been one of my favorite William Castle movies. I donít know how many times I was glued to my television set during childhood watching this lurid tale of sadism, torture, facial disfigurement and grave robbing. Heck, how could any normal child not love a movie in which Oskar Homolka gleefully applies leeches to the face and body of a disobedient maid. Also, getting to see the title characterís face was something that this lifelong horror movie fan eagerly anticipated every time every time the movie was broadcast.
The plot of MR. SARDONICUS concerns Sir Robert (Ronald Lewis), an eminent physician who is summoned by Maude (Audrey Dalton), the great love of his life, whose very well being hinges on his traveling across Europe to see her. Arriving at his final destination, Sir Robert finds Maude married to the cruel, mask wearing Baron Sardonicus (Guy Rolfe), whose very name instills fear in the people living in his domain. As it turns out, Sardonicus suffers from a hideous facial disfigurement that was brought about by a horrifying psychological shock. Sardonicus demands that Sir Robert cure his facial affliction, or Maude will suffer the consequences.
Like most other William Castle movies, MR. SARDONICUS had a "gimmick" designed to bring audiences into the theater. Castle, the consummate showman, appeared in a prologue and at the filmís climax, asking the audience to hold up little cards that would either give a "thumbs up" or a "thumbs down" and decide the ultimate fate of Sardonicus. MR. SARDONICUS is such an enjoyable little genre gem that it really doesnít need the "gimmick," but it was nice that Columbia TriStar utilized a theatrical print that included these wonderful William Castle moments, which were omitted in some television versions of the film.
Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made MR. SARDONICUS available on DVD in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 displays. The black and white transfer is quite nice for a film that is now over forty years old. While there is some grain in the presentation, the image is pretty sharp and rather nicely defined. Blemishes and other reminders of age are held to a minimum. Blacks are solid and inky, while the whites are completely stable. Contrast is generally smooth, with a few harsh highlights that add a bit of atmosphere at key moments. Digital compression artifacts are never a cause for concern during the presentation.
MR. SARDONICUS is offered in Dolby Digital monaural and the soundtrack is quite good for its age. Audible distortion and background hiss have been cleaned in the mastering process, leaving crisp, completely understandable dialogue. Frequency limitations in the original recording are not problematic, with the filmís score having the necessary impact. Subtitles have been provided on the DVD in English and French.
The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a couple of nice extras. Taking the Punishment Poll is a newly produced featurette that looks at the "gimmick" Castle used in MR. SARDONICUS. Running roughly seven minutes, the featurette includes interviews with recognized horror historians David Del Valle, Don Glut, as well as monster enthusiast Bob Burns and director Fred Olen Ray, all of whom joyfully discuss producer/director William Castle and MR. SARDONICUS. Theatrical trailers for MR. SARDONICUS, 13 GHOSTS and STRAIT-JACKET close out the DVDís extras.
MR. SARDONICUS is one heck of a great William Castle horror-fest. The movie is as much fun now, as I remember it being during my childhood- my appreciation of William Castle has grown over the years, so perhaps I am enjoying the movie even more now, than back then. Columbia TriStarís presentation of MR. SARDONICUS is everything one would wish it to be, making this a must have DVD for William Castle fans.
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