Director: William Castle
Starring: Ronald Lewis, Audrey Dalton and Guy Rolfe
Running Time: 89 min
Producer, director and the "king of gimmicks", William Castle is still one of my favourite movie people of all time. He made going to the theatre and watching a film an interactive experience, allowing the audience to become part of the story. He had seats rumbling in the "The Tingler", "Illusion_O" in "13 Ghosts", which had glasses so you could choose to see the ghost or not and for "Zotz", he gave the audience a glow in the dark, "Magic" coin! Even in his last film, "Bug", he took out a million dollar life insurance on the star, a cockroach. So to say the least, I was pretty excited to see what he would cook up for this film.
Set in 1880, successful surgeon and recently knighted for his work in medicine, Sir Robert Cargrave is pretty excited that he has just received a tool that will change the face of medicine, the Hypodermic needle! As he is explaining it's properties to his friend and colleague, he is interrupted rudely by a nurse with an important letter for him. Angry at first, he recognizes the hand writing and dismisses everyone from the hospital room so he can read his letter. It is from his former girlfriend and one true love, Maude who begs him to come to Gorslava and help her with a dire issue. Who could say no to a trip to Gorslava? So he gives the hospital no notice and takes off.
When he arrives in Gorslava, the hears awful rumours about Maude's husband, Baron Sardonicus. How he is cruel and a very scary guy. Just as he is getting the lowdown from a train attendent, Baron Sardonicus's henchman, Krull picks him up at the train station and brings him to the castle. At the castle he hears the screams of terror from on of the rooms and discovers the maid tie up and has a face full of leeches! Sir Robert demands an explanation for this and frees the maid of the leeches and the ropes. Krull explains that the are doing medical experiments and Sir Robert, informs Krull that he will speak to Baron Sardonicus about these actions.
Later on, he finally meets up with his ex, Maude and she explains that her husband wishes for him to help the Baron with his medical issue. Over dinner, the Baron arrives and he is wearing a mask, which he claims is necessary to wear because of his condition. Unfortunately, the Baron does not stay long because he has important guests waiting in the dungeon, I mean basement, and excuses himself from dinner. The Baron goes downstairs to his torture room to experiment on some ladies, but not in a good way. The next day, Sir Robert asks about the horrible cries he heard throughout the night and the Baron explains his situation. Years ago, he had to dig up his father's grave to get the winning lottery ticket, which is really big in Gorslava, that was left in the suit jacket. When he did so, the face of his father was so terrifying that his face became locked in the ghoulish grin that you can see now! (Imagine a ghoulish grin) Anyway, the Baron demands that Sir Robert help him or he will have Krull crave up Maude's face like a Christmas turkey. Can Sir Robert help this horrible villain and save his ex-girlfriend or will they both fall prey to the untrained and unyielding blade of Krull?
Not my favourite William Castle film, but still very good by PG horror movie standards. This is based on a short story from "Playboy" by Ray Russell which Castle bought the rights and hired Russell to write the screen play. See people do read the articles. It does seem to take a little bit to get the film going, but once Sardonicus tells his story then there are some pretty intense scenes here, again for a PG rated film.
Guy Rolfe (Dolls, Puppet Master III) is really good in this as Baron Sardonicus and he is a real trooper, considering it took five separate facial fittings for the prosthetic and he could not stand to wear the "Ghoulish Grin" for more than hour at a time. Also, Ronald Lewis (Stop Me Before I Kill, Jigsaw) who played Sir Robert and Audrey Dalton (Kitten With a Whip, The Bounty Killer) as Maude were fine as well. However, I think that Oskar Homolka (The Invisible Woman, The Key) stole the film. His role as Krull was fun, entertaining and reminded me of other self serving characters done by Herbert Lom or Peter Lorre. Quite a lot of fun to watch him act and react to the situation, especially at the end.
The gimmick in this film was clever but again this wasn't my favourite. Just when you think the film is ending, William Castle appears on screen and ask the audience to vote for either mercy or no mercy for the evil Baron Sardonicus, using glow in the dark thumbs up or down. It's kind of funny and hokey at the same time as Castle "talks" to and counts the votes of the audience. Castle said that he did shoot two endings but because the audience always voted one way, the other ending was never shown. However, Turner Classic Movies or anyone else could not find this other ending and it is believe that it was just hype.
This is a good movie for fans of old school horror films and really good for introducing a younger generation to horror. It has some scary connotations but most of the violence is done off screen, the torture is pretty tame and there is only one skeleton that shows up. Family fun that might even give you a sardonic smile.