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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/20/98

The Sadist
Deluxe Widescreen Collector's Edition - 1963 (1997) - All Day Entertainment

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Film Rating: B-
A forgettable actor playing an over-the-top psycho. We've seen it before and we've seen it done by better actors, but this film is worth a watch based solely on the way it looks. DP Vilmos Zsigmond pulled a great magic trick with this one.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B-/B
Overall, the quality of sound is quite good, setting aside a few flaws. The video quality is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The blacks and whites in this film are wonderful, with little to no digital noise.

Overall Rating: B+
So it's not that great a movie -- it still looks great. And restored on DVD, never before has the film looked as good.

Specs and Features

91 minutes, unrated, letterboxed widescreen (1.66:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, original trailers of two other films starring Arch Hall Jr. (Wild Guitar and Eegah!), audio commentary by director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond, production notes, film-themed menu pages, scene access (27 chapters), languages: English (mono - two track)


Here's a forgotten classic of B-grade cheese. The Sadist stars Arch Hall, Jr., an actor who exudes about as much charisma as Jerry Seinfeld in a Tarantino flick. How he got to star in anything at all, can be answered by the fact that his pop, Arch Hall, Sr. produced three films he starred in. Of course, Junior must have known he just wasn't star material, because he jumped ship and joined the rank and file of mainstream American society, eventually becoming a professional pilot. But before he did, he brought to life one of the silver screen's most menacing psycho killers. In fact, most of his other roles can be forgiven because of his performance in this one film.

Arch Hall, Jr. plays Charles Tibbs, based loosely on real life serial killer Charlie Starkweather (also the subject of Terrance Malick's Badlands). Starkweather went on a multi-state killing spree in the late 1950s, with his girlfriend Caril Fugate. They killed 10 people, and as in Natural Born Killers, it all started with Caril's family. Badlands is a great film, that follows the true story quite well. It stars Martin Sheen as Kit Carruthers (a Starkweather clone) and Sissy Spacek as the Caril-based character Holly. That's all fine and good if you want a legitimate cinematic portrayal, but if you want the B-movie version, pick up The Sadist on DVD.

In The Sadist, the Starkweather legend is boiled down to a stark confrontation between Charles, his mute girlfriend (played by Marilyn Manning -- imagine Winona Ryder on heroin) and three teachers on their way to a baseball game. As the film opens, the teachers find themselves with a broken down car and stranded at a junkyard. You might think being near a junkyard was a streak of good luck. And it would be, except Charles has gotten here first, killed the family that runs the yard, and is looking for a car to continue his rampage. Taking the three teachers hostage, Charles needs the car fixed and is willing to kill to get it done. He doesn't know anything about cars, but one of the teachers does. So the confrontation begins: Charles, through sheer terror will get the teacher to fix the car -- or he will start to kill the other teachers.

It's a screen story we've seen before (Desperate Hours and Kalifornia are among some of the better derivatives, were desperate and crazy men will do anything to get their way) and we've seen them done with stellar performances by some great actors. But there's a certain charm to this film. Much of it lies in the way the film was shot. The cinematography is beautiful -- lush blacks and whites. It's not surprising that it was shot by Vilmos Zsigmond, the man responsible for later masterpieces like McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Witches of Eastwick. It was his first film as a D.P., and done on a shoestring. The bang he got for the buck is unbelievable. Lucky for us, this DVD by All Day preserves the lush camera work like a champ. There is very (and I mean very) little noise on this disc. It's one of the better black and white transfers I've seen -- and I've seen HBO's Wuthering Heights.

On top of the great video transfer, the sound (in two track mono) is warm and strong. There are a few pops and hisses, but they come from the source and can't be blamed on the transfer. There are a few extras on board, namely trailers for Eegah! and Wild Guitar, not surprisingly Arch Hall vehicles. Both trailers are pretty low-quality and the sound is pretty bad. There are production and restoration notes, and most intriguing, an audio commentary track by Vilmos Zsigmond. It's a standard commentary track, and doesn't shed too much light on the actual film, but he does a good job explaining the art of cinematography. It's worth a listen if you have an interest in film shots and technique.

Bottom line

Yet another fine "lost" film restored and brought back to life on DVD. Ultimately, it's a forgettable B-movie shocker, but on DVD (and in this condition) it's at the very least worth a look and listen.

Todd Doogan
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