Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Town that Dreaded Sundown

The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976) is a movie that I had never seen until now, even though growing up I used to see the VHS box cover on the shelves of the local video stores all the time and it always stood out to me.  That image of the bag-headed killer hovering above a sunset town was very intriguing and a bit spooky, as was the claim on the box that it was "a true story."

Usually when movies make that claim they are either half right (Texas Chainsaw Massacre [1974], which found inspiration in the real life killer Ed Gein) or just completely made up (as is with Fargo [1996]), but in the case of The Town that Dreaded Sundown, it truly was based on an actual series of murders that took place in 1946, with only the names of those involved and some of the details changed.  The movie is a decent piece of drive-in fare, albeit one with more than its share of problems, namely some wild tonal shifts into comedy and the piss-poor lighting and night photography.  The Town that Dreaded Sundown is far from a great movie, but it has a good idea and a memorable and iconic screen villain in "The Phantom Killer."
The Town that Dreaded Sundown has a basic story and premise, one that is not unlike the slasher films that would become popular half a decade after its release.  A mysterious and masked killer is randomly attacking the people of the Texarkana community, usually couples out in remote areas.  The local law enforcement, led by Deputy Ramsey (Andrew Prine), struggles to crack the case, and as panic grows, Texas Ranger Captain Morales (Ben Johnson) joins the hunt.  Part of the movie plays like a police procedural, as the authorities field phone calls from concerned citizens and deal with local nutcases coming in and making wild claims.

The movie is also presented in a docudrama style, with a narrator that introduces the film and occasionally pops back in to fill the audience in on backstory and other facts in the case.  In addition to that, the calendar dates of the murders flash on screen and, along with the narrator, this gives the film (which is otherwise shot like an ordinary horror film) a feeling or look of a television true-life mystery program, like an Unsolved Mysteries but with better reenactments.  (note:  I thought that Unsolved Mysteries analogy was an original thought, but turns out that comparison is mentioned on the film's wikipedia page.  Sigh. . .so much for original thoughts...)
In 1946, during a ten week span between February and May, eight people were attacked, five of which were killed, in the small town of Texarkana.  The attacks took place late at night and on weekends and were usually three weeks apart.  They took place mostly in the remote surrounding areas on both sides of the Texas and Arkansas border.  The Phantom Killer, as he became known, shot all his victims to death using a pistol.  The crimes became known as the Texarkana Moonlight Murders and despite the efforts of local and state law enforcement, the case has never been solved.

The movie differs from those true-life events in changing some of the dates of the murders and some of the details, making the stalking scenes and the sadisticness of the crimes that much more frighteningly cinematic.  The real Phantom Killer did indeed wear a white bag on his head with eye holes cut out, which is why the survivors of his first attack could not identify him.  It is quite the creepy look, one that Jason Vorhees would borrow in Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981).

In the actual murders, the killer used a gun exclusively, with minimal bludgeoning and perversion, although psychiatrists did theorize that he was a sex deviant.  The movie version of The Phantom is said to have "bitten and clawed" one victim like an animal, although that is done off-screen.  Also, there is no evidence that the real Phantom Killer ever used a trombone to kill anyone.
This should be explained as it is easily the weirdest thing in the movie, which also makes it one of the most memorable things.  Normally I would consider this a SPOILER but I can't not bring it up and mention it, it's just such an out-of-left-field moment.  On the night of the High School Prom, a young couple, Roy and Peggy, head out to their favorite make-out spot, despite their better judgement and the fact that the town is on high alert at this time.  After making out, the two of them fall asleep in the car, only waking up much later at night.  When Roy tries to leave, the Phantom suddenly leaps onto their car and pulls Roy from the vehicle.  After whacking Roy in a head with his pistol, the Phantom chases down Peggy in an extended chase scene and after catching her, he ties her to a tree.  When Roy tries to escape, the Phantom shoots him dead.  The killer then goes to the car, gets Peggy's trombone case, and proceeds to tie a knife to the end of the trombone slide.  He then "plays" the instrument, stabbing Peggy to death.  It's quite the fucked up scene, not only because of the absurd use of a brass instrument, but also for the brutal length and duration of the chase and stalking.

