Archibald Williams Hall (aka Arch Hall Sr.) (1908-1978) arguably wrote and directed some of the worst movies of all time. Forming his own company, Fairway Productions in the early 1960s, his efforts were all drive-in fodder which served as vehicles for his son, Arch Hall Jr., an aspiring actor and rockabilly singer. Appearances in his father’s films such as THE CHOPPERS, EEGAH! and WILD GUITAR gave junior a short-lived movie career, but cemented him as an eternal cult presence for lovers of all things Z-grade. Without a doubt, Arch Hall Jr.’s best remembered film is one which his father wasn’t creatively involved in; THE SADIST, the unforgettable 1963 thriller made on a shoestring budget, one that hardly reflects the fine quality of the film itself.
On route to a Dodgers game on a sunny Sunday afternoon, a trio of s pleasant schoolteachers encounters some car problems and stop at a filling station next to a scrapyard. Carl (Don Russell) is a middle-aged family man with two grown children, and Ed (Richard Alden) and Doris (Helen Hovey) are younger single folks. Noticing that the station and its surrounding scrapyard are seemingly deserted, extreme danger comes quick with the arrival of Charlie (Arch Hall Jr.), a trigger-happy psychotic with a mute but equally depraved brunette gal-pal, Judy (Marilyn Manning, EEGAH!). Completely heartless, the devilishly giggling Charlie keeps the three as hostages at constant gunpoint, relentlessly taunting them as Carl is obliged to repairing a car’s engine. The prisoners look for a way to escape, but as they learn that Charlie and Judy are wanted thrill-killers, there’s the likely possibility that any or all could be eliminated the drop of hat.
Based on real-life serial killers Charlie Starkweather and Caril Fugate, THE SADIST still packs a punch and holds up extremely well, remaining one of the best drive-in films of the 1960s. It’s a minimalist effort (in terms of the cast count and limited filming locations), but it's surely just as good as anything the major studious where churning out at that time. Even if you’re not a fan of Arch Hall Jr. and his other acting endeavors, you have to admit that he gives it his all here. Arch is both Neanderthal and demonic as Charlie, snickering and making unsettling facial expressions that make the unhinged character credible, and he never borderlines on camp, as even the dialog is convincing and anything but silly. Hall is simply one of the most hateful villains in movie history.
Director James Landis did an excellent job getting top performances for an exploitation film, and aside from Arch, also standing out are Helen Hovey (Arch’s cousin, who never made another film before or since) and Don Russell, whose character is tormented to the point of complete audience empathy (seeing Charlie rob him, rip up his baseball tickets and tear photos of his family, as well as what is to come, is utterly heartbreaking). The cinematography by Hungarian Vilmos Zsigmond, in his first American film, exposes a brilliant Oscar-winning career to come and for him, low budget pictures were a good starting point (Zsigmond did this and a number of Al Adamson cheapies, and would go on to CLOSE ENCOUNTER OF THE THIRD KIND, THE DEER HUNTER and so much more). Using black and white photography at its best (the film would not be nearly effective had it been made in color), Zsigmond’s camera peers through everything from a shattered car window to the inside of a car’s trunk, showcasing a number of beautiful shots throughout. Kudos should also go to editor Anthony M. Lanza, who later directed THE GLORY STOMPERS and THE INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT for AIP. With a history of shoddy theatrical distribution, THE SADIST has gained most of its attention through home video, and it's essential viewing for anyone interested in drive-in and exploitation cinema.
Believed to be in the public domain, THE SADIST has been available from a number of DVD companies, including All Day Entertainment and Alpha Video, and there was even a U.K. release which included a commentary with Zsigmond. The Raunchy Tonk label presents the film anamorphically enhanced for the first time in the U.S., and it’s letterboxed at 1.66:1. The front and back covers state that the transfer (from director Joe Dante's personal 35mm print) was done in hi-definition, and the black and white film does look pretty good here with excellent detail and deep black levels, even if there are some fleeting examples of print damage and debris. The English mono audio is very clear with the occasional pop due to the source material.
Extras on the disc include an Arch Hall Jr. interview done on camcorder by the recently deceased Ray Dennis Steckler (the two of them worked on several films together). Arch is briefly seen talking about his working relationship with his father, two-time co-star Marilyn Manning, and he mentions that THE SADIST was the favorite among the films that he did. The interview footage also includes trailers for THE CHOPPERS, EEGAH, WILD GUITAR and THE SADIST. The “Arch Hall Jr. Video Songbook” is compiled footage of all of Arch’s musical performances from THE CHOPPERS, EEGAH, WILD GUITAR and SPIES-A-GO-GO (aka THE NASTY RABBIT). “Reflections on the film by Johnny Legend” has Johnny explaining the history of THE SADIST, telling us what Arch is up to today and he does a tribute to the film during a concert performance. Johnny also states that Raunchy Tonk will be releasing the entire Fairway catalog on DVD, so look out! (George R. Reis)
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