WIlliam Girdler 1947 – 1978

photo: williamgirdler.com

William Girdler was a low budget filmmaker who made nine movies between 1972 and 1978. They were B-movies, rip-offs and exploitation flicks, but they were entertaining and displayed a man with a love for what he was doing. Name actors of the era, like Austin Stoker, Leslie Nielsen, Christopher George and Michael Ansara, worked with him on more than one film. A few of his titles are now considered cult classics. He not only directed, but wrote six of the films he made, produced two and wrote the score for three films, two of those, his own. His directing career started out with two low budget horrors, Asylum of Satan (1972) and 3 on a Meathook (1972), which were both filmed in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

What will this pretty girl (Sherry Steiner) find behind that door? 3 on a Meathook, perhaps?

His next three films were for prolific exploitation studio American International Pictures. They were Blaxploitation titles, The Zebra Killer (1974), the Exorcist rip-off Abby (1974), with William Marshall, and the Pam Grier detective flick Sheba, Baby (1975). Abby was on the way to big box office profits, on a mere $100,000 investment, when Warner Brothers sued to have it pulled from release, due to it’s similarities to William Friedkin’s classic. Girdler’s first five films were lensed in his native Kentucky.

The great William (Blacula) Marshall as Bishop Garnet Williams in Girdler’s Abby!

Girdler left Kentucky for the Philippines for his next film, the Leslie Nielsen action flick, Project Kill (1976). It’s the oft-told story of a lethally skilled soldier battling his protégée (Gary Lockwood). The film was an early Troma release. Girdler’s next two films were for Film Ventures International. They included the Jaws rip-off Grizzy (1976), his most financially successful picture, with a $39 million box office gross and the eco-horror Day of the Animals (1977).

The fifteen foot tall Grizzly from Girdler’s largest grossing film of the same name.

His final feature was for the legendary Avco Embassy Pictures and was The Manitou (1978) with Tony Curtis, Susan Strasberg, Michael Ansara and Burgess Meredith. The Manitou was his most expensive film, budgeted at an estimated $3 million and was released a few months after his untimely death. It also was a box office success.

Michael Ansara and Tony Curtis set out to battle The Manitou!

Sadly, Girdler’s career was tragically cut short, when he was killed on January 21st, 1978 in a helicopter crash in the Philippines, while location scouting for his next project. His films were getting better from a production standpoint and even he once commented on his hands-on learning experiences making these movies…

“Other people learned how to make movies in film schools. I learned by doing it. Nobody saw Billy Friedkin’s or Steven Spielberg’s mistakes, but all my mistakes were right up there on the screen for everybody to see.” (Louisville Times, 1977)*

It’s a shame that an up and coming filmmaker like Girdler had his life and career cut short. Many highly regarded film talents, like James Cameron for one, got their start on movies like these. We may never know what he would have accomplished, if not for that tragic accident, but he has left behind a film legacy that B-movie fans will always cherish.




-MonsterZero NJ


Sources: Wikipedia, IMDB and WIlliamgirdler.com

*quote from WIlliamgirdler.com



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Flick is a prime example of the type of big studio, all star cast, horror films that came out in the 70s after the success of films like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby. It tells the story of emotionally troubled model Alison Parker (Christina Raines), who moves into an old building in Brooklyn with a group of eccentric neighbors, including an old blind priest (John Carradine) who lives on the top floor and constantly stares out the window despite his handicap. No sooner does she movie in, that strange things start to happen. She begins to suffer headaches and strange dreams and she’s even told by the realtor (Ava Gardner) that, aside from the old priest, there is no one else living in her building. Despite these developments, Alison continues to live there and her nightmarish visions continue to worsen. It appears that the apartment is a gateway to hell and the old blind priest is it’s guardian. It’s time for a changing of the guard, though…and guess who has been chosen to watch the gateway next?

Film is written and directed by British filmmaker and frequent Charles Bronson director, Michael Winner from Jeffery Konvitz’s book. It has some genuinely creepy and disturbing moments, thought they are inconsistent in their delivery and the film takes about halfway through for stuff to really start getting spooky. Winner has a very straightforward style, so the film has a very by-the-numbers feel, though he does manage some legitimate chills here and there. There is some good gore and makeup FX from the legendary Dick Smith and the film did receive some harsh criticism for it’s use of actual deformed people as demonic minions in it’s unsettling climax. The pace is a moderate one and we get a very ominous conclusion, as was common with 70s horror flicks. It’s not a bad flick, but one that could have been a lot better with a more stylish director behind the camera to give it some life and intensity…though, again, Winner does create a memorable and atmospheric climax and some chilling moments along the way. It’s just a little stale at times.