In general, the stalk and kill scenes are pretty good.  They're lengthy, with a good amount of time devoted to tension build-up.  Even when not onscreen, The Phantom's presence haunts the film.  When he does pop up out of nowhere and attacks, it is genuinely freaky and disturbing, maybe none more-so than when The Phantom breaks into Helen Reed's (Dawn Wells) house and assaults her.
The Town that Dreaded Sundown is a cheap drive-in exploitation movie and it does on occasion fully display its cheapness.  The night photography, especially during the first two attacks, is extremely dark and murky.  After discovering a pair of victims, Deputy Ramsey chases The Phantom through the woods during a rainstorm and it is near impossible to see anything that is going on.  The lighting is better for some of the later scenes, but is still wildly inconsistent.

Also inconsistent is the tone of the movie.  In multiple scenes, the film dips into a broad territory of comedy, most of it delivered by hapless doofus Police Patrolman Benson, who is tellingly nicknamed "Spark Plug."  At one point, Spark Plug dresses as a woman (as part of an attempted trap to lure The Phantom) and at another point he drives a car into a lake.  It really is eye-rollingly bad, and not made any better by the fact that Patrolman Benson is played by director Charles B. Pierce. The swing from brutality to broad comedy leads me to compare the film to The Last House on the Left (1971), although the hayseed comedy of The Town that Dreaded Sundown is much worse and it never reaches the levels of vile sadisticness of Wes Craven's shocker.
Since this is based on a true story, the pseudo-documentary style adds to the unsettling nature of the film.  Director Charles B. Pierce, who definitely brings a regional flair to his films, had experimented with this format before with his first feature film The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972), in which local townsfolk recount their encounters with the titular Bigfoot-like creature, complete with reenactments of said encounters.  Pierce would go on to direct the western Grayeagle (1977), the viking film The Norseman (1978), the home invasion thriller The Evictors (1979), and a sequel to his first film, Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues (1985), which is really really corny and was featured on the tenth season of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Strangely, Charles B. Pierce was just a director/writer/producer/actor on the side, as his main occupation in Hollywood was Set Decorator.  While funding his own little projects, he worked on such varied films as Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971), Coffy (1973), Scream Blacula Scream (1973), Dillinger (1973), Black Belt Jones (1974), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), and Carny (1980).

Screenwriter Earl E. Smith wrote many of Pierce's early movies.  Pierce and Smith both have story credit on Clint Eastwood's Sudden Impact (1983), the fourth Dirty Harry movie.
There is a Sheriff character in the movie, but he seems to take a backseat to Andrew Prine's Deputy Ramsey.  Prine brings a bit of that small-town Texas swagger to Ramsey, and he has a couple good scenes, particularly the one where he chases the killer through the woods, as well as the ending, where he and Captain Morales give The Phantom one final chase.  Andrew Prine is one of those B-movie actors that I'm fond of; he also starred in Simon, King of the Witches (1971), The Centerfold Girls (1974), Grizzly (1976), and Eliminators (1986).
I'd have to say this is far from his best work, but Ben Johnson does what he can with Texas Ranger Captain Morales.  Johnson had a long career as a stunt man in the 40s, (doubling for John Wayne and James Stewart), starred in westerns in the 50s, and in TV shows in the 60s, which is where he met Sam Peckinpah, whom he would work with on The Wild Bunch (1969), Junior Bonner (1972), and The Getaway (1972).  Ben Johnson would also work with Peter Bogdanovich on The Last Picture Show (1971, for which he won an Oscar), John Milius on Dillinger (1973), Steven Spielberg on The Sugarland Express (1974), and a bunch of Canadians on Terror Train (1980).  He would work with Charles B. Pierce again on Grayeagle (1977).
Dawn Wells, who played home invasion survivor Helen Reed, is famous for playing Mary Ann on TV's Gilligan's Island.  Strangely, she also starred in Return to Boggy Creek (1977), which is more of a kids fantasy movie than a sequel to Charles B. Pierce's film (he was not involved whatsoever).
Composer Jaime Mendoza-Nava worked with Charles B. Pierce often and also scored that weird-ass movie Mausoleum (1983).

