Expert Author Tim L Mayer

Everyone my age remembers Andy Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor on the old Mayberry TV show. A gunless sheriff beloved by all in a small southern town (which, interestingly enough, contained no black people) who solved all kinds of problems while trying to raise a young boy on his own. The whistling theme song has burned itself into a lot of brains. And there was the later, elder Griffth who stared as the lawyer Matlock in a TV show of the same name. But in the early 70's Sheriff Andy starred in two made-for-TV horror movies that took him in a different direction: a psychopathic manipulator with power and money. In some ways, these roles were a return to the earlier one he'd played as the sinister as "Lonesome" Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd (1957).

Both movies were released in 1974. The first, Savages had Griffith playing a handicapped lawyer who hires a local kid as a hunting guide. The second, Pray for the Wildcats, had him dirt biking across Baja Calfornia with William Shatner, Marjoe Gortner, and Robert Reed. Both movies shocked a lot of people when they first hit the little screen. Imagine a family turning on the movie of the week expecting more down home country witticisms and instead seeing a leering lunatic.

Savages was based-off the 1973 novel Death Watch by Rob White. In the movie Andy Griffth plays lawyer Horton Maddock who is desperate to get into the desert to hunt bighorn sheep. The young guide he hires, Ben Campbell, is played by Sam Bottoms. Although Maddock has a little bit of trouble getting around, he is quick to inform Ben that he's made a fortune by using his mind. He's always smartly dressed in khaki bush clothes and sports a painted grin whenever addressing someone. Several days into the hunt, Maddock accidentally shoots an old prospector who just happens to be Ben's friend. Maddock wants them to bury the body and pretend it never happened. He's afraid if word got out it would jeopardize his legal career. Ben refuses and makes plans to take the body back to town, even turning down a cash bribe. But suddenly Maddock conceives a plan to blame the death on Ben and sends his young guide out into the desert alone with barely any clothes to die of dehydration. It then becomes a game of the hunter and the hunted as Ben uses his survival skills against Maddock.

Savages is actually a good adaptation of the Rob White book. Although the dead prospector is introduced in the movie as Ben's friend and mentor, while in the book he's just a random old man who happened to get in the way of Maddock's target. The description of Ben's survival methods are far more explicit in the book, but this is a minor point. There is only so much you can do with a 74 minute film.

Pray for the Wildcats also had Andy Griffith in a sinister role. It's famous for having a bunch of TV actors in parts for which they were not usually found. Sam Farragut (Andy Griffith), William Summerfield (William Shatner), Paul Mcllvian (Robert Reed), and Terry Maxon (Marjoe Gortner) are four buddies who spend the weekends motorcycling around the back country on their dirt bikes. William, Paul, and Terry all work at the same advertising agency and they are trying to get Sam, a manufacturer, to sign on