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Don't f*ck with the Sax! Dissecting Actor John Saxon!

12.10.2013by: Jake Dee
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ACTOR JOHN SAXON!

Happy horror-days friends! With the season of Yule firmly upon us, we've decided to tie-in this week's Dissection with a Christmas theme. And really, is there a better movie to celebrate this time of year with than Bob Clark's psychological-slasher-classic BLACK CHRISTMAS? Hell no! But instead of taking a look at the late great Clark's career (as we already did back in 2011), we're swinging the spotlight over to one of the unheralded stars of BLACK CHRISTMAS, a man that has graced every genre under the sun over a six-decade career - both A and B-list - yet always championed that of horror. A dude that's worked with Bava, Argento, Lenzi, Hitchcock, Clark, Craven, Landis and many more.

Flicks like BLOOD BEAST FROM OUTER SPACE, THE EVIL EYE, QUEEN OF BLOOD, ENTER THE DRAGON, BLACK CHRISTMAS, VIOLENT NAPLES, THE BEES, BEYOND EVIL, BLOOD BEACH, CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE, TENEBRE, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, HANDS OF STEEL, DEATH HOUSE, NEW NIGHTMARE, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN or "Masters Of Horror" - ladies and gents, join us as we Dissect the always excellent character actor John Saxon!

BEST WORK

Buy BLACK CHRISTMAS here

While he's probably best known for his role as Nancy's father and town sheriff in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, at least in the pop-cultural realm, I believe John Saxon's finest horror film work has to be in BLACK CHRISTMAS. Or at least, it's in the top three horror joints he's ever appeared in, and that says a ton considering the number of notches in his belt. Ironically, Saxon was cast last minute as a replacement for Edmond O'Brien, who fell ill prior to production. Word is composer Carl Zittrer was the one responsible for contacting Saxon to play the role, having met him on another sleazy exploitation flick years before. Good thing too, as it really becomes through Saxon's Lt. Fuller that we come to perceive the gist of BLACK CHRISTMAS' twisted plot. Until we start to cut to Fuller in the police station, we're not entirely sure what the hell is going on. It's through his eyes that we start to make sense of things. Are the sorority sisters really being tormented? Is it a collegiate prank? Who's responsible?

BLACK CHRISTMAS truly deserves its classic status as a psycho-slasher forerunner. It's not only widely hailed as the first American film to feature hand-held shots from the killer's point of view (a trope made even more popular by John Carpenter in HALLOWEEN), it's also been noted as the first film to have a killer make phone calls to their victims from inside their own houses. Again, this entire conceit was made into a feature film called WHEN A STRANGER CALLS in 1979. Ironically, that flick, like BLACK CHRISTMAS, was abysmally remade in 2006. And let's be honest, part of the reason for them being abysmal is poor casting. Instead of casting real-looking, naturalistic, believable and talented character actors like John Saxon - too much emphasis on casting the cutest it-model-of-the-day was placed. I mean, Camilla Belle or Carol Kane? Margot Kidder or Katie Cassidy? John Saxon or motherf*ckin Oliver Hudson? Case rested!

WORST WORK

Buy DEATH HOUSE here

When your career spans 60 years and almost 200 credits, yeah, you're going to have your fair share of misfires. And when you work as diligently in the genre world as John Saxon, that may count doubly. So take your pick. I could cite anything from BLOOD BEAST FROM OUTER SPACE, THE BEES, HELLMASTER, MY MOM'S A WEREWOLF, BLOOD BEACH, on and on. So instead of breaking down any one particular worst-of, I'm more interested in talking a little about Saxon's one and only directorial effort...the 1987 horror flick DEATH HOUSE!

Emblematic of late-80s zombie movie cheese, DEATH HOUSE centers on an unruly federal agent who takes to an experimental new drug to synthesize an army of undead warriors. That is, a horde of zombies in prison! While far from a great film, ZOMBIE DEATH HOUSE (as it's known in some circles) is a fun entry into the low-budget ($1.5 million) zombie subgenre. Saxon also managed to feature himself as the main villain, a man hell-bent on assuming ultimate power. Sadly, Saxon only took the job when the original director dropped out, providing Saxon could star as well. Thing is, producers made him shoot more car chases and gore scenes in way that, in retrospect, Saxon admitted prohibited from making the film he envisioned. Still, when the man had the chance to make his very own film, he chose to rep the macabre. Gotta love him for that!

TRADEMARKS

Buy A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET here

Saxon often plays tough, gritty, gruff, take-no-shit law enforcers that tend to blur the line between right and wrong. In flicks like BLACK CHRISTMAS, BLOOD BEACH, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM, MAXIMUM FORCE, THE KILLERS WITHIN, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, and even his own directorial effort, DEATH HOUSE - Saxon plays some sort of legal authority figure with a deep moral ambiguity. Hell, in some flicks, law enforcer or not, Saxon flat out busts motherf*ckers up...be it with his fists, a la ENTER THE DRAGON, or with a rocket-launcher like in HANDS OF STEEL. Lesson to be gleaned? Don't f*ck with the Sax!