Stuntman Bud Davis, who plays The Phantom (pretty well, in my opinion), would go on to a successful career as a stunt coordinator on big Hollywood films like Forest Gump (1994) and Inglorious Basterds (2009).
The Town that Dreaded Sundown has a pretty good idea and premise.  The pseudo-documentary construction makes the film unconventional and interesting and the sparseness of the story works in the film's favor, as does the ominous and creepy baghead that The Phantom wears.  It's only in some of the narrative choices (i.e.: terrible comedy) and with some of the shoddy production values that the film falters.  The film also gets points for having a non-ending (and handling it well), with no answers and no real resolution, as the killer is never caught.

In reality, the killer was never brought to justice and rumors abound as to what happened to him.  Some claim he was arrested for an unrelated charge, while some believe he would pick up his murder spree years later in the San Francisco area as The Zodiac Killer.  What truly happened to The Phantom Killer is anyone's guess, as at this point it seems as if the truth about this serial killer will remain a mystery.

The Town that Dreaded Sundown (at least the VHS transfer I watched) is very rough looking, with washed out colors and dark, murky lighting.  The night scenes are frustratingly dark; it looks like they were shot in actual darkness; like night for night.  Hopefully, Scream Factory's new HD BluRay/DVD combo release (decked out with bonus features, including a bonus movie: Pierce's The Evictors [!!]) goes a long way in correcting these problems (and from what I've read and seen, it does indeed).

The above screencap is from the version I watched.  The below picture I found is from the same scene and is apparently from the new BluRay.  Andrew Prine's face says it all.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

The 1970s were a great time for crime films.  America has always been cinematically obsessed with gangsters, criminals, and outlaws, but the 1970s saw a rise in films that dealt with those matters, most likely due to the political and social climate of the times.  (For a full American History lesson, pick up a book).  Unfortunately, a lot of these crime films would go unnoticed and slip through the cracks in a decade that saw various powerhouse films see release like Dirty Harry (1971), The French Connection (1971), The Godfather (1972), and Taxi Driver (1976).  One of these overshadowed 70s crime thrillers was The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), and it is a great little film, full of suspense, humor, and a great look at a New York City that doesn't exist anymore.

Hop aboard, the train is leaving the station.
It's just any other day on the New York City subway, except today four men, all wearing mustaches, trenchcoats, hats, and glasses, board a subway car and manage to hijack the whole thing, separating it from the rest of the train and essentially holding the 17 passengers hostage, demanding 1 million dollars in cash delivered within one hour.  If their demands are not met, they will begin executing the passengers.  Lt. Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau) of the Transit Authority must negotiate with the hijackers, as well as with various city officials, in a race against time.  The movie becomes a tense waiting game as the authorities try to coordinate with one another, figuring out their plan of action, while trying to guess what the hijackers ultimate strategy is.  After all, how do you hijack a subway car?

Answer:  with a meticulously crafted plan.
The hijackers all have color coded names.  Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) is the leader of the group, a calm and calculated man.  He has a military background and has hired two thugs, the stuttering yes-man Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman) and the loose cannon Mr. Grey (Héctor Elizondo), to assist him.  Rounding out the group is the guy with the inside knowledge of the subway system, Mr. Green (Martin Balsam), who is suffering from a bit of a cold.  Their unfamiliarity with one another leads to some internal strife and some bickering, which puts the hostages further on edge.

Lt. Garber has the duty of trying to corodinate and communicate with different people at various levels of the city government.  Since this is the 1970s, this is all done with radios, telephones, CBs, things like that.  What I'm getting at is that it takes time, a commodity the hostages don't have much of.  Garber has to talk to Subway Police Lt. Rico Patrone (Jerry Stiller) who then has to call the Transit Manager, a surly fellow by the name of Caz Dolowicz (Tom Pedi), while Garber calls the Police Commissioner (Rudy Bond), who then coordinates with Inspector Daniels (Julius Harris) and the Borough Commander (Kenneth McMillian).  The Mayor (Lee Wallace), home sick in bed with the flu, is brought the news by Deputy Mayor Warren LaSalle (Tony Roberts), while Garber organizes his people (like loud mouthed Frank [Dick O'Neill]) on his end and keeps in communication with the hijackers.
This struggle to communicate and organize between these multiple parties and viewpoints is what drives the tension and suspense of the story.  The only alleviation comes from the stream of humor that runs through the film, which also serves to strengthen the depth of the characters (without cracking jokes, all the characters would seem like tightly wound jerkasses).  Also, and this is pretty important, the humor is usually pretty funny, but never distractingly so.  Jerry Stiller has a couple good one-liners, but he never gets to unleash his "Costanza yell."