Christina Raines is fine as the emotionally scarred young woman thrust into a nightmarish situation. She is a little wooden in her performance, but she does alright. As stated there is an all star cast in support of lead Raines. Chris Sarandon plays her high profile, lawyer boyfriend who doubts her at first, then does some investigating which changes his mind and gives us needed exposition. He is a little uncharacteristically bland in the role. Carradine has little to do as the blind priest Father Halliran and has no dialog. We also have Ava Garder as a realtor, Burgess Meredith as one of Alison’s spectral neighbors, Eli Wallach as a hard-nosed cop and Martin Balsam as an eccentric professor. We also have some rising stars such as a young Christopher Walken as a detective, Jeff Goldblum (who starred as a thug in Winner’s Death Wish) as a photographer and Tom Berenger as a new tenant.

This is a moderately entertaining 70s horror flick from a director more known for his Bronson headlined action flicks. It has some legitimate creepy moments, but takes awhile to get started. It’s basically all a set-up for it’s disturbing climax which came under fire, in the day, for using real deformed and handicapped individuals to portray it’s demonic creatures. Regardless of how one feels about that, it is very spooky and makes up for some of the film’s somewhat staler aspects. Some feel it’s a classic and while I’m not one of them, I respect that opinion as it certainly has it’s moments. Worth a look.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 spooky specters

sentinel rating




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When I first saw this flick in 1976 as an 11 year old, it creeped me out very much and actually gave me nightmares for a few days after. Upon a recent re-visit though, I actually find it a bit slow moving and dull despite some spooky atmosphere from director Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker, Trilogy Of Terror) who is no stranger to horror.

The story has the Rolf family, dad Ben (Oliver Reed), mom Marian (Karen Black), son David (Lee Montgomery) and aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis), renting a large old house from the eccentric and strange Allardyce siblings (Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart) for the summer. The price is cheap as long as the Rolf’s take care of the 85 year old Matriarch who stays sequestered in her attic room…never a good sign. Things start off wonderfully, but soon the family starts to show signs of odd behavior. Ben becomes tense and aggressive while suffering nightmares of his mother’s funeral. Marian seems to becoming a different person and feisty, lively Aunt Elizabeth starts to quickly deteriorate and become frail. And even more disturbing, the more the family suffers these changes and sets themselves against each other, the newer and more restored the old house appears. Can this family escape from this evil place and whatever fate it has planned for them?

Despite whatever effect this film had on me as a lad, it now seems very tame and slow moving to the point where it’s a good 90 minutes in before it really starts to get creepy. Dan Curtis gives it some nice atmosphere throughout, but the film takes such a long time to really get going. I can appreciate the slow burn and slow character transformations, but it really doesn’t grab you till things really start to get bad and a character death brings dead flowers to bloom and the house literally sheds it’s old shingles for new. At almost two hours in length, it’s a long time to wait and then after an admit-tingly shocking climax, it’s over. The script is written by Curtis and William F. Nolan based on a book by Robert Marasco and is well written enough, though there is some clunky dialog and the somber tone and funeral slow pace really don’t serve it too well. That and Curtis’ experience as a TV director gives the whole film a TV movie look and feel despite being a theatrical release…which is where I saw it at the Park Lane Theater in Palisades Park, N.J. There is a spooky score by Bob Cobert helping things along and it’s overall not a bad film, just really doesn’t start to grab hold of you till it’s last act. Today’s impatient audiences would probably find it very hard to sit through a flick with little happening till then.

The cast are fine though, there is a bit of overacting on the part of all the actors despite the low key tone. After a flat first half hour Black seems to get more into her performances as the more Marian changes and Reed is good, though doesn’t quite seem right as father and husband Ben. Something is just a bit off to his casting in the role. Vets Davis and Meredith seem to enjoy being a bit over-the-top and young Montgomery really doesn’t get to do much but be a typical kid and then cry a lot when things start to get weird. A talented cast, but possibly not used to their fullest potential at least in Reed and Black’s cases.

So, in conclusion, the film is a very slow and kinda dull burn till it’s effective and disturbing last act. I don’t mind a good slow burn, but this was a bit too slow. It has a good cast and is well made by a veteran director, but just takes a little too long to get to the good stuff, which still works and it’s conclusion does stick with you. Not as as scary as I remembered it, but not a total letdown either. Worth a look for horror fans, but just be prepared to wait a bit before the willies really set in.

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: The house used in the film is the Dunsmuir House also used in the original Phantasm as the mortuary!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 creepy old houses…one before tormenting a family, one after. You decide which to cut in half.

burnt offerings rating