The Birth of the Slasher Film and the Influential Slashers That Have Kept Them Alive

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert Freese contributes regularly to Videoscope, Drive-in Asylum, Grindhouse Purgatoryand the Italian language genre magazine Nocturno, as well as the Lunchmeat VHS blog. His interview with Italian screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti and his creation of the slasher film was the featured article for Rue Morgue’s 23rd Anniversary Halloween Issue. Earlier in the year he wrote about a science-fiction movie Mario Bava almost made with Roger Corman for the Videoscope website. He also contributes blogs about films and fiction for the library system he works for, as well as co-hosts the podcast, Two Librarians Walk into a Shelf, which kicked off October chatting with best-selling horror author Grady Hendrix.

Much like the creeping lunatics that stalk their prey in the films we’re about to discuss, the slasher genre seems to have no end. The maniacs continue to kill in creative fashion year after year, with new fans going back to learn their slasher history and unearth the films that are now considered classic examples of the genre. 

Where did it begin? We all have our own theory, fans of the slice-and-dice. As a fan, as someone who enjoys the history of cinema in general and horror cinema specifically, I have my own theory on where these lowly regarded but much-loved films experienced their birth. The slasher film is a beast of many fathers.

There’s no doubt that Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960 is the granddaddy of bloody knife pictures. All the trappings are there: disturbed young man next door, woman in shower, knife, mummified mom in the root cellar. It is a crime story, a mystery, thriller, that is clearly comfortable being described as “horror,” but is it a slasher? I say no, and not because Hitchcock produced it or because it was a studio picture. Let’s be honest, the studio executives didn’t care for the story and couldn’t be bothered to give Hitch enough money to shoot it in color. It was a B-movie from the start, until they saw it and hyped it as an A-movie. Fundamentally, it has the ingredients of a slasher film, but I cannot justify placing it within the slasher canon. 

In Italy, Mario Bava was using his camera like an artist uses a paintbrush to produce the wonderful mystery thrillers that became known as giallo, so referred because they recalled a popular series of Italian mystery paperbacks easily identified by their “yellow” covers. (Giallo is the Italian word for yellow.)

Bava delivered what many consider the first giallo with La ragazza che sapeva troppo / The Girl Who Knew Too Much in 1963. Then in 1964 came his 6 donne per l’assassino / Blood and Black Lace, another influential giallo that highlighted the exaggerated death scenes of the fashion models targeted for extermination. The influence of the Italian giallo cannot be discounted when tracing back the ancestry of the slasher film.

Herschel Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast in 1963 certainly displayed the kind of gore the slasher genre associated itself with, as well as some bare flesh. Other Lewis titles like Two Thousand Maniacs (1964) and Color Me Blood Red (1964), although closer to what I consider a slasher than Psycho, helped steer the slasher in the right direction, but they can take little more credit than that. (In my mind, these are “gore” movies, similar but different enough not to qualify classification as “slasher.”)

Throughout the remainder of the decade, many “knife-kill” pictures were released, all trying to cash in on that sweet, sweet box office green Psycho earned earlier. (In fact, the influence of Psycho can be seen all the way up to 1980s, with a film like Silent Scream, that was kind of a “slasher-lite” but still a solid shocker in the Psycho mold.)

By early 1970, Dario Argento’s L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo / The Bird with the Crystal Plumage re-invigorated the giallo and Argento was hailed as the new “Hitchcock.” The basic skeleton of the slasher film was there, but still this is not what I consider when I hear the word “slasher.”

Ecologia del delitto/Bay of Blood (1971)

Then in 1971, Mario Bava embarked on another giallo. Working with young screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti, they devised an ever-twisting plot and planned thirteen exaggerated murder sequences to push the boundaries of what had been done before. The film was Ecologia del delitto / Chain Reaction, as it was called during the plotting and then Bay of Blood, the title it is most commonly known by today. Bava and Sacchetti worked not so much on the plot, but on the individual murder set pieces, with the director explaining in detail to his writer what he wanted to accomplish with the scene, how he wanted to utilize the camera and lighting to shoot it. He encouraged Sacchetti to keep pushing, to go big, always with the intention on scaring the audience and exaggerating the violence. It was released in Italy in ’71 and then the United States in ’72, where the film went out under various titles, for numerous releases and re-releases over the years. 

The story revolves around an idyllic piece of lake front property and a number of people trying to attain it after the owner, Countess Federica Donati, is violently murdered by her husband. This is no spoiler, as it happens within the opening moments of the film. 

Murder runs wild in this secluded piece of paradise and the bodies pile up, literally. This is certainly a thriller that you will not get ahead of, as the plot continues to twist and turn right up to its grim finale.

What Bay of Blood has that no other film had up to this time to make me consider it the starting point of the “slasher film movement” is the inclusion of young people, young adults, teenagers. For the first time, right in the middle of a mystery story, two couples show up to do nothing more than get drunk, get high, get laid and get murdered. That, in my opinion is what makes this a true contender for “birth of the slasher film” honors, the inclusion of these young interlopers. 

The giallo almost exclusively revolved around an adult, usually a male, becoming involved with a mystery plot and following clues to solve the mystery. Yes, they involved teens, especially schoolgirls as hapless victims, but the fact these young people show up to “party,” puts it squarely in line with what I consider a slasher film today.

To me, the moment at the beginning when the Countess is killed, and her murder takes off his black gloves (an obvious trope of the giallo) and is revealed to be her husband, this is where I feel Bava and Sacchetti are saying, “Okay, everything you know about the giallo is meaningless. This is not a giallo. This is something different.” Once the black gloves are off, the rules of the giallo no longer apply.

Sacchetti has assured me that that was never the intention. It was just one more way to keep the audience off guard, keep them restless to better hit them with the shocks and frights to come. He warns me time and again that, “journalists and scholars often do reconstructions of pure fantasy.” Meaning, we attribute our own meanings to what we see, whether the filmmakers intended them or not.