Lt. Garber is introduced in a humorous fashion, as his first scene involve him giving a tour of the Transit Authority (and thus, a tour given to the audience) to a group of visiting Japanese business men.  They shuffle about, taking picutres as Garber points out this and that, but Garber gets the impression that they don't speak English, so he starts feeding them some nonsense and drops a few insults.  He's only saved from this situation when the hijackers make their first move on the subway car, but Garber isn't saved from his own embarrassment.

Once the hijacking goes down though, Garber gains a no-nonsense attitude.  He becomes focused and you can see his mind turning, looking for answers and clues as to who is doing this and how they plan on getting away with it.  He makes a good foil to go up against Mr. Blue, who has a similar steely determination.  Garber is a gruff guy (the scene where he chews out Frank is a standout), but he keeps his wits about him and his sense of humor remains intact until the end.
Cinematically speaking, the New York subway system was a scary place in the 1970s.  Films like Death Wish (1974) and The Warriors (1979) played up the more dangerous and seedy aspects of life below the streets and the loud, bustling setting makes a great location for a thriller.  It's grungy, dark, and full of all types of weirdos and working class individuals.  Pelham One Two Three would mostly be shot on location (only the Transit Authority control center was reconstructed on a soundstage) and would take full advantage of these street locales and it is a cool look at 1970s New York.  The hostages themselves are a cross-section of New York life, with screen credits like "The Pimp," "The Delivery Boy," The Old Man," "The Homosexual," and the formidable duo of "Co-ed #1" and "Co-ed #2."  Despite these generic monikers, the hostages all display their own bits of grit of fortitude, enduing their characters with as much humanity and depth as one could with such limited screen time.

The filmmaking is tight and non-flashy and director Joseph Sargent manages to keep the movie flowing at a good pace.  With this many characters, locations, and with a "high concept" premise (for the early 70s), this film, in the hands of a less capable director, might of been a mishmash of elements without any value to it.  Sargent was mainly a director of TV movies, but in the 70s and 80s he managed to get behind a few feature films, including directing Burt Reynolds in the fun moonshine-actioner White Lightning (1973) and Michael Caine in the terribly dreadful Jaws: The Revenge (1987), which would be Sargent's final theatrical film.
One of the most successful elements of the film is the musical score by David Shire.  It's a big and bombastic orchestral work with lots of percussion and brass and the bustling bigness of it reflects the city life of NYC.  The score really drives the action at times and the ending is punctuated perfectly by the return of the main theme.  David Shire was married to Talia Shire (sister to Francis Ford Coppola) for most of the 70s, so naturally he composed a score for one of Coppola's movies, which turned out to be one of his (and Coppola's) best:  The Conversation (1974).  Other notable scores by David Shire include All the President's Men (1976), Straight Time (1978), Return to Oz (1985), Monkey Shines (1988), and Zodiac (2007).  He would win an Oscar for the Sally Field union drama Norma Rae (1979).

Cinematographer Owen Roizman also shot William Friedkin's The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973), the former which surely led to his hiring on Pelham One Two Three (the latter of which is just awesome).  He would also shoot Three Days of the Condor (1975), Network (1976), Straight Time (1978), and Tootsie (1982).

