When classic horror fans talk about their favorite star, names like Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi are immediately mentioned. You have others who enjoy legends like Vincent Price or Peter Cushing. However, one name that almost never gets an ounce of credit is Tod Slaughter. I’m sure many of you right now are wondering who this amusingly named actor was and what films did he star in. It’s time to correct that. Beginning today and over the next five weeks, let’s take a look at who the man was Tod Slaughter and turn our weekends into Slaughterdays!
Tod Slaughter was an English actor born as Norman Carter Slaughter in 1885 in the era of Victorian melodramas. Yes, Slaughter was actually his real last name, not a Hollywood concoction. He didn’t adapt the first name of “Tod” until 1925 as it was more fitting of a leading man, which he had become at that point. He was the oldest of twelve children and even served with the Royal Flying Corps during World War I. He was a genuinely distinguished and respected actor who served his country and entertained many during his stage and film career.
Considering that he didn’t do his first film until he reached 49 years of age in 1934, and that he ultimately only has 21 film credits to his name, it’s no wonder how he can get overlooked by bigger film stars. Yet, all it takes is a viewing of one key film roles and you can’t help but enjoy his melodramatic over-the-top performance. He was the type of villain who would be twisting his mustache while kicking the poor widow out of her home and into the snow. While this type of villain is dated by today’s standards, it can be a lot of fun for true film historians.
Ironically, he didn’t start off playing the villain. After gracing the stage for the first time in 1905, he would move into the heroic leading man role for years. And when he wasn’t the lead, he was more often playing character roles but never the villain. He would earn a spot in the British theatrical history books for his contribution to stage in the mid-1920s for his work in South London, where he would revive several memorable melodramas including the now classic Sweeney Todd. He even played the lead role in Sherlock Holmes! But in 1931, his acting career took an important turn.
His first villainous roles would be that of Long John Silver in a production of Treasure Island. He then moved on to play William Hare in The Crimes of Burke and Hare. He had transitioned from leading man to villain, due in part to his aging physique. He was now able to pull off a more evil appearance necessary to convince the audience of his villainous intentions. He had earned the nickname of “Mr. Murder” but it was his starring role in Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street that made him a household name. He was in his late 40s, late by today’s standards, but he had found his true calling. His exaggerated expressions and gestures were common for such stage presentations but would they transition to film? The burgeoning British film industry thought so and sought him out. It was time for Tod Slaughter to come to celluloid. After all, he had a name destined for evil deeds.
Next week, we’ll follow his career as his cinematic journey begins with Murder in the Red Barn (1935).