"La vecchiaia e carogna" is a very old and mercilessly pitched Italian adage meaning "old age is carrion." The opening minutes of Michael Reeves' 1967 film The Sorcerers aim to put this observation across with full force, as a hand-held camera tracks a shambling Boris Karloff on a gray London afternoon, complaining at the newsagent's about his paltry little advertisement having been taken down, then returning to an apartment that looks as if it smells of nothing but medicine and old teabags. Karloff plays "Professor" Marcus Monserrat, a master of hypnotism; the rather magnificently broken-down Catherine Lacey plays Estelle, his wife. And soon after Reeves' film opens, we learn that they have reason to be excited. At the same time the picture begins somewhat inextricably cross-cutting between the Monserrat home and a nightclub where the somewhat caddish-seeming young man Mike Roscoe (Ian Ogilvy) is complaining about going out too often.
Soon we learn that the Monserrats are so excited because Marcus appears to have perfected a device that will allow them to do something extraordinary. But before they can do it, they require a subject. That subject will be the jaded Mike, whom Marcus lures to the apartment with promises of trippy delights. This is, after all, Swinging London as it were.
What Marcus has perfected is a hypnotic device that will not only place their subject under their mental control, but allow both of the Monserrat's to feel the sensations of the subject at all times. Just how this works, precisely...or even vaguely, is never even hinted at. Depending on the viewer, this factor could be one of The Sorcerers' biggest flaws or smallest charms. There is the requisite scene depicting Mike's "treatment," which, as the top screen grab depicts, seems to involve projecting a psychedelic light show on his face. Whatever works. And in any case, this does.
And this, of course, is where The Sorcerers gets very interesting. Marcus at first enjoys the heightened sensations of "living" in a young man's body, but it's Estelle, rebelling now not just against age and infirmity but against years of repressed desires, who really relishes the power...not just of being in a younger body, but in a younger male body. The film's sexual politics are largely implicit, but Reeves and Tom Baker's script, along with Lacey's one-of-a-kind performance, make it clear that what's happening here is far more than a simple (and, truth to tell, genre-appropriate) case of an evil old harridan running amok. At first Estelle's appetites seem relatively harmless—so she wants that fur she and/or Marcus were never able to afford, what's the big deal? But as situations ramp up, Estelle's methods become more and more ruthless, and we begin to sense that she is enacting an elaborate revenge for every slight she's ever received in her life. And so the viewers' sympathies shift to poor Mike—one doesn't care for him all that much at first, but Estelle forces him into such atrocities that one is sure he'll emerge as a saint if he can ever get out from the Montserrats' control alive.
It is not, I believe, a spoiler to say that the whole thing ends up rather badly. This is, after all, a British horror picture from the 60s and is hence completely expected to be thoroughly bleak. Reeves went on to direct a yet-bleaker and perhaps even more socially pertinent film, The Witchfinder General, which recently saw DVD release in its intended form for the very first time. The Region 2 UK Prism release of The Sorcerers features a decent transfer of a slightly faded, splicy print. Among its extras are a brief, informative documentary on Reeves, who died, at age 25, in 1969 from an accidental overdose of medication. The one-two punch of this film and general make a strong case that his loss is still worth mourning.