A search for a winning lottery ticket in his dead father's grave causes Sardonicus' face to freeze in a horrible grimace, until he forces a doctor to treat his affliction--with even more ...
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Jonathan Jones, a professor of ancient languages, comes into possession of an ancient coin. He translates its inscription, which gives him three powers: to inflict pain, slow down time or ... See full summary »
A search for a winning lottery ticket in his dead father's grave causes Sardonicus' face to freeze in a horrible grimace, until he forces a doctor to treat his affliction--with even more grotesque results! The audience gets an opportunity to vote--via the "Punishment Poll"--for the penalty Sardonicus must pay for his deeds... Written by
Of the William Castle films with which I'm familiar, "Sardonicus" is definitely the best. If you strip away some of the schlocky "padding" (the maid with the leeches, the "beauty contest" in the cellar, etc) you have a remarkably effective and entertaining film. Ray Russell's plotting and dialog are pretty high quality stuff, and some of the conversations have an almost poetic quality, especially in the scenes between Guy Rolfe and Ronald Lewis.
Of course, the dialog is all the more effective when delivered by a fine cast, and the stately, urbane Rolfe, the amiable and stalwart Lewis and the delightfully quirky and sinister Oscar Holmolka elevate this film FAR above its low-budget liabilities. Castle's direction is more than competent, my only complaint being the overly bright lighting throughout the castle interior, which robs many scenes of their creepy potential.
THEN THERE IS THE GRAVEYARD SCENE----a masterpiece of its type in the annals of horror films. Acting, direction, cinematography, etc ALL rise to the occasion, with the shocking revelation within the coffin and the psychological dimension of its effect on Marek/Sardonicus producing a scene which is as horrifying and disturbing as it is memorable; it's impossible to describe--you simply have to see it yourself. And the trauma continues as Guy Rolfe stumbles home in the dark, sobbing pathetically, where his wife (and we the viewer) first discovers his hideous deformity. I initially saw this film on TV when I was 20 years old and it STILL scared the crap out of me! Thank God I didn't see it when it was first released.
HERE'S A THOUGHT--- the shot of Sardonicus' father's corpse is so profoundly upsetting (to US as viewers as well as Guy Rolfe in the film)that I don't believe it was designed and created by Castle and his team; I bet anything that they "FARMED OUT" this shot to an effects team in Mexico--where the horror effects artists were FAR better at creating visuals of this sort. The final shot of the coffin lid opening (all the more creepy since it appears to open BY ITSELF)is interesting; if you look closely, you will notice that this is a DIFFERENT coffin lid than the one in the previous shots; the pattern of dirt and mold is different, as are the seams between the wooden planks. When the father's remains turn up later in the shocking padlocked-room scene, it's clear that the quality of workmanship is nowhere near as good as the coffin figure, instead appearing to be the sort of effect that Castle's production team would have created from their modest budget. I imagine that it's impossible to ever know whether or not my idea is correct, since too much time has passed since the film was made.
Many people make a big deal about the "Punishment Poll" gimmick for the film, but it's really just a distraction for any serious viewer; too bad that Castle's 11th-hour on-screen appearance breaks the mood just prior to the classically understated irony of the final scene.
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