Prior to his death in a helicopter crash in Manila, Philippines, in January 1978, while scouting locations for his next film project (a Star Wars response known as The Overlords), writer-director William Girdler was a driven, prolific filmmaker who shot nine features in six years between 1972 to 1978. His final film was the Tony Curtis-starring The Manitou (1978). His debut was this shot-in Louisville, Kentucky, response to Rosemary’s Baby (1968), which deals with the head of a mental hospital who sidelines as a Satanic priest. Girdler’s most infamous film, his second, earned its notoriety courtesy of its later 80s VHS shelf life: Three on a Meathook.
Those films impressed Samuel Z. Arkoff enough, so he hired Girdler to direct pictures for American International Pictures. Those three projects were Blaxploitation pictures: the first is The Zebra Killer (1973) starring Austin Stoker (Assault on Precinct 13), the ever-amazing Abby (1974) with William H. Marshall (Blacula), and the Quentin Tarantino favorite Sheba, Baby (1975).
Girdler’s next film was a ripoff of the more successful and better known James Caan-starrer, The Killer Elite (1975), known as Project: Kill (1976), which also served as one of the few non-comedy films of Leslie Neilsen (The Patriot). Then he followed with his most financially successful film — which was another ripoff, this time, Jaws — only with a man-eating bear, known as Grizzly (1976). Christopher George returned from that film for the loose, man-verses-nature sequel, Day of the Animals (1977) — which also starred Leslie Neilsen from Project: Kill. Girdler’s final film was his most expensive production — and the best-looking production of his career: a truly original piece based on a best-selling book, The Manitou, even though it was a cash-in on The Omen.
But hey — Asylum of Satan cost around $50,000 and doesn’t look like it: the basement bowels of the Satanic chapel under the “hospital” is surely a wonder of costuming and lighting, so we’ll forgive the papier-mâché head of the Devil when he appears. Lucina Martin (San Francisco born Carla Borelli, later of Billy Jack Goes to Washington and O.C. and Stiggs) gets assigned at the titled abode and learns that she’ll soon be taking part in a Black Mass which has Michael Aquino, the man who wrote the rituals in The Satanic Bible, to ensure the accuracy. Except that, you know, LaVey and even Temple of Set Satanists don’t kidnap and kill. It is, of course, the type of Satanic movie your less-informed, ignorant self — drunk on a wealth of UHF-TV era Hammer and Amicus films — would make, complete with naked, bound up girls on altars, which makes this movie such a fun, retro-watch.
The film stock that was left over from this went towards making Girdler’s next film, Three on a Meathook. If anything, Girdler knew how to make movies on a budget — and he wrote and arranged the music for the two songs — performed by the Blues Express — that appeared in the film. Girdler also wrote the music for his next film — also performed by his friend, Eddie “Eddie D” Dempley with the band American Xpress — in Three on a Meathook.
You can watch Asylum of Satan on YouTube.
A Tribute to Nick Jolley and Eddie Dempley of Blues Express
The song “Red Light Lady” heard during the opening credits was written and arranged by William Girdler and sung by star Nick Jolley. The background musicians are unknown and may or may not be the Blues Express.
A Broadway actor and singer, Jolley was born on February 17, 1948, in Hindsboro, Illinois. His lone film acting role was playing the plaid jacket and checkered pant hero of Chris Duncan in Asylum of Satan.
Jolley, most notably, worked as an understudy and onstage performer in the Broadway theater revivals of Oklahoma! (as Chord Elam, December 13, 1979 – August 24, 1980; New York Times review) and The Pirates of Penzance (January 8, 1981 – November 28, 1982). He also acted and sang in many TV commercials and traveling dinner theater productions. You can hear Jolley sing “The Farmer and The Cowman” on the Oklahoma! cast album issued by RCA Records. His other stage musical credits included Kiss Me, Kate (1974), A Little Night Music (1976), The Music Man (1978), The Brooklyn Bridge (1983; review), Up in Central Park (1984), and South Pacific (1985).
Nick Jolley died at the age of 48 on February 8, 1997 (Obituary).
Edward “Eddie D” Dempley and the Blues Express do not appear in but performed “The Satan Spectrum Theme” during the end credits of Asylum of Satan. The song was written and arranged by William Girdler (and that’s Eddie, second and third from the left in the video stills, below).
Born on August 23, 1943, Dempley passed away on July 28, 2011, after a three-year cancer battle. Born in Oldham County, Kentucky, he excelled on the saxophone as a member of the Van Dells and Eddie D (Eddy Dee, Eddy D) and the Blues Express. The band, credited as the American Xpress, also recorded “You Gotta Be Free” and “We’re All Insane” for William Girdler’s next horror opus, Three on a Meathook.
Eddie started out with bassist Richard Basin in the Successions, as a singer, in 1964 in Middletown, Kentucky. The band secured the house gig at Bells Country Club off of Poplar Level Road from 1965 to 1967. Another popular club Eddie D played as a house band gig was the Doo Drop Inn on Story Avenue in Louisville in the mid 1980s. During this period he recorded and released on the regional Dunbar label, “Fanny Mae b/w The Same Old Guy (Who Still Loves You).” Another of Eddie’s lost recordings is the Dunbar Records’ 45-rpm Eddie Dee and the Blues Express with “Let´s Go Steady” b/w” Make It Happen.” During this period, the band was also known as Eddie D and the Country Connection. All of his bands also appeared numerous times at the beloved Colonial Gardens.
Around 1979, Eddie played with Jim Wilson, along with Jim Baugher, David Marasco, George Ashmore, Rod Wurtle, and Rob Brown when the band was called Eddie D and Energy. That version of the band played at the Fern Valley Holiday Inn, Big Moes, and the Old Churchill Inn, and Harold’s Club, the last, which way out down yonder on the ol’ Dixie Hwy.
* Nick Jolley and American Xpress images capped from their respective William Girdler films.
The black and white image of the Blues Express courtesy of the Dempley Family Archives, which also provided the biography materials, along with the insights of Paul Povesis, Caroline R, Richard Bolin, and Jim Wilson. Our thanks to all for allowing us to preserve their loved one’s career.
Nick Jolley bio information courtesy of Woody Anders/IMDb, History for Sale, and Ovrtur.