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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Mr. Sardonicus (1961)

"You must tell me, or I'll have to use the leeches again. They are so thirsty, the little fellows!"
- Krull (Oscar Homolka)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: March 21, 2002

Stars: Oscar Holmolka, Ronald Lewis, Audrey Dalton, Guy Rolfe
Director: William Castle

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, torture)
Run Time: 01h:29m:55s
Release Date: March 12, 2002
UPC: 043396069312
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BBA- D+

DVD Review

William Castle followed up his 1961 hit Homicidal with this nasty little tale of torture and revenge, later the same year. With an audience participation gimmick, it remains one of the high points of Castle's career of ballyhoo.

Sir Robert Cargrave (Ronald Lewis) is a physician in 1880 London, specializing in the cure of paralysis. He is summoned to the fictitious area of "Gorslava" in central Europe by an old flame, Maude (Audrey Dalton), now married to Baron Sardonicus (Guy Rolfe). Still carrying a torch, Sir Robert goes and learns that he must effect a cure for the disfigured Baron, or Maude will suffer unspeakable tortures at the hands of her husband or his servant in evil, Krull (Oscar Homolka).

The story feels like a pastiche of a great many bits and pieces. The opening journey to Gorslava and the fearful locals are straight out of Dracula, while the tormented, masked figure of course recalls Erik, The Phantom of the Opera. The period feel and the shape of the story also show clear signs of derivation from Roger Corman's hugely successful House of Usher, made the year before. Nonetheless, the whole jells remarkably well, and definitely holds the viewer's interest.

Although Castle builds up the suspense to Sardonicus' unmasking in beautiful textbook manner, unfortunately, the makeup job lets him down. The deformity looks ridiculous rather than terrifying, and the clarity of DVD reveals the prosthetic lines of demarcation all too well. Guy Rolfe does a fine job with a difficult part, showing seething emotion from behind an expressionless mask. However, it is Oscar Homolka who runs away with the picture, the real star of this show. He's so incredibly gleeful in his torture, as well as completely determined to fulfill his obligations to the Baron, that one can't help but relish the performance. His accent and use of slightly broken English gives the character a certain amount of ironic expression that is simply delicious. The heroic leads are, as usual, tedious and far too stiff to excite any interest in the viewer.

The gimmick this time around is the Punishment Poll, which gave the audience a false feeling of participation. A card with a glow-in-the-dark thumb image was provided to all theatergoers (alas, no reproduction is included in the DVD), who would vote on whether Mr. Sardonicus should receive severe punishment or mercy. Knowing human nature far too well, Castle only bothered to film the punishment ending. But it's fairly satisfying, thanks largely to Homolka's delighted gloating.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen black & white picture looks quite good in general. There is a fair amount of speckling throughout, however, and a readily apparent digital look on panning shots. The opening sequence, where Castle first addresses the audience, suffers from severe up and down jitter, but thankfully, the picture becomes rock stable before very long at all. There is plenty of fine detail, marked by solid blacks and with a good range of greys. Some annoying flicker is occasionally visible as well.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The sound is quite good, despite a persistent minor hiss. The music has surprisingly large range, with tons of extremely low bass for a mono track that's over 40 years old. Dialogue is quite clear throughout. The hiss aside, the sound is excellent.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring 13 Ghosts, Strait-Jacket
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The most notable extra is a brief (7m:34s) featurette entitled Taking the Punishment Poll, largely devoted to the marketing of the movie and its gimmick. The commentators don't really have much to say here, so the result is a bit disappointing. An anamorphic trailer is included, as well as trailers for two other Castle pictures. The trailer for Mr. Sardonicus is indeed a delight. I do wish the package included a replica Punishment Poll card to complete the experience, though.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

A fairly well done little horror picture, with a delightfully nasty performance by Homolka. The source print has some minor damage, but it's a good transfer otherwise. A little featurette and trailers round out the package. But where's my Punishment Poll card?


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