Friday, October 03, 2014
The William B. Girdler Guide
In years past on the blog, I have written career retrospectives of great genre film directors including William Friedkin, John Carpenter, Brian De Palma, James Cameron, and Tim Burton.
For the next month or so, I’ll be devoting space on the blog to a director who may not be great at all, but whose horror film work I nonetheless admire and love. This director could have been a contender, had fate been just a little bit different.
The artist I describe here is William B. Girdler. The director died tragically, at the age of thirty, just as his latest film, The Manitou (1978) was classified a hit for Avco-Embassy.
At the time of his passing, Girdler had years and perhaps decades of filmmaking ahead of him, but because of a helicopter accident while scouting locations for his next project, we were denied these films, and the opportunity to watch the artist develop.
If William B. Girdler were here right now, he might quibble with my assessment of his him as an artist. As extant interviews with the director make plain, he was interested, first and foremost, in entertaining people. He wanted his films to be fun and enjoyable, not necessarily enlightening. He didn’t want his movies to be about messages.
But I admire Girdler’s work -- which isn’t always good, let alone great -- because he improved project to project, and because he got his zero-budget horror movies made and seen, to the point that Hollywood came calling in the late 1970s, before he was even out of his twenties.
I harbor no doubt that Girdler would have continued to learn and improve had he lived, and today film lovers might talk about Girdler regularly when they discuss the horror maestros of the 1970s or even the 1980s.
Far from Hollywood at first, William B. Girdler made his films in Louisville, Kentucky, on tiny budgets, and utilizing local talent. His films showcase amateur mistakes at the same time they reveal genuine passion, real technical chops, and a tendency towards well, let’s just say, “original” visualizations.
Later today, I’ll post a review of Girdler’s first film, Asylum of Satan (1972), which helped kick off the Devil-movie trend of the disco decade (Brotherhood of Satan , The Exorcist , Race with the Devil , The Devil’s Rain  and so on).
Then, in the weeks ahead, I’ll gaze at William B. Girdler’s other cinematic efforts, including the charmingly-titled Three on a Meathook (1973), the Jaws knock-off Grizzly (1976), and his last film, the aforementioned Manitou (1978)…which is a masterpiece of weird.
I hope you’ll join me for this retrospective of a director who left us far too soon, and whose horror movies -- despite their absurdities -- always went for broke.