There were a few times, looking over this year’s Hubrisween list, that I panicked, because I didn’t see a Boris Karloff movie. Then I had to calm myself down because for some reason I was forgetting this is a Boris Karloff movie.
Karloff is Professor Marcus Monserrat, a medical hypnotist eking out a living in swinging ’67 London. There was a scandal in his past that ruined his reputation, and it was probably to linked the apparatus he is building in his spare room, with the help of his wife Estelle (Catherine Lacey). To test it, they need a human subject: Estelle proposes a drunk, but Monserrat avers it must a sober individual, with no connections to them: that is the only way to make certain the results of the experiment are pure. Thus he convinces Mike Roscoe (Ian Ogilvy), a handsome, bored young man, to return to his apartment for “something he’s never experienced.”
That “something” is an ill-explained psychedelic lightshow and annoying electronic tape loops, which puts Mike in a trance and somehow places Monserrat and Estelle in connection with his brain. Mike leaves under a post-hypnotic suggestion that he forget he was ever there, and the two elderly people find that they can, indeed, influence everything that Mike does, and moreover, experience whatever physical sensations he feels.
This is Monserrat’s life work: he feels that using this process, a foundation could be set up to send Mike Roscoes around the world, seeing and experiencing things the elderly and other shut-ins could not. Estelle, however, after years of deprivation and poverty, begins to give play to a darker side of her desires. She has Mike steal a fur from a store late one night, and she and Monserrat revel in the adrenalin rush of a police officer nearly discovering him. They also have cuts on their hands identical to a wound Mike received in the shop.
It goes on; Estelle sends Mike ripping around on a motorcycle, terrifying his girlfriend Nicole (Elizabeth Ercy), and beats up his best friend Alan (Victor Henry). To his horror, Monserrat finds Estelle’s will is much stronger than his, and he cannot stop her. When he tries physically, she knocks him over the head and ties him to the china cabinet, so she can continue to experience the dark side of life with no consequences.
This being a horror movie, there’s only one place it can go: Estelle uses Mike to commit murder twice in one night, and though the befuddled Mike remembers nothing, Nicole and Alan saw him with one of the victims, and know that he was friends with another (a very young Susan George, as it turns out), and the cops are not far behind Alan and Nicole. There is a low budget (but still pretty effective) car chase, and Monserrat gathers his will to overcome the drunken Estelle’s and cause Mike to crash his car, resulting in a fiery death for him …and the Monserrats, miles away.
Realize that this is a slow-burn psychological horror movie shot on a very low budget, so take a couple of shots of patience before pressing play. This was director Michael Reeves’ second feature, after the previous year’s The She-Beast, and his next – and last – would be Witchfinder General/The Conquerer Worm. He made uncommon horror movies about the darkness in men’s souls – he and Val Lewton would have gotten on together well – and who knows what he might have done, if not for an unfortunate combination of alcohol and barbituates while in pre-production for The Oblong Box.
Reeves has a strong trio of actors doing the heavy lifting for him – there is Karloff, of course, entering the home stretch of his career and life. The next year he would make Targets and Curse of the Crimson Altar and a slew of lamentable foreign movies before he left us all in February of 1969. Catherine Lacey had a career stretching all the way back to The Lady Vanishes and beyond, and you have to hand it to someone who can actually out-chill Karloff on the silver screen. In fact, Estelle’s thoroughly believable descent into the abyss is probably the reason I kept forgetting this was theoretically a Karloff movie. Ian Olgilvy seemed to be Reeves’ good luck charm, appearing in all his movies, and is still active to this day.
The Sorcerers has a nice, if limited, snapshot of London youth culture in ’67, and a fairly unusual approach to its plot. But it does remain steadfastly a creature of its time, and its charms may be lost on the modern viewer, used to horror movies that evince thrill rides more than anything else.
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