Daily Archives: August 30, 2020

The Sorcerers (1967)

*. A real curiosity. On the one hand it’s a fascinating premise: an elderly, down-at-the-heels couple taking over the mind of a young man in ’60s swinging London and taking a walk on the wild side, vicariously.
*. On the other hand it’s an incredibly stupid premise: apparently Professor Marcus Monserrat (Boris Karloff) is a hypnotist but what he’s invented is a laughable contraption that will, indeed, allow him and his wife to control the young man’s mind through psychic projection.
*. Put another way, it’s a fascinating premise from a thematic point of view, but stupid in so far as you can’t credit it for a second. What’s going on seems to be some weird amalgam of science and spiritualism, symbolized in the jarring disjunction between the glaring white lab and the cozy yet shabby parlour the Monserrats commune in. Then Marcus and Estelle (Catherine Lacey) have a falling out, involving them in a kind of psychomachia for the control of young Mike’s soul. It’s just plain weird.
*. I say it’s interesting thematically because of the way it inverts expectations. This is swinging London, but Mike (Ian Ogilvy) is the burned-out, jaded one, while it’s the old couple who are the thrill-seekers. Monserrat seduces Mike by offering “dazzling, indescribable experiences, complete abandonment with no thought of remorse.” But Mike won’t be feeling any of this. Instead, the thrills will all be enjoyed by the Monserrats. The old people are the hedonists and law-breakers. Or really, inverting things even more, it’s the old lady who wants to go crazy. Marcus ends up being a bit of a stick in the mud. Her will is stronger than his.
*. Of course you could also read it more traditionally, as Kim Newman does, as “informed by the 1960s impatience with the deadening influence of age over youth.” But that doesn’t quite work for me. The Monserrats aren’t well off, and indeed Mike seems to be of a better sort altogether (he’s a clerk in an antique shop). In class terms, it’s the older generation that is rebelling.
*. Michael Reeves’ second movie (or second-and-a-half, if you want to use a Felliniesque accounting). I don’t see much of a through line, however, between She Beast, this film, and Witchfinder General. I guess the general air of moral collapse and social breakdown is one constant. Stephen Jones calls this “one of the most downbeat horror movies of the 1960s,” which, if true, would be quite an achievement. It certainly has an angry edge, and one that doesn’t spare anyone.
*. As with a lot of movies from this period, parts of it have dated in funny ways. The mind-wiping sequence, with splashes of psychedelic slides being projected onto Mike’s face, is worth a chuckle. My favourite moment, though, comes when the ancient Monserrat picks the cute-as-a-button Mike up in a late-night diner. “You’re looking very bored, young man,” he begins. “I’ve been watching you this evening. I wonder if I might join you. Perhaps I can offer you some coffee.” Then, when Mike asks him what he wants: “I can offer you an unusual evening. Some extraordinary experiences.”
*. Mike is suspicious! What does this old guy really want? Is he selling “blue movies”? Cheap hash? No, not at all. But being bored he doesn’t hesitate in going home with him and letting Marcus hook him up to the machine. I mean, why not?
*. This ridiculous scene is yet another example of the kind of inversion I’ve mentioned: with age (the sweet old couple in their dingy apartment) corrupting innocent youth (the flashy young man who’s into club-hopping with various model girlfriends).
*. Leaving all of this sort of analysis aside, is The Sorcerers any good? It was the first production by Tony Tenser’s Tigon company. Tenser was known as “the Godfather of British Exploitation.” As with America’s Herschell Gordon Lewis, the Godfather of Gore, Tenser started his exploitation career off with nudies and found the turn to horror an obvious, even natural path to take from a commercial point of view: “like sex, everyone understands and wants to see a horror film.”
*. That’s probably true, at least to some extent. And I think that seen as just a low-budget thriller The Sorcerers is a lot better than most. There isn’t much here in the way of a story though, beyond what could have been effectively handled in a half-hour television episode, and I don’t think the scares are very well handled. Apparently Reeves wasn’t particularly interested in horror movies and only did them to show that he could make movies that made money (as The Sorcerers did). Tenser appreciated this spirit of professionalism if not craft and signed him to a multi-film deal, fated not to be fulfilled.