• Mr. Sardonicus/Brotherhood Of Satan (Blu-ray)



    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment
    Released on: May 14, 2013.
    Director: William Castle/Bernard McEveety
    Cast: Ronald Lewis, Audrey Dalton, Guy Rolfe, Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones
    Year: 1961/1971
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    The Movie:

    Mill Creek offers up two horror movies from the Sony/Columbia back catalogue on Blu-ray, both of them debuting on the format. Here’s a look…

    Mr. Sardonicus:

    The first film was directed by William Castle and stands as a pretty decent slice of gothic horror, done in Castle’s inimitable style. The story follows Baron Sardonicus (Guy Rolfe), a bit of a bastard who blackmails another man into handing over his hot, Maude (Audrey Dalton), so that he can have her hand in marriage. She’s not particularly stoked by this idea and the fact that Sardonicus wears a strange mask doesn’t help matters much, but soon she realizes she doesn’t have much of a choice and she agrees to the marriage to help her dad out.

    In reality, however, Maude is in love with a London doctor named Sir Robert Cargrave (Ronald Lewis). In fact, she speaks so highly of him that Sardonicus soon coerces his new bride into coaxing her flame into visiting. Why? Because underneath Sardonicus’ mask lies a visage so terrifying that not even an evil man such as he can be comfortable with it. You see, when he was younger he found out that his departed father had been buried with winning lottery ticket stashed inside the pocket of his burial clothes. Having a need for the cash, Sardonicus dug up dear old dad’s corpse and, after seeing his decomposed rotting body, was given such a fright that he was marked by the terror he witnessed! Though his man servant, Krull (Oskar Homolka) does all that his master asks of him, Sardonicus knows that he needs the aid of a master surgeon such as Cargrave if he ever wants to live a normal life. Cargrave, however, is far slyer than Sardonicus realizes…

    Tightly paced from the get go and loaded with sinister atmosphere and impressive, shadowy cinematography, Mr. Sardonicus is a surprisingly effective film. While the masked Sardonicus looks eerie and ominous, mysterious even, once that mask comes off the makeup job, which paralyzes his face in a mixture of terror and insane glee, makes him an even weirder looking antagonist. The battle of wits that ensues between he and Cargrave makes for an interesting conflict and subplots involving Krull and a female frequently ‘treated’ with leeches adds further bizarre depth to the story.

    Performances are excellent across the board. Lewis is a fine, dashing hero and he gives his lead role enough charisma to work in the part. Dalton is beautiful and a fine leading lady, though her character doesn’t have quite as much to do as some of the others. Rolfe is in fine form here, obviously throwing a lot of himself into the role and having a good time playing the villain, while Homolka, made up with a bum eye and looking all the weirder for it, steals every scene that he’s in. The movie is good enough that it doesn’t need the patented ‘William Castle gimmick’ but of course, it gets one anyway. We won’t spoil it here for those who haven’t seen the movie, however.

    Brotherhood Of Satan:

    Up next is Brotherhood Of Satan, a 1971 picture produced by L.Q. Jones and Alvy Moore as a follow up to 1969’s The Witchmaker and a bit of a cash in on the success of Polanski’s adaptation of Rosemary’s Baby.

    The movie begins by introducing us to a man named Ben Holden (Charles Bateman), his daughter K.T. (Geri Reischl) and his foxy blonde girlfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri). They’re on a little vacation, driving through the middle of nowhere to get to Ben’s parents’ place for K.T.’s birthday but they’re not above stopping on the way to hang out alongside a scenic river. It rains and they get back into the car and as they travel down the empty highway they pass the scene of a nasty accident. Figuring they should let the local authorities now, they stop in the next town where their arrival sends local residents into a complete panic! They flee, but to avoid hitting a girl in the middle of the road, Ben then drives is car off the road.

    With no other choice, Ben and company head back into town where they soon realize something very strange is going on. The town’s sheriff (L.Q. Jones) and his deputy (Alvy Moore) initially peg them as suspects but it soon becomes obvious after a bunch of adults are brutally slaughtered that something far more sinister and supernatural is afoot than just the presence of some outsiders. The local priest (Charles Robinson) researches some Satanic rites while enjoying a cold Coors beer and when K.T. and all of the town’s children go missing, well, it starts to look like devil worshippers, led by Doc Duncan (Strother Martin) are wreaking havoc in small town America!

    As colorful as it is creepy, Brotherhood Of Satan is… great! Old people running around praising the Lord Of Darkness in garish robes, killer kids’ toys, dismembered body parts aplenty and a really impressive atmosphere of impending doom, this is pretty strong stuff for a PG rated picture. Martin is awesome as the cult leader, hamming it up just enough to make an impression without going too overboard, and Ahna Capri appears in a bikini! Bateman plays everything completely straight, he’s the stereotypical alpha male out to protect the women folk and he’s fine in the role, while Jones and Moore seem to be having a good time playing the law.

    Director Bernard McEveety keeps the pace quick and tense, and the use of color, particularly in the last half hour or so, is excellent. Plenty of sinister reds and bright greens and blues give things a very strange feel while the smoke, fog, cobwebs and weird stagey sets sort of seal the deal. This one is just really well done, a great piece of seventies occult inspired cinema made with a keen eye for compositions, a really enjoyable cast and featuring some genuinely surprising set pieces.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Mr. Sardonicus debuts on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1.85.1 widescreen, Brotherhood Of Satan in AVC encoded 2.35.1 widescreen – both transfers are 1080p high definition. Mr. Sardonicus looks nice and crisp in black and white, showing good contrast and barely any print damage. Grain looks nice and natural but is never overpowering while black levels stay strong and deep. Detail is impressive, texture as well, while sharpness looks good without any evidence of digital tinkering. Brotherhood Of Satan also looks great here, boasting excellent color reproduction and strong black levels. There’s a little bit of print damage here and there, mostly just small white specks, but it’s nothing to complain about. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and again, detail and texture are nice. Both movies look very good in high definition.

    Both films are presented in English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track with optional subtitles provided in English and French. Both tracks are clean and clear, there are no issues with hiss or distortion. Dialogue is always easy to understand, levels are properly balanced throughout both films and the scores for each movie also sound fine. Age related limitations are present, as they should be, so don’t expect loads and loads of depth, but there are no issues here. These older low budget pictures sound just fine on Blu-ray.

    Outside of a simple menu offering movie selection, there are no extras on this disc. The previous DVD release of Brotherhood Of Satan included only trailers for unrelated movies, but the DVD release of Mr. Sardonicus included a nifty featurette on the ‘mercy poll’ gimmick, a trailer for the feature and trailers for a couple of other Castle films. None of that material is carried over to this release, so completists might want to hold onto that disc.

    The Final Word:

    This is a great double feature, and while it would have been nice to see the extras for Mr. Sardonicus carried over, the upgrade in video and audio quality over the previous DVD releases makes this easy to recommend, particularly when it’s available at such a low price. Both movies are absolutely worth owning for anyone who enjoys a good horror film.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!