Wednesday , 20 November 2019

Remembering Captain Spalding’s Sig Haig

Over the past several years, the world of horror has lost a number of its most notable members, from directors, George A. Romero, Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven to iconic stars such as Angus Scrimm, Gunnar Hansen and the legendary Christopher Lee. Sadly, on September 21, 2019, we lost another one when Sid Haig died after suffering from a fall earlier in the month. He was 80 years old. With his unique appearance and imposing size, and a career on both the large and small screen spanning close to six decades, Sid was truly one of a kind. Best known for his work in the horror and exploitation genres, Haig gained his greatest notoriety for his role as the crass-talking murderous clown in Rob Zombie’s Firefly clan trilogy that began with 2003’s House of a 1000 Corpses, and which just saw the release of 3 From Hell. Long before donning the clown makeup, though, Haig was making his mark on the screen.

Sid Haig began life in 1939 in Fresno, California to Armenian parents. Showing an affinity for music, Sid, playing the drums, had a hit single entitled “Full House”, fresh out of high school with the band, the T-Birds. But his interest in acting soon took hold. Sid trained at the famed Pasadena Playhouse,  which helped groom the likes of Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman. Haig soon met writer/director Jack Hill, who would be instrumental in getting his acting career underway. After casting him in a short film, “The Host” in 1960, Hill would again tap Haig for his vampirish tale, Blood Bath (1966), followed by one of the most delightfully odd cult films of all time, Spider Baby or The Maddest Story Ever Told (1967). Here, Haig plays Ralph, one of three inbred siblings who suffer from a disease that causes them to regress mentally as they get older. Along with their caretaker, played by screen legend, Lon Chaney, Jr., in one of his best roles, the three overgrown children resort to murder and mayhem to protect their home from visiting relatives. Haig, with his bald plate and ungainly movements, perfectly captures his character’s essence, and with no dialogue other than grunts and growls. Perhaps it was his restraint from speaking in this role that ultimately led to the crude cacophony of communication that emanated from his mouth decades later with his best known character.

Hill would continue to cast Haig, pairing him with Pam Grier, in the films, The Big Doll House (1971, pictured above), its unofficial follow-up, The Big Bird Cage (1972) and the blaxploitation films, Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974). In addition to The Big Doll House, 1971 proved to be an especially fruitful year, as Haig also appeared in George Lucas’ feature debut, the sci-fi thriller, THX-1138, and the end of the Sean Connery era with the James Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever. With his menacing look and formidable presence, Haig was usually cast as the heavy, with thieves, thugs, pirates and smugglers being his specialty. Whatever the role, Haig made it his own, bringing a depth of character to what might often be a standard villainous part.

Throughout the 60’s and 70’s, Haig made guest appearances on countless TV series, like his turn as Royal Apothecary, seen above, on two episodes of Batman, along with Victor Buono’s King Tut. Haig’s diverse range allowed him to lend his talents in comedies like The Lucy Show, Get Smart and The Flying Nun to crime dramas and detective shows, The Untouchables, Mannix, McMillan & Wife, Charlie’s Angels and The Rockford Files, the latter James Garner series which also featured Haig’s good buddy, Stuart Margolin, who played Rockford’s ever-scheming pal, Angel. The 80’s continued to keep Sid busy with guest spots on Quincy M.E., Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Dukes of Hazzard, Fantasy Island, The A-Team and Hill Street Blues, to name but a few.

In 1981, Haig played Quuhod, a member of a spacecrew exploring a sinister planet in the sci-fi horror film, Galaxy of Terror. Here, Haig, like his character in Spider Baby, let his actions do the talking, throwing crystal stars as weapons, and barely uttering a line. Supposedly, the lack of dialogue was Sid’s choice as he let producer Roger Corman know the writing left a lot to be desired. The film was notorious for its eclectic cast, including Edward Albert, Erin Moran and Ray Walston, its graphic violence, along with an unforgettable scene where a buxom woman is raped by a giant space slug. By the 90’s, Sid was beginning to sour on acting, tired of the same bad guy parts he was being given. He even turned down the role that eventually went to Ving Rhames in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994).  But Tarantino persisted and ultimately cast Haig as a judge, of all things, in his follow-up film, Jackie Brown, where he was once again teamed up with his co-star from the 70’s, Pam Grier. The film helped revitalize a number of careers, including the late Robert Forster, who garnered an Oscar nomination. Quentin would again cast Haig in his Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004). But it was in 2003 that Haig was given the inimitable role that he would ultimately best be remembered for.