HIDDEN GEM

Buy HANDS OF STEEL here

It's a simple law of averages. When you have such a high volume of work, there's bound to be lost nuggets of gold buried underneath even the smoothest and rockiest roads of one's career. Mr. Saxon had the good fortune of working as a bit player in A-list pictures in the late 50s, before embracing his heritage as Carmine Orrico (his birth name) and starring in Italian Giallo flicks with the country's greatest: Mario Bava (THE EVIL EYE, QUEEN OF BLOOD), Dario Argento (TENEBRE, "Masters of Horror"), Umberto Lenzi (VIOLENT NAPLES, NIGHTMARE BEACH), Sergio Martino (THE SCORPION WITH TWO TALES, HANDS OF STEEL) and others.

After landing BLACK CHRISTMAS in 1974, Saxon continued to land starring gigs in low budget horror flicks, often foreign, many unseen by most. Then ELM STREET came in '84, which not only cemented him as a recognizable American horror film actor, the Wes Craven hit afforded Saxon the opportunity to rock some TV gigs later on as well ("Dynasty", Falcon Crest", "Murder, She Wrote", etc.)...all the while still capitalizing on his status as a go-to man in horror.

Buy CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE here

But if I have to, I'll single out the 1980 film CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE as a hidden gem of Saxon's to see. The flick is co-written and directed by Antonio Margheriti (aka Anthony M. Dawson), and not only gives Saxon top billing, it actually ranks among some of the best viral/cannibal flicks out there (somewhat eclipsed by the release of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST the same year). Made on a low-budget in Italy and Spain, Saxon plays one of four Vietnam vets who unknowingly return home with a deadly strain of virus...one that turns people into flesh-eating zombies!

The flick is extremely gory, funny, fast-paced, action-packed and a whole lot of fun. But more than that, it's unique to its subgenre. It really is. Because, not only does it offer commentary on the ill-effects of war (Vietnam in particular), it also features a decade-long process of mutation (not immediate) and then, boldly turns its lead character into one of the inflicted. Seriously, if you can find the time, check out CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE for an epic Saxon gem!

NEXT PROJECT

Buy ENTER THE DRAGON here

Marking his 196th screen credit, Saxon will next be seen in the self-reflexive genre comedy BRING ME THE HEAD OF LANCE HENRIKSEN, written and directed by Michael Worth. Obviously riffing on both the great Sam Peckinpah picture BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, and the B-movie celebrity of Henriksen and the rest of its well known cast, it appears Saxon will be portraying himself in the movie. Peep the official synopsis:

When 80s B-movie icon Tim Thomerson wakes up one day to realize the acting roles are not coming his way anymore, he sets out on a quest to find his former co-star Lance Henriksen to discover his secret of Hollywood longevity and gets more than he bargained for in the process.

Currently in post-production, the flick also stars Tim Thomerson, Adrienne Barbeau, Martin Kove, John Witherspoon, Cerina Vincent, Casey Sander and Art LaFleur. It's one of two films Saxon did this year, after not appearing in one since 2009. Welcome back, Johnny!

OVERALL

In short, John Saxon is one of the most diverse, most reliable, most badass character actors the film biz has ever seen. He's done bit-work in A-list projects, starring work in B-movie genre flicks, done westerns, kung-fu flicks, action, drama, TV, and ultimately, become a legendary go-to player in the horror genre. He's appeared in some of the all-time classics, domestic (BLACK CHRISTMAS, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) and foreign (THE EVIL EYE, CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE), working with equally legendary talent behind the camera (Bava, Argento, Craven, Clark). I mean it when I say it's character actors like John Saxon that are the creative glue that hold memorable movies together. Nobody's been better than John Saxon in that regard!

Extra Tidbit: What's your favorite John Saxon role or movie?

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5:50PM on 12/11/2013
my buddy's aunt makes $70 an hour on the internet. She has been without work for nine months but last month her payment was $12442 just working on the internet for a few hours. blog link... www.Buzz19.com
my buddy's aunt makes $70 an hour on the internet. She has been without work for nine months but last month her payment was $12442 just working on the internet for a few hours. blog link... www.Buzz19.com
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11:31AM on 12/10/2013
Black Christmas doesn't receive as much love as it should have. I think it's a thriller that was Before its time. It's dark, moody and effin' scary & creepy. I remember being scared my wits out first time I watched it and still feels that watching the movie nowadays. And that ending plus the whole end credits it just makes you ask a lot of questions. How many horror movies can do that?
Black Christmas doesn't receive as much love as it should have. I think it's a thriller that was Before its time. It's dark, moody and effin' scary & creepy. I remember being scared my wits out first time I watched it and still feels that watching the movie nowadays. And that ending plus the whole end credits it just makes you ask a lot of questions. How many horror movies can do that?
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