Monday, December 01, 2008


Good morning/afternoon, and welcome, as Elvis Costello once memorably put it, to the working week. If you’re like me you’re back at the office or otherwise into the daily bread-winning routine and beginning the time-thickening process of counting down the days until the big Christmas holiday break (14 business days, plus free shipping and handling). When I came today and started dusting off my keyboard (I haven’t been in the office for a Monday morning since September) I came across three items that brightened my day immeasurably and put me in the proper frame of mind for unparalleled productivity. Well, maybe that’s not exactly true, but they sure put a smile on my face and gave my brain a nice rubdown, and I share them with you now in the hopes that they’ll do the same for you.


Bill R., proprietor of The Kind of Face You Hate, found a DVD copy of The Sadist in a bargain bin a couple of weeks ago, and this morning offers his well-considered thoughts on this minor masterpiece. What Bill does especially well, I think, is note how different the movie feels from some of the more celebrated trash classics that were James Landis’ film’s contemporaries (like the Herschell Gordon Lewis movies, for example), and placing The Sadist within a social context that highlights what makes it a cut about the average exploitation picture:

“My concern that The Sadist might follow the example of Blood Feast in terms of both gore levels and general quality were completely unfounded, and because The Sadist is less enamored of its own violence than H. G. Lewis is of the viscera in Blood Feast, while at the same time being far more blunt on the topic, Landis is able to construct moments that function like a kick to the gut. There is little to no actual blood in The Sadist, but I sometimes wondered if there wasn't more… I don't really know anything about the cult of fans that has grown around this film, but I have to assume that the scene most often commented upon as news of The Sadist was passed on by word-of-mouth over the years is the film's first killing, an act of violence the camera doesn't flinch from, even though I don't think we quite see what we think we do. But even if we just focus on what we do see, this film is from 1963, and it's presenting the audience with shocking violence that they would have a really hard time laughing about afterwards, like they could with Blood Feast.”

Click on the link to Read Bill’s entire piece, entitled “To Inflict Moral Insanity upon the Innocent”. (And stay tuned to the comments section for a discussion of the performance of the movie’s Charlie Starkweather stand-in, infamous B-movie icon Arch Hall, Jr.)


Andy McSmith, in the London-based newspaper The Independent, passes along word that will be catnip to fans of a certain British crime classic:

“‘Hang on a minute, lads. I've got a great idea,’ is still one of the greatest pay-off lines in British cinema. It was uttered by Michael Caine, playing the London villain Charlie Croker, immediately before the credits rolled on the 1969 heist classic, The Italian Job. But for 40 years, no one has known what that "great idea" could possibly be, until yesterday, when Sir Michael revealed there was another ending.”

Read all about it here. (Thanks to David Hudson and Green Cine Daily for the tip.)


Green Cine Daily is also beginning to gather up initial reactions to upcoming films like Frost/Nixon and The Reader. Among the more interesting are takes from Nick Schager and David Edelstein, both of which make me think it’s time to dust off the old David Frye albums. But reaching way back to last week’s column from Edelstein you’ll find, in addition to a review that makes an interesting link between Milk and Twilight, a brief summation of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia (how did the director resist tacking on an emphatic ! after that title?) in which the writer makes yet another unexpected, and hilarious, connection, this one between Luhrmann’s Oz and the Emerald City variety. Thanks, Mr. Edelstein, for helping to get my dutiful day started with a belly laugh.


bill r. said...

Thanks a lot for the link, Dennis. Any time I sit down to watch a film that has been enthusiasticall recommended by a friend, as you did with The Sadist, I worry about the guilt I will feel if I don't like it. Fortunately, I needn't have worried in this case. What an interesting, unexpected film that is, and the influence it has apparently had on genre filmmakers who came after has been immense.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Bill, I particularly liked your parallels with James Dean/Charlie Starkweather and the Arch Hall, Jr. character, and it gave me a chill when you mentioned the significance of the the fact that the victims were teachers-- for reasons both germane to the comparison and for other, more personal ones too.

I also wanted to extend my excerpt to include your extension of the movie's influence up to Tobe Hooper's Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the more recent Wolf Creek, but if I had, well, I might just as well have reprinted the whole piece! It is very interesting how TCM has such a reputation as a gore machine when the reality is that it is as dependent on the power of suggestion and context as anything else-- one reason why the movie is so effective; your comparison to the power The Sadist holds over an audience is really apt. (I haven't seen Wolf Creek, nor do I feel any great urge to, based on what I've heard.)