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was based on a popular book of the same name by John Godey.  Screenwriter Peter Stone also wrote Charade (1963), which starred Audrey Hepburn and. . . Walter Matthau.
Good ol' Walter Matthau is pretty great in this.  He's the smarmy everyman hero, with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.  The final look he gives at the end of the film is pure gold.  Matthau plays Lt. Garber in a hard-lined manner similar to Charley Varrick (1973), but with a funny edge, sort of like The Bad News Bears (1976).  The plaid shirt and yellow tie he wears most of the movie is pretty funny in its own right.
Robert Shaw is cold and menacing as the mastermind of the gang and, along with Matthau, he's the standout of the film.  The year before this movie he starred in The Sting (1973), and immediately following this film he would take his most iconic and enduring role, that of Quint in Steven Speilberg's Jaws (1975).
Martin Balsam brings a sympathetic quality to the nervous Mr. Green.  When talking to Mr. Blue, he claims to have never done anything like this before and is only participating in the hijacking because he was unjustly fired from his job and lost his pension, but even this admission is shaded with doubt as to whether he's telling the full truth or not.  Balsam had a long and varied career, from classics like 12 Angry Men (1957) and Psycho (1960) to minor cult favorites like Two-Minute Warning (1976) and The Sentinel (1977).
Mr. Brown has a timidity about him, personified by his stuttering, and his role in the film is relatively minor.  Actor Earl Hindman would go on to play Tim Allen's next door neighbor Wilson on long running TV show Home Improvement.  (Admit it.  You know who and what I'm talking about).
Héctor Elizondo is quite unhinged as Mr. Grey.  He smacks a brother in the face with his gun (while dropping some racial slurs) and gets inappropriate with one of the female passengers.  His actions have even the cool Mr. Blue a bit concerned.  Nowadays, Elizondo doesn't usually get this rough in movies.  He has been in things that your mom and/or your sister have probably seen, like Pretty Woman (1990), Runaway Bride (1999), and The Princess Diaries (2001).  As of this writing, he is the only gang member from The Taking of Pelham One Two Three still living today.
This was Jerry Stiller's first feature film and he would spend much of the 80s and 90s on television, most notably on Seinfeld, which made him more or less a minor-pop-culture icon.  He would co-star with his son Ben Stiller in Zoolander (2001), which, c'mon, is a pretty funny movie.
Up to this point in his career, Julius Harris had done a bunch of blaxploitation pictures like Black Caesar and Hell Up in Harlem (both 1973) and was also Tee Hee in Live and Let Die (also 1973).  Genre fans can see him in King Kong (1976) and a couple small roles in Sam Raimi films Crimewave (1985) and Darkman (1990).  He doesn't get much to do in Pelham One Two Three, but he looks cool wearing sunglasses.
Lee Wallace, who plays The Mayor in this, would also play The Mayor in Tim Burton's Batman (1989).  He also looks a lot like actual New York City Mayor Ed Koch, circa 1977.
Loud mouthed and sexist Caz Dolowicz was played by Tom Pedi who also played a detective in The Naked City (1948) and Honest Harry in The Cat from Outer Space (1978).
Rudy Bond had parts in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), On the Waterfront (1954), and 12 Angry Men (1957).  He was also Carmine Cuneo in The Godfather (1972), the guy who gets trapped in the revolving door and shot to death.
Kenneth McMillian would be promoted from Commander to Commissioner in Dog Day Afternoon (1975), albeit uncredited.  He was also a Constable in Salem's Lot (1979), a Baron in Dune (1984), and the shady jerk Cressner in Cat's Eye (1985; the "Ledge" segment).
Deputy Mayor Tony Roberts, who looks like a smashed together version of Ron Perlman and 70s Elliot Gould, would pal around with Woody Allen in Annie Hall (1977) and Stardust Memories (1980) and was also in Serpico (1973) and Amityville 3-D (1983).
As Patrolman James, Nathan George spends most of his time in Pelham One Two Three hiding out on the tracks, watching the hijacked subway car and reporting back with his walkie-talkie.  He had a short career, but has memorable supporting roles as Trask in Klute (1971) and as Washington in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975).
Dick O'Neill was in Wolfen (1981) and a boat ton of television shows.  Look at that've seen him before.
As you can tell from above, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is full of great character actors (most of them of the New York variety) in all of the supporting roles.  Even though the film cuts between the multiple viewpoints of all these characters spread throughout the city, it still manages to maintain the necessary pace for a tick-of-the-clock thriller.  From the moment it starts, the movie races towards its finish and it keeps you guessing until the end.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is easily the best Mass Transit thriller ever released (suck it, Speed) and it is more popular than you might imagine, at least amongst people you've heard of.  Quentin Tarantino borrowed the idea of color coded names for the heisters in his debut film Reservoir Dogs (1992) and seminal NYC hip-hop group The Beastie Boys name checks the film in their song 'Sure Shot.'  So, you know, it's just not me who likes and recommends this movie; famous people do to.
I saw The Taking of Pelham One Two Three at The Hollywood Theatre a couple weeks ago.  The 35mm print looked great, the crowd dug it, etc.  I would've had this write-up done sooner but, you know, it's been unseasonably nice outside and I like sunshine.

