Teacher Doris (Helen Hovey) and her two admiring colleagues Ed (Richard Alden) and Carl (Don Russell) travel across the countryside to watch the football game, in order to celebrate Carl's birthday.

They break down outside a remote service station and attempt to find the proprietors so they can resume their journey before they melt beneath the scorching sun. A quick survey of the place suggests it is abandoned, leading Ed to strip to his vest and busy himself with the task of trying to mend their car himself.

But they are not alone, as they soon discover when Charlie (Arch Hall Jr) appears, pointing a pistol at them. The sneering, open-legged hoodlum is accompanied by his childlike girlfriend Judy (Marilyn Manning).

Charlie orders Ed to keep working on the car's engine, insisting that if he provides the fugitives with wheels he'll let the three of them go. But will the teachers ever take a young punk like Charlie seriously? They do after he steals Carl's money, pistol-whips him to the floor and rips up a photograph of his wife and children.

With Carl bleeding and Doris sobbing, it's down to muscleman Ed to maintain his cool and hatch a plan to outwit their aggressors. For starters, this involves him spending a great deal of time with his head in the car's bonnet, pretending to be baffled by the engine's problem.

The only question is ... how long will the clearly wired Charlie remain patient before killing, raping or beating his victims senseless?

THE SADIST is a marvellous B-movie from 1963. It's steadily built a fan-base over the decades, despite being only a minor hit at America's drive-in cinemas of the 60s and failing to be granted a theatrical release in Britain.

However, the film has become renowned in recent years for a few key reasons. First off, it's now recognised as being the first film based on the true-life exploits of murderous lovers Charlie Starkweather and Caril Fugate (later interpretations included BADLANDS, NATURAL BORN KILLERS and even THE FRIGHTENERS). Then there's the fact that the cinematographer is one Vilmos Zsigmond, who went on to win acclaim (and awards) for his work on films such as THE DEER HUNTER, DELIVERANCE and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.

But I like to think that the main reason this film is such a cult find nowadays is that it's actually really fucking good. For a film approaching 50 years in age, it's startlingly contemporary in feel - the violence, while not overtly graphic, is certainly strong for its time; the grim tone and antagonistic nature of Charlie are very subversive for their era - and the film contains enough sustained torment/tension for it to play just as much as a horror film as it does a crime thriller.

Then of course there's Hall Jr's performance. It's full of nervous energy, bristling with edgy anger and sweaty urgency. You can laugh at his perverse melodramatics if you wish, but it's tough to deny that as the film evolves his casual cruelty - both mental and physical - becomes extremely unsettling.

At the end of the day, this is a B-movie. It's a low-budget quickie filmed in a single outdoor location utilising a small cast and a simple premise. The cast are uniformly ripe, and the dialogue is suitably sensational. Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter's score explodes and weeps in all the right places, to keep the melodrama boiling over.

But the ferocity of its tone, the commitment of Hall Jr and Zsigmond's stunning photography - not to mention writer-director James Landis' propensity for shameless casual violence and unrelenting tension - ensure THE SADIST comes across as being as relevant, as vital, now as ever.

Johnny Legend owns the US rights to the film and released a Special Edition DVD stateside last year. He also made mention of releasing the film in blu-ray at the time - which seemed pretty unlikely. Well, here it is ...

Disc 1 presents the film on blu-ray for the first ever time. And likely the last?

The film is presented uncut as an MPEG-4 AVC file and is offered in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Naturally, it's enhanced for 16x9 TV sets.

The first thing you'll notice when the film starts are the occasional specks and vertical lines on the screen. There is also a fine layer of natural grain present. Once the sinister spoken intro and exciting opening score are out of the way, however, the picture quality is surprisingly good.

We still get the odd speck and line, and even the very occasional frame-jump, but by-and-large the presentation is an unexpectedly clean one. Detail is strong, depth is well-rendered and images are sharp without evidence of obvious edge enhancement (unlike Powis Square Pictures' disappointing UK DVD of last year). Blacks remain solid throughout and the detail offered here is a marked improvement over previous domestic versions.

The English 2.0 audio is good. It's a little echoey on occasion, but hiss and drop-outs are absent, allowing for a clean and clear audio track that never distracts from the mounting hysteria.

The main menu page that opens the disc shows animated clips from the film on a static drive-in theatre backdrop. From there, there is no scene-selection menu or pop-up menus - your only option is "Play". The film does, however, have remote access via 6 chapters.

The blu-ray disc is region-free. It plays perfectly fine on UK blu-ray players.

Disc 2 is a region 0 DVD, which opens with a mock copyright warning from an over-acting Legend.

From there, the disc presents us with a static main menu page that allows us access to the main feature (the film again, only this time presented in standard definition - it still looks very good, albeit a little softer and duller than its HD counterpart).

This time around, we get a scene-selection menu too. This animated affair allows access to the main feature via 6 chapters.

Extras on disc 2 begin with an interview with Hall Jr, conducted by none other than cult filmmaker Ray Dennis Steckler (RAT PFINK A BOO BOO; THE THRILL KILLERS). This is just under 13 minutes in length, and is punctuated by vintage trailers for the likes of THE CHOPPERS and WILD GUITAR.

It's an enjoyable chat that makes you feel privileged to being witness to it, albeit it's quite brief when you discount the trailers and film clips (Archie sings rock 'n' roll!). Steckler quizzes Hall Jr from behind a video camera, while I think it's fair to say the interviewee has grown into his looks in middle-age ... he no longer resembles Baron Silas Greenback.

"The Complete Arch Hall Jr Video Songbook" is a 21-minute collection of film clips showcasing the great man's talents (the word is used loosely) as a singer and guitarist. It's like seeing Cliff Richard and Hank Marvin merged into one being ...

Films included in this enjoyably trashy featurette include THE CHOPPERS, EEGAH (in colour) and WILD GUITAR. It's all a bit bijou compared to Hall Jr's ferocity in THE SADIST, and he looks like a twat with blonde hair in GUITAR - but it's all great fun regardless.

Finally we get a 10-minute optional introduction to THE SADIST by a chain-smoking Legend. Some good anecdotes feature from the Santa lookalike, who's as passionate about his subject as he is blessed with a good memory for his interesting stories from the 60s.

The discs are housed in a generic blue keepcase which does not bear the now-familiar blu-ray logo (a hint that this, at present, a pre-production release).

Indeed, at the time of writing (June 2010) this blu-ray/DVD combo is only available from Johnny Legend directly (who is selling copies online via agents such as and the ever-reliable Diabolik DVD). A more widespread distribution is anticipated, but ... in this day and age, anything can happen. Perhaps the wise money is on interested parties grabbing this while they can.

At the end of the day, this is a fine presentation of a fantastic film that - amazingly - is almost half a century old. It's alarmingly fresh and as prescient as ever.

Highly recommended.

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Johnny Legend
Region All - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review