The Sorcerers 1967 is worth digging out to see a fine performance from Boris Karloff, says TERRY SHERWOOD
TITLE: The Sorcerers
YEAR RELEASED: 1967
DIRECTOR: Michael Reeves
CAST: Boris Karloff, Catherine Lacey, Elizabeth Ercy and Ian Ogilvy
The year was 1967 and film icon Boris Karloff did not know nor did the world that he had two years to live. Like many actors, Boris Karloff had an unspoken fear of not working. The dread of the telephone not ringing with an offer. This could lead to questionable projects for many in later years even in the case of Boris himself.
The Sorcerers is a late-career offering that stands as a solid piece of work for an actor of his age. In a terrible irony, the director of the film Michael Reeves’s unfortunate death in 1969 at the age of twenty-five would also come to pass. The Sorcerers 1967 was Reeves’s second feature film and his first for Tigon, a British film studio established by producer Tony Tenser. Tigon like a few others was in direct competition with Hammer and Amicus.
The film was a project of Reeves who impressed the aged star when they met in Spain while Boris was guesting on the TV series I SPY. Karloff agreed to The Sorcerers 1967 getting changes to the script making his role more sympathetic.
We Gotta Get Out Of This Place
This brilliant though tightly budgeted thriller plays more like an episode of The Avengers Television Series than a horror film. Professor Marcus Monserrat (Boris Karloff), is an elderly hypnotist who has been ostracized by society into living in relative isolation with his wife Estelle (Catherine Lacey) due to his o his unusual ideas and medical ethics.
The Monserrat’s reside not in a well-kept home with servants such as in the later Karloff film The Haunted Strangler 1958 but a cold-water flat.
The professor has created a strange machine that enables the couple to control and experience the sensations of its users. The machine has not been tested. They find a willing subject in the person of Mike Roscoe (Ian Ogilvy). Providential reference to The Avengers as Ian Ogilvy was in the series.
Mike is a thrill-seeking fellow looking for the next big kick on the streets of Swinging London with his German girlfriend (Élisabeth Ercy) and best pal (Victor Henry). The three-lap up the nightlife in cafes and nightclubs sharing drinks and listening to music. After an encounter with Professor Monserrat who convinced Mike that his new hypnosis machine is the next thrill, Mike agrees to be the test subject.
The professor does not tell him that the old couple would gain control of the young man and manipulate his actions. The Professor’s intentions are benign but his wife has other plans and she begins using Mike for her erotic longings and murderous desires. The couple follows Mike on a date to the point of becoming involved in a romantic interlude. The Professors wife basks in the sensations.
Change. And Not A Moment Too Soon.
Actors can be generous people and Boris Karloff was in this case with the decision to play the sympathetic character since it gave his costar, the 63-year-old Catherine Lacey, the opportunity to chew up the scenery as his deeply troubled wife Estelle. Her blood lust and cruelty are devastating resulting in a performance a few have said overshadowed Karloff.
On that point, I disagree as now in his career Karloff had done just about everything in terms of menacing people. He had his most fun lampooning his image and working with children who understood where his monsters came from. The decision to be sympathetic is the mark of an actor secure in his career and his Art.
The making of The Sorcerers 1967 was no easy task as Reeves had to use guerrilla filmmaking techniques during the production. Streets scenes were shot without permits and real locations were used for the interiors. The film’s action sequences were shot without doubles which often put the cast at risk (including the motorcycle racing which was done without helmets) and for the film’s climax involving a car chase that comes to a fiery end, the director and his crew decided to forgo safety measures resulting in real broken glass and real emergency.
Triumph and Tragedy
Michael Reeves was still to direct his most controversial film the bone-chilling Witchfinder General or The Conqueror Worm 1969, which explored the brutality of the witch hunts in England during the 17th century Michael Reeves died in London a few months after the film’s release. He had difficulties getting projects off the ground and was suffering from depression and insomnia for which he took pills. On the morning of 11 February 1969, Reeves was found dead in his bedroom, aged 25.
The verdict was an accidental overdose of barbiturates. Boris Karloff would shuffle off the mortal coil nine days previous on Feb 2 that same year at age 81. In another coincidence, Michael Reeves passed away at Cadogan Place Knightsbridge. Boris Karloff once stayed at Cadogan Square upon a return to England in 1959.
The Sorcerers 1967 along with Targets 1968 are gems of the later career of Boris Karloff. When I had recent lunch with Sara Karloff, I mentioned the film as a high mark. Sara had never seen it herself. The film is an interesting look at how the old are treated in the form of shutting away when they don’t conform or not convenient to see them.
A Blu-ray release is available at an online retailer for a ridiculous price. The picture is hard to find in decent print and is rarely shown but like many things in horror, it is best to dig it up yourself.
What did you think of The Sorcerers 1967? Tell us in the comments section!