Written by Ray Russell
Directed by William Castle
Sir Robert Cargrave...Ronald Lewis
It is the year 1880, and after a brief but colorful introduction by William Castle himself, we meet our hero, the young doctor Sir Robert Cargrave, whose innovative medical techniques are practically miracles in and of themselves. Maude, a former love interest of his, sends him an invite and Robert boards a train for the Gorslava region of Europe. Once there, he is welcomed not only by his one-time lady lovely, but her new husband as well, the feared and revered Baron Sardonicus!
The baron is a strange man, almost Dr. Doom-like in a way. He has rid his estate of all mirrors, and all reminders of his forefathers; He performs cruel and unusual experiments upon his helpless maid Anna; and he is never seen without his mask--a lifeless but almost life-like waxen thing that really is quite creepy. Despite his regal mannerisms and his sophisticated behavior, it's obvious that Baron Sardonicus is not merely an eccentric. He is...something else entirely. Some strange malady ails this poor fellow, and only the good doctor can hope to cure him. Whether he wants to or not.
As is often the case, the protagonists here are mostly dull and unimpressive moral plot vehicles. The real reason to watch are the villains. Sardonicus is a great and evil character, oozing calmness and madness in equal doses while his one-eyed man servant Krull is a sniveling, pathetic worker bee ("When my master says, 'Krull, do this thing,' I do the thing, whatever it may be."), quite capable of committing unspeakable acts simply because he is instructed to do so. The two of them together could comprise quite the kooky sit-com. Imagine Bosom Buddies or The Odd Couple, William Castle-style!
At times slow-going, Mr. Sardonicus is still quite enjoyable. It's got all the ingredients for a cult classic, although I don't believe it has ever reached this status. It's off-key, off-color, slightly twisted and quite bizarre. The major problem with the film is that the big reveal (Sardonicus removing his mask, natch!) came too early, leaving a full third of the movie after Castle blew his load. Despite the questionable timing, the image is pretty startling and is guaranteed to make your jaw drop!
The 'Castle Gimmick' this time around was the "Punishment Poll", where the theater audience would get to choose the punishment for one of the characters at the end of the film by holding up a Thumbs Up or a Thumbs Down card (kind of like the gladiators in the Colosseum). According to Castle, the audience almost always voted in favor of the punishment, although I have heard rumors that no matter how the voting turned out, that was the final reel that they played.
Good, clean wacky fun. Make it a double-bill with the even-more-bizarre Spider Baby for added thrills!
Black & White
"My name was not always Sardonicus, and I did not always wear a mask."