The tragically short career of director Michael Reeves consisted of only three films. THE SORCERERS was the second and the first to examine the theme of the addiction of power and the effect that power has on those it is used against.
Boris Karloff play Professor Marcus Monserrat, an elderly medical hypnotist living in near poverty with his wife, Estelle. Monserrat has been making a meager living since being stigmatized by the press as a fraud. He hopes to make his comeback by introducing his latest invention to the world: a machine that will allow a subject to be controlled remotely while enabling his or her experiences to be experienced by others. To test the device Monserrat lures young man about town Mike (Ian Ogilvy) to his apartment with the promise of a new and exciting experience. Mike is hypnotized, told to forget ever meeting Monserrat and given the suggestion to go for a late night swim with his girlfriend, Nicole (Elizabeth Ercy). The experiment is a success and Monserrat and Estelle are thrilled to be able to see and feel Mike's swim as if it were happening to them. Monserrat want to go public with the device, thinking it will be a boon invalids by allowing them to live richer lives. Estelle, however, sees it as a way to attain the luxuries she has been denied all these years. She forces Mike to steal a fur coat and becomes addicted to the thrill of him almost being caught by the police. She becomes immersed in a battle of wills with her husband, who realizes how dangerous her thirst for power has made her. She continues to place Mike in ever more dangerous situations, eventually forcing him to become a serial killer, until Moserrat is forced to take drastic measures to stop her.
THE SORCERERS is an exciting, unique film. It's probably the first film to deal with the concept of virtual reality, beating the at least superficially similar STRANGE DAYS to the punch be almost thirty years. It's also relentlessly downbeat. Once Estelle is given her first taste of control over Mike she is not only unable to stop, but unwilling. She never for a moment takes into account the effect her actions are having on Mike, who is suffering blackouts and doesn't understand why he is feeling the compulsion to do terrible things. Her hunger for control over Mike leads to an inevitable bad end not only for herself, Monserrat and Mike but also for everyone around them. This is a theme that Michael Reeves would return to in his next film, THE WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968), starring Vincent Price as an inquisitor who holds the power of life and death over those he comes into contact with.
This film also provides Boris Karloff with one of his last great roles. Even at the age of eighty he manages to be a commanding presence on screen. It's a shame his character has very little to do in the second half of the film. Karloff would make one more great film, Peter Bogdanovich's TARGETS (1968), before heading to Mexico to make grade-Z dreck until his death in 1969. Ogilvy is also very good in a role that requires him to go from someone who is in absolute control of every situation to someone who becomes convinced he is no longer in control of his behavior. The film also features an early appearance by Susan George as an ex-girlfriend of Ogilvy's.
As mentioned, director Michael Reeves would go on make one more film, THE WITCHFINDER GENERAL, which is generally regarded as a masterpiece. He would be found dead of a barbiturate overdose in 1969 at the age of 25 while in pre-production on his fourth film. It was a untimely end to a most promising career.
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