To be fair, whatever the intention of the filmmakers, once their film is released, it now belongs to the audience that sits down to watch it. If you’re a fan of the film, and I am, I think it is acceptable to draw such conclusions. I have watched and re-watched it many times over the years, so I feel it belongs to me to a certain degree, as much as it does the people who made it. I am invested in it and pieces of it will have meaning for me that maybe don’t have meaning to other fans, or necessarily was ever the intention of the people who created it. 

Further probing of Bay of Blood reveals that many of the tropes we connect with the slasher film are present here. The film introduces the idea of the anniversary of a past traumatic event resulting in reckless slaughter, partying young people, bare teen flesh, the killer’s Point-of-View, a cast of quirky characters, the oddball groundskeeper/custodian, graphic and spectacular kill scenes, thirteen murders in total, the finding of hidden bodies, multiple red herrings, murderous parental units and a twist ending. These are all standard features of most slasher films.

The earliest American slasher film influenced by Chain Reaction is easily Friday the 13th. In fact, the first five Friday the 13th films take a lot of “inspiration” from this template and go as far as copying most of the on-screen slaughter. (Friday the 13th Part 2, in fact, copies both the snaring of two young  people in bed with a spear murder and combines the idea of snuffing a victim in a wheelchair with the machete-to-the-face murder of another, among others.) To go one step further, if we assume the on-screen drama is playing out within the year it was released, 1971, it is a diary entry from the year previous, made on February 13, that inspires the following year’s massacre. February 13, 1970 was a Friday. Once it was picked up for distribution in North America, Bay of Blood was released numerous times, appearing on screens in the U.S. as late as 1980 and on screens in Canada as late as 1983, under a variety of different titles. Its first U.S. distributor, Hallmark Releasing, released it to theaters in 1972 under the title Last House on the Left, Part II, selling it as a sequel to their 1970 Sean Cunningham, Wes Craven hit Last House on the Left. (It was also released with promotional vomit bags under the title Carnage.) Just considering how long it continued to appear in theatrical re-release, regardless of how wide, all the way into the ‘80s, is testament to how influential it really was to the livelihood of slasher films. (It was then released on home video, where it became available, being re-released onto each new home video format, to be watched and discovered ever since, under the titles Bay of Blood and my personal favorite, Twitch of the Death Nerve.) It is also worth noting that it will be appearing soon on a drive-in screen in Indiana for a Halloween weekend slash-o-rama, so it is still appearing on big screens today.

The film that had the most influence on Bay of Blood is Dario Argento’s Cat O’Nine Tails, but not how you would expect. Cat is a straightforward giallo involving a newspaper reporter and a retired blind reporter following clues left by a murderer. It has few of the aspects of what anyone would consider even remotely related to slasher films, but it is safe to say that if this film had not been made, Bay of Blood may never have been made.

The storyline for Cat O’Nine Tails was written by Dardano Sacchetti. After he and friend Luigi Collo had a chance meeting with Argento, the three became fast friends and began writing a story similar to the then-popular hit Easy Rider. After Bird with a Crystal Plumage became a success, they changed gears and tried to devise another giallo. At some point Argento went away for a vacation and restless that nothing was happening, Sacchetti wrote the scenario for Cat. Upon his return, Argento liked the scenario and Sacchetti began writing the script.

In-house friction concerning how the actual writing credits would be attributed on-screen created ill feelings among the men and all went their separate ways. After the film was released, Argento relayed in a newspaper interview that the plot of Cat came to him in a dream while on vacation. Rightly enraged, Sacchetti contacted the newspaper to dispute Argento’s claim. Sacchetti’s comments caught the attention of producer Giuseppe Zaccariello, who then contacted Sacchetti and that lead to him working with Bava. Cat afforded Sacchetti his first screen credit and although he had more interest in being a poet than a screenwriter, the money was good, and he enjoyed the work. 

It’s worth noting at this point the strange fate of Luigi Collo. Collo befriended Sacchetti and it was Luigi who wanted to meet Argento to discuss with him the world of cinema. Although he loved cinema and desired nothing more than to create films, he is all but forgotten today.

As I communicated with Sacchetti, I kept referring to Luigi Collo as Luigi Cozzi, to the point of Sacchetti asking me why I kept referring to Cozzi, who he didn’t meet until the late 1970s. I explained that everything on-line pointed to Cozzi when you searched information about Collo, suggesting that Collo and Cozzi were the same person.  Sacchetti had no idea and confirmed the same confused information from his own internet searches for Luigi Collo.

When I contacted Luigi Cozzi about this, he confirmed that it has been widely accepted that he and Luigi Collo are the same person, due directly to lazy film reporting. He assures that he and Luigi Collo are not the same person, and he did not work with Argento until Four Flies on Grey Velvet. Forget what the Internet says, it is incorrect. 

Sacchetti commented that Collo had a life of bad breaks and bad decisions that never resulted in a career of making movies. Collo’s love of cinema, however, did result in his participation with at least one feature that has stood the test of time. Nearly fifty years later, Cat O’Nine Tails is still available for fans to discover. Collo’s association with that well-known film, unfortunately, through an unforeseen twist of fate, has seemingly erased his participation from the production, at least as far as the Internet is concerned.

Sacchetti offered one final thought on his memories of Luigi Collo. “He could make movies, but he preferred to live his destiny.”

After Bay of Blood, films about murderers and madmen continued to be made, but most continued to be made in the mold of Psycho. (Slight exceptions would be William Girdler’s 1972 Three on a Meathook, a grisly take on the Psycho template, and Sergio Martino’s I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale / Torso in 1973, which foreshadows as an Italian version of the later Roger Corman produced Slumber Party Massacre from 1982.) All that changed Christmas 1974.

Black Christmas (1974)

For many fans, Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (aka Silent Night, Evil Night and Stranger in the House) is the first of the modern slasher film and the origin of the slasher. It is easy to see why, as many of what became cliches of the genre seem to be used for the first time here. If you are unaware of the slasher film’s Italian heritage, this would have been one of the earliest films to use these tropes.

