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Sorcerers, The (1967)

Courtesy of EuroLondon Films Ltd

Main image of Sorcerers, The (1967)
35mm, colour, 85 mins
Directed byMichael Reeves
Production CompaniesCurtwel Productions
 Global Films
Produced byPatrick Curtis
 Tony Tenser
Screenplay byMichael Reeves
 Tom Baker
PhotographyStanley A. Long
MusicPaul Ferris

Cast: Boris Karloff (Professor Marcus Monserrat); Catherine Lacey (Estelle); Ian Ogilvy (Mike Roscoe); Elizabeth Ercy (Nicole); Victor Henry (Alan); Susan George (Audrey)

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A scientist and his wife find they can control the mind of a young man after experiments and feel his sensations...

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Though made cheaply, hurriedly shot, and reliant on the well-worn genre tropes, The Sorcerers, Michael Reeves' British directorial feature debut, is a distinctive and memorably visceral piece of horror cinema.

Co-written by Reeves and author Tom Baker (a partnership revived on the following year's Witchfinder General), The Sorcerers drew strongly upon the established screen persona of its elderly star, horror legend Boris Karloff. Film fanatic Reeves had met the actor by chance on a trip to Spain; his enthusiasm and love of cinema convinced Karloff to take the part.

Building upon countless previous 'mad scientist' roles, The Sorcerers sees Karloff as the inventor of a bizarre hypnosis machine (apparently little more than a chair, a slide projector and a pair of headphones), enabling him to control and vicariously experience the activities and sensations of his subject, Mike, a bored young man about town. Following Karloff's objections to his character's sinister role in the original script, rewrites saw the development of Catherine Lacey role as his manipulative wife, Estelle, and it is Estelle's mounting malevolence - especially her encouragement of Mike's brutal violence towards women - that gives the film its unusual power. Karloff, obviously more comfortable essaying the unheard voice of scientific conscience, performs with customary gravitas.

Also lifting the film out of the ordinary is Reeves' seemingly effortless directorial grasp and exploitation of the visual grammar of cinema, complemented by the gritty clarity of Stanley Long's photography, which gives the numerous London street scenes an almost documentary look. With the powerful brutality of the film's violent scenes, the myth of swinging sixties London is thrown into (literally) sharp relief. Murders and fights look incredibly painful - a tussle in an antiques shop sees the combatants rolling in broken glass, smashed crockery and shards of broken shellac records - and Reeves' hip young swingers, though apparently searching for a good time, don't seem to know where to find it - unable to sit still, they sweat, fidget in greasy Wimpy bars, fight, bleed, and get their expensive mod clothes covered in oil.

Produced by Tony Tenser's Tigon company, The Sorcerers found some critical favour, and did reasonably well at the box office. Always the businessman, Tenser commented: "like sex, everyone understands and wants to see a horror film." If this suggests that Tenser undervalued Reeves' talent, his actions tell a different story: even before post-production was complete, he offered the young director a five-year contract.

Vic Pratt

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Video Clips
1. Nothing to laugh about (2:49)
2. Control established (5:38)
3. My will is stronger (3:31)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
George, Susan (1950-)
Long, Stanley A. (1933-2012)
Reeves, Michael (1944-1969)
Tigon British Film Productions