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Mr. Sardonicus
Mr Sardonicus
Actors: Edith Atwater, Ilse Burkert, Constance Cavendish, Albert D'Arno, Audrey Dalton
Genres: Drama, Horror, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Mystery & Suspense
NR     2002     1hr 29min

William Castle's tribute to the gothic horrors of the 1930s is a ghoulish spin on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by way of Eyes Without a Face. The mysterious Baron Sardonicus (Guy Rolfe) lives in a lonely Central European castle...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Edith Atwater, Ilse Burkert, Constance Cavendish, Albert D'Arno, Audrey Dalton
Genres: Drama, Horror, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Drama, Horror, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: Sony Pictures
Format: DVD - Black and White,Widescreen - Closed-captioned,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 03/12/2002
Release Year: 2002
Run Time: 1hr 29min
Screens: Black and White,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 13
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, French

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Member Movie Reviews

Robyn R. from SPARTA, WI
Reviewed on 2/7/2014...
I saw this movie as a 5 year old and had nightmares for a week. I have never forgotten was my first Poltergeist and Jaws!
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.

Movie Reviews

Lots of Good Gothic Fun!
Gary F. Taylor | Biloxi, MS USA | 07/06/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)

"William Castle usually marketed his movies with gimmicks, and for MR. SARDONICUS the gimmick was "the punishment poll." When the film played in theatrical release, audience members were issued a voting card, and near the movie's conclusion Castle himself appeared on the screen and asked the audience to vote: show the card thumbs up to show mercy, thumbs down for none. Now, in theory, there were two different endings, and the ending shown depended on the audience vote--but no one ever saw the "show mercy" ending and it seems unlikely that it ever existed at all. And you certainly won't find it here: Sardonicus is punished every time.For once Castle should have left well enough alone. The Punishment Poll is the only seriously weak thing in the entire film, which has a considerably better script and over-all better cast than most Castle outings. The story, which shows influences from everything from PHANTOM OF THE OPERA to DRACULA to THE MAN THAT LAUGHED, concerns a grotesquely disfigured man who uses his wife to lure a noted specialist to his castle in the wilds of "Gorslavia"--and who then proceeds to make every one's life as miserable as possible, and that's throwing roses at it. Young women are molested, hung from the ceiling, nibbled on by leeches, and threatened with surgery designed to make them look as hideous as Sardonicus himself.The cast is quite good, with Oskar Homolka a standout as Krull, Sardonicus' equally depraved servant. The lovely Audrey Dalton is also memorable as Sardonicus' unwilling wife. But the real star of the film is the make-up, which was quite famous in its day and is still capable of giving you a jolt. And along the way we're treated to a number of campy Castle florishes that add to the fun. But MR. SARDONICUS is surprisingly cohesive for a Castle movie, and it moves along at a smart pace and has an interestingly atmospheric look. Most Castle films appeal almost exclusively to fans of cult and B-movies, but just about every one will find this one entertaining. Lots of good Gothic fun!"
"The Baron is an unusual man, of unusual convictions."
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 08/13/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"William Castle...producer, writer, director, and sometimes actor, but first and foremost a showman. All right...the man was a hack (in the kindest possible sense), pure and simple, often regarded as a Hitchcock imitator (he even adopted a number of Hitchcockian mannerisms like appearing briefly in his own movies, etc.), and his films maybe have not been of the highest caliber, but he knew how to draw in and entertain audiences by use of sometimes very clever gimmicks, at least in terms of his horror films of the 50s and 60s, and made going to the movies an interactive event, rather than a passive activity, ensuring those who came got their money's worth. While Mr. Sardonicus (1961) isn't my favorite Castle film (I've always been partial to House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler), it's still a lot of fun, especially if you're a fan of schlocky, sleaze-tinged, lurid spectacles like I am...written by Ray Russell (The Premature Burial, X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes) and produced and directed by William Castle (House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, 13 Ghosts), the film stars Guy Rolfe, whom I last saw in Ivanhoe (1952) as the evil Prince John, Audrey Dalton (The Monster That Challenged the World, Kitten with a Whip), Ronald Lewis (Taste of Fear), and Austrian born actor Oskar Homolka, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role in the film I Remember Mama (1948)'ve come a long way since then, Babaloo...