We have a group of All-American (or All-Canadian) young women in a sorority house stalked by an unseen killer in the attic. He stalks the girls one-by-one, eluding capture while possible suspects are constantly introduced. Half of the cast runs around never knowing what the other half is doing or even knowing their location. 

It is a masterful game of cat-and-mouse, both with the killer and his intended victims, and the director and his intended audience. It’s an edge of the seat shocker that includes heavy breathing, madman’s Point-of-View, horny co-eds, creative (but not necessarily bloody- less is more) murders, quirky adult characters, an open-ending and the blood-freezing gimmick of “the lunatic is calling from inside the house!” (1979’s A Stranger is Watching made that gimmick famous, but to be fair, 1973’s The Severed Arm used it first when the killer stalks a radio DJ and calls his late-night program from within the studio.) 

Repeat viewings over time do not diminish the effectiveness of this shocker, and it benefits from Clark’s sense of humor, which helps elevate the horror momentarily before the next scare hits you. Clark’s typical dark humor sees that the film’s first victim, Clare Harrison (played by the wonderful Lynne Griffin) is never found, not even after police arrive on the scene. Her body remains in the attic window as the most twisted Christmas decoration on the block. (I do wonder if anyone ever sets a dummy up in their attic window, dresses it with a plastic bag, lights, and a fake Claude as a Christmas decoration?)

It is worth noting Dario Argento’s 1976 giallo Profondo Rosso / Deep Red, if only because the film’s extreme violence served as obvious inspiration to the glut of 80’s slasher films, particularly Halloween II (1981), which copies its scalding bath water murder.

Halloween (1978)

In 1978 John Carpenter and Debra Hill created the film that really started it all for most of us with their classic horror tale of The Night eE Came Home, Halloween. Although it wasn’t an immediate hit, it built a reputation and a following that is still going strong more than 40 years later. 

In 1963, little Michael Myers chops up his teen sister Judith and then, fifteen years later, breaks out of the asylum and returns home. When he does, he sees teenager Laurie Strode, who must remind him of his sister Judith, because he spends the rest of the day stalking her. Myers’ doctor, Dr. Sam Loomis, arrives in Haddonfield in time to assure the sheriff that “Death has come to your little town!”

It is a simple story, inspired, obviously, by Hitchcock’s Psycho, that came during a turbulent time in the 70’s and gave its audience, mostly teens, something to scream about. 

Halloween is now considered one of the true classics of not only slasher or horror cinema, but just of cinema in general. The opening scene of little Michael killing his sister Judith was as shocking as Janet Leigh’s murder in Psycho eighteen years prior and is now considered just as iconic. It spawned a long running series that continues to this day. It is one of the few slasher films, or “dead teenager movies” as they referred to them, that both critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert enjoyed. It was scary. It is still scary. As I write these words, it is about to be re-released to drive-ins for a whole new generation of fans to scream at. 

Friday the 13th (1980)

While Halloween is always given the credit of starting the slasher trend, I think it is more realistic to say that Friday the 13th in 1980 really started the slasher trend, especially for what most fans consider a slasher film. It was made to do two things, make teens scream and make money. It did both.

Friday the 13th tried to capitalize on the success of Halloween by adding the one thing Halloween didn’t really have, graphic mayhem. Tom Savini’s bloody “magic tricks” splatter the screen and opened the floodgates for every gory slasher that was made after. Kids flocked to the theaters for each new installment and every time a new one came out, Siskel and Ebert complained that it was trash and not nearly as well made or entertaining as Halloween. Be that as it may, as one of the teenagers flocking to the theater to see each new installment, I was there for the cheap thrill of bare boobs and bloody mayhem. Never once did I purchase a ticket for a Friday the 13th film hoping I would learn something meaningful about the human condition or glimpse into the true heart of darkness. Nope. I just wanted 90 minutes of cheap thrills with my friends and they delivered nearly every time.

Slasher movies hit a peak in 1981, with a new one opening up nearly every weekend of the year, some weekends seeing more than one new one released. They were everywhere and every kind of killer you could think of, including killers from beyond the grave, beyond the stars and from supernatural origins. But it was mostly a parade of jilted lovers and obsessed psychopaths that filled the big screens over the following years.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

In 1984, the slasher film got an upgrade from Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. This was the first new idea in slasher films in years, as Craven introduced a killer who stalked the dreamscape of his victims! When you can’t even hide in your head, nowhere is safe. This one kicked off a spate of rubber-reality dream killers, but none worked as well Craven’s prototype and Fred-heads came back for more time and again for a long running series that finally crossed paths with Friday the 13th decades later.

Scream (1996)

The slasher film had a dry spell for the next couple of years. They still made them, and some where pretty good, but nothing really blew up again until Craven returned in 1996 with the self-referential Scream, a smart slasher that turned slashers on their ear and used all that knowledge film nerds learned from watching them.

This was a modern twist on the genre, as the killer knew very well the tropes of the slasher movies of years before and used them to his advantage. Also, modern times made it easier for killers to be more productive and destructive and the cell phone made it easier to call from anywhere in the world.

The film was a hit and I remember the opening night and a packed house screaming at the top of their lungs during the film’s final moments. It helped to kick off a new cycle of slasher films that were hipper and more self-aware than those that came before. I think I saw nearly all of them in the theater and it was a fun way to say goodbye not only to the decade, but to the twentieth century. (Craven directed the entire series, with Scream 4 appearing in 2011. After, an MTV series followed for two seasons and as of this writing, Scream 5 is moving forward.)

Slasher films proliferated in the early 2000’s but now filmmakers were using CGI for gore, which was a bore. It wasn’t long before many went back to practical effects for more of the “old-school” feel. Some use computer trickery to make them look like old, battered films with cuts and missing scenes. Fun as they may be, they really don’t compare to a 35mm viewing of an old film that has played numerous theaters over the years and is full of genuine splices, missing scenes, and tinted red from wear.

