Film Review: The Sadist (1963)

"You'd neverbelieve something like this."


Three people wind up at the wrong place at the wrong time when the car breaks down at the very gas station a pair of serial thrill killers are stranded at.


From a marketing perspective, it's not difficult to imagine how a film like The Sadist might have seemed like a good idea. Someone decided it would be easy to produce a film based off a series horror mainstays that would produce an automatic audience for the feature. Surely those fans would be excited to see a crazed pair of serial killers, one of whom is an attractive young woman. And if one lovely lady is good, two in increasingly less clothing would be better. Blood and guns have to play a major role to fulfill the promise of said serial killers and appease the horror fans. Toss in a whole lot of modern cars to be sure that any reasonable young man would want to see the film to ogle mechanical and physical beauty. Focus all of the creative energy and pre-production time on figuring out how many different ways the leading man and his principle antagonist can butt heads before some actual form of action is necessary, thereby saving money on needless things like quality sets and multiple camera angles. Mix it together with a thorough dose of low-cost acting talent and derivative score and Voila! - a potentially commercial horror film is born.


Or not.


To say The Sadist is devoid of any recognizable skill or merit should go without saying. The cast of unknown actors never had a chance to do anything with their characters because their characters were never written to develop beyond the flat stereotypes established in the endless exposition and narration of events occurring on screen from scene one. These characters make Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as written in Hamlet seem like interesting, engaging, fully realized characters. The desolate set with ever shifting shadows and changing array of junked cars would have been better left on the side of whatever highway off-ramp the production team randomly chose to park at.


There is a glimmer of hope that never pans out in the character dynamics of the two killers. Codependency and subservience are core issues in their relationship, yet actually exploring the only engaging aspect of the narrative never happens. Instead, we are left with one fifth of the principle cast never saying a word. She gets to giggle, snap gum, put on make-up, fetch sodas, and lift her skirt, but is only seen whispering inaudible nothings into her lover's ear before he does something else to the heroes of the film.


Is it unfair to have expected anything greater from such a low-budget sub-B-Movie? Absolutely not. Some of the greatest horror films of all time used creativity and intelligence to overcome massive budget constraints. If they stuck to the same clichés and blasé shock tactics of The Sadist, some of the most innovative and influential horror films of all time would never exist; I Walked with a Zombie, Carnival of Souls, Night of the Living Dead, and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? would be mercifully lost in the annals of cinema like the underachieving production called The Sadist.


I cannot imagine a reasonable filmgoer capable of lowering their expectations enough to honestly get anything but a few cheap thrills from the rundown clichés of The Sadist. For some viewers, a few shocks and a nice pair of legs are enough to call a movie "good;" I think we all deserve a little better in horror cinema than "good enough."

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