The Sorcerers (1967 United Kingdom)

Boris Karloff is masterful, even if he has to spend half of this film sitting helplessly on the floor. The late Michael Reeves certainly knew how to make the viewer feel uncomfortable. This is even more upsetting than his later Witchfinder General. It’s a fascinating, yet very sad, snapshot of urban British working class life in 1967. It’s amazing how things seemed more unclean then, how depressingly dirty and squalid the back streets of “swinging London” could really be like. Everything about The Sorcerers is grubby. While the dvd is playing I feel like I’m there. In The Glory Hole. (Don’t laugh – you’ll need to see this movie to know I’m not being rude. The GL is an integral part of the plot) It’s all very mentally disconcerting.

Maybe the fifty thousand pound budget is the key to why this works, but it also makes the viewer feel short-changed at the same time… I’m rambling, I know. (So would you if you’d experienced the Glory Hole) The main characters are an elderly couple – Marcus & Estelle Monserrat – desperate to re-experience some of the excitement of modern youth; the hypnosis machine is merely a method of making this dream come true. Like all of the best scientific inventions, it is created for the good of mankind plan to use it to help other elderly people have the same experiences, but eventually ends up being used for the worst evil. The budget limits the use of expensive special effects but the story is good enough so you won’t care. Another strong element is the acting, with three outstanding performances from the leads and some surprisingly good turns from the supports. Watch out for a young Susan George, once again on the receiving end of some unpleasant male violence.

Boris Karloff’s Marcus is not a mad scientist. He is a genuinely misguided and flawed creator who is too physically weak to be able to defend his young protégé when the time calls for it. Thus he is not really the villain of the piece but instead a helpless victim, and Karloff’s strong acting evokes sympathy for his plight. It’s nice to see the ageing actor get a meaty role for a change and I would rank this as possibly his best performance of the 1960s. Catherine Lacey is simply astonishing as Karloff’s wife, whose transformation from a kindly old bag to the very embodiment of vengeful and sadistic evil is frighteningly good. I like this film because it has a lot to say about human nature. Particularly the worst of it. Estelle turns out to be a truly vile individual, and it’s entertaining to watch her. So, instead of a traditional monster, like you’d expect in many Karloff films, she’s a supposedly normal person who does monstrous things. While the film glosses over it, it’s also interesting because when she uses her subject to have sex, she is experiencing sex as a man with a woman. Something rather risqué for the 1960s.

Unsurprisingly, considering his close friendship with director Reeves, the young male lead is played by Ian Ogilvy – who is as good as ever as the subdued Mike Roscoe, young man about town. He is a bored, easily irritable chap who literally becomes the sorcerer’s apprentice, before descending into explosive violence. Aspects of British 60’s youth culture are nicely portrayed in this film, particularly the live music club scene and the attitudes toward personal relationships peculiar to the era. Mike’s increasingly eccentric behaviour goes almost unnoticed by his friends, because he is apparently a ‘complicated’ person. The contrasts between the old and the young are emphasized in a bleak, pessimistic tone. Blending the zeitgeist of the time with sci-fi, mixing amoral horror with wistful yearnings, The Sorcerers comes out as an original piece of work. You could even call it visionary – and maybe this is the message: western youth’s hedonistic attraction to drink/drugs and discordant music can turn some of them into serial killers. Just putting my 2 cent theory out there…  🙂

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