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Boris Karloff is at his mesmerizing best in this hypnotic chiller costarring Catherine Lacey (The Lady Vanishes) and directed by Michael Reeves (Witchfinder General). A disgraced hypnotist Professor Marcus Monserret (Karloff) is about to have the last laugh. Inventing a machine that can control the minds of others he lures Mike Roscoe (Ian Ogilvy) to his dingy flat to take part in a grand experiment. Discovering he can experience Mike's sensations as well as his actions Monserret envisions his device as a boon to science. His maniacal wife (Lacey) however embittered by years of poverty soon overpowers her husband and proceeds to use Mike for her own selfish gain. The rarest of the three films directed by the gifted Reeves before his untimely passing The Sorcerers is a unique work of genius that "rivals the brilliance and intelligence of Peeping Tom" (The Overlook Film Encyclopedia).
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Just how familiar Reeves was with Karloff's "Mad Doctor" films, I don't know (there are definite echoes of 1936's THE MAN WHO CHANGED HIS MIND), but THE SORCERERS is certainly an interesting and appropriate update on that theme. An elderly hypnotist and his wife (the "sorcerers" of the title) develop a system of advanced hypnosis that enable them to not only control a young man (Ian Ogilvy) but to feel what he feels. Things ultimately veer out of control as the embittered wife wants to experience more and more sensations including murder (a young Susan George is the victim) which leads to tragedy for everyone concerned.
The Swinging 60s setting (the film was made in 1967) is dated to be sure but fascinating nonetheless. Karloff is his usual fine self even at the age of 79 and crippled by arthritis but it is Catherine Lacey as his wife who gives a truly remarkable performance. She reportedly hated her role just as Vincent Price hated his in WITCHFINDER GENERAL yet Reeves proved himself right in the end as both performances are among their best. A truly fine example of what can be done on a meager budget with a multi-layered screenplay and a good role for Boris at the end of his career. This is the American Allied Artists release. Thanks to Warner Archive for finally making it available on Region One for the American market.
Reeves’ had only made one previous film, the low budget The She Beast (1966) starring horror icon Barbara Steele, but it was imitative of Mario Bava‘s work and received scant notice. In contrast, The Sorcerers was stylish, quirky, and unique, although it was also low budget and barely made a profit. Still, it resulted in Reeves’ being given a larger bankroll to work with in his third film: the critical and box office hit Witchfinder General (1968) starring Vincent Price.
Reeves’ death of a drug overdose at twenty-five, shortly before the release of Witchfinder General, affected that film’s reputation. Reeves was hailed as a tragic auteur in the James Dean mold. Since then, Witchfinder General has long been lauded as one of Price’s finest films. Its was considerably helped by the actor/star himself, who listed it as one of his two personal favorites, along with Theater of Blood (1973). Having a historical subject, Witchfinder General defies its period, is highly esteemed, frequently revived, and has been readily available throughout the video age.
In light of Witchfunder General’ s reputation, The Sorcerers was considered a lesser, obscure effort, partly because it seemed more dated and did not have a vital star to promote it (Karloff died a mere week before Reeves). Nor did the actor’s fans promote it. Instead, of Karloff’s late films, they waxed sentimental about Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968), feeling that film was a truer coda for the “King of Horror.” It was only this year that The Sorcerers was finally made available on DVD as part of the Warner Archive collection.
The aged and poverty stricken Professor Marcus Monserrat (Karloff) is a long publicly disgraced hypnotist who invents a machine (cue sci-fi mumbo jumbo) which allows him and his wife Estelle (the delightfully vile Catherine Lacey) to project their consciousness into the minds of others. The Monserrats live in a dilapidated London flat during the swinging 60s (cue sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll), and Estelle is corrupted from bitterness due to her husband’s fall from grace. The couple find a willing guinea pig for their gizmo in stud Michael (Ian Ogilvy). Michael, bored with sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, agrees to be strapped into the Professor’s mind-altering gizmo (cue psychedelia). Although clearly a product of the 60′s, The Sorcerers is imbued with a stylish, compact, contemporary impudence that transcends mere period novelty.
Once the couple psyche into Mike’s experiences, Estelle begins making up for lost years. She quickly becomes addicted to the experience, which causes her to become increasingly imbalanced. After she forces Mike into hedonism, theft, and murder, a battle of wills between Estelle and her husband leads into Being John Malkovich (1999) and Scanners (1981) territory.
The Sorcerers stands out as a respite from Karloff’s humiliating last years. Although seriously ill, the actor gives an admirably subdued performance that rises to a crescendo in the final showdown with his wife. As good as Karloff and Ogilvy are, it is Lacey who steals the film.
The lower budget trappings actually enhance the grittiness of a film that seems to be saying something about the jaded nihilism of the “I, me, mine” culture (well, at least it noticed it).