Arts

Cult Movie: John Saxon had everyman appeal and proper cult credentials

John Saxon in low-budget British chiller The Night Caller (1965)
Ralph McLean

John Saxon

JOHN Saxon appeared in more quality cult productions than most. Over seven decades of work, the Brooklyn-born tough guy, who passed away this week at the age of 83, made more than 200 films, gracing everything from teen dramas to low-rent horrors and sci-fi shockers along the way.

Where to start with a tribute to the man and his movies? Well, how about the game-changing martial arts masterpiece Enter The Dragon (1973), in which he played a shady gambler called Roper who had the temerity to take on the great Bruce Lee.

Understandably he spent most of his screen time soaking up a serious hiding from the bold Bruce but it remains a properly iconic film to have on your CV all the same.

Consider also central roles in a trio of Nightmare On Elm Street films, memorable appearances alongside Marlon Brando in The Appaloosa (1966) and Clint Eastwood in Joe Kidd (1972) and turns for lauded directors from Roger Corman to Mario Bava and it's easy to see why his cult status was always high.

In many of his films Saxon played a law man; his upbringing on the Italian American mean streets meant he could handle himself physically when the need arose.

For a good example of his everyman appeal I'll pick out a less-appreciated effort from 1965 for your B-movie delectation. The Night Caller, sometimes known by the more lurid alternative title of Blood Beast From Outer Space, is a groovy little British black and white potboiler from director John Gilling. A Quatermass-flavoured take on the familiar alien invasion plot, it's made for the sort of budget that wouldn't cover the make-up department's coffee bill these days but it's a seriously enjoyable little sci-fi yarn all the same.

It begins with a UFO crash landing on waste ground just outside London. When the army arrive and discover a small sphere at the scene three earnest scientists, one of whom is the stern-faced Saxon, are wheeled in to investigate. They notice that at night the object starts to glow and a strange clawed figure appears to emerge from it. The beast quickly does a runner with the globe in hand and women start disappearing in Soho. Are the two things related? Well, what do you think?

The grim lack of cash results in some dodgy effects, the alien is mostly a hairy hand lurking in the shadows, but there's a strange mood throughout that makes up for it. The plot, which mostly involves the “alien” luring female victims to their demise via a series of ads offering a career in glamour modelling, is ridiculous but hugely enjoyable all the same. There are supporting roles for great British character actors like Ballard Berkeley ('the Major' from Fawlty Towers), Alfred Burke and John Carson that only add to the magic.

Saxon is admirably deadpan and serious throughout and his performance helps lift the B-movie material on screen to a higher level than it probably deserves. It wouldn't be the last time he did that either.

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Arts