Fun Facts:

*You probably are aware that this movie was remade in 2009 by Tony Scott starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta (I've not seen it, but I bet it has lots of shaky editing and Travolta is over-the-top), but did you know there was a remake before the remake??  Yup, in 1998 there was a TV movie version made with Edward James Olmos, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Donnie Wahlberg.
*For some years after the release of the film, the New York City Transit Authority banned any train from leaving the Pelham station at 1:23.
Walter Matthau goofing around on set...
....but seriously, check out The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Sadist

I spend a lot of time watching movies, a good portion of which are exploitation and B-movies that I find myself compelled to mine through in an effort to find cinematic gold.  The movies can have, to say the least, extremely varying quality, and the task of culling through the prospective titles can seem laborious and defeatist, but then a movie like The Sadist (1963) comes along and it makes the whole process worthwhile.

The Sadist has a simple and straightforward narrative, but its approach to storytelling is advanced for a film made in the early 60s, as the action takes place in real-time, ratcheting up the tension.  Also, the movie is surprisingly brutal and unapologetic, with a seedy and uneasy atmosphere.  The Sadist is a master class to young filmmakers on how to make a great movie with only a single location, a handful of actors, and very little money.  All you need is a solid script and a future Oscar winning director of photography.
The Sadist opens with a trio of high school teachers driving through the California countryside on their way to a Dodger baseball game.  Unfortunately they have a bit of car trouble and have to pull over at an old junkyard/service station and even more unfortunately, nobody seems to be around.  The three of them wait and just sort of mill about before deciding to fix the car themselves.  Suddenly, they are confronted by the gun wielding Charlie Tibbs (Arch Hall, Jr.) and his hanger-on girlfriend Judy (Marilyn Manning).  Seems our teachers have chosen the wrong rest-stop at which to pull over.
Charlie is an amoral maniac, loose on a two-state kill spree with his slightly deranged girlfriend in tow.  Holding the teachers hostage, he psychologically and physically tortures them while he forces Ed (Richard Alden) to fix the car with intentions of using it as a getaway vehicle.  Charlie waves his gun around menacingly while he sneers and makes threats, following through on a couple of them.  Charlie shoves Doris (Helen Hovey) down to the ground, rubs her face into the dirt, and manhandles her a bit.  Carl (Don Russell), the oldest of the three teachers, tries to reason with him, but his pleas only seem to push Charlie further, resulting in Carl getting pistol-whipped. Charlie then takes it another step by taking Carl's wallet and shredding his family photos AND their baseball tickets!  Harsh, man.

The harshness of the psychological torture is matched by the film's unflinching brutality.  Not even halfway into the movie, in a scene that doesn't use any cutaways or clever editing, Charlie (SPOILERSPOILER) kills one of the captives!  What makes it more chilling than shocking is that he does it for no reason other than his own amusement.  He does it strictly for kicks!  It is at this point where The Sadist turns the corner on being a second-rate B-movie and becomes a white-knuckle-thriller, grabbing you by the collar and bringing you to the edge of your seat.  
The Sadist was made on the most modest of terms.  With a budget of $33,000 and a cast of mostly inexperienced unknowns, the film was produced by Arch Hall, Sr. (who also provides the opening narration for the film) and his Fairway International Pictures, which was a poorly bankrolled independent company known mainly for producing schlocky drive-in fare.  One of Arch, Sr.'s chief goals as a film producer was to help launch his son's rock n' roll career and turn him into the next Ricky Nelson.  Arch, Jr., for the most part, just seemed to be along for the ride, helping his dad make some money and half-assing it in movies like Wild Guitar and Eegah (both 1962).  Arch, Jr. would eventually leave acting to pursue his true dream: being an airline pilot, a job he held for 35 years until he retired in 2003.

