Welcome to The Last Horror Blog, a biweekly column on all things horror.
When it comes to slasher-movie villains, everyone invariably remembers the "The Big Three" of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger. While these iconic mass murderers are the undisputed sultans of slaughter, it's easy to forget that slasher cinema has a rich a varied history filled with literally hundreds of other maniacal madmen (and a few women) who were every bit as terrifying and entertaining. Today, we take a look at some of those other killers whose skills with a blade should have earned them more respect and infamy.
Cropsy -- The Burning
Like countless other slasher flicks, The Burning kicks off with a simple prank gone horribly wrong. Back in 1976, kids at Camp Blackfoot decided to play a practical joke on the local caretaker by placing a flaming, worm-riddled skull next to his bed. Unfortunately, the caretaker (a fellow named Cropsy) catches on fire and is horribly disfigured. When he recovers five years later, he returns seeking revenge, which he gets in bloody fashion.
With special FX created by Tom Savini (who turned down Friday the 13th Part 2 to do this film), you'd expect Cropsy's kills to be gory and inventive -- and that's what they are. Armed with his gardening shears, the character dispatches victims with panache. Savini's work upset the MPAA to the point that over 20 seconds had to be cut to secure an R rating (most notably in the film's infamous raft-massacre scene), but it certainly helped make Cropsy an unforgettable slasher villain. It's unfortunate he never got take up his shears in a sequel.
Billy -- Black Christmas
Bob Clark's Black Christmas has the distinction of being one of the first real American slasher films (it predated Carpenter's Halloween by several years) and remains every bit as terrifying today as it was back in 1974, thanks largely to its absolutely terrifying antagonist, Billy.
A riff on the wildly popular "babysitter and the man upstairs" urban legend, Black Christmas finds a group of sorority sisters battling a demented psychopath who's infiltrated their house. That's an interesting premise, but what really makes Black Christmas and Billy so unforgettable are his psychotic phone calls. Ghostface might be the go-to guy for terrifying phone calls in modern horror cinema, but his best work pales in comparison to Billy's.
There's no way to do the calls justice with mere words -- you have to hear them for yourself. Actor Nick Mancuso, director Bob Clark, and an actress who has never been identified provided the audio, with the psychotic killer reenacting a twisted drama that may or may not have ever happened. An ambiguous ending left the door wide open for Billy to call again in a sequel, but it never came to pass.
Frank Zito -- Maniac
With the emergence of supernaturally powered slasher villains like Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers, it's easy to forget that in the form's earlier days most of the killers were just plain old messed-up people. Few were more normal than Joe Spinell's character in Bill Lustig's Maniac -- well, if you count scalping women normal, anyway.
The point I'm getting at is that Spinell's Frank Zito was a guy you'd pass on the street without noticing. Sure, he's sweaty and greasy and disheveled, but you find a lot of that in NYC. What really makes Zito so unforgettable is the strange dichotomy of the character -- he's a savage killer like the best of these films' antagonists, but he's also a vulnerable man. Zito is terrifying, but he inspires a bit of sympathy at some points, too. Creepy stuff.
Leslie Vernon -- Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Speaking of oddly likable horror-film villains, few are more friendly than Behind the Mask's Leslie Vernon. Filmmaker Scott Glosserman went the Man Bites Dog route in this faux documentary, which finds a group of documentarians spending time with an admitted killer as he plans his big night.
Actor Nathan Baesel nails the delicate balance between personable and menacing in the film, which has since garnered a cult following. Glosserman enlisted fans to help fund a prequel/sequel not long ago, but he didn't reach his goal -- so the follow-up appears to be in limbo still. That shouldn't stop you from seeking out the original, though, which is a whole lot of fun.
Irving Wallace -- Stagefright
Most actors are at least a little bit eccentric, but performer Irving Wallace -- murderous star of Michele Soavi's classic slasher flick Stagefright -- was just flat-out bonkers. The mentally disturbed madman breaks out of his mental institution (shades of Michael Myers) and starts offing the cast and crew rehearsing at a nearby theater in Soavi's directorial debut.
Wallace is a lot like Myers and Jason in that he's a more traditional silent protagonist and he dons a mask (in this case, an awesome owl headpiece) while committing his crimes. Wallace may not have much to say, but he lets his over-the-top murders speak for him pretty regularly. This was a character who could have easily launched a franchise (particularly if Soavi brought his stylish visuals back for future installments), but the filmmaker moved on to other (also awesome) projects instead.
Candyman -- Candyman
Bernard Rose's haunting fright flick -- based on a Clive Barker short story -- was one of the rare highlights of the early '90s horror scene. Tony Todd plays the mythical hook-handed killer who comes looking for blood when you say his name five times, and it's an unforgettable performance. Rose and company's decision to make the killer African-American and move the setting to Chicago's Cabrini Green housing project opened to door for Todd's casting -- and this quickly became the actor's defining role. Todd's dulcet tones and a killer Philip Glass score were a perfect complement to Rose's meticulously crafted visuals, and it's unfortunate that two uninspired and subpar sequels essentially killed any chance the character had of becoming slasher-film royalty.
Madman Marz -- Madman
Joe Giannone's Madman is one of those films only devoted slasher-film fans have seen, which is disappointing, since it's surprisingly entertaining thanks to the actions of its title character.
Much like the Friday the 13th sequels, Madman sets up its story as a campfire legend about a psychopath named Madman Marz who killed his family and was hung, but survived and disappeared into the local woods. And like all good horror flicks, he's back for more action when a new group of young adults ventures into his forest.
Paul Ehlers plays the monster with style -- and has even revealed that his wife went into labor during filming, necessitating his arrival for the birth of his child in the full Madman Marz makeup and costume. Talk about awesome birth stories...
Matt Cordell -- Maniac Cop
Cops are generally portrayed as well-meaning if often completely inept forces of good in horror films, which is what made Maniac Cop such a pleasant surprise when it revealed that its killer was none other than one of the boys in blue.
Robert Z'dar (once described as "having a face like a catcher's mitt" by the MST3K guys) plays the murderous officer Matt Cordell in William Lustig's cult classic. I won't spoil the motivations for Cordell's rampage here, but I will say that it's a nice change of pace seeing a cop go rogue. There might not be any protecting going on, but Cordell certainly serves up plenty of violent death in this film and its sequels. As an added bonus, the film features performances from Tom "thrill me!" Atkins and Evil Dead's Bruce Campbell.
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