FREAKSHOW The Sorcerers

Join us every Monday, as we look at a cult movie. Our film of the week this time sees Frankenstein’s Monster controlling the body of The Saint!

Michael Reeves
Boris Karloff, Catherine Lacey, Ian Ogilvy
Available on region two DVD
Watch the trailer here

Director Michael Reeves is the Chatterton of British horror cinema. He only made three films before dying of a barbiturate overdose aged 25, so the cloud of premature death hangs over his work. His last film (Witchfinder General) is a classic, and it’s frustrating to think that he died at the height of his powers, leaving many more great films unmade.

Boris Karloff stars as Professor Monserrat, a master hypnotist. Monserrat has created a machine that lets him program someone so that he can not only control their actions from a distance, but can experience their every sensation. Enter Michael (Ian Ogilvy), a bored narcissist hungry for new kicks, and the perfect test subject. Initially Monserrat and his wife Estelle use Michael to enjoy a few harmless thrills, but gradually Estelle comes to revel in her new-found power, and starts forcing her human puppet to steal and kill.

The Sorcerers resembles another British horror film, Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, in that it lays bare the essential voyeurism of the movie-going experience. Monserrat’s hypnotic apparatus acts as a metaphor for the mechanics of cinema. The sadistic kicks Estelle gets from experiencing Michael carve up nubile dolly-birds are the same vicarious thrills the horror fan gets from watching killings in a darkened cinema.  A damning connection is made between us, the viewers and Estelle, rolling her tongue in lascivious pleasure as Michael stabs and strangles. The film plays out the pro-censorship lobby’s argument that watching violent images desensitises people. And it interrogates the swinging sixties morality of “pleasure with no consequences”, prefiguring the way the hippy dream turned sour at the end of the decade.

The Sorcerers doesn’t quite deserve the rave reviews it receives from some horror critics. It looks very cheap, drags in places, and much of the acting is wooden (Ian Ogilvy’s mockney accent is pure Dick Van Dyke). But it’s a tough, intelligent little horror-thriller that’s well worth a look.

Ian Berriman, reviews editor of SFX and cult movie nut, has watched Jess Franco’s Female Vampire four or five times, but never seen Casablanca. The nutter.

Click here to see our other cult movie write-ups. And if you like oddball movies, check out Total Film’s regular Trash Talk feature.