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December 2009

The Sorcerers

cast: Boris Karloff, Elizabeth Ercy, Ian Ogilvy, Victor Henry, and Sally Sheridan

director: Michael Reeves

82 minutes (15) 1967
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Prism DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
review by Andrew Darlington

The Sorcerers
SPOILER ALERT!
There are no sorcerers. There is no sorcery. Instead, there is an aged Boris Karloff as "the famous Professor Monserrat," adrift in swinging London. He's a down-at-heel "practitioner of medical hypnosis." His career destroyed by scurrilous gutter-journalists, he now specialises in curing stammers. But he has a plan. He has "refined and enriched his experience" into an "enormous extension of hypnotic power," which he's used to create a device for the benefit of mankind... This will vindicate him. So, no sorcery, but a plot-device that arcs back to the very beginning of Karloff's long and luminous career, back to his breakthrough successes with Universal Studios in 1931. Wasn't Baron Frankenstein another deluded idealist whose science gets out of control and leads to terrible consequences?

As Marcus (Boris Karloff) and his wife Estelle (Catherine Lacey) survive in their low-rent flat complaining about "all these children out on the street at night taking pills to keep awake," Ian Ogilvy is a jaded Mike Roscoe hanging out at 'Blaises'. Mike is a slickly turned-out philanderer, a younger 'Alfie' with, his auburn-haired nerdy garage-mechanic friend Alan insists, a "bloody artistic temperament." Well, maybe. Ogilvy was always Roger Moore without the charisma, something of an achievement in itself. He went on to play TV's The Saint when Moore himself upgraded to become James Bond. Here, 'Mike' works at 'The Glory Hole' (in Lisson Grove), a curios and collectables boutique, similar to the one David Hemmings visits in Blow Up. There are other crossovers. Antonioni replicated 'Klooks Kleek' for his movie's club sequence. Like Klooks Kleek, 'Blaises' was a real Kensington venue, and a trendy hub for the bright and the beautiful. In fact, Jimi Hendrix made his London debut there in September 1966. But unlike Blow Up, which features an incandescent set by the Yardbirds, despite all of the amazing club-bands around at the time who must have been gagging for a movie-gig, Tony Tenser's Tigon can only rustle up minor mod outfit Lee Grant & The Capitols.

An Ike and Tina Turner poster on the wall hints at what might have been. When Marcus first approaches Mike in a Wimpy Bar Ogilvy asks "what are you selling, blue movies?" No, cheap drugs..? No. With a little persuasion Marcus leads his guinea pig back to the flat, and into a white room equipped with big tape-spools, a control board and a wired chair which promises "ecstasy without consequence." With trippy electronic drones and liquid-light amoebas crawling over his face in the melting blues and reds of spotty fluoro-coloured fabulousness, like something conceived by Pixar and a hyperactive five-year-old overdosed on too many e-numbers, it begins. Tapes spool in green. Marcus and Estelle's faces are in reflected violet. A huge close-up eyeball... An amplified heartbeat... And he's gone.

"Yes, we can control him," confirms Marcus, as Mike reacts to their instructions. It's a two-way thought-transference deal, too, because they also feel all of his sensations. "From now on, we are going to control your mind," says Marcus, like a voiceover from The Twilight Zone credits sequence, before sending him out into the street where they can vicariously 'feel' his footsteps on the pavement. Back at Blaises he picks up Nicole - "some French bird," takes her to a Dolphin Square hotel swimming pool - "the idea just came to me," and they go, not skinny-dipping, but coyly swimming in their underwear. "It's transmitting perfectly," says Marcus as they monitor his senses. Marcus believes this invention can be a force for good, to help people, so that the immobile and elderly can experience the virtual pleasures of foreign cruises by proxy. Estelle takes a more personal point of view, "let us use the boy, we can choose anything!"

So, there are intriguing ideas here. It's not difficult to suggest other plot-applications for mind-control; as a spy-film assassination instrument, for example. Or for voyeuristic eroticism, which is something the film chastely bypasses. Nicole wears a white crochet dress. There's a style-referencing copy of 'Nova' magazine on her orange sofa. Yet she plays Cliff Richard's un-trendy In The Country on her Dansette portable record-player. "Hey, make sure she's on the pill," he's been warned, but in mid-seduction Estelle concentrates, and Mike gets a sudden urge to go out. She directs him to break into a boutique and steal a fur she'd noticed earlier in the window. Fur was apparently acceptable back then. He narrowly avoids detection by a Dixon Of Dock Green bobby-on-the-beat, and Estelle gets off more on the excitement of the danger. Nicole is forgiving over what he calls his blackout, all the way to bed. By then Estelle's no longer tuned in. A missed opportunity...

Maybe her experiencing sex through his senses lies beyond the movie's moral remit? A pity... Instead, hungry for thrills her age denies her, Estelle gets off on making Mike 'borrow' Alan's 750cc Norton Atlas motorbike and take Nicole for a ton-up burn in the country. No crash-helmets. He wears goggles. Her long dark hair streams in the wind. Then Estelle gets Mike to pick a brutal fight with Alan. "That's the best thing we've had yet," gloats Estelle. When Marcus protests she scornfully tells him "my will is stronger than yours. You can't stop me." She smashes his equipment so Marcus can't 'de-process' Mike, then smashes him to the floor with his walking stick when he tries to intervene. Karloff spends his remaining screen-time sprawled on the floor. It's tempting to suggest this as a device to incorporate his real-life failing mobility. At 80-years-old, gaunt, hollow-eyed, yet investing his screen-presence with dignity, this was Karloff's final UK film. Yet among the handful of projects left to him was Peter Bogdanovich's excellent Targets, as Byron Orlok, a year later. And he died, still working, 2nd February 1969 (25-year-old director Michael Reeves died the same month, overdosing after the production of Tigon's Witchfinder General, while Victor Henry - 'Alan', suffered brain-damaging injuries in an auto-accident which eventually ended his life).

Yet part of the fun of this clever low-budget chiller lies in the way it plays off age-jealousy. Age envies youth its virility, its energy. Youth, after all, is wasted on the young. Estelle is now on catch-up time. Nicole drops Mike, so he goes to mini-skirted Audrey (Susan George) instead. He's confused. He can't explain his blackouts. While a gleeful Estelle wills him to pick scissors up from the draining-board, and stab her to death. Back at Blaises, with Nicole and Alan watching him, Estelle wills Mike to pick up Laura Ladd, the girl singer with the band. He takes her by taxi to a back alley, menaces and strangles her to death.

The following morning Alan reads about the murder in The Evening Standard, and makes the connection. As does the taxi driver. A pipe-smoking detective direct from the Maigret mould investigates Mike's flat. Nicole and Alan have already tracked him to the shop. He has no recollection of 'that slag' Laura. When they accuse him he pulls a knife from stock and attacks them. With the police arriving in the nick of time, Mike escapes by stealing a Rover. There's a police chase down long empty suburb roads, no traffic-humps, no speed-cameras, little traffic, as Estelle and Marcus struggle against each other to control him. Marcus succeeds in forcing Mike off the road, the car crashes into a building site, overturns, and explodes into flame. As the car burns the final shot shows Estelle lying on the floor. Marcus sits beside her, his face flame-blackened. Both, experiencing what Mike is feeling, have been burned to death. Not sorcery. Well, not quite. Only the magic of celluloid... That's enough.



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