Halloween (2018)

The slasher film to make the biggest impact so far in our brave new world of the twenty-first century has been 2018’s Halloween. Love it or hate it, it delivered a fun slasher vibe and even though it is more remake than sequel, it did well enough to rake in a quarter of a billion dollars in ticket sales worldwide (impressive indeed on a ten million dollar budget), solidifying the slasher film as a reliable money maker. It ensured two more films in the new storyline it created. Not only does its success ensure the slasher is here to stay, American Horror Story dedicated it’s 9th Season 1984, to the beloved slasher films of yore, and delivered some of the freshest retro slash-thrills in a long time. 

Because of the pandemic and the shutdown of indoor theaters, slasher films returned to the drive-ins in 2020 with a vengeance, along with every other horror movie from the past. Families, couples, and friends who just wanted a night out returned to the giant outdoor screens where all variety of classic 70’s and 80’s horror films, slasher and otherwise, returned to live again where they were intended. It does make you ask, “Why do people want to sit in their cars, outside, and watch an old film they could watch streaming anytime they wanted?” 

While more films are consumed through more ways than ever before, especially through countless streaming services, and fewer and fewer are being released theatrically, it seems like there are more slasher films now to choose from than ever before. I continue to watch them, hoping to find the next big thing, as the 15-year-old slasher fan that will always live within me is always hoping for the next big slasher thrill.

These seven films satisfy all the components of what I expect, require from a slasher film, and they all have had some major influence on the genre within the time they were released. Some films that have similar aspects that I don’t consider “slasher” would be The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Carrie (1976). Although similar in content, they lack some of the fundamentals required to be considered slashers, and while they come close- Carrie White’s prom night body count alone would make Jason or Freddy blush with envy- they just don’t invoke the same spirit. 

I don’t know, but when I hear someone lump those in with slasher movies, I probably transform into a bit of a “slasher-snob.” I have to remember that these films belong to all of us, and not all of us see them exactly the same way.

Exploring: Movies based on songs

Growing up, I always loved story songs instead of ditties that were just verse/chorus/verse. Many of these songs ended up becoming so popular that they transcended just being something you heard on the radio and inspired movies that may or may not have been successful. Here are but a few of the many movies that are based on all manner of songs, particularly story songs.

Please keep in mind that movies that simply take their titles from songs, like Can’t Hardly Wait and Sweet Home Alabama, are not eligible. We want to know what the song is really about!

Also, while some songs come after the movie and become a big deal, like 9 tp 5, we’re looking for movies where the song came first.

We’re also answering a very important question: Does the artist show up in this? After all, don’t we want to see the person who sang the song in the film?

Did we miss any? Let us know!

Take This Job and Shove It (Gus Trikonis, 1981): Written by David Allan Coe and sung by Johnny Paycheck, this country song found even greater success when it became a film directed by the man who brought us Nashville Girl. It’s all about a man (Robert Hayes) trying to keep a brewery alive in his hometown after a major corporation buys it. This has a great early 80’s cast, including Barbara Hershey, Art Carney, Tim Thomerson, Martin Mull, Royal Dano and James Karen.

Does the artist show up? Yes, Paycheck plays “man with hamburger” and Coe is Mooney, who is married to country singer Lacy J. Dalton. Charlie Rich is also in this, if you’re looking for country artists.

Convoy (Sam Peckinpah (James Coburn uncredited), 1978): This C.W. McCall song came on the radio the other day and Becca said, “I bet you love this stupid song.” I sure do. And I love the fact that this movie is somehow the most financially successful of Peckinpah’s long career as well as the reason why Ali McGraw quit cocaine.

Does the artist show up? No.

Big Bad John (Burt Kennedy, 1990): Jimmy Dean’s last film was based on his 1961 song about a couple of kids who elopes to escape the girl’s evil stepfather.

Does the artist show up? He sure does.

The Indian Runner (Sean Penn, 1991): Produced by Steve Bannon — yes, that guy — and written and directed by Sean Penn, this was based on the Springsteen song “Highway Patrolman.” It has a hell of a cast, with a late in his career Charles Bronson showing up.

Does the artist show up? No.

The Legend of Tom Dooley (Ted Post, 1959): Based on the folk song that was recorded by the Kingston Trio in 1958, this movie follows the lyrics of that song more closely than the actual murder case that inspired it. Starring Michael Landon, this was directed by the same man who brought us The Baby.

Does the artist show up? No, as the original murder ballad was written in the previous century.

Alice’s Restaurant (Arthur Penn, 1969): Based on the folk song 1967 folk song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”, written and sung by Arlo Guthrie, who also stars in this comedic retelling.

Does the artist show up? Not only is Guthrie in the movie, the real Alice Brock is on hand, as are Stockbridge police chief William Obanhein and Judge James E. Hannon. As to why the cop playing a role that made him look dumb, he told Newsweek that if anyone was going to make him look like a fool, it would be himself.

Born In East L.A. (Cheech Marin, 1987): After the break-up of his comedic team with Tommy Chong, Cheech Marin was invited by executive Frank Price to make his own film. Price was fired because of Howard the Duck, but this was a great decision, as the film based on Cheech and Chong’s Bruce Springsteen parody would be a major success. Marin wrote, directed and…

Does the artist show up? Seguro que lo hace.

Ode to Billy Joe (Max Baer Jr., 1976): You read that correctly. This movie was produced and directed by the former Jethro Bodine. Working with Herman Raucher (who also wrote Summer of ’42), songwriter Bobbie Gentry expanded the story of the song.

Does the artist appear? While this was shot near Gentry’s hometown of Greenwood, Mississippi, she does not appear in the movie.

The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia (Ronald F. Maxwell, 1981): How strange is this? While this was based on the Vicki Lawrence song, it has a new version of the song in the film, with Tanya Tucker singing, and has changed the words to fit the plot of the movie, which has nothing to do with the song that inspired the film other than the chorus.

Does the artist appear? No, but Mark Hamill does.

