21 July 2024

Nowadays, it would seem horror directors who have only made one or two films (and even then, of subpar quality) can receive disproportionate levels of exposure and undeserved publicity. But the short lived career of hardworking William Girdler knew little the benefits of such marketing trickery.

Born in Kentucky 1947, William Girdler served a stint in the Air Force before forming the production company "Studio One" (later Mid America Pictures). At the admirably young age of twenty-five, Girdler saw his film debut with the offbeat mental shocker Asylum of Satan.

The following year, Gridler finished up the gritty slasher Three on a Meathook. Seemingly based on the attention-grabbing exploits of famed loony Ed Gein, Meathook follows four women who find themselves stranded in unfamiliar territory...until potentially unstable young Billy decides to help them out.

In 1974, Girdler unleashed Abby, an all black variation on The Exorcist. Not so much blaxploitation as a straightforward horror imitation of Friedkin's classic, Abby rather successfully plays out the story of an upstanding young woman who gets possessed by a maniacal sex demon inadvertently unchained by her well meaning father-in-law.

Girdler's next horror outing may be his most recognized. 1976's Grizzly was the first of the director's two 'nature runs amok' entries. An enormous killer bear wreaks havoc with unsuspecting victims in a state park. Surprisingly bloody and with some nice death sequences, Grizzly is a well shot low budgeter - and a definite step up for then blossoming Girdler.

Taking his berserk brand of nature on the road, Girdler branched out the following year with Day of the Animals (1977), the tale of a group of adventurers who find that all type of wildlife has gone violently mad due to a ozone layer depletion. Zesty touches of style mix with dog, bird and cougar attacks on the hapless humans in this enjoyable terror mesh.

The Manitou (1978) was his last feature. A bizarre horror of a woman who develops a lump on her neck...a hideous abnormality that turns out to be the reincarnation of an evil Indian shaman. Odd to the nines, Manitou is clearly Girdler's most well polished product, boasting both a name cast (Tony Curtis, Susan Strasberg, Burgess Meredith) and some solid production values.

Having helmed nine films (six of them terror romps), Girdler died tragically in 1978 in a plane crash while scouting shoot locations in the Philipines for a follow-up to The Manitou. He was only thirty years old.

To be sure, William Girdler's horrors are not high level classics. But that's not their place. Instead, the southern director consistently employed an earnest yet easygoing narrative approach, often while maximizing a low budget. His too brief but productive tenure behind the camera showcases his overwhelming enthusiasm to entertain audiences. And therein lies Girdler's proudest accomplishment.

Abby 1974
Asylum of Satan 1972
Day of the Animals 1977
Grizzly 1976
The Manitou 1978
Three on a Meathook 1972
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