The Sadist (1963)

APRIL 14, 2008


I may be wrong (I often am, even when pointing out that I am often wrong), but I believe The Sadist may be the very first “Folks break down en route to something and run afoul of a psychotic killer” movie. Granted, it’s partially taken from reality (mainly the Charles Starkweather case), but the hallmarks of the sub-genre are all on display: the broken down car, the escape attempts, the cops showing up and nosing around, etc.

Unlike most of those movies, or, all of them, this one has an ace up its sleeve: Arch Hall Jr. If you’re unfamiliar with the lad, you’re missing out on 12% of all that is good in the world. He doesn’t act so much as he just sort of sneers and laughs (just look at the cover art!), and he often comes off more like a mentally handicapped kid playing guns than a sadistic killer. Still, he is quite effective, because he’s just so batshit and without remorse (nowadays, our killers always seem to have good qualities). It’s a phenomenal thing to watch, and luckily he’s on screen for almost the entire film.

And this IS a “film”. Not only is it one of the few in history to take place in real time (and pulls it off better than many of the other films that have tried it, such as Nick of Time, Johnny Depp’s sole attempt playing a normal guy in a normal action thriller movie), but it’s also wonderfully shot by a guy named William Zsigmond. Not familiar with the name? Well it’s a pseudonym (or really bizarre misspelling) of Vilmos Zsigmond, the legendary cinematographer who has gone on to considerably classier things, such as Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Deliverance (and, for some goddamn reason, Jersey Girl). It’s to his credit that a movie with almost nothing happening, set almost exclusively on a patch of dirt in front of a gas station, with only five people, seems as alive and exciting as it does. Sure, it gets a little draggy near the end (the chase between Hall and one of the victims goes on forever), but otherwise, it’s an amazing achievement for such a small, obviously low budgeted movie.

Our hero, Ed (Richard Stiles) is also a delight. Early on, he delivers a howler – “I don’t want to shock you, but I don’t want to get my shirt dirty”, which he tells our heroine as he takes off his overly dressy shirt while he fixes the car. He’s wearing the tightest wifebeater known to man, and it’s obviously a bit cold during the filming of a few scenes. Really weird. He’s also incredibly inept and immune to, you know, DOING anything. There’s a bit where he goads Hall into firing off his last bullet, and then just stands there while a weaponless Hall grabs another clip and reloads. Fucking putz. This scene comes after one that had me rolling, as Ed tries to figure out just how many bullets Hall has left. He knows four shots have been fired, but then he just starts basically making shit up to account for the others, figuring “he probably shot someone else too!” and the like.

His ineptness continues to the very end of the film. Running from Hall, he tries to jump on a ledge that’s about 2 feet off the ground, and fails. He falls to the ground, then gets up and charges at Hall, who calmly empties a clip into the poor sod’s chest. Why the fuck didn’t you do that BEFORE, dumbass? The other guy in the movie is more intelligent, but he buys it early on, after a rather heartbreaking scene where Hall tears up the guy’s baseball tickets (they are heading for a Dodger game). I have a real weak spot for scenes like that, and the fact that the guy actually CRIES as Hall tears them up doesn’t help. It’s almost as bad as when someone loses their dog in a movie. Poor guy, it was probably the highlight of his year! Let him go to the damn game, Hall!

My sadness was equaled by my delight, however, when two cops show up. They are the most laid back cops in film history, as evidenced when they find a clip on the ground. “Hey, someone lost the clip to their .45.” one says, almost forlornly, before resuming his soda without any thought that just MAYBE the rather odd looking guy with a story full of holes might be up to no good.

In my notes, which were written on a napkin with a 2cm pen that protrudes from my Swiss Army knife, I have written what looks like “Faders”. No idea.

Anyway, it’s a solid little thriller, refreshingly chilling (as dumb as he was, I really didn’t expect Ed to get killed), and holds up well despite all of the films to come along since that have a similar premise. The print was also quite good (little scratchy in parts, nothing too bothersome), which was a relief – the movie is more or less public domain (it’s on the upcoming 4th budget pack – Tales of Terror!), which usually results in terrible prints. It also had a fantastic trailer reel attached, including one for a movie called The Wild Roots Of Love. This trailer may be the finest ever cut together, and I wish it was on Youtube or whatever so I could share it with you, but alas.

What say you?


  1. I have this one at home, but have yet to watch it. Have heard some great shit about it.

    Great review!

  2. Arch Hall, Jr. was featured in a couple of MST3K films. He looks like he was assembled out of the spare parts of leading men, but not in a good way. He's a terrible actor, but so realistically bizarre that it's no wonder he got cast in so many films.

  3. This is such a great movie. I definitely need to see it again.

    There's a whole album of Arch Hall Jr. songs out there by the way. It's..... well, it's something.

  4. This is definitely a "killer" movie (har har) and probably a must-see in the whole "Tormenting People You've Kept Captive" genre. I was planning to do a review of it myself - but then I found your excellent review. BTW Archie Hall never made it big in the biz due to his first name. (Just a guess.)

  5. James Whale's The Old Dark House (1932) is probably the first film about stranded travelers and deranged psychos, but The Sadist (which I also love) is raw and disturbing whereas Whale's film is atmospheric and gothic.


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