In The Sadist though, Arch, Jr. really goes for it, getting dangerously close to going over the top, but keeping it just on this side of MEGA-acting.  Instead of his guitar, he wields a gun and instead of crooning love songs he sneers and giggles while asserting his dominance over his captives.  It really is a bravura performance, as his unpredictability and unrelenting menace make him a captivating screen villain.
Arch Hall, Jr.'s facial features are another thing that adds to his performance as Charlie.  His doughy face has been described as looking like everything from a "demented baby" to "that bat from Ferngully."  His youthful appearance though adds to the threatening persona that he wields.  It's a shame his heart wasn't in acting and it's a double shame that he's probably better known for Eegah, the goofy caveman-in-modern-times movie starring Richard Kiel, which was featured in a fantastic Season 5 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  In that one, Arch, Jr. pretty much just drives around his dune buggy and plays a few tunes on his guitar, nothing as truly memorable as his deranged take on Charlie Tibbs in The Sadist.
His girlfriend Judy gives The Sadist an extra level of creep.  She doesn't really speak in the movie, but she does whisper things to Charlie and seems to egg him on quite a bit.  She definitely seems to be compliant in what Charlie is doing, but it is never quite clear what Judy is thinking.  At times she acts like a little girl, excited about make-up and perfume she finds in Doris' handbag, and other times she gets all crazy eyed while brandishing a knife.  Marilyn Manning brings a subtleness to the role, giving Judy these little mannerisms that reveal her wildness and most (if not all) of her acting is conveyed through her eyes.  She girlishly flirts with Charlie, doing a little dance for him at one point, and they act like any other pair of goofy kids in love.  It's just that this goofy couple are unstable and without remorse.
Marilyn Manning also starred with Arch, Jr. (and Arch, Sr., for that matter) in Eegah, in which she was also cast as Jr.'s girlfriend.  In that movie, her performance is. . .not that good (to be fair, nothing about Eegah is that good), so it is interesting that they managed to get a solid performance out of her on The Sadist simply by not giving her any dialogue.

Also:  for anyone that has actually seen Eegah, watching Tom and Roxy from that movie run around terrorizing people in The Sadist makes the viewing experience that much more strangely awesome.
The other actors in The Sadist didn't really go on to do anything else.  Richard Alden, the only professional actor in the film, would toil for a couple decades in TV and bit-part obscurity.  He's pretty good as Ed, although he is a frustrating character whose cowardly optimism makes him a fairly ineffective hero in the story.  His masculinity seems to constantly wilt to Charlie's demented will.  Doris, on the other hand, has much more resolve and fight in her, especially as the film moves along.  Helen Hovey was Arch, Jr.'s cousin (making his terrorization of her a little extra creepy) and this was her first and only movie appearance.
In addition to being the sympathetic Carl, Don Russell was also the film's production manager, a role he also performed on Wild Guitar.  Interesting enough (and to continue the MST3k connections) Russell was second unit director as well as the henchman Ortega in the truly dreadful The Incredible Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964), a film that was briefly second-billed with The Sadist at drive-ins.
The true star of The Sadist (with all due respect to Mr. Hall, Jr.) is not in front of the camera, but behind it rather.  This was the first credited American feature film to Hungarian-born cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, here credited as William.  Every inch of the frame is carefully composed, as the camera peeks through broken windows, peers over shoulders, and glides around the junkyard.  Most importantly, it leers at Arch Hall's sweaty goon-face, allowing little respite from his madness.  Zsigmond's work on The Sadist elevates the film to a much higher, professional looking level.  The movie was shot in 35mm over three weeks and Zsigmond would layer the set with cars and junk and create depth in the frame using a lot of deep focus and long lenses.  The cinematography in The Sadist is among the best you'll see in any B-movies from the 1960s.

