Horror Icon and Memorable Character Actor, Dead at 80.
I certainly didn’t know Sid Haig, but I was around him a couple of times, and the weird thing is that being around him a couple of times means that you sort of feel like you knew him. The first time was about eight years ago at a small horror convention in Kansas City. The con was held in a hotel about four stars south of the Ritz, and I was waiting at the front desk for someone to come with me to try to find out why my key card wouldn’t grant me access to my room. Just as the woman who was to help me finished with the guest in front of me, I heard a voice just behind me and to my right boom:
“I need a different iron! This one’s got white sticky shit all over it!”
I turned my head and a long arm was waving a run of the mill clothes iron several inches from my head. It was difficult to tell if it was covered in white sticky shit even at that close a vantage point, but it didn’t matter much, as it seemed obvious that the man waving it was pretty serious about getting a different iron. That man was Sid Haig. He wasn’t being aggressive or nasty about it, but he was being adamant and he was sure that he wanted the problem addressed. For some reason that really stuck with me: he didn’t send someone down to do it, he didn’t call the front desk and have it delivered, he walked the iron down and asked for a new one. When told that I was in front of him, he apologized to me and stepped back a few feet, the offending appliance held loosely in front of him. When I met him later at the con, I discovered that his autograph was very reasonable and that a photo with him came free with the signing. I know that for a lot of these folks, the money they make at cons is really important to their livelihood, but I also judge their character on how much they charge fans. That Sid chose to include a free photo with every signature probably cost him thousands, but it bought him a great deal of esteem from grateful fans like me.
That esteem would eventually cause me, a person who knew him entirely from his work in Rob Zombie’s films and from his role in Spider Baby to more fully explore his incredible volume of work as an actor, especially his other roles working with director Jack Hill. His characters in these films were wildly different and showed his versatility as an actor. Harry, the pervy fruit vendor in The Big Doll House (1971) was verydifferent from Django, the revolutionary mercenary from The Big Bird Cage (1972), even though both are women in prison films. My favorite role of Sid’s was as the wild madman Hawk Sidney in the 1969 art house drag race film Pit Stop. (Go re-read that last sentence again, and then if you haven’t seen Pit Stop realize why you have to see Pit Stop, today if you can.) Hawk is a character with a real arc, in a film where the “bad guy” (Hawk) becomes the voice of the human conscience while the “good guy” loses his humanity. Haig’s ability to convey frenetic energy, fury, regret, and pathos all in one relatively short exploitation film is a testament to man’s ability.
Of course, he is likely best known for the role of Captain Spaulding (or “Cutter”) from Rob Zombie’s most famous films, but his long career with Jack Hill and his even longer stint as a character actor in film and on television, often playing various heavies of dubious ethnic heritage is equally worth consideration. Sid Haig played every kind of character, and did it with his own stamp that made him stand out playing what might have been a relatively forgettable character for another actor.
Sid Haig was the kind of guy who was unforgettable onscreen and unforgettable in person as well. In July, I presented him with some original Pit Stop lobby cards to sign after standing in a pretty long line at another convention. Though he was obviously unwell, he immediately lit up upon seeing them. “Pit Stop!’ he hollered as I presented them, and then launched into five or so minutes of stories about his time on the film, notably a great tale of how he managed to keep a bunch of rowdy volunteer drag racers on a set for two days by calling a beer company to “sponsor” the film with a refrigerator truck full of their product. As the line backed up and people peered at us, wondering what the hell the logjam was all about, Sid continued on, unconcerned. He was telling a story about something that mattered to him, and he’d be damned if he wasn’t going to get it all out. It wasn’t to be impolite; it was because it mattered to him. I certainly don’t claim to have known him, but that aspect of his character stood out to such a degree that it sort of feels like I did. He was a true American original, and will be missed by everyone who appreciates that sort of thing.
Aaron AuBuchon is an Associate Dean at Webster University in St. Louis, MO. A dedicated horror enthusiast, he manages the very active Facebook Group “STL Horror Club”.