Director: James Landis
Stars: Arch Hall Jr., Helen Hovey, Richard Alden
The next film in this Pure Terror DVD collection is 1963s The Sadist. Helmed by television director James Landis and starring Arch Hall Jr. of notorious Eegah fame – I expected some terribly goofy piece of crap. What I got insted was a suprisingly well-acted and directed thriller. I mean, look at that goofy poster art – what would expect from ‘that’? A group of friends on their way to a baseball game experience some car trouble and end up being psychologically tortured and murdered by a psychopath (Arch Hall Jr.) and his girlfriend. Though inspired by the killing spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate, it’s a storyline found frequently in horror and exploitation films from Last House on the Left, The Strangers and the entire torture porn sub-genre. One could say that all these horror films owe credit to “The Sadist” as being a sort of origin for those tropes. Films like Oliver Stones Natural Born Killers and Terence Malik’s Badlands certainly lose a lot of their original spark when you’ve seen The Sadist and how it told the same story FIRST.
Fist Lesson: Nobody Cared About Sandy Koufax
The three innocent characters here are a young couple, Carl and Doris, and their older friend Ed. They’re on their way through the California desert to watch a baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cincinatti Reds. While not a particularly thrilling match-up, this is 1962 so the starting pitcher for the Dodgers would have been the great Sandy Koufax.
For those who don’t know, Sandy Koufax was a LEGENDARY baseball player, a hero amongst men. During his 11 year career he was a 2 time World Series MVP, 3 time Cy Young Award recipient, and 3 time winner of the pitcher’s triple crown by leading the league in wins, strikeouts and earned run average. Koufax was the first major league player to pitch four no-hitters including the eighth perfect game in baseball history). For any baseball fan watching a man like Sandy Koufax play a game would be an amazing dream.
However, the impression I get from watching The Sadist was that people in 1963 really didn’t give much thought to Koufax. Throughout the movie there is radio coverage of the game with the announcer making frequent comments about how empty the stadium is. “There’s a lot of empty seats here. Why don’t you come on down and check out this game if you don’t have anything better to do.” I would imagine that a player of Koufax’s caliber would draw crowds from all over the place. Apparently he just wasn’t a big deal in 1963, nothing to get excited about. After all, he was just another baseball player like any other. It is rather enlightening to hear this kind of disinterest in a legend early in there career – before he became the man that history would remember him as.
While I’m on the topic of baseball, though, what the hell is with the early scene of Ed teaching Doris how baseball is played? I honestly had a hard time feeling motivated about the character of Doris because of how ignorantly she is portrayed at the introduction of the movie:
Ed: In baseball, the player hits the ball and has to run around to all three bases.
Doris: Why does he have to run around and touch all those… those…
Doris: Yeah. Those.
Ed: Because that’s how the game is played.
One certainly has to applaud the old man’s patience because every time Doris opened her mouth I found in myself a growing desire to smash her face in with a tire iron.
Second Lesson: How to Replace a Water Pump
On their way to this baseball game, Carl, Doris and Ed experience some car troubles and pull into the nearest gas station/junkyard. Nobody comes out to assist them (because they’re DEAD). Ed and Carl search the gas station and the adjacent farmhouse and find nobody (because they’re DEAD). Carl just gives up on anybody coming by and begins to just replace the water pump on their car himself.
This is when crazy Charlie Tibbs shows up with his young girlfriend Judy. It seems our heroes here have stumbled into Charlie in the middle of his murderous killing spree across the Southwest. Charlie waves his gun around while him and Judy psychologically torture their victims. Charile undoubtedly means to kill them all, psychopath that he is, but he’d like to have his fun first. Also, he needs to have Carl finish replacing that water pump so he can steal their car. A good portion of the movie’s first half deals with Carl replacing the car’s water pump at gunpoint – and this is what I’ve learned:
– Remove the radiator cap
– Remove the lower radiator hose to drain the cooling system
– Remove the drive belt.
– Remove any hoses connected to the water pump
– Unbolt the water pump and remove it.
– Install a new gasket and attach the new water pump to the engine.
