THE SAXON CHRONICLES
Prolific actor John Saxon passed away on July 25, 2020, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, USA. He was 83 and had been suffering from pneumonia. Most newspapers and trade websites acknowledged his death with reference to his co-starring role in “Enter the Dragon” with Bruce Lee. If it wasn’t that, it was a reference to his role as Heather Langenkamp’s cop father in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series. But Saxon wasn’t your typical actor or “B” movie star. He appeared in around 200 roles on the big and small screen and had a career that spanned more than half a century.
He was born Carmine Orrico in Brooklyn, New York in 1936. After joining a talent agency, and changing his name, he started to get bit-parts in films like “It Should Happen to You” (1954) and George Cukor's “A Star Is Born” (1954). It was an early career that featured several Westerns such as “The Unforgiven” (1960) and “Posse from Hell” (1961). After that, he moved onto parts in practically EVERY popular US crime and Western TV series of the 60s and 70s (“Starsky and Hutch”, “Petrocelli”, “Gunsmoke”, “Bonanza”, etc., etc.). Sci-Fi series also got a look in, with Saxon popping up in “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Time Tunnel”. But it was a career that also contained a wonderful mixture of horror projects, some classic, some exploitation, some good, some bad, all worth watching if only for the presence of the actor himself. He worked with directors like Wes Craven, Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and others. He only ever directed one movie himself… and guess what genre that belonged to?
So here is a brief appreciation of John Saxon’s horror movies (with a couple of minor diversions), to thank the man for the exceptional entertainment he has provided genre fans with over the years. It’s not just an obituary; it’s a history of how genre films have changed over the last 50 years or so.
RIP John Saxon. Legend.
The Girl Who Knew Too Much
(Directed by Mario Bava, 1963) – Plays Dr Marcello Bassi
An early encounter with Giallo (but not his last), this Hitchcockian thriller is considered a seminal version of this film-type, and maybe even the first one. It was called “The Evil Eye” in the US, which played up the horror (and comedy) aspects. It takes place in Rome as Nora Davis (Leticia Roman) visits her ailing aunt, who is being treated by Bassi (Saxon). When she apparently witnesses a murder, the body disappears (of course it does), and the police do the classic “eye-roll” to her requests. So, Nora investigates the “Alphabet Killer”, putting her own life at risk. However, she is ably supported by Saxon’s hunky doctor, who becomes the romantic interest and one of many suspects. It’s not one of Bava’s best, and time has aged some of the better sequences, but it’s still a classic of the time. Saxon is deployed mainly as International market fodder and accepted the role as he was shooting a drama in Italy at the time. Rumour has it that the translators had downplayed the genre elements of the plot to him though. Expect the usual twisty-turny plot shenanigans, and appreciate this form being one of the trailblazers for Giallo.