Boris Karloff is best known to many film fans as the iconic monster in Universal’s Frankenstein, but he had a long career in film well after that hugely popular and influential film. Karloff worked constantly all his life, and he gave a few of his other most famous performances in the years leading up to his death. One often overlooked film of Karloff’s late career is 1967’s The Sorcerers, the second film by director Michael Reeves (who would go on to direct Vincent Price in Witchfinder General). Until now, The Sorcerers has never been released on DVD in the United States, which is probably one of the main reasons many U.S. horror fans have not seen it. Thanks to the new Warner Archives release, those fans will finally get a chance to see this under-seen classic.
Karloff plays Professor Marcus Monserrat, a professional hypnotist who has spent decades in private practice after a scandal all but killed his research career. His wife and assistant, Estelle (Catherine Lacey), has helped Monserrat develop a machine that will allow him to control another person’s will. Once the machine is complete, Monserrat looks for a perfect subject, a “bored” young man with “a pliable mind.” He happens upon Mike Roscoe (Ian Ogilvy), a young artist who has become tired of club-hopping with his girlfriend Nicole (Elizabeth Ercy) and their friend Alan (Victor Henry). Mike ditches Nicole and Alan to take a walk and meets Monserrat, who convinces Mike to return to his apartment laboratory with the promise of experiences Mike could only imagine.
After a psychedelic interlude in which Monserrat and Estelle use their machine on Mike, they discover that they can not only influence his thoughts and actions but also physically experience the things Mike feels. When he cracks an egg, they can feel the yolk on their hands; when he swims, they feel the water all over their bodies. While Monserrat immediately begins trying to come up with humanitarian applications for his device, Estelle has another idea. After their decades of isolation and ridicule, why not use Mike for some fun? Monserrat reluctantly agrees, and soon Estelle finds she has a taste for dangerous behavior, and Mike finds more and more of his time disappearing into blackout periods.
While Karloff gives a great performance here, The Sorcerers is all but carried off by Catherine Lacey as Estelle. She begins the film as a gentle assistant to her husband, but becomes more menacing as she realizes her true power. It’s exceptionally rare for a horror film of any kind to focus on elderly characters, and The Sorcerers handles its troubling subject matter seriously. The film’s psychedelic colors and music instantly date it to the late 1960s, but that’s probably no accident on the part of director Reeves, who tragically died after making the even better Witchfinder General in 1968. Reeves was clearly on track for a distinguished career, which makes The Sorcerers even more of a lost treasure.
Classic horror fans who have never seen The Sorcerers are certainly in for a treat, and those lucky enough to have seen the film before will be glad to have a good DVD release of this great, overlooked film. The Sorcerers is available now through Warner Archive.