Archives On The Air 157: Mr. Sardonicus—Ray Russell Papers

May 22, 2019

First page of Ray Russell's draft manuscript of the short story "Sardonicus," circa 1960. Box 2, Ray Russell papers.

In 1961, fans of horror met Sardonicus in a short story in Playboy by Ray Russell. A movie version called Mr. Sardonicus came out soon after. Russell wrote the screenplay. It was directed by William Castle.

Mr. Sardonicus is the story of a man who unearths his father’s grave to retrieve a winning lotto ticket. When he sees his father’s remains his face freezes into an unnatural grin.

He buys a castle but becomes tormented. At the film’s end Sardonicus is cured of his grin. But he can’t open his jaw and is doomed.

The studio found the end disturbing and demanded Castle change it. Castle instead pulled one of his signature gimmicks. Film goers were asked to vote to save or doom Mr. Sardonicus.

Castle claimed an alternate ending was filmed. But it was never played in theaters and no copy has ever been found.

See the draft of “Sardonicus” and other short stories by Ray Russell at UW’s American Heritage Center.