Also known as: Sardonicus (UK)
Release Date: October 8th, 1961 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: William Castle
Written by: Ray Russell
Music by: Von Dexter
Cast: Oskar Homolka, Ronald Lewis, Audrey Dalton, Guy Rolfe, Vladimir Sokoloff, Erika Peters, Lorna Hanson
William Castle Productions, Columbia Pictures, 89 Minutes
“What I had not forseen was that the face of my father, the muscles stretched by a terrible death recoil, would look directly and hideously upon me, the dead lips drawn back in a constant and soul-shattering smile.” – Baron Sardonicus
My mum and her sister once referred to this movie as the most terrifying thing they ever saw as kids, as well as being the reason why they never wanted to watch horror movies. Knowing this for most of my life, I still hadn’t seen this until now. I texted my aunt about it and she replied, “Oh, don’t even bring that movie up to me!”
So I understand why this was scary for them in 1961, as it’s got some gruesome makeup effects that are still visually effective, sixty years later. So much so, in fact, that they kind of blew my modern mind; a mind that has seen more horror movies than most mortal men.
The plot is about a man with a severely disfigured face. He’s stuck with this permanent, horrific grin. He’s also a rich baron and uses his power and wealth to experiment on people in an effort to fix his face. He forces a doctor to help him and the doctor has to try and figure out how to solve this evil man’s problem while also trying to get out of his own situation, alive.
This is just a really creepy movie and even though it moves a bit slow, it’s far from boring and the best bits make up for the more uneventful parts of the picture.
I’m surprised that this isn’t a more widely known film. Practical effects and makeup artists should really be impressed with what they accomplished with this movie for its time.
Strangely, as terrifying as the face of Mr. Sardonicus looks, the mask he wears to cover it up is devoid of life, otherworldly and I feel, more sinister and cold.
I thought the acting was top notch stuff for early ’60s horror not starring any of the legends of that time: Vincent Price, Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee. Guy Rolfe was perfect as Sardonicus and unlike actors today, wasn’t afraid to put in a performance behind heavy makeup or a mask.