And I know just how you feel. I'm always nervous whenever I see a movie that has been recommended by a friend. Fears of your own reactions being watered down or otherwise altered by your knowledge of what the person already feels about it are sometimes difficult to pin down and deal with. And it's the same when the shoes are reversed-- I was quite relieved to discover that you agreed there was something there in The Sadist worth thinking about. Not that I would have changed my opinion; I'm just too sated with turkey to gear up for a big argument! ;)

bill r. said...

When Tibbs puts the gun to the teacher's head, and the camera cuts to a close-up of the back of the victim's head, I thought, "Well, this is 1963. Surely they're going to cut away before he pulls the trigger." But they didn't, which left me expecting a lot more gore than I actually saw, and I was so certain it was coming that even now I wonder how much there was. I don't think there was any, really, but I'm not sure. Now, that also has a lot to do with the movies that have come after The Sadist that have employed the same shot, but it's also an aspect of the shot itself.

And TCM is still pretty rough -- there's that meathook, after all -- but it's still surprising how far Hooper doesn't go, not just in the meathook scene, but in the one scene where a chainsaw is actually used as a murder weapon. And Hooper didn't even have any doors to kick down in that regard, as the H. G. Lewis's of the world had already kicked it down, at least for the kind of low-budget exploitation cinema Hooper was dealing with.

Also, Wolf Creek really isn't a bad movie. I think you should check it out. The main thing that struck me about it was its patience. I think the horror element of the story might be limited to the last half.

It's funny how when you recommend a movie to someone and that person doesn't like it, the person who followed your recommendation often feels, whether or not they deserve to, as though they're in an intellectually superior position to the person who recommended the film. "This movie is bad," they think (sometimes), "and that person liked it. Therefore, I am smarter and have better taste than him." Which is a silly, arrogant, narrow way to think, but because I have, I'm embarrassed to say, thought that way myself, I invariably get twitchy about recommending movies myself, especially comedies. I don't want anyone to think less of me, you see.

All of which is to say, I know what you mean. But you and I disagree as often as we agree, and I know you've never made me feel bad for holding a certain opinion, and I hope I've never done that to you. And besides, we definitely agree on The Sadist.

stennie said...

IMDB has had that story about the "lost ending" of The Italian Job in their trivia section for the movie for at least the last year, I think. The last time I saw the movie I read about it.

In a BBC documentary to celebrate his 70th birthday in March 2003, Michael Caine revealed his character's "great idea", and the deleted ending of the film [...] I'll leave it out, in case people don't want to be spoiled. Not such a scoop for The Independent, I guess!

I'm happier with the ending the way it is, though. That's one of my favorite film endings of all time.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Way to rain on my parade, Stennie. I'm kidding, of course!

And you're right-- all the speculation makes for a neat parlour game (note British spelling), but when it's all said and done I still marvel, 40 years later, that someone had the nads to end a breezy caper film like The Italian Job does. And like you, I really wouldn't have it any other way.

outside dog said...

A correction:

The Independent reporter should have written "Sir Maurice," not "Sir Michael," since he was knighted not under his stage name but as "Sir Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, Jr."

I only point that out because I've always thought it was touching that he honored his father, who worked in a London fish market, in that way.

Or maybe I'm just sentimental...

outside dog said...

Or reading further, it may have just been a legal issue.

I AM sentimental...

W.B. Kelso said...

On top of the point-blank execution, I think there's another "gut-punch" moment in "The Sadist" that's overshadowed by that burst of violence, but proves as equally effective in elevating that film far above its expecations.

Spoilers Ahead:

It's starts when Stiles, one of the teachers, finally grows a pair and gives Tibbs a face-full of gasoline. Up to that point, his character has been kinda of a weasel, but we've been conditioned to think that now, finally, he will save the girl and save the day, thus redeeming himself. Which is why, during the subsequent chase scene, I was counting the shots fired right along with him. And when Tibbs' gun finally clicked empty and Stiles goes on the attack -- and we all look forward to Tibbs finally getting his head kicked in -- we, like Stiles, forgot about the stolen police revolver and watch in stunned silence as Tibbs shoots him, and shoots him before he can even get close! And to make sure there are no last second heroics by a wounded Stiles, Tibbs empties the revolver into him, punctuating that point, before turning his full attention on Doris.

Add that "oh crap" moment to the fact that the only reason Doris gets away is dumb luck and dumb luck only, means the audience is left with a nasty atypical and pessimistic resolution that resonates long after the closing credits.

Forgive my rambling, but it's a great film. And I think I probably explain my point a whole lot better here: