The Sorcerers is only one of a few movies directed by Michael Reeves, who many believe committed suicide in his mid-20s at the height of his career, despite it being recorded as a case of accidental drug overdose in the coroner’s report.
Reeves was a promising director, obvious from his first low budget film also starring Ogilvy The She Beast (1966).
Found dead by his cleaning lady in his Cadogan Square flat, suicide or not, Reeves is a cult despite directing only three films including Witchfinder General. He was set to direct The Oblong Box (1969) and Scream and Scream Again (1970).
But then… Tenser told The Telegraph newspaper about Reeves’ suicide during his last years in a nursing home: “I don’t think that’s true. He was getting on all right with his girlfriend. He was getting on all right with me…” Tenser said he knew Reeves used sleeping tablets and that he probably woke in the night after having already taken some and took more, losing count.
“He just died in his sleep,” said Tenser.
As for Reeves, he used an inheritance in his late teens to go to Los Angeles where he tracked down his idol, director Don Siegel, turning up on his doorstep. Reeves got work and it led to the raising of funds for The She Beast, which was reported as costing under $20,000. Scream queen Barbara Steele (1937-) also appears.
The Sorcerers is Reeves second film and Karloff’s wife gets more out of control with her mind control experiences, eventually getting Ogilvy to kill a young woman played by Susan George… all to a movie cue worthy of a Tarantino film – it’s probably the exact one! I can’t identify it.
Reeves was apparently on anti-depressant tablets at the time of his death and had also had a skinful the night he died. His depression was blamed on film projects falling through. There was talk by his cinematographer that Reeves was in the early stages of a project with Peter Fonda in Los Angeles. That one turned out to be Easy Rider.
At the end of The Sorcerers, Karloff is lying Christlike on the floor of his living room and like Walken in Brainstorm, both must suffer for their creations and the adverse consequences. Always with good intentions, corrupted by others. And it shows if the corruption of this technology is not at the top level, it is also at the grassroots user level. Always the case in terms of crime as it knows no bounds. The Sorcerers combines both ingeniously in a rundown council flat.
Brainstorm (1965) is one of three movies directed in quick succession by actor William Conrad (1920-94 heart failure) who usually played a heavy going back to the late 1940s. His deep and resonant voice meant he was popular on radio and television, narrating cartoon series Rocky and Bullwinkle (1959-63) and using his obese frame to star in Jake and the Fatman (1987-92).
The three films he directed in 1965 are Two on a Guillotine, My Blood Runs Cold and Brainstorm. Conrad did a Hitchcock and gives himself a tiny cameo in each. Also each film stars a blonde actress of none too great stature and a male actor on his way down in the Hollywood popularity stakes.
Two on a Guillotine is supposedly a horror movie with Connie Stevens (1938-) starring with future Disney film The Love Bug (1968) actor Dean Jones (1931-2015 Parkinson’s disease). The scariest thing about this haunted mansion type movie is the plastic skeleton which glides down a wire to scare new visitors to the house. Sadly, it hasn’t aged well if it was ever any good at all. The same goes for Conrad’s second film My Blood Runs Cold with Troy Donahue (1936-2001 heart attack) looking like a few drinks had already hit his waistline. He abused drugs during this period too!
It’s a thriller and an unconvincing one with Joey Heatherington (1944-) being terrorised by Troy. It is interesting for its Bridey Murphy type story where Troy says he was in love with her in a past life. After that film, Troy claimed he was blackballed by all the studios thanks to the far reaching tentacles of Warner Brothers head Jack Warner.
How Conrad came up with the bordering on seminal classic late noir semi-masterpiece of Brainstorm is anybody’s guess. He would only direct one more project after Brainstorm and that is a long forgotten television movie. How 1965’s Brainstorm was dismissed at the time and still remains obscure to this day remains a mystery.
Brainstorm was not remade into the 1983 movie, in fact it bears no relation whatsoever except for the title. It stars Jeffrey Hunter (1926-69 intracranial haemorrhage caused by skull fracture) whose character is “something of scientific value”. Jeff is a scientist who works for Benson Industries where you’d expect a Brainstorm Project to be formulated but he’s some sort of rocket scientist. He also happens to have saved the drunken wife – a still beautiful Anne Francis (1930-2011 lung cancer) – of his boss from suicide when she deliberately stops her car across railroad tracks.
He takes her home to Benson played by Dana Andrews (1909-92 heart failure) and we soon learn the marriage is a far from happy one. Jeff likes her and despite seeing on his computer screen at work apparent warnings to stay away from Francis… is he already mad, or on the brink?… the couple get involved to the point where Jeff is planning to kill Benson and get off with an insanity plea.
This is where the film gets more interesting as Jeff studies the various forms of insanity and takes himself to the emergency ward in hospital showing signs of psychosis, just to get his illness on the record.
In the meantime, it would appear Benson is gas-lighting him at work, or is it Jeff himself who really is mad, as his car disappears from the company car park and a woman claims he sexually harassed her? It’s a fine line as Jeff reacts a bit crackers and really would appear mad to colleagues.
He then turns up to a media event where Benson is the keynote speaker and produces a gun and proceeds to kill Benson.
It is a well directed scene as we have Benson’s point of view as he falls to the ground and fades to black all to the sound of Jeff’s voice screaming: “I’ve killed the wizard! I’ve killed the wizard…”
So is Jeff mad for committing the crime anyway, his career apparently already destroyed?… if he isn’t mad, he has just given a great performance of a man who is. Anyway, Jeff’s woes have just begun as he is found “insane” by the court by continuing his charade in the courtroom.