– Reinstall the drive belt
– Reinstall the lower radiator hose as well as the drain plug
– Refill the radiator with a 50/50 mix of coolant and distilled water
– Install the radiator cap
Pretty odd knowledge to pick up from a horror film, I know. Thanks to “The Sadist” though I can now save $250 this summer when the water pump on my vehicle inevitably gives up.
Third Lesson: Who Was Charles Starkweather
There is a reason the sadistic villian here is named Charlie. As I mentioned before, this film was inspired by the real life crimes of Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate. These same crimes also served as inspiration for the films Badlands, Kalifornia and Natural Born Killers. I didn’t actually know a whole lot about Charles Starkweather but I was curious to see how closely The Sadist tied in with those actual events. The short answer – the characters are shockingly similar. I’m not going to go into detail about the crimes of Charles Starkweather, but here’s a link to a wikipedia article which is a pretty accurate summation of the crimes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Starkweather
So thanks, The Sadist, for encouraging me to get out and there and learn something new. And the award for “Teacher of the Year” goes to The Sadist
Fourth Lesson: Once Upon A Time There Existed Soda Machines That Worked
At this gas station/junkyard where this movie takes place there is a Coca-Cola vending machine. Early in the movie Ed offers to buy Doris a Coke. He drops some money into the machine and pulls out a nice, refreshing bottle of Coca-Cola ON THE FIRST TRY! Whenever I buy a soda there is always that familiar struggle to get the machine to even take my money in the first place. Then, if it isn’t sold out of whatever drink I want there is that great possibility it won’t deliver a soda at all or, oftentimes, give me a Diet Dr. Pepper instead of the Coke I requested. The vending machine in “The Sadist,” however, works every single time. Charlie and Judy take a quick break from their killing spree to enjoy the crisp cool tase of Coca-Cola and this vending machine is compliant. Even a pair of police officers enjoy the smooth taste of Coca-Cola Classic before Charlie ends their lives.
There is a lot of Coke drinking that goes on in this movie actually that actually made me pause to find out when exactly they stopped putting cocaine in Coca-Cola. Charlie drinks Coke and shoots people with equal amounts of willful abandon causing it to look like there’s something in that soda contributing to his madness. Research has yeilded that Coca-Cola stopped using actual cocaine in their product in 1903. So I suppose this means Charlie would be the same madman regardless of what he’s drinking.
Fifth Lesson: The Desert is a Dangerous Place
After Ed and Carl are killed Doris has little choice but to fight for her own survival. She blinds Charlie with gasoline in order to make her escape. In his confusion, Charlie kills his girlfriend – infuriating him even more. The climax of the film comes as Charlie closes in on Doris for the kill only to fall right into a pit full of rattlesnakes where, of course, he’s bitten to death. Why is this random pit of rattlesnakes there? Because that’s what those evil fucking snakes do. Like how Ed explained the rules of baseball to Doris at the beginning of the film: “Because that’s just the way it is.”
Final Lesson: Always Expect to Be Surprised
As I said at the beginning, I didn’t have much hope of enjoying The Sadist. I’ve seen Eegah many times before, a move that many consider to be the worst film ever. Given that its star, Arch Hall Jr, plays the title role here, I expected some low-grade B-movie crap. However this Pure Terror DVD pack continues to surprise me at every turn. The Satanist has been one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen in a LONG time. Arch Hall Jr actually puts in a fantastic performance as Charlie Tibbs, full of calculated cunning and subtle mannerisms. The story is always suspenseful and, except for a brief lull before the 3rd act, is a constant thrill ride. It’s the first of many films to draw inspiration from the Starkweather killings and I would definitely put this film on the same level as all of those. To be honest, actually, I HATE Natural Born Killers and I’m not a big fan of Badlands or Kalifornia so I would take The Sadist over any of those films in a heartbeat.
So it would seem that Disc 4 of this collection is off to a great start. Next up is Terror Creatures From the Grave which sounds like something Roger Corman would vomit up but, hey, it’s got Barbara Steele in it so I may be surprised.