Harper Valley P.T.A. (Richard Bennett and Ralph Senensky, 1978): “The song was scandalous. The movie is hilarious!” Jeannie C. Riley was the first woman to have a song top both the country and pop charts — one week apart, but still, quite a feat — at the same time (Dolly Parton would also do this with 9 to 5).

The song comes from singer Margie Singleton had asked Tom T. Hall to write her a song similar to “Ode to Billie Joe.” Hall went so far as to pretty much copy the melody and write new lyrics. There was a rush to get this song out, as Singleton and Billie Jo Spears had already recorded it, but Riley — working as a secretary for songwriter Jerry Chesnut, rushed it out on Plantation Records. That’s the version that stuck with the public.

This Barbara Eden-starring film was so popular that it led to its own TV series.

As for Riley, she found God and went into gospel. She even recorded a sequel to this song, “Return to Harper Valley,” in which Mrs. Johnson goes to a school dance and ends up praying for everyone while revealing what happened to several of the characters. It did not chart, despite being written by Hall and mentioning the Stray Cats.

Does the artist appear? No.

Chattanooga Choo Choo (Bruce Bilson, 1984): As if one song becoming a movie starring Barbara Eden wasn’t enough, here’s another! Based on the 1941 Glenn Miller song, ads promised “The song that kept America chuggin’ along is this summer’s funniest movie!”

Even stranger, both movies were produced by George Edwards, perhaps better known for producing the Curtis Harrington films FrogsQueen of BloodHow Awful About Allan and What’s the Matter with Helen?

Does the artist appear? No, Miller disappeared during World War II and his death remains unsolved.

Copacabana (Waris Hussein, 1985): Dick Clark asked Barry Manilow and the hit song’s co-writers Bruce Sussman and Jack Feldman to make a musical film. They got James Lipton — yes, the same man who hosted Inside the Actor’s Studio — to write this movie, which originally aired on CBS on December 3, 1985. This is one of the most depressing movies a 13-year-old Sam had seen outside of Bud and Lou, so yes, you really did learn who shot who at the Copa, Copacabana, the hottest spot north of Havana.

Does the artist appear? He sure does. Don’t fall in love (at the Copa…Copacabaaaaana).

Yellow Submarine (George Dunning, Robert Balser, Jack Stokes, Dennis Abey, Al Brodax, 1968): One of the fondest memories of my childhood was getting to stay up past the end of Chiller Theater — which was showing King Kong Escapes — research points this date to be Saturday, September 2, 1978 — and until the sun rose to watch this as my father and grandfather valiantly battled to fix the furnace. This animated version of the Beatles was everything to me as a kid and it took more than 200 artists 11 months of hard work to craft it.

Does the artist appear? While the real Beatles — minus Paul, who of course is dead — show up at the end, their voices were actually John Clive as John, Geoffrey Hughes as Paul, Peter Batten as George and Paul Angelis as Ringo and George.

Across the Universe (Julie Taymor, 2007): This jukebox musical features 33 Beatles songs to tell the story of two lovers, Jude and Lucy. It had a rough editing process, as Taymor wanted a much longer cut than the studio. She won out and the film won over Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono and George Harrison’s widow Olivia. No word on what Ringo thinks.

Does the artist appear? No.

Coward of the County (Dick Lowry, 1981): Kenny Rogers was a massive crossover success in the late 70’s and early 80’s, which led him to turn his song all about the fact that “sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man” into an actual film.

Does the artist appear? Not only does he sing the song in the movie, but Kenny plays a fighting holy man who helps the titular character beat the unholy heck out of the Gatlin boys.

The Gambler (Dick Lowry, 1980): The Lowry/Rogers team started adapting his songs a year before Coward of the County with this made-for-TV movie, which told the story of Brady Hawkes, the gambler from the song. While the song has the gambler dying — or at least I always felt that way — the character lived through four sequels, all directed by Lowry except for the last entry, Gambler V: Playing for Keeps, which was directed by Jack Bender (The Midnight HourChild’s Play 3) and written by Frank Q. Dobbs (Enter the Devil).

Does the artist appear? Kenny is in every single one of these films, which you could have enjoyed along with a bucket of his Kenny Rogers Roasters chicken, which is still available in Malaysia. Strangely, while everyone associates Rogers with this song, he wasn’t the first to release it. There were versions by songwriter Don Schlitz, Bobby Bare and Johnny Cash released before Rogers recorded the song. Also — there was one more Rogers song turned into a movie, 1990’s Christmas In America.

Speaking of Christmas, the following songs all inspired movies:

The Christmas Shoes (Andy Wolk, 2002): If you ever wonder what song I hate the most, this movie will give you the answer. Based on both the song by NewSong and the book by Donna VanLiere, this movie gets played in my house every holiday season, making me into the worst Grinch you’ve ever met. This film is pure pain.

Does the artist appear? No.

Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer (Phil Roman, 2000): You know, it seems like there are no new Christmas songs, but if you go by this film and the one before it, perhaps that’s a good thing. This Elmo and Patsy Trigg Shropshire song played incessantly in 1979 and every year thereafter, it comes back kind of like herpes. After Elmo and Patsy divorced — they originally handmade their own cassettes of the song — Dr. Elmo re-recorded it.

Does the artist appear? Yes, Elmo is grandpa and the narrator in the animated version of this story.

Frosty the Snowman (Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass, 1969): Based on the Walter “Jack” Rollins and Steve Nelson song — first recorded by Gene Autry and the Cass County Boys and re-recorded for this movie by Jimmy Durante — this was the second of Autry’s seasonal songs to be turned into a film. The first one? It’s coming up next).