But once put in the state asylum, he doesn’t like the idea of spending years surrounded by people ranging from bullies to just plain annoying. He may as well be in jail but he probably would have got the death penalty.
Anne loses interest in Jeff after several months once she’s got the fortune from Benson’s estate, visiting him in hospital before breaking the news she’s got a new boyfriend and driving off in to the distance with him.
It was all for nothing and Jeff must prove to his state appointed psychiatrist played by Viveca Lindfors (1920-95 rheumatoid arthritis and lung cancer) that he is sane. Having apparently “fooled” her earlier into a paranoid schizophrenia diagnosis, there is apparently no way out for Jeff as he tries to “unfool” her and tell her the truth that he really is sane and that he planned the murder and the diagnosis. It all sounds like the ravings of a murderous paranoid to Lindfors or does she think he should be locked up no matter what? He did commit the murder. If Jeff wanted to get out of the asylum, he should have played his cards better, but I’m sure after killing such a public figure as Benson there would be no way that he would get an early release.
I’ll go out on a limb here and say Brainstorm is Jeff Hunter’s best performance. He was known as a pretty boy actor in the 1950s but director John Ford coaxed another good acting job from him in Sergeant Rutledge (1960). He was also a good Christ in King of Kings (1961), otherwise known within the film business as I was a Teenage Christ. He did the original Star Trek pilot around the time of Brainstorm but passed on the series under the insistence of his then wife. Perhaps a mistake in hindsight?!
The year 1965 should have been a big year for Jeff but his career trailed off making cheap films in Europe before his death following an on-set concussion in Spain, a stroke on the plane home and then a fall down steps at home which fractured his skull. He was dead at only 42.
The lead up to Jeff’s “madness” is well done with the “gaslighting”. As it turns out Jeff was in a sanitarium as a teenager for a few weeks following a nervous breakdown caused through burnout. That also works against him. Benson admits he’s an “evil dragon” who creates airtight cases to frame Anne’s lovers… there’s also a child involved used as leverage… but like the journalist who goes undercover in Samuel Fuller’s (1912-97 natural causes) Shock Corridor (1963), Jeff finds he is soon out of his depth.
“He has to die… maybe I am a madman… and if that’s true… a madman can get away with murder,” says Jeff to Anne as his plan crystallizes.
There is one critic in Sight and Sound magazine in 2002 who put Brainstorm in his Top Ten favourite movies of all time.
That the conspiracy and the paranoid schizophrenic lead came in the wake of the Kennedy assassination only a year earlier is indicative of the American psyche at the time. If Lee Harvey Oswald had lived – I’m going over this again – he would have pleaded guilty as a paranoid schizophrenic. Found guilty, but not mad, he would have most probably been executed rather than placed in a hospital. Just to put an end to the incident. If only!
Brainstorm can be seen as another take on Kennedy as the president of Benson Industries is assassinated in public. Jeff even goes so far as to build up an immunity to sodium amytal, or truth serum, when he is questioned by Lindfors. Did he tell the truth that it was all a ruse under the serum as they used a different one unexpectedly for Jeff? Like Oswald, it doesn’t matter if Jeff is insane or not – he may not get the death penalty thanks to Lindfors finding him insane – but he won’t get away with it scot free either.
When his case comes up for review, Jeff uses his charm to the point where he really believes he is in love with Lindfors and she will save him from a life in the asylum… but his point of view is turned on its head when he realises he is being watched by more psychiatrists behind a two way mirror. Up to that point Jeff believed Lindfors believed his story that he did it all deliberately and maybe she knew the real him… Jeff loses the plot totally and throws a chair through the mirror.
“You tricked me… I really believed you… I really thought you were different… you’re no different from the rest… you’re all my enemies! I’m not insane! I’m not insane!!”
Hardly the reactions of a sane man as Jeff runs off only to be crash tackled by men in white coats. This is probably the Brainstorm of the title, the final paranoid reaction – only natural under the circumstances – of a murderer.
The script is good, not great, and Jeff runs with the movie from his police grilling, his courtroom appearance and other scenes and he nails it despite his limitations as an actor. It is like he is acting the part of insanity, which he really isn’t and that fact along that Hunter as an actor was never fully convincing makes it all seem more real. He grows more affected as the situation evolves until his final psychotic break in the end which rings true. It’s a netherworld performance, which doesn’t belong, like Jeff’s character. He must be locked away… all to the saying: “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.”
It’s like Jeff has created his own conspiracy and is forever trapped by it. It’s enough to drive a man mad! If he isn’t already!! Try and see this movie and you may be pleasantly surprised upon repeated viewings.
But back to the modern day Brainstorm of 1983 device and there are more possibilities, such as sorting out those cool, calm and collected murderers like Jeff, the angry rapists as well as knowing who are really the truly demented and insane.
On the beautiful side is Natalie Wood receiving a love letter from Walken in the form of a mixed tape. The device could bring new understanding to humanity – a new truth to daily face to face reality – to all who love. But then another complication is how reliable are memories and how they are seen from each person’s point of view… perhaps it will all end in conflict! Some people are never meant for the device.
As for the “conspiracy” of Natalie Wood’s death… if a jealous Wagner was involved, director Trumbull’s mixed tape that is Brainstorm the movie, where Wood and Walken are lovers forever, is a coda which could torture him forever… innocent or not. Remember: “I love you.”