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Inspired by a chilling true story, “The Sadist” is a nasty and intense little film for its time and still manages to captivate and unnerve.

In September 2022, the legendary filmmaker Joe Dante curated a day of monstrous mayhem in partnership with Scream Factory. The horror master picked seven films that were very near and dear to his heart. In honor of the anniversary of one the most beloved genre treasures from Dante, Gremlins (June 8, 1984), the Morbidly Beautiful team is revisiting some of Dante’s biggest influences and letting you know why you need to add these essential classics to your watch list.

The film starts with a darkened screen and a voice-over, followed by some overwrought music, and then we are straight into it.

Three schoolteachers are on the way to a baseball game in LA when their car breaks down. The garage is deserted. During the search of the area, subtle signs of a struggle are not recognized until it’s too late. Tibbs, a serial killer with his girl in tow, appears and commences a sustained period of implied violence and threats.

Tibbs (Arch Hall, Jr.) has fled Arizona with the police in hot pursuit and now needs the three to fix a car and make good his escape. They soon realize they are in a desperate fight for survival against a man who seemingly has no moral boundaries and will not hesitate to kill in order to continue his killing spree.

The tale itself is loosely based upon the real-life killing spree of Charles Starkweather, which later inspired both Badlands and Natural Born Killers.

Though largely forgotten today, this decades-old film still remains quite a powerful piece of cinema.

The Sadist

It’s a sensationalist film designed to push buttons in the audience, and you can’t wait to see the comeuppance at the end.

Typical of its time, the film is careful to draw clear lines between the three clean-cut, straight-edge victims and the unscrupulous villain of the piece, who stomps and effects a mean scowl.

Doris, the female protagonist, is initially a bit vapid, having the rules of baseball explained to her by Carl, the elder teacher. Ed, the younger male, is brawny, confident, and collected —until they meet Tibbs. Tibbs takes absolutely no time in making his intentions known, brutally beating Carl and threatening the others into obeying his wishes.

There is an incredibly potent scene where Tibbs takes Doris for water and just goes mad at the insults, both spoken and perceived, from Doris. “You think you are better than me,” he shouts, as he rubs her face in the ground.

Here, Arch Hall, Jr. really shines, as the sheer hatred on his face gives way to unbridled joy as he mercilessly brutalizes Doris.

In fact, Arch Hall, Jr. absolutely dominates every scene he’s in so much that you forget he has a partner in crime alongside him. 

Later, there is a tense face-off where Tibbs gives them 15 minutes to fix the car or die. Ed comes up with a desperate plan to save them, and Doris is compliant but hesitant. Tibbs has been one step ahead of them every step of the way, and she worries the plan will backfire.

On the flip side of Hall, Jr.’s despicable villain is Doris (played by Helen Hovey), who transforms from timid and meek to an almost proto-final girl, doubting the wisdom and actions of the man trying to protect her. She realizes quicker than the others that they are in deep trouble.

The ending is surprisingly tense, given the age of the film, as our pair manage to affect an escape of sorts. They manage to blind Tibbs, who shoots Judy accidentally, unleashing a primal scream of rage and grief. I won’t spoil any more as that would be plain rude of me, but suffice it to say it fits the film perfectly.

There are some points in the run time that feel they are there for padding things out, but it is worth searching this out for Hall, Jr.’s performance alone; he just captures the essence of evil so well.

Writer/director James Landis manages to squeeze every drop of tension possible from this shockingly violent (for its time) film and effectively sustains the audience’s attention throughout.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4

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