Does the artist appear? Yes, Durante — who recorded the song for the first time in 1950 — also plays the narrator. Who plays Frosty? Comedian Jackie Vernon, who is also in Microwave Massacre.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Larry Roemer and Kizo Nagashima1964): The longest continuously running Christmas special, Rudolph is based on the Johnny Marks song. Marks also wrote “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Silver and Gold,” “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and “Run Rudolph Run.” He wrote most of the music in this special, as well. What’s interesting to me are all the changes this has undergone over the years, from the Peppermint Mine being deleted (rendering the reason why Yukon Cornelius really tastes his axe throughout meaningless), number shortened for length to allow for more commercials and a new sequence being added to show Santa fulfilling his promise to the misfit toys. Even crazier, the original puppets used to make this were given away after it was filmed, with most of them being destroyed.

Does the artist appear? While Gene Autry, who is most associated with this song, does not appear, Burl Ives — who plays Sam the Snowman — did sing the theme and “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” which became seasonal favorites.

Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, 1970): Rankin and Bass further dominated the holidays with yet another addition in 1970, this time based on a song that Eddie Cantor first sang in 1939. Featuring Fred Astaire as a mailman, Mickey Rooney as Santa, Keenan Wynn as the Winter Warlock, Robie Lester (who was the voice of the Disneyland Story Reader albums), voiceover actress Joan Gardner (who wrote The Beach Girls and the Monster) and Paul Frees are all in this.

Does the artist appear? No.

The Little Drummer Boy (Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, 1968): First recorded by the Trapp Family Singers in 1951, this song ended uo inspiring another Rankin-Bass special. Man, these guys had enough to run one every day for the entire month of December. 23 of them were written by Romeo Miller, who also wrote the Tolkein animated movies, Strawberry Shortcake and  the Puff the Magic Dragon cartoons, which, you guessed it, were also based on the song by Peter, Paul and Mary.

Does the artist appear? No.

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (John Shepphird, 2001): If you have the Freeform channel, this is one of the many holiday specials that you can watch over and over all December long. It’s based on the song that was originally recorded by Jimmy Boyd in 1952, which was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church in Boston because it mixed kissing with the religious holiday.

Does the artist appear? No.

Last Christmas (Paul Feig, 2019): The latest film from Feig, whose Ghostbusters angered male-centric film lovers and was a bad movie that people felt somehow compelled to defend in the face of chauvinism, this movie combines The Sixth Sense with schmaltz, all set to the Wham! song that becomes inescapable by November. In fact, I play a game with several of my friends to see who survives the longest not hearing this song.

Does the artist appear? While George Michael has sadly left us, Andrew Ridgely shows up.

The Happy Elf (John Rice, 2005): Based on the Harry Connick Jr. song, this animated story is all about Eubie the Elf bringing joy to Bluesville.

Does the artist appear? Yes, he provides the voice of Lil’ Farley.

>Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors (Stephen Herek, 2015): The Dolly Parton song about how her childhood jacket — made from the baby quilt of a brother who died prematurely — is an inspiring tale. Interestingly enough, director Stephen Herek also was behind CrittersBill and Ted’s Excellent AdventureThe Mighty Ducks, Mr. Holland’s Opus and more.

Does the artist appear?  Nearly everyone from this project would return for 2016’s Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love, including Parton herself, who plays the Painted Lady, a prostitute who befriends the young movie version of herself.

Jolene (Dan Ireland, 2008): Based on the short story “Jolene: A Life” by E. L. Doctorow and inspired by Dolly Parton’s song, this movie was the debut of Jessica Chastain.

Does the artist appear? No.

Purple People Eater (Linda Shayne, 1988): Linda Shayne was in Out of BoundsNo Man’s LandGraduation Day and Humanoids from the Deep before writing ScrewballsCrystal Heart and this film. Oh this film. Neil Patrick Harris plays a young lad able to manifest the Purple People Eater whenever he plays that song, which he does quite often, mostly to save the home of Ned Beatty and Shelley Winters from an evil landlord. This is a movie that has those on the way up and those on the way down and no one in-between, such as a young Dustin Diamond, Thora Birch, Ned Beatty, Shelley Winters, Peggy Lipton, Little Richard and Chubby Checker. I’ll leave it up to you to determine the career trajectory of each. Perhaps most astounding is that the titular creature was made by the Chiodo Brothers, who made Killer Klowns from Outer Space.

Does the artist appear? Yes, he’s the aforementioned evil landlord.

Mamma Mia (Phyllida Lloyd, 2008): Yeah, I’ll admit it. I love ABBA. Even as such, I’ve successfully avoided this jukebox musical that uses 21 of their songs, as well as the 2018’s Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, which has 18 more songs and 7 instrumental versions of ABBA songs.

Does the artist appear? Yes. Benny Andersson shows up as a piano player on “Dancing Queen” and Björn Ulvaeus plays a Greek god. The premiere of the film in Sweden was the first time that all four members of ABBA had been photographed together since 1986.

Beer for My Horses (Michael Salomon, 2008): Starring and co-produced by country music singer Toby Keith, this movie is based on his duet with Willie Nelson. Rodney Carrington (who also stars in the film) co-wrote this comedy, this movie posits a world where Claire Forlani and Gina Gershon can both fall for Toby, as well as a place where Ted Nugent is a police officer. In short, it is Hell.

Does the artist appear? Yes, along with Keith appearing, Nelson shows up as Charlie, a circus employee.

Pretty In Pink (Howard Deutch, 1986): “Pretty in Pink” was first released on the Psychedelic Furs second album “Talk Talk Talk.” Molly Ringwald told movie-maker John Hughes about the song, which inspired the story and title of this film. The Furs re-recorded the song for this soundtrack, making it their second-biggest U.S. hit after “Heartbreak Beat.” This year, frontman Richard Butler — as reported by NME — said that Hughes got the song wrong. “God rest his soul, he kind of got the wrong end of the stick with that song. He made it to be literally about a girl that was wearing a pink dress and it wasn’t about that at all. It was about a rather unfortunate girl. Me saying “pretty in pink” meant somebody who is naked. It was a metaphor…given that, the movie did us a lot of good.

Does the artist appear? No, but the soundtrack to this film is a true time capsule of the nascent alternative scene of 1986, with Echo & the Bunnymen, The Smiths, OMD, New Order, Suzanna Vega and others showing up.