“You know what they say, all the world loves a clown.”


Like Tarantino, musician Rob Zombie was a big fan of grindhouse and cult cinema, along with classic horror films. When he began his directorial career, with House of 1000 Corpses, he cast Haig as the killer clown with the vulgar mouth who ran a gas station/curiosity shop. (why aren’t there more of those in America?) His Captain Spalding was named after the Groucho Marx character in Animal Crackers (1930), and like Marx’ personas, Haig’s Spalding seemed to be the smartest person in the room, always a step ahead of everyone else. Laughing and lovable one minute, menacing and murderous the next, ever spouting rude and crude epithets. There’s no question that Haig added much more to the part than was written, a stark contrast to his experience in Galaxy of Terror. Along with Bill Moseley’s Otis B. Driftwood and Baby Firefly, played by Sheri Moon Zombie (Rob’s wife), the three were part of the Firefly clan whose reign of terror would span two more films. 1000 Corpses is also notable for early roles for comedian Chris Hardwick, host of Talking Dead, Rainn Wilson (Dwight, in The Office) and Walton Goggins (Justified), along with the late Karen Black, Tom Towles, Irwin Keyes and Matthew McGrory.

While Sid was already on the map before Corpses, afterwards, there were more roads leading to him, and he popped up in a variety of films, like Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006), Creature (2011), Adam Green’s Hatchet III (2013), S. Craig Zahler’s chilling western, Bone Tomahawk (2015), opposite Kurt Russell, and 2017’s ‘Expendables of Horror’, Death House. Of course, Haig never strayed far from Zombie, who included him in his 2007 Halloween remake, as the wonderfully named Chester Chesterfield, his wild, animated The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (2009), where Sid reprised his voice for Captain Spalding, The Lords of Salem (2012), and again as Spalding in the sequels, The Devil’s Rejects (2005) and the long awaited follow-up, 3 From Hell, released just last month and now available on home video. While health issues limited Haig’s appearance in the latter to little more than a cameo, it meant a lot for everyone involved and for his multitude of fans to see him for one last time in the role than gained him such wide recognition.

“If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?”

Upon learning of his friend’s passing, Rob Zombie posted a heartfelt message on Facebook, which included the following:

“I was fan of his as a kid watching Jason of Star Command all the way through our twenty years of working together. I can still clearly remember the first time we met. It was at the Edith Head Costume building at Universal. Sid came out of the dressing room wearing a clown suit which was a few sizes too small. We said hello then we both started laughing at how ridiculous he looked in his ill-fitting suit. We would find him a much better suit.

“As we were making House Of 1000 Corpses neither of us knew he was creating a character that would live on and grow in popularity every year. Sid told me many times how thankful he was for the Captain and how that character changed his life. He had completely given up on acting and now suddenly had found a whole new audience at the age of 60. I know he was thrilled and blown away by that fact.

“The Captain is gone… but he will never be forgotten.

“Rest in Peace Sid

“This photo (seen above) is from March 14, 2018. The last time all of us were together.”

 

While Sid was known throughout his career for playing criminals, scoundrels and miscreants, to his legions of fans throughout the world, he couldn’t have been more the opposite. A frequent guest at the many conventions held across the land, Sid was most giving of his time and energy. It’s fitting that his last convention appearance was at Scares That Care, an organization that raises money to help families with children who are sick or burned, and women with breast cancer, just this past August in Williamsburg, Virginia. Sid posed for countless pictures, apparently even when sitting down for a meal. It’s a testament to his skills as an actor that someone so lovable and adored in real life could play such wretched characters so believably on the screen. R.I.P., Sid Haig. While you may be gone from this mortal Earth, your legacy will live on!

— remembrance by Brian de Castro

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*