Some time ago I came to the conclusion that the cinephilia we find most familiar and legible—the Sirk auteurists and the Tarantino fanboys, the art house connoisseurs and the chick flick loyalists, the western buffs and silent scholars—are not necessarily those with the deepest roots. Time and again I have been impressed by the quite genuine commitment of the original cultists—the horror aficionados. I’m talking here about those who grew up watching Lugosi and Karloff on local television stations and remember these transmissions with undiminished affection. Nowhere will you find less careerism or pretense. In my experience those who propound the virtues of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or I Spit on Your Grave are often exceedingly sweet and sincere.
Slaughter, born in 1885, was a Victorian by birth as well as by sensibility: his grandly theatrical acting style reflects decades of touring the hinterlands in road company productions of shopworn melodramas. To hear his demented chuckle as he strangles a helpless victim or chases a shrieking virgin up the stairs, to watch as he literally rubs his hands together in evil glee or smoothes down the ends of his handlebar mustache, is to be transported back to an era of footlights and greasepaint. This is not camp exaggeration but a genuine relic of the time before Ibsen’s naturalism tamed the stage.