Saturday Night Fever (John Badham, 1977): Based on a 1976 New York magazine article (“Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night”) by British writer Nik Cohn*, this was group to write a song with the title Saturday Night, but as the band had already written a song called “Night Fever,” they told him to change the title. The rest is a cultural juggernaut. According to keyboard player Blue Weaver, the song itself is a sped-up disco version of the theme from 1959’s A Summer Place. The brothers Gibb would rule the charts when this was released, becoming the first band since The Beatles to have six #1 singles in a row. Here’s how much they dominated: “Night Fever” replaced Andy Gibb’s “Love Is Thicker Than Water” at number one and would be replaced by Yvonne Elliman’s “If I Can’t Have You,” which was also written and produced by the Gibbs. The song would be the #2 song of 1978, behind Andy’s “Shadow Dancing.”

The album from this movie was on the charts for 120 weeks, an amazing record, and generated six singles.

Pretty amazing for a movie that didn’t even have the Bee Gees used for the filming. Instead Stevie Wonder and Boz Scaggs songs were used until Columbia Records refused to allow Scaggs’ music to be used.

*At some point in the mid-1990s, Cohn acknowledged that he made the entire story up. He couldn’t get a handle on disco, so he based Tony on an English mod he grew up with.

Does the artist appear? No.

The Hitcher (Robert Harmon, 1986): Writer Eric Red had made a cross-country drive from New York City to Austin, Texas, during which he listened to The Doors song “Riders on the Storm”. He said that the “elements of the song — a killer on the road in a storm plus the cinematic feel of the music — would make a terrific opening for a film.” He would develop the script while in Austin fo seven months, working as a cab driver. He also based the role of the Hitcher — Rutger Hauer is absolutely perfect — as Keith Richards.

Does the artist appear? No.

Peggy Sue Got Married (Francis Ford Coppola, 1986): The song “Peggy Sue Got Married” is one of the first sequels in music, as Buddy Holly explores what happened to a past lover and the subject of his big hit “Peggy Sue.” This film, inspired somewhat by the song, allows Peggy Sue to go back in time and relive what led her life down the path it has, 25 years after high school. It’s worth noting that Kathleen Turner hated nearly every choice that Nicolas Cage made in this movie, from the nasal voice that he based on Gumby’s horse Pokey to the false teeth he wore. She would even claim that he was arrested for drunk driving and stealing a chihuahua during filming, facts that he successfully sued to prove were not facts at all.

Does the artist appear? No.

Road Less Traveled (Blair Hayes, 2017): Based on the Lauren Alaina — and starring the singer — the story of the actual song (Alaina was dealing with the divorce of her parents and wanted to record a tune to help others going through painful life-changing moments) seems more interesting than this movie.

Does the artist appear? Yes, she plays the lead.

All I Want for Christmas Is You (Guy Vasilovich, 2016): There’s a B in the B&S About Movies and that would be Becca, who loves Mariah Carey with the same devotion that I love Lucio Fulci. Therefore, this movie — based on a Mariah song — plays quite often over the holidays. Glitter, sadly, plays all year long.

Does the artist appear? Yes. We also have the book.

St. Louis Blues (Allen Reisner, 1958): Based on the life of W.C. Handy — the “Father of the Blues” — this movie is positively packed with talent, including Nat “King” Cole, Pearl Bailey, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald (who would adopt the titular song almost as her own), Eartha Kitt, and Barney Bigard, Mahalia Jackson and Ruby Dee. It also features ten of Handy’s songs.

Does the artist appear? No. He sadly died the year it was made.

I Can Only Imagine (Erwin Brothers, 2018): Man, there must be a cottage industry translating Christian and Country music artists’ songs for the screen. Here’s another, based on the MercyMe song. Well this one made back 12 times its budget, but it is based on the highest selling faith song of all time.

Does the artist appear? No.

Detroit Rock City (Adam Rifkin, 1999): A KISS cover band tries to meet their idol in the movie that uses the title of one of the band’s songs. The craziest thing of this whole movie is that all of the original members of KISS show up, as this was one of those times that the stars aligned and Peter, Paul, Gene and Ace were all getting along.

Does the artist appear? Yes. After all, this is all about the city that Paul said of, “”There is one city in America that opened up your arms and opened up your legs to us.”

The Elder (Seb Hunter, unknown): The first album with drummer Eric Carr and the last to feature Ace Frehley, Music from The Elder was the ninth KISS album and their first concept record. It was a return to rock for the band and also a chance to work with The Wall (and Destroyer) producer Bob Ezrin. The band was embarrassed by the results, never touring and only playing the songs — at the time — live on Fridays (“A World Without Heroes”, “I” and “The Oath”), Solid Gold (“A World Without Heroes” and “I”), and a strange trio performance of “I” without Ace — who’d left, frustrated that the album was not straight-ahead rock as promised — lip-synched live from Studio 54. Ezrin would blame cocaine. Stanley and Simmons say they were delusional. Ace would say the whole thing wasn’t a good idea. PS: Lou Reed wrote one of the lyrics on the album: “a world without heroes is like a world without sun,” which sounds weird being covered by Cher.

Oh yeah — the movie! It’s been in production since 2011 without the assistance of KISS, so who knows what’s happening with it!

Does the artist appear? No way in hot, hot, hotter than hell.

>The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo (Stephen Roberts, 1935): This British music hall song was popularized by singer and comedian Charles Coborn. This film also led to Francis, Day and Hunter Ltd. vs. Twentieth Century Fox Corp., a landmark copyright case that fought to prove that even though Fred Gilbert’s song had been copywritten under the Copyright Act of 1842, they had failed to acquire the parallel performing right under the Copyright (Musical Compositions) Act of 1882, which allowed 20th Century Fox to make this movie with the name of his song for free. PS: The studio won, but it took years. The song also appears in Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons.

Does the artist appear? No.

