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Friday, January 20, 2017

THE SADIST (1963) -- Movie Review by Jason Hernandez

Arch Hall Jr. has the most awesomely obnoxious face in film history. His eyebrows look like they were created by a monster make-up man. His hair looks like he combs it with rockabilly 45s. Then there's his beady eyes and little scowling mouth. He's got a baby-face on an adult skull. His whole head looks over-grown.

There's always something a little silly about him, even when he's putting a bullet in someone's brain. He doesn't look too bright. He looks like you could outsmart him right away, which only makes him more freaky when he turns out to be more cunning than you think.

You can't not think a lot about Arch Hall Jr.'s face when you watch this terrific nerve-shredder suspense film. Hall's memorable visage is a landscape every bit as vital as the desert setting here.

 This is a hostage situation and Hall's the only one with a gun. Whatever happens depends on how his trigger finger feels at the moment. He's a killer on the loose, not much background given or needed. He's JUST a f***ing psycho and that's that.

This film is too stark for anything more (current American genre filmmakers, who almost always need to explain every character's motivation with tedious, cliche backstory could stand to learn a lesson from THE SADIST).

It never cuts away from the main tension. There's no police detective hero on the way. All we get are desperate people under the hot sun with scarcely a ray of hope to beam upon them.

Our precarious protagonists: three meek schoolteachers who have car problems on their way to a baseball game. They stop at a strangely quiet rural service station and land square into Laughing Boy's clutches. Not everyone gets out alive.

It's a terrific show of skill from director James Landis. He keeps the fear crackling, coaxes a whale of a performance out of Hall (this is easily his best movie), makes bold moves with his camera and generally maintains a clean, efficient cinematic engine to take us to Hell. It's a drive-in classic.

Trivia note: This is the first American film shot by Vilmos Zsigmond (credited as William Zsigmond). Before he became one of the quintessential cinematographers of the so-called "New Hollywood", Zsigmond toiled in the world of low-budget trash for about eight years. His pre-McCabe & Mrs. Miller resume reads like the marquees of every 1960s Mom and Pop drive-in.

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