The story begins in London, the year being 1880...Castle comes on the screen for a brief intro, which leads into our tale proper in that we meet Sir Robert Cargrave (Lewis), a young, prominent English physician who's done quite well for himself. After receiving a urgent letter from his ex-love (And then there's) Maude (who'd gone off and unwillingly married another), played by Dalton, Robert hops a boat to the continent, and makes his way to a central European country named Gorslava, which, I think is near Freedonia, but I can't be sure...anyway, turns out the man Maude married, a nasty fellow named Baron Sardonicus (Rolfe), has a bit of a problem with his mug, one caused by an unpleasant past experience gone into in great detail by use of a lengthy flashback of ghoulish proportions involving a lottery ticket, a dead body, and a money grubbing spouse, which I won't go into, but suffice to say the good Baron now sports a giant, permanent, toothy grin which he hides by wearing a mask. He's exhausted nearly all means of treatment, and his last hope lies in Sir Robert, whom he makes an offer the English gentleman can't refuse. Sir Robert agrees and the local canine population dwindles dramatically as he researches the possibility of using a poisonous tropical plant to treat the disfigured Baron. Will the cure work? Or will Sir Robert find himself and Maude at the very un-tender mercies of the Baron's sadistically cruel, one-eyed manservant Krull (Homolka)? Don't fret my frightful fiends, as all will be revealed...even that dark, disgusting secret the Baron keeps locked away in the upstairs room...

In terms of gimmickry, Mr. Sardonicus doesn't rate as high as some of Castle's other films (for The Tingler, vibrating devices would be affixed to the bottom of a few of the theater seats and activated during certain thrilling sequences), as it involved patrons being given cards with a glow in the dark hand printed on them. Near the end of the film, Castle would appear onscreen and request the audience to participate in a `punishment poll', in that if they thought the main character deserved leniency, they would hold the card with the thumb point up, but if they thought the character deserved more punishment, they would hold the card with the thumb pointed down. Castle would then make a production about counting the ballots, and however the audience voted would dictate how the rest of the film would play out (reminiscent of a thumbs up/thumbs down verdict used within the Roman Coliseum), indicating there were two possible endings...which there wasn't (apparently there was a separate version shown to drive in audiences, where Castle would ask patrons to flash their headlights rather than use the card, but it ended the same way). Castle knew his audience, and knew they would always opt for `more punishment', but I can't help but wonder how many viewers bought into the illusion, thinking they were actually influencing the direction of the story (to this day rumors persist there's an alternate ending, but there isn't). As far as the story goes, I didn't think it was particularly scary, but, as others have stated, it does emote a feel of those wonderful horror films produced by Universal in the 30s and 40s. There is a slightly inexpensive (i.e. cheap) sense to the production, but Castle made the most of what he had, and a little imagination goes a long way, aided by spooky, gothic settings thick with atmosphere (leeches, torture chambers, bloodcurdling screams, etc.), surprisingly rich in detail, all tied together with a suitably creepy musical score. The actors do well (Ms Dalton's character seemed a bit drab), most notably Rolfe in his role as the lead character. His makeup looks a little hokem compared to today's standards, but I'm sure it was pretty effective some 40 years ago. As nasty a character as he was, there was still underlying sense of pathos that stemmed from the portrayal of his character during the flashback, prior to the disfiguring incident, but, had I been in the audience, by the end of the film, I would have voted thumbs down, along with most everyone else (thousands of years of civilization still have yet to extinguish humanities animalistic desires). Also, Homolka did very well in his over the top performance of the brutish, obedient, scarred lackey (he lost an eye to the Baron for a past indiscretion) Krull, gleefully applying leeches to the house servants, perhaps in an effort to develop his own cure for his cruel and demanding master. Overall this is a macabre little tale, worth checking out if only to see the work of a Castle, a penultimate showman the likes of we'll never see again.

The widescreen (1.85:1) print on this DVD looks very sharp and clean, and the audio comes through loud and clear. As far as special features, there's a relatively new featurette titled `Taking the Punishment Poll' (7:36) and a trailer for this film, along with some of Castle's other films available on DVD including 13 Ghosts (1960) and Straight-Jacket (1964). The one thing that would have put this release over the top would have been the inclusion of a reproduction of the `thumbs up/thumbs down' ballot, but oh well...missed opportunities...

Another Ghoulish Classic from William Castle
NoLongerDevil | Nowhere, USA | 05/24/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I've said before that these great old horror thrillers take me back to fond memories of chill filled Saturday nights from days long past. Mr. Sardonicus is no different. Once again, we're set in 19th century Bavaria, with a cursed Baron, tortured maidens, decaying corpses, and there's of course the moonlit garden of dead trees twisted in menacing atrophy, and for some reason only wolfbane and deadly nightshade will grow... That's brilliant!!!
These old horror flicks are so great--we we're very fortunate as kids to have these to watch every week--FOR FREE!! I'm not that old- when I was watching these, they had already been around for 10 or 12 years.
Anyway, I would tell all you fanatics out there, discover these old classics, they certainly don't make 'em like this anymore!!!"