Vilmos Zsigmond would work with director James Landis and Arch Hall on a couple more films, the strange "comedy" (but awesomely titled) The Nasty Rabbit (1964) and Deadwood '76 (1965) before continuing his B-movie career on some of schlockmeister Al Adamson's pictures and the like.  His first major "straight" movie was Peter Fonda's The Hired Hand (1971) which would lead him directly into working on Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971).  Zsigmond would team with Altman again on Images (1972) and the fantastic The Long Goodbye (1973), and he would also shoot 70s classics like Deliverance (1972), The Deer Hunter (1978) and Close Encounter of the Third Kind (1977), for which he won an Oscar.  Entering the 1980s, Zsigmond would shoot Brian de Palma's Blow Out (1981), which, after scanning his credits, might be his last significant film, although I have to admit some affinity for both Real Genius (1985) and The Ghost and the Darkness (1996), both of which star Val Kilmer, which is kind of weird (on my part, not Vilmos' part).
The kill crazed lovers in The Sadist are inspired by the real life kill spree perpetrated by Charles Starkweather and his 14-year old girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate (seen above) across the Midwest in the late 1950s.  Their wave of terror would introduce a new villain into American mythology:  the thrill killer.  Arch Hall, Jr. does a good job capturing the look and the unhinged characteristics of Starkweather.  Ten years after the release of The Sadist, Terrance Malick would direct his debut film, Badlands (1973), also inspired by the Starkweather events (although a much more lyrical and less thrilling version of the story) starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek.  Other films like Natural Born Killers (1994) and The Frighteners (1996), as well as songs by Bruce Springsteen and J Church, would also find inspiration in the story of Charles Starkweather.  The Sadist, however, was there first.
The Sadist does have some problems with the occasional choppy editing and the final chase during the ending seems to drag on and on a bit, but the finale itself is very satisfying and the film still has a great economy to its storytelling and is a fantastic minimalist effort.  The Sadist has a matter-of-fact starkness about it.  Taking place in a remote, mostly barren landscape, the unbearably hot sun that beats down on the characters mirrors the unbearableness of their ordeal and how there seems to be little hope of escape.  Punctuating this sense of hopelessness, at one point Charlie flips on a car radio and the Dodger baseball game is on, the game that Doris, Ed, and Carl were supposed to be at.  It is another gut punch reminder of where the three of them should be and where they actually are.  Along with Charlie and Judy's manic craziness, this unrelenting amount of tension was not common among other drive-in quickies of the day.

Upon release, The Sadist did not do well at the box office.  Audiences expecting cheap drive-in thrills got something much more gritty and downbeat.  The film would quickly fall into obscurity, seeing a rerelease in the 70s (under the title Sweet Baby Charlie) that caused little to no fanfare.  The film would start to find an audience on the home video market and has slowly been gaining the recognition that it deserves since then.
Now 50 years after its release, The Sadist still hold up extremely well and proves to be an exploitation cheapie that rises far above its pedigree.  Its visceral and unapologetic tone are right in line with a lot of modern thrillers, and in some ways it's a much more entertaining movie than many of those films.  Its powerful minimalist nature, combined with its tick-of-the-clock real-time narrative make The Sadist one of the the most criminally underrated and underseen exploitation B-movies of the 1960s, or any era.
*This first trailer for The Sadist is a UK DVD release trailer from 2008.  It does a pretty good job of conveying the story without giving away any major spoilers.  Watch it!

*This next one is the original theatrical trailer and like a lot of movie trailers from the era, this is fairly heavy on the spoilers and whatnot, so watch at your own risk.  I'll also mention that the guy doing the introduction in the trailer is Arch Hall, Sr. (Nicholas Merriweather was his pseudonym) and he provides the narration as well.

Fun fact: as a budget saving measure, during production live ammunition was used in some scenes.  BANG!
Here's a cast/crew photo, not sure who director James Landis is, but I'm fairly certain that Vilmos Zsigmond is the guy smiling and sitting next to the camera with his hands on his knees.

Watch out for snakes!