Directed by William Castle
Written by Ray Russell from his novel
William Castle Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental
William Castle’s films never live up to their trailers. They are a lot of fun anyway.
The story takes place late in the 19th Century. Sir Robert Cargrave is a genius researcher into treatments to relax muscles stiffened in cases of tetanus. One day he receives a letter from Maude Sardonicus begging him to come to her in the Eastern European country in which she lives. Maude was Robert’s sweetheart when she was forced by her father to marry the Baron Sardonicus and he has never loved another.
On arrival, Robert is met the baron’s creepy one-eyed “man of all trades” Krull (Oskar Homolka). He observes fearful experiments being done on the maid using leeches. Eventually, Robert meets the Baron who constantly wears a mask. He learns that Sardonicus was once a simple peasant. His face was frozen into the grotesque permanent grin of his dead father when he opened the grave in search of a winning lottery ticket.
Sardonicus is a terrible sadist and he threatens Maude with unspeakable torture if Robert does not fix his face. I will stop here.
This movie could have been much scarier but not much more fun. Castle himself opens the proceedings to provide the audience with a definition of the word “ghoul” and closes them by running a rigged audience poll on whether Sardonicus deserves further punishment. The best thing about the movie is Homolka’s delicious hamming. What a long career he had! The DVD print is outstanding.