Horror cinema has been around since the late 19th century. That gives us 130+ years of thousands of individuals who have laid some cement on the foundation of the genre that we have today. From the performers who were drenched in blood and screamed their way through countless films, to the writers and directors who created the causes for those screams, to the makeup artists and costume designers who brought the horrors to life.
It’s been an internet hobby of mine since the internet was a thing to research those involved with the genre. The most interesting part of the research is the arrival of the present and seeing where these individuals from past films are at now. With this monthly column, I will be sharing with you bits of information that I find out on these pioneers of horror past, answering the question, Where [Sc]are They Now?
A plethora of genre individuals arrived at my brain’s doorstep when I considered who I wanted to cover for this month’s Cops ‘n’ Killers theme at A Nightmare on Film Street. Yet, there was one who knocked on my brain’s door with the force of a cop and the mystery of a killer. That person is John Saxon. A portrayer of many a police officer, Saxon was actually discovered by his agent after being seen on the cover of a detective magazine. While that cop demeanor may be his forte, he has also played a good bit of nasty killers and scheming characters.
Taking on the task of delving into Saxon’s genre films was one that I did not know would be as extensive as it is. The icon has so many projects that delve into the genre, and there isn’t just one subgenre that he stuck to. His credits are all over the place! There was only one logical way to discuss the highlights of his cinematic horror history, and that is to separate them as best I can via my own categories. So settle in because I have lots of films to add to your John Saxon watchlist.
Whilst there are many TV credits to his name, Saxon was a part of segments within some of horror’s greatest anthologies. The first came in 1972 when he was a part of Rod Serling’s The Night Gallery in season two’s 19th episode titled I’ll Never Leave You that shows him as the object of a lady’s affection who will do anything to her husband to get rid of him so she can love Saxon’s Ianto freely.
In 1987, Saxon searched recipe by recipe to figure out a lady’s “special ingredient” in a retelling of Alfred Hitchcok’s The Specialty of the House in the second season of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents reboot’s ninth episode. From Serling to Hitchcock and on to Ray Bradbury Theater’s third season’s seventh episode, The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone (1989), in which he portrayed an author who grants a jealous man’s wish to murder him.
Saxon appeared in Monsters’ third season’s 16th episode, The Waiting Room, as a father who returns to a house where he made a dark pact, and ends up having to follow through with the pact. The final TV anthology appearance – for now – came in 2006 when he appeared in Dario Argento’s Masters of Horror entry found in the second season’s dark and twisted sixth episode, Pelts. Other anthology entries include The Sixth Sense’s third episode, Lady, Lady Take My Life (1972) and the segment, Stanley’s Girlfriend, from the film, Ashes to Ashes (2006).
The Schlocky! The Hokey! The B thru Z Horror!
John Saxon has close to almost 200 credits to his name, and they can’t all be winners. There’s a good bit of iffy entries in his horror resume, but that’s not to say that some of them aren’t classic! Heck, Saxon’s presence in any project elevates it by a certain percentage. I shalln’t bore you with all of the films so I’ll mention a few of my favorites. My Mom’s a Werewolf (1989) is perfect late 80’s family horror with a slight edge to it (ie all of the sexual innuendos thrown throughout) that starred Saxon as a werewolf who bites a lady giving her the gift of lycanthropy, immortality, and his eternal love. Seeing Saxon play a smarmy man with a high ick factor for the sake of comedy made me love him even more.
Beyond Evil (1980) was a haunted house / possession tale that tried to play it straight, but with all of the neon green laser effects and costar Lynda Day George’s (Barbara) campy reactions, it came off as more of a midnight movie than a chilling tale. Still, Saxon plays the part of Larry, husband to the possessed Barbara, with such charisma and determination.Saxon got behind the camera to direct 1988’s Death House aka Zombie Death House. It’s a prison exploitationish horror film that revels in its infected individuals subgenre. Saxon also costarred.
