The big man with big features and a bigger personality has passed away at the age of 80.
He had an unmistakable profile. Sid Haig was a towering individual and built like something that stepped out of a scary fairy tale. He also had this huge expressive face and an explosive screen persona that he employed for over fifty years in Hollywood and made a serious impact in the horror genre.
Born in Fresno in 1939 to Armenian immigrant parents, he earned his acting chops at the Pasadena Playhouse, where Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman also learned the trade. In his early career, he was able to get guest-starring roles in the iconic shows Batman, The Lucy Show, Star Trek, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
He got his big break, though, in the cult classic Jack Hill feature Spider Baby, or, the Maddest Story Ever Told in 1967. Sid got to star alongside the legendary horror star, Lon Chaney Jr., as a member of a literally degenerate family of weirdos who devolve as they age, and found that to be hugely inspiring. Spider Baby is a really fun campy movie; an anarchistic tale where the actors just got to cut loose and be wacky with a macabre wink that hinted at the grindhouse era to come. I implore TST fans to go check out this movie, streaming free on Amazon Prime.
Not surprisingly, it was the grindhouse film that propelled him through the ’70s, playing thugs, heavies, and other assorted villains in films like The Big Bird Cage, Black Momma, White Momma, Foxy Brown, Savage Sisters and Coffy, often starring opposite Pam Grier in Blaxploitation/Women in Prison movies. Oddly enough, following a bunch of those sleazy films with light children’s fare like Elektra Woman and Dyna Girl (YEAH!), Monster Squad, and Wonderbug. How does that kind of career happen? Weird. But even in the kids shows he was still playing the villain, and this routine would find him type-cast as the ethnic bad guy throughout the ’80s in bit parts in network television cop shows and action pieces in a non-stop loop of lame roles.
It was his work relationship with Pam Grier that saved him from this endless loop. Quentin Tarantino, a big fan of Grindhouse, decided that he wanted Sid to appear in Jackie Brown for which he cast Pam Grier as Jackie Brown, and wanted to get him out of the thug role. He cast Haig as a judge, a respected member of society, breaking the string of bad guy jobs, mercifully. He also cast him in Kill Bill: Vol 2, and from these Tarantino roles, he met Rob Zombie… and now a man in his 60’s, was going to see his career take off.
Captain Spaulding is one of the iconic roles in horror. And though Mike and I often poke fun at Rob Zombie, (And for the record… I really don’t like House of 1000 Corpses… but I am very fond of Sid) Zombie has a certain flamboyance and garishness to his productions that really capitalized on the over-the-top persona that he had in Sid. As the head of the ferocious Firefly family, Captain Spaulding was a bombastic and intimidating presence. House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects put a career-defining stamp on Haig’s career. And, at a time when a lot of actors see their careers wind down, his was ascendent, albeit in low budget horror fare. In the aftermath of House, Haig was getting good roles in films such as Halloween, Hatchet III, Bone Tomahawk, and The Lords of Salem.
Sid was in failing health when the time came to do the upcoming Rob Zombie story about the Fireflies, Three From Hell, which just had its theatrical release in the US. Zombie was able to still cast Haig in the story, but it had to be re-written to account for his limited mobility. We at the Scariest Things eagerly await this theatrical denouement of one of the great working character actors in the genre.