British director Michael Reeves made three horror films before he died at 25. They all approach the topic of witchcraft and possession from sharply different angles, yet all warn of youth exploited by the old. The She Beast involves a real supernatural witch, an ancient crone who possesses a modern woman. The historical film Witchfinder General stars Vincent Price as real-life witchfinder Matthew Hopkins, portrayed as a power-mad zealot resentful of beautiful youth. It’s a very dark, grim movie. The film made between these, previously a Region 2 DVD and now available in Region 1 through Warner Archive’s on-demand service, has aged greed and youthful boredom lay mutual waste to each other.
The Sorcerors uses a mildly science-fictional premise in which a poverty-stricken old hypnotist (Boris Karloff) develops a machine for mind control. He and his wife (Catherine Lacey, the title role in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes) lure an unfocused young sucker (Ian Ogilvy, star of all three films) into a psychedelic sequence full of colored lights and high-pitched sounds. From now on, simply by concentrating, the old couple can experience everything the young man feels, and they can control him hypnotically. While the old gentleman murmurs about benefitting mankind, his long-repressed and strong-willed wife goes on a vicarious, remote-control spree of crime, speed and thrill-killing, all of which she enjoys sensuously from the comfort of home.
This is simple, sour, dark, and tatty. The unrestored print is on the dark and dullish side, though it’s hard to know how much of this is the original intent of a movie about the drabness of life. The sense of witless youth being exploited by the insane old feels tuned in to 1967, as does the mutual resentment of the generations. Their respective mileus are contrasted through frequent cross-cutting, and the old woman especially feels bitterly that life has passed her by and “the boy” is having all the fun. That she is instrumental in committing and enjoying misogynistic acts is a provocative element, to say the least, and this is why some critics link this movie to the themes of sadistic voyeurism explored in Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (it’s even mentioned on the box). Today, we’d say she’s working him like a video game avatar. And she’s never had such vicious fun.
// Notes from the Road
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