The next time that someone gives me a hard time for not being compassionate enough (and believe it or not, it does occasionally happen now that 90% of twitter has gone down the woke rabbit hole), I’m going to point out that I voted to show mercy to Mr. Sardonicus.
Played in villainous fashion by Guy Rolfe, Mr. Sardonicus was the title character of a 1961 film that was produced and directed by William Castle. Castle was known for being the king of the gimmick. His gimmick for Mr. Sardonicus was that, upon entering the theater, members of the audience were given two cards. One card had a thumbs up. One card had a thumbs down. Towards the end of the film, the avuncular Mr. Castle appeared onscreen and announced that it was time for the audience to vote. Should Mr. Sardonicus be punished for his sins or should he be shown mercy? Thumbs up for mercy. Thumbs down for punishment. After taking the vote, Castle said, “Projectionist, play the reel.”
Now, of course, Castle only shot one ending and that was the ending where Mr. Sardonicus was punished. To make sure the audience would vote the right way, Castle made Sardonicus into one of the most loathsome villains around. Mr. Sardonicus — or Baron Sardonicus, as he preferred to be called — lived in a castle in the 1880s. Not only did he torture his servants with leeches but he was also responsible for death of several dogs, all of which were killed as a part of his dastardly experiments. To make it even worse, he wasn’t even a member of the nobility! He stole his title! It turned out that Mr. Sardonicus has once been a simple farmer who allowed his greed to get the better of him. When his father was buried with a lottery ticket, Mr. Sardonicus dug up the old man to retrieve the ticket. The shock of seeing his father’s skull caused Mr. Sardonicus’s face to freeze into a twisted grimace. When the film begins, Mr. Sardonicus wears a mask and desperately wants to be cured of his affliction.
To try to convince Sir Robert Cargrave (Ronald Lewis) to cure his condition, Mr. Sardonicus is holding the woman that Sir Robert loves, Maude (Audrey Dalton), prisoner in a loveless marriage. With the help of his evil servant, Krull (Oskar Homolka), Mr. Sardonicus torments the villagers and anyone else unlucky enough to come near the castle.
And yet, when I watched this movie last night with the Late Night Movie Gang, I voted to show compassion to Mr. Sardonicus because I’m a firm believer both in criminal justice reform and that almost anyone can be rehabilitated. Perhaps Mr. Sardonicus just needed someone to say that they believed he could be a better man. I was willing to do that. However, the rest of the Late Night Movie Gang voted to punish him. I think it was the dead dogs that sealed the deal. So, sorry, Mr. Sardonicus. I tried.
Even before William Castle tells everyone to vote, Mr. Sardonicus is enjoyably over-the-top and silly horror film. It plays out like an extended episode of Twilight Zone, with every action that Mr. Sardonicus takes bringing him closer to karma’s judgment. Guy Rolfe is properly evil and arrogant Sardonicus and Oskar Homolka gets many of the best lines as the servant who may not be as loyal as he seems.
Mr. Sardonicus is currently on YouTube. Watch and vote for yourself!