A Piece of My Heart (Edward af Sillén, 2019): This Swedish jukebox musical — there’s that term again, which refers to a musical film where the majority of the numbers are well-known pop songs — based on Tomas Ledin’s song “En Del av Mitt Hjärta.” It also features Malin Åkerman in her first Swedish-language film.

Does the artist appear? No, but he wrote several new songs for the movie.

Ten Cents a Dance (Lionel Barrymore, 1931): Inspired by the song of the same name, this movie features Barbara Stanwyck as a married taxi dancer — yes, like the private dancer of a Tina Turner song — who falls for one of her customers.

Does the artist appear? No. However, a Spanish version was shot at the same time and René Cardona — yes, the director of Santa ClausNight of the Bloody Apes and Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy — is in it.

Monster Mash (Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow, 1995): Before Cohen and Sokolow wrote Toy Story, they directed this adaption of Bobby Pickett and Sheldon Allman’s musical I’m Sorry the Bridge Is Out, You’ll Have to Spend the Night. Pickett is probably best known for the song “Monster Mash,” so that was added to this film, which features Full House star Candace Cameron, Jimmi “Dynomite” Walker, Sarah “Ursa” Douglas, John “Crypt Keeper” Kassir, Deron McBee (who was Malibu on American Gladiators and played Montaro in Mortal Kombat Annihilation), Dancing with the Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba and, of all people, Mink Stole as the wolfman’s mother.

Does the artist appear? Yes, “Boris” Pickett plays Dr. Frankenstein.

Love Me Tender (Robert D. Webb and Stanley Hough, 1956): Originally titled The Reno Brothers, advanced sales of Presley’s “Love Me Tender” single — the first song to sell more than a million albums — changed the title. This is Elvis’ first of 33 films (31 narrative movies and 2 concert films), which usually had a song featured within the film that gives the movie its name. This is the exception to the rule, which is why it is featured on this list.

Does the artist appear? Elvis wanted to be a serious actor that didn’t sing in his films. He even wanted to attend The Actor’s Studio. While he would tell interviewers that The Rainmaker would be his debut, but this was his first film and yes, he does sing.

Bad Romance (François Chang, 2011): Based on the Lady Gaga song, this movie has a major French influence and is titled Les Mauvais Romans, while the English title refers to the song that inspired its story.

Does the artist appear? No.

Ricochet Romance (Charles Lamont, 1954): With the tagline “That Ma Kettle girl’s got a brand new fella,” this didn’t even come at the end of the ten film Kettles series, as Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki, The Kettles in the Ozarks and The Kettles on Old MacDonald’s Farm would all come after this movie. Director Charles Lamont made five of those movies with the star of this movie, Marjorie Main.

Does the artist appear? Teressa Brewer sang the version that came out a year before this and she does not appear, although the song does.

Riders In the Sky (John English, 1949): Selected as the greatest Western song of all time by the Western Writers of America, this was originally a hit song for Vaughn Monroe. The songwriter, Stan Jones, also recorded a version, as did Burl Ives, Bing Crosby, The Sons of the Pioneers, Spike Jones, Scatman Crothers, The Ventures, Dick Dale, Tom Jones, Takeshi “Terry” Terauchi and Bunnys, Elvis Presley, Roy Clark, Johnny Cash, The Shadows, Outlaws, Disneyland After Dark, The Blues Brothers, Christopher Lee and so many more. This is the movie of the song, of course.

Does the artist appear? Gene Autry does, so I guess that qualifies.

>Love Potion No. 9 (Dale Launer, 1992): Based on The Searcher’s 1959 hit, this romantic comedy has Tate Donovan and Sandra Bullock as co-workers who magically fall in love.

Does the artist appear? No.

Piange… il telefono (Lucio De Caro, 1975): The Domenico Modungo song that this movie is based on was inspired by based on Claude Francois’s 1974 hit “Le Téléphone Pleure.”

Does the artist appear? Yes, Modungo is the star of the film.

Mr. Unbelievable (Ong Kuo Sin, 2015): Eric Kwek Hock Seng (Chen Tianwen) was originally a character on a TV show called Spouse House whose song “Unbelievable” ended up becoming a viral hit in real life. This is the movie that tells the entire story of how he ended up adding English words to traditional Chinese songs with comedic effect.

Does the artist appear? Yes, Chen is the main actor in this.

>Earth Girls Are Easy (Julien Temple, 1984): Based on a song on Julie Brown’s 1984 album Goddess in Progress, this musical also features another song from that album, “‘Cause I’m a Blonde.” Another song, “I Like ‘Em Big and Stupid” was cut from the film, which had numerous production issues due to director Temple’s obsession with details. That said, it’s a blast to watch even today.

Does the artist appear? Yes, Brown plays Candy Pink, the hairstylist who gives the aliens a full-body makeover.

God Bless the Broken Road (Harold Cronk, 2018): Loosely based on the song “Bless the Broken Road,” which has been recorded by everyone from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and songwriter Marcus Hummond to — most famously — Rascal Flatts, this is a tale of a young mother who loses her husband and gains a race car driver while staying true to her faith. In short, exactly the kind of movies we watch on this site.

Does the artist appear? No, but the song is sung in the movie.

Humanap Ka ng Panget (Ben Feleo, 1990): Andrew E.’s debut song led to this film, which tells the story of three junk scrapping brothers who want to be rich.

Does the artist appear? Yes, Andrew E. plays one of the brothers.

Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod (Rolf Schübel, 1999): Taken from the novel of the same name by Nick Barkow, this movie tells the story of “Gloomy Sunday,” also known as the “Hungarian Suicide Song.” Best known in the U.S. thanks to the 1941 Billie Holiday cover, an urban legend claims that more people have killed themselves while listening to this song than any other. And here you thought it was “The Christmas Shoes.”

Does the artist appear? No.

Shuì zài wǒ shàng pù de xiōngdì (Stephen Zhang, 2016): Who Sleeps My Bro? is a Chinese coming of age tale based on a famous song.

Does the artist appear? No.

Whew! Did we miss anything? Let us know!