Few movies affect me physically, after many years of watching horror films, I rarely have a reaction to what I’m seeing on screen. My body for the most part disconnects its impulses when watching a film for the most part. One film that this did not happen for was William Friedkin’s 1977 oft-overlooked film, SORCERER.
A re-adaptation of the novel “Wages of Fear,” SORCERER was Friedkin’s follow up to THE EXORCIST. What started out as a small budget stop-over film intending to just bridge a gap before his work on THE DEVIL’S TRIANGLE, SORCERER ended up being a much larger undertaking, both financially and physically, than anyone involved had imagined. The film was shot in Israel, France, Mexico, the United States, with the majority filmed in Dominican Republic.
The first 50 minutes of the movie focuses on setting the stage, laying out how our four main characters got from their country of origin to the small South American town of Porvenir. All four come from diverse backgrounds, but what is important is that all four are on the run from something, and find more than they bargained for in this tiny village near the jungle. While most films would have handled the character development done in this first 50 minutes as flashbacks, exposition, or just skipping over it entirely, this approach was one that I welcomed, though I can see how audiences in 1977 could have been put off by the initial 15 minutes of film being in multiple foreign languages and having subtitles. There were numerous walk outs at the time of the initial release, causing many theaters to present disclaimer cards that the film in deed had English dialogue once past the first few scenes.
The town of Porvenir is filled with people that work for an oil company, and when terrorists cause a fire at one of the oil fields almost 200 miles away, the company looks to transport nitroglycerin to extinguish the constantly burning flames. Unfortunately, the store of nitroglycerin was poorly taken care of, making it highly volatile, disallowing for the quick transportation via helicopter. The company is forced to look for drivers for what could be a suicide mission as they would have to truck through treacherous jungle terrain for almost 200 miles with a cargo that could go off at the literal drop of a hat. They conduct driver try outs that reminded me of multiple set ups used in the Fast and Furious series yet involved a lot more double-clutches. Despite the seriousness of their cargo to be, this scene plays as comic relief, as we see so many truck driving fails.
The action of the film is varied throughout, rarely causing a slow scene to overstay its welcome. And there are enough explosions throughout the film to cause Michael Bay to weep with joy. But my physical reaction came not so much from the explosions, but from the threat of one, as the trucks encountered decaying wooden bridges, horrible weather, and potential drop offs. By having such grand detonations early on in the film, it made the anticipation for one later on that much more palpable. Between that, and the score from Tangerine Dream, it amped me up so much, that I had to pause the film just to decompress for a minute before continuing.
I find it amusing that a recurring theme in my reviews has been films with oil drilling or an oil pipeline included in them. While not intentional, it is interesting to see how important oil is to our culture that it seeps into our entertainment. We rely on the resource so heavily that it becomes something that we equate as a need for characters to pursue. In the cases that I’ve seen as well, it just showcases greed and the evils that that can cause. In this case, it showcases how greed can cause man to put his life on the line in exchange a mere pittance.
Friedkin did a wonderful job directing this film, throwing his all into it for almost 10 months, as he went from continent to continent. Despite issues with crew, and his need to get perfection, sometimes performing a stunt almost 10 times, he pieced together a wonderfully paced thriller. He does a great job showing character growth, rather than just telling us about it. The film has very little dialogue, with the four main leads speaking very little, but like them, it is just trying to get the job done in one piece.
It is sad that this film was overlooked for so long, as it disappeared mostly due to being a commercial flop, opening shortly after STAR WARS, and due to lackluster marketing efforts put forth by the joint distributing studios Paramount and Universal. Confusion around the title also caused quite a few walk outs as people were expecting something named SORCERER to contain supernatural elements, especially with it being helmed by the director of THE EXORCIST. Thankfully, it is gaining fans more and more, and the release of the film on Blu-ray, with cooperation from Friedkin himself, only adds to this. The release looks amazing and the sound work on it is superb. Between THIEF and this film, I’m a new found Tangerine Dream fan, as they put forth outstanding work on both soundtracks.
SORCERER is currently available for rental on VUDU and Amazon Instant Video. The Blu-ray is available for purchase on Amazon.com