Some films are hailed as instant classics, some films bury themselves deep into our collective memories, and some films become forgotten classics, fondly remembered by a handful of people. Luckily for folks like me and you there are people like Johnny Mains out there looking out for these forgotten films, and ensuring that these films don't disappear from our collective memories.
The Sorcerers is one of these forgotten classics and much like the film itself the films screenwriter contribution almost became forgotten. The Sorcerers is a 1967 British science fiction/horror film directed by Michael Reeves, starring Boris Karloff, Catherine Lacey, Ian Ogilvy, and Susan George. The original story and screenplay was conceived and written by John Burke. Reeves and his childhood friend Tom Baker re-wrote sections of the screenplay, including the ending at Karloff's insistence, wanting his character to appear more sympathetic. Burke was then removed from the main screen writing credit and was relegated to an 'idea by'.
Enter Johnny Mains and a meeting with John Burke, when John pulls out a copy of the original script Johnny is overawed with what he is holding......
From Johnny Mains
Kirkcudbright, January 2011. My wife and I are standing in the office of John Burke, author of over 150 books—best known, perhaps, for his tie-in work, including Hammer Horror Omnibus volumes 1 and 2, The Man Who Finally Died, Dad’s Army, A Hard Day’s Night and Dr Terror’s House of Horrors. While John is in his wheelchair, struggling with a blue and white cardboard box file (stubbornly not accepting any help), I am looking in wonder at the very first book I edited, which contains two stories by John. Back From the Dead: The Legacy of the Pan Book of Horror Stories is sandwiched between two collections, those of M.R. James and H.P. Lovecraft. It’s a strange but very humbling feeling.
“You might be interested in seeing this,” John says, placing the box on his desk. I turn around and look at what is written on the side in calligraphy pen.
I open the box and pull out the screenplay--Terror For Kicks, John’s original name for the film. I look through it, seeing where things had changed in Michael Reeves’ finished film, as well as lines that I recognise. My hands are trembling. I pass the screenplay to my wife and delve deeper into the box, bringing out letters that John had written to Michael Reeves regarding the screenplay, contracts and the treatment for the film.
“Not only did I come up with the initial idea, I wrote the screenplay. Even the shooting screenplay that followed has my name on it,” John says quietly.
This inspired Johnny to put together this fabulous book which brings together the contents of that box into one educational, inspirational and entertaining book of the film. (Click here for my review of the book). As a side note to the review, O now hold a physical copy of the book and the production values are glorious.
To celebrate the launch of this book from PS Publishing, I have collected together some exclusive quotes and thoughts on the film from some of UK's's top horror writers.
I first came across The Sorcerers as an 8 year old, seeing the terrifying image of a charred Boris Karloff in Alan Frank's Horror Films, a little later I found out more in my magazine of choice, House of Hammer. I spent twenty years running the imagined film in my head, finally, twenty years from first exposure, I saw the real thing. I was not disappointed.
"The Sorcerers is one of the films that hooked me early. I first saw it back in the very early Seventies. No special effects to speak of, no big bangs, just a director and cast melded together to provide top class, slightly campy, horror entertainment in a peculiarly British style. The fact that this book will keep its memory alive pleases me greatly and is yet another feather in Johnny Mains' bunnet."
As with Michael Reeve's 'Witchfinder General', made later the same year, I remember being both shocked and enthralled by the brutality of 'The Sorcerers' the first time I saw it, probably in the late 70s. Reeves' work, naturalistic, unflinching and crackling with dark energy, is way ahead of its time, and seems to me to provide a bridge between the more 'classic' horror (for want of a better term) of Hammer and Amicus and the seedier, more nihilistic fare offered by the likes of Pete Walker and Gary Sherman. Reeves' work is intelligent and fiercely confrontational, and 'The Sorcerers' is a hugely significant landmark in British horror cinema.
John Llewellyn Probert
THE SORCERERS is a movie that does a number of things very well indeed. Despite being shot on a minuscule budget it effectively bridges the gulf between old fashion Boris Karloff mad scientist-style horror pictures of the 1940s (it even stars Karloff himself as if to drive the point home) and the then-new gritty style of 1960s British cinema. It takes an original and wholly fascinating science fiction idea and develops it in such a considered and thought-provoking way that even now the movie feels far less dated than many other films of its period. Add in some great performances, Paul Ferris warming up to produce the music score of his career in Witchfinder General and of course the stylish, gritty, sexy direction of Michael Reeves and what you have is a classic of British horror.
David A Riley
"The Sorcerers always struck me as having such a perfect horror story plot, from the original concept of mind control right through to the hideous consequences for all involved. It would have made a great short story or novelette - and made a brilliant movie. It's one of a very small number of films I watch at least once a year - and enjoy just as much as the first time I saw it."
The Sorcerers is an eccentric little gem of low budget BritHorror that works as a double twist on Frankenstein. On one level, Karloff and Lacey are the mad scientists who make an unwitting (and tragic) monster out of Ian Ogilvy, while on another level Karloff has also created the ultimate monster in his wife, whose psychopathic sense of fun destroys both of them in the end.
It's also fascinating how much the film prefigures Charlie Kaufman's surreal Being John Malkovich, although The Sorcerers is far more sinister.
A true case of "They don't make 'em like this any more." (But if anyone does decide to remake it, I vote for Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren!)
In The Sorcerers Michael Reeves is rehearsing the both the themes and the nihilism that would win him so much acclaim in Witchfinder General. He’s also proving to his backers at Tigon that, after his promising but ultimately derivative first film The She Beast he was worthy of the budget he got on Witchfinder General. For me, more than anything, The Sorcerers represents the Baby Boomer’s view of generational conflict. Though perhaps the most spoiled generation of the last hundred years, the Baby Boomers were always antagonistic and rebellious towards their elders, especially in light of wars like Vietnam. A story about two old people exploiting a young man to get the kicks that they were never allowed, and even forcing him to kill, says a lot about the intergenerational struggles of the 60s from the Baby Boomers’ perspective. Reeves’s generation did not want to be sent off to war to kill or to work for the benefit of their elders. Ironically, now the Baby Boomers are the same age as Karloff and the wonderful Catherine Lacey (who nearly steals the film), they act far more like this older exploitative couple than the older generations in the 60s ever did. In fact the Boomers seem just as antagonistic to the generations below them as they did to those who were once above.
There’s a refreshingly antagonistic sense of nihilism about the swinging 1960s here, and some wry sexism (including Susan George in a miniskirt) that appears more authentically subversive, when viewed today, than anything in those Austin Powers movies. The picture’s disturbing themes of dehumanisation and ultra-violence, and its psychedelic lightshow, predate A Clockwork Orange . And, even though The Sorcerers is undoubtedly a lesser work in comparison to Kubrick’s, its down-to-earth depictions of amateur breaking and entering, casual backstreet murder, and its unapologetic meditation on voyeurism (albeit of a fantastical/ psychic kind), that makes this challenging film prominent among similar cult dramas.
“At face value this low budget mix of horror and Science Fiction promises little, but the combination of Karloff’s lofty onscreen presence and the first outing of a writing team that would go on to develop Witchfinder General, ensures that The Sorcerers lives on in the dark hearts of all 'classic horror' film fans”.