The Old Master: Boris Karloff in THE SORCERERS (Tigon, 1967)

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Boris Karloff had been in movies for almost fifty years by the time 1967 rolled around. The King of Horror hit it big in Universal’s 1931 FRANKENSTEIN, and went on to star in some of the genre’s true classics: THE MUMMY, THE BLACK CAT, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE BODY SNATCHERS, and BEDLAM. While THE SORCERERS isn’t quite in the same league as those films, it gives Boris a chance to shine in the twilight of his career, ably assisted by the direction of young Michael Reeves (THE SHE BEAST, THE CONQUEROR WORM).

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Karloff plays Professor Monserrat, an elderly “medical hypnotist” living in a flat with wife Estelle (Catherine Lacey). When bored young Londoner Mike (Ian Oglivy) meets the old gentleman, he’s promised “something new, something you’ve never done before….intoxication without hangover, ecstasy without consequences”. Mike is hooked up to the professor’s machine, a psychedelic light and sound trip that lets the aged couple control his mind and experience everything he does – sound, touch, taste. The professor wants to use this new gift to help older people, but once Estelle has gotten a taste of vicarious living, she craves more and more new experiences.

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Estelle has Mike rob a furrier, steal his best friend Alan’s (Victor Henry) motorcycle to go speeding down the road, causing a fight between the two. He doesn’t remember a thing about these incidents, which worries his girlfriend Nicole (Elizabeth Ercy). Professor Monserrat realizes Estelle’s gone too far and tries to stop her, but she bashes him with his own cane and ties him up. To prove her will’s stronger than his, Estelle has Mike stab his ex-girlfriend (Susan George) to death. Giddy with her newfound power, she has Mike kill a rock singer. Nicole and Victor saw him leave the nightclub with the girl, and confront him. A scuffle breaks out, and Mike goes on the run. The professor and Estelle engage in a battle of wills for control of Mike, leading to a doomed conclusion for all three of them…

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Boris Karloff gives a sympathetic performance in THE SORCERERS as the professor. Though crippled with arthritis and in obvious pain, the old master hadn’t lost any of the skills he learned from a lifetime of acting. Karloff still had his chops, and holds his own against stage and screen actress Lacey’s showier role. He would go on to star in Peter Bogdanovich’s debut TARGETS (1968), which is on my bucket list of films to see. After appearing with fellow horror icons Christopher Lee and Barbara Steele in CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR and four Mexican lensed quickies, Boris Karloff passed away in 1969, acting right up til the end. There’s a reason he’s known as The King, and THE SORCERERS is a great example of a master actor doing what he does best.

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sound + vision: THE SEVENTH VICTIM (RKO 1943)

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Producer Val Lewton revitalized the horror film during his tenure at RKO Studios in the 1940s. Working with a miniscule budget, Lewton used the power of suggestion rather than monsters to create a body of work that’s still influential on filmmakers today. Studio execs came up with the sensationalistic titles (CAT PEOPLE, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE) and gave the producer free rein to tell the stories. Using shadows, light, and sound, Lewton’s quiet, intelligent approach to terror was miles ahead of the juvenile (but fun) stuff cranked out at Universal and Monogram.

THE SEVENTH VICTIM could be considered lesser Lewton. It’s  not seen as often some of his other classics, and that’s a pity, because it’s superior to many of the better known horror movies of the era. This quiet psychological thriller with its civilized satanic cult was a rarity for its time. Only Edgar G Ulmer’s 1934 THE BLACK CAT dared to tackle this kind of material before. In fact, I’m surprised the Production Code didn’t cut this one to shreds, with its devil worshippers and barely concealed lesbian subplot.

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