He always said he would die at 30. It made sense. His grandfather had died at 50 and his father passed away at 40. The grim prediction made perfect sense. Maybe that’s why he was so feverishly determined to accomplish so much so quickly. William Girdler made quite a name for himself in the six years (and 9 films!) he was active in the film industry. He was born October 22nd 1947 in Louisville Kentucky to a well-to-do family. Throughout his youth William was obsessed with movies. After a stint in the Air Force he returned home and started the production company Studio One with his brother in law, J. Patrick Kelly III.

Their first film effort was ‘Asylum of Satan’ in 1972. The $50,000 Louisville film starred soap opera actress Carla Borelli as a kidnapped concert pianist who is slated to be sacrificed by the cross-dressing devil worshipping Dr. Specter/Martine (Charles Kissinger) so he can gain attain immortality. Girdler claimed to have learned a lot from this film as well as from his next effort. In 1973 Girdler made ‘Three on a Meathook’ (also in Louisville) for under $30,000. This one was the story of Billy (James Pickett) a crazed woman-butcherer who decides to “help out” (uh huh) 4 stranded young women. It also starred Charles Kissinger (once again). It hit a few drive-ins across the country and quickly disappeared. Gridler followed that film by moving into the more lucrative blaxploitation market. In 1975 he made the black cop/white cop thriller ‘The Zebra Killer’ (aka ‘Panic City’/’Combat Cops’ filmed in – you guessed it – Louisville) Austin Stoker, James Pickett (again), Charles Kissinger (ditto), and D’Urville Martin. He learned even more from this misfire. As a filmmaker (even an exploitative one) he was starting to hit his stride.

In 1974 Girdler would break into the big time combining both the blaxploitation as well as the horror markets for ‘The Exorcist’ rip-off ‘Abby’. He was even sued by Warner Brothers! This rare flick is a must-see classic for so many reasons. Louisville minister and world traveler William ‘Blacula’ Marshall releases an ancient African sex god, which takes possession of his daughter in law Abby (the wonderful Carol Speed) who turns VERY nasty indeed – making lewd penis/sex comments, raping her husband, puking, swearing, and generally misbehaving - lotsa fun stuff. The cast includes Juanita Moore, Terry Carter, and Austin Stoker. The modest $100,000 budgeted American International film made 4 million in its first month of release! In movie-land money talks and Girdler had just entered the big time.

Like any good exploitation director/producer Girdler wasted no time in cashing in on his success. In 1975 he made ‘Sheba Baby’. He bragged that along with David Sheldon he co-wrote the script in one day, and if you have seen this movie you might well believe him. ‘Sheba Baby’ starred the gorgeous and always watch-able superstar blacktress Pam Grier as a hot detective who comes from Chicago to help her father’s floundering loan company in (you guessed it) Louisville that is being threatened by the mob. Despite it’s tame doings (especially following Grier’s work in ‘Coffy’ and ‘Foxy Brown’) the film was another resounding success and starred Girdler favorites Austin Stoker and Charles Kissinger. It was the last movie Girdler chose to make in his native Louisville.

The following year he went way out of Louisville – all the way to the Philippines to make the drug trafficking action opus ‘Project Kill’ (1976) starring Leslie Nielsen, Nancy Kwan, and Gary Lockwood. The film was not the box-office bonanza he had hoped due in part to the untimely murder of the film’s distributor! However, William had little time to stew over that misfortune. The same year also brought him his biggest financial success.

He dipped back into “borrowing” from current successes and came up with ‘Grizzly’ (1976) an extremely thinly veiled ‘Jaws’ rip-off starring Christopher George, Richard Jaeckle, Joe Dorsey, Andrew Prine. The first victim is even played by Susan Backlinie, the same actress who played the first victim in ‘Jaws’ --- though this time she’s mauled while showering instead of gobbled up while skinny-dipping. This is the sordid tale of a 20 ft. grizzly bear killing campers in Georgia. It was lambasted by critics, but not by movie audiences. It made over $30 million and was the #1 independent film of the year.

Never one to meddle with success Girdler followed this movie with another “nature run amok” opus -- the eco-themed ‘The Day of the Animals’ (1977). This one was about a whole slew of animals (bears, snakes, rats, hawks, cougars, dogs) which go insane due to ozone layer depletion and begin attacking a group of campers in Northern California. The cast includes Christopher George, Lynda Day George, Leslie Nielsen (as a racist who wrestles a bear…a truly bad film moment), Michael Ansara, Richard Jaeckle, and Ruth Roman. There are jumping dogs, flying rats, and a whole lot more in this cheesy little played-with-a-straight-face treat.

The story goes that while at the airport to do some final work for ‘The Day of the Animals’ Girdler picked up a copy of the horror paperback ‘The Manitou’ and the seed of Girdler’s last feature film was born. He promptly bought the rights to the novel. ‘The Manitou’ (1978) pulls out all the stops -- possession, medicine men, over the top special FX, and demonic birth. Clearly, it’s a must-see for all horror fans. It stars Tony Curtis as phony psychic Harry Erskine whose old girlfriend Karen (Susan Strasberg) has a rapidly growing “thing” on the back of her neck (YUCK!) which eventually gives birth to --- well, the spirit of an ancient and evil shaman (that sort of looks like Cousin It from ‘The Addams Family’ and is even played by the same actor, Felix Silla!). Talk about horrid STDs! The campy supporting cast includes Burgess Meredith, Stella Stevens, Michael Ansara (as John Singing Rock), and Ann Southern! Don’t miss it. This is one amazing flick for so many reasons.

Sadly, Girdler never saw the finished version of ‘The Manitou’. He died in a helicopter crash on January 21st 1978 while in The Philippines scouting locations for his next film which was to be ‘The Overlords’ – inspired by the success of the recently released ‘Star Wars’. Hauntingly, Girdler was right in his prediction. He was 30 years old at the time of his death.