Tod Slaughter (19 March 1885 – 19 February 1956) was an English actor, best known for playing over-the-top maniacs in macabre film adaptations of Victorian melodramas. Born as Norman Carter Slaughter in Newcastle upon Tyne, he made his way onto the stage in 1905 at West Hartlepool.
It was in 1925 that he adopted the stage name Tod Slaughter, but his primary roles were still character and heroic leads—not the evil-doers. He finally found his true calling when, in 1931 at he played the body snatcher William Hare in The Crimes of Burke And Hare. Publicised as ‘Mr Murder’, he lapped up his new-found notoriety by boasting he committed fifteen murders each day for the duration of the run. Shortly afterwards, he played Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street for the first of 2,000 times on stage.
In 1934 aged 49, he began in films. Usually cast as a villain, his first film was Maria Marten or Murder in the Red Barn (1935) a Victorian melodrama filmed cheaply with Slaughter as the obvious bad-guy. Slaughter’s next film role was in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1936), directed and produced by George King, whose partnership with Slaughter was continued in the subsequent shockers: The Crimes of Stephen Hawke (1936); The Face at the Window (1939) and Crimes at the Dark House (1940).
Slaughter was busy on stage during World War II, performing Jack the Ripper, Landru and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. After the war, he starred in The Curse of the Wraydons (1946), in which Bruce Seton played the legendary Victorian bogeyman Spring-Heeled Jack, and The Greed of William Hart (1948) based on the murderous career of Burke and Hare.
During the early 1950s, Slaughter appeared as the villain in crime films and he was still regularly touring the provinces and London suburbs. However, the public’s appetite for melodrama seemed to have abated somewhat and he went bankrupt in 1953. Still performing on the stage almost to the very end, Slaughter died of coronary thrombosis. After his death following a performance of Maria Marten in Derby, his work slipped almost completely into obscurity.
In 1973, Denis Gifford‘s book A Pictorial History of Horror Movies included stills and details of Tod Slaughter’s roles and film historians have since revived interest in his cycle of melodramatic films, placing them in a tradition of “cinema of excess” which also includes the Gainsborough Melodramas and Hammer Horrors.
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