The Sadist (1963)

Nothing if not rather heavy viewing for a wet Tuesday morning; indeed, the fact that TVS were running this at 10am took me aback some when I saw it in their program guide. Thus far I’d missed the short, strange acting career of Arch Hall Jr, whose old man seemed to think he could make a Ricky Nelson-type teen idol out of his son by putting him in films made by people like Ray Dennis Steckler; young Arch himself eventually realised the plan wasn’t quite working  and he retired from acting at the advanced age of 21 to become a commercial pilot instead. Anyway, this represented a detour of sorts with Arch getting to play the villain, and some villain it was… based on the Starkweather/Fugate spree which Terrence Malick turned into Badlands, what we have is a story of three school teachers who pull up for gas at a deserted station only to be set upon by gun and knife-wielding Arch Jr and his girlfriend. What ensues is a cheap (reportedly filmed for $33,000, contrives to look even cheaper) but hardly cheerful bit of nastiness which is just well-enough made that you can’t just  laugh at it. You know in these films the villain gets their comeuppance and all that, but this film does a fair job of making you wonder if it actually will play out that way, and Arch Jr is a big part of that; there’s a couple of closeups on his eyes where he gives this quite amazing hateful stare that gives the impression of not being entirely acted. I don’t know that I’d call it the undiscovered horror classic other critics think it is (indeed I wouldn’t call it a horror film at all), and I certainly wouldn’t follow Allmovie’s lead (“may well be the greatest exploitation flick ever made”), but I can go with those who say it was years ahead of its time, and it was certainly an interestingly grim morning’s entertainment.

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