“My Mom’s a Werewolf […] starred Saxon as a werewolf who bites a lady giving her the gift of lycanthropy, immortality, and his eternal love.”
I am only mentioning this next film because – holy heck – is it bad. To see Saxon mixed up in this mess was surprising. The film? 1992’s Hellmaster aka Them. His role? Professor Jones who discovered an elixir of acid and blood that turns people into bloodthirsty demon zombies (?). His endgame? Create an army of the creatures and take over the world. I think … I’m still trying to piece together the film due to its poor editing and excess of plot holes. It’s wacky, and although it’s bad, I can’t help but recommend it.
Other schlocky, hokey, B films include Blood Beast from Outer Space (1965), Queen of Blood (1966), The Bees (1978), Cannibals in the Street aka Apocalypse domani (1980), The Scorpion with Two Tails (1982), Tunnels aka Criminal Act (1989), Blood Salvage (1990), and War Wolves (2009).
Officer Saxon! Oh, Officer Saxon!
Here we are. We have arrived at the basis of this month’s theme at NoFS as well as the best of Saxon’s horror offerings. It all began with 1974’s Black Christmas. Saxon portrayed Lieutenant Ken Fuller who was supposed to aid in keeping the sorority sisters safe from the obscene unknown caller (aka Billy). Saxon’s Fuller didn’t succeed in his aid all too well, but did give off an air of a season lieutenant which led to his most adored role 10 years later.
Saxon’s biggest portrayal of a cop came in the form of Donald Thompson, father of Nancy Thompson, within two (and a half) entries of the A Nightmare on Elm Street series. His journey began in the inaugural Nightmare (1984) as the secret keeping, Krueger non-believing individual whose negligence resulted in the death of a few teenagers and his own ex-wife. In A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, the return of Nancy also brought along the return of Donald, but this time, he’s a drunk who denies the revival of Krueger.
His reign as Donald Thompson ended in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) where he played himself in the meta film who ended up transitioning into the fictional character of Donald Thompson as he sent Heather Langenkamp – who transitioned to her character of Nancy Thompson – into the final battle of the film. Saxon’s portrayal of Donald Thompson – to me – is the penultimate portrayal of a cop in a horror film. In the past he portrayed other cop or cop related individuals in both horror and non horror related films, Donald Thompson ranks up there with other top notch cop characters.
Other films Saxon has portrayed a cop related individual include Blood Beach (1980), The Arrival (1991), The Babydoll Murders (1993), and From Dusk Til Dawn (1996).
What’s to Come for Saxon
The 84 year old film gem has two upcoming features. The first is a science fiction film titled After the Thunderstorm. The second is a feature with a title that will instantly draw attention from any horror fan; Bring Me the Head of Lance Henriksen directed by Michael Worth (War Wolves). The film is a mockumentary style feature following Tim Thomerson (Near Dark, Trancers) as he comes to terms with being a veteran of genre features, but having troubles finding respect and work in Hollywood. He goes on a quest to fully understand how someone like Lance Henriksen has succeeded at continuously getting roles. Saxon happens to be one of the people that he meets with on that quest to understand longevity in Hollywood.
I promised you that John Saxon’s horror credits are extensive, and I am sure to have missed some in my research. Others that I didn’t have a category for are two giallos helmed by giallo masters. The first is Dario Argento’s Tenebrae (1982) where Saxon portrays a smarmy literary agent to the film’s main character, and who may either be a successful red herring or may end up being on the brutal end of the film’s killer’s sharp object. The second is Mario Bava’s Evil Eye (1963) where Saxon portrays a doctor that gets wrapped up in a mysterious whodunnit.
Whether he be copper, killer, victim, or lady’s man (which he did a lot of because just take a look at him), John Saxon has made a legitimate mark on the history of horror as well as the history of cinema. He’s a legend that we are ever so lucky to have experienced. What is your favorite John Saxon role? What about his features outside of the horror genre? Let us know on our Twitter, reddit, Instagram, and on The Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!