The late 1960s and early 1970s were an important mixing pot of elements for what would emerge as the slasher movie as we know it in 1978 with John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN. Much has been made of the influence of the Italian gialli (arguably at their height in 1972), but the influence British proto-slashers had also shouldn't be underestimated (many of which appeared on American screens throughout the 1970s and belatedly into the early 1980s).
|Robin Askwith gets pierced like so many future victims in 1972's TOWER OF EVIL|
One such film was TOWER OF EVIL (released in the US as – amongst other things – HORROR ON SNAPE ISLAND), which has such striking similarities to at least one of the most-loved early 80s slashers, they are unlikely to be coincidental (more on which later). The film has a heady – and soon to become very familiar – mixture of nudity and graphic violence; revolving around salacious one-by-one murders of its teenage and young, attractive adult cast. Although it has a linear storyline, it is one that includes numerous flashbacks which allow murders to be revisited and expanded on several times. All the better to pack in as many exploitative elements as possible!
The film starts with two sailors approaching a (remarkably air-fix model looking) lighthouse on the barren Snape Island (supposedly somewhere off the English coast). There they find the grisly remains of three American students – two of which in a hint of things to come are naked. One girl has been decapitated – and her accidentally knocked head bounces down the stone steps of the lighthouse for what seems like an eternity for added shock effect. They also discover another limp teenage body pinned to a door with a golden sword. However, the last student is not dead but naked and crazed; she attacks one of the sailors with a butcher's knife, killing him in a series of frenzied blows. The remaining man (played by Jack Watson who gave a memorable performance in Pete Walker's SCHIZO a few years later) manages to subdue her by bashing her over the head and dragging her back to the mainland.
|Nudity in TOWER OF EVIL is unusually even-handed with both men and women's clothes regularly falling off|
Penny (Candace Glendenning), the surviving teen, is put under psychiatric care by a physician whose learned diagnosis is that “She's blown a fuse!”. He uses a type of hypnosis (akin to flashing disco lights at her) to try and find out if she was the killer or another victim. Sure enough, it emerges that she and her young friends were attacked by someone or something else lurking on the island. In flashback we see the American teenagers arrive, party, give oral relief (off screen) and their subsequent gory deaths replayed by the hands of an unseen madman.
The discovery of the gold sword that impaled one of the teens (a very British Robin Askwith sporting a very fake accent – none of those playing the teenagers were actually American) ignites the interest of archeologists. It turns out that the sword was Phoenician and over 3,000 years old. The mere promise of more ancient loot brings together an unlikely bunch who agree to go to the island. Along for the ride (in an awe-inspiringly unconvincing back projection sequence) is the surviving sailor, his nephew Brom (Gary Hamilton – who ironically was American) and a private investigator (Bryant Haliday) hired by the family of Penny to clear her name.
Once there, very little in the way of archaeology seems to happen. One of the team, Nora (Anna Palk), is dressed in an orange, crushed velvet pant suit – a more unsuitable ensemble for digging for treasure it is hard to imagine! She works her way through three cannabis joints; chucking out such smutty bonbons as: “What's a girl to do when her husband's away? Masturbation is so boring!” - before enthusiastically bedding able seaman Brom. You don't see this kind of stuff on TV's TIME TEAM! Indeed, most of the group appear to be in relationships with each other, or have been in the past and spend most of their time bickering or flirting. The other female character is played by Jill Haworth (who made the American TV proto-slasher HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS the same year as well as fellow Brit proto-slasher HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR a few years earlier, but was in reality very sniffy about the horror films she was in) is also sexually dominant, if not overly aggressive – which is one of several aspects that marks TOWER OF EVIL apart from other films of the period.
|TOWER OF EVIL hands out its graphic violence to both its male and female characters in an equally even-handed manner|
Of course, it will come as no great surprise to anyone who has seen at least one slasher movie, the fun is soon cut short as an unseen (flute playing!) presence reappears from the shadows of the lighthouse to start working their way through a cast blinded by the allure of treasure both gold and of the fleshy kind …
Given its vintage, TOWER OF EVIL not only surprises in its presentation of dominant female sexuality, but also in its generous helpings of male nudity. Anyone who has ever seen a Robin Askwith movie will know that it seemingly must be written into his contract that he will bare his bottom at least once in a film, and that contractual obligation is briefly met here. However, for audiences used to seeing copious female nudity in films of this period (think Hammer maidens chiffon nighties falling off with the slightest breeze or any giallo featuring Edwige Fenech or Barbara Bouchet) the amount of nude male buttocks flexing across the screen may come as something of an eye-opener. That's not to say that there isn't plenty of female nudity, as there is. But given the lingering shots of Gary Hamilton's thrusting, pert buns this is sexploitation designed to arouse the interest of both sexes – and also given that John Hamill (who made quite a name for himself in underground beefcake circles in the 1960s as well as with Joan Crawford in TROG in 1970) spends most of his screen-time naked it also had an eye on the gay horror fan, too. It's all very apt, considering that the archeologists suspect that the island may be harbouring a shrine to the god Baal – who was partly worshipped through orgiastic ritual!
|FRIDAY THE 13TH eat your heart out!|
In this way it is very similar to the same year's saucy murders-in-the-theatre proto-slasher by Pete Walker THE FLESH AND BOOD SHOW (which perhaps unsurprisingly shared many of the same cast). However, it's not all about naked flesh. There's the blood and gore, too! Just as it would be in less than a decade, pert nubile flesh is hacked at with all manner of sharp implements – the results of which are, in one case, a severed hand spinning to the floor and the aforementioned decapitated head taking a tumble. Teens are impaled and in one instance another is discovered in an ancient coffin with a gold, curved blade embedded deeply in his shaggy head.
TOWER OF EVIL looks forward to the excesses of the early 1980s, where the focus was on the pared down – but still potent – thrills of blood and t&a. In fact, at times it is only the antiquated teen talk (where the cast spout the likes of “Bad vibrations” or “Bravery isn't my bag, man!”) and velvet bellbottoms that remind you that you're not watching a 1980s slasher. Plus – without giving anything away – the ending has perhaps more in common with the gothic horror of Hammer than with Camp Crystal lake.
However, of further interest to fans of early 80s slasher movies is the unmistakable similarity of parts of TOWER OF EVIL to HELL NIGHT (1981). Namely the underground tunnels that the archaeologists discover underneath the island and spend lots of time running and being chased through. SPOILERS!: even more so the disheveled, wild look of the island's madman – plus the fact that it turns out that there are actually TWO killers. Both of whom were left behind to stew after an earlier tragedy and have become increasingly unhinged. END SPOILERS! … You have to wonder if the people behind HELL NIGHT saw TOWER OF EVIL. This is entirely possible as you'll see if you read on.
|Blood and nudity is a heady mix in TOWER OF EVIL|
The film was shot over 30 days at Shepperton Studios (in land-bound Surrey, England) in September 1971 on a budget of just £200,000 (just over a million in today's money). The film's director was Jim O'Connolly – a straight man who had already established his camp slash credentials with the Joan Crawford maniac-loose-at-the-circus shocker BESERK in 1967. The film suffered cuts by the BBFC before being released on a double bill with Hammer's DEMONS OF THE MIND (also 1972).
The film also appeared on US screens as HORROR OF SNAPE ISLAND (again after some cuts). As was common before the popularity of video, TOWER OF EVIL was retitled and repackaged several times. Most shamelessly it was passed off as a sequel to John Carpenter's 1980 horror hit THE FOG as BEYOND THE FOG to American audiences from December 1980 until at least June 1981 (when it was often paired with Sergio Martino's equally long-in-the-tooth occult giallo ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK (1972) (retitled in 1981 as THEY'RE COMING TO GET YOU). However, there was some neat symmetry given that TOWER OF EVIL's ample proto-slasher qualities were being recycled during the height of the slasher movie boom, but quite what audiences expecting to see Jamie Lee Curtis return to battle ghost sailors would make of Robin Askwith musing: “We have sounds, food and some great tunes. This place is totally far out!” is anyone's guess!
TOWER OF EVIL is a vastly entertaining SCOOBY DOO'ish romp with added butts, boobs and flying body parts. If you want to join the dots of how the slasher boom of the late 70s started you could do much worse than checking out this often overlooked subgenre trendsetter.
female:3 / male:8
1) Male found hacked to death
2) Female found decapitated
3) Male found pinned to door with sword
4) Male stabbed to death with knife
5) Female found with broken neck
6) Female falls from height onto rocks
7) Male has head parted with cleaver
8) Male has neck broken
9) Male shot dead
10) Male stabbed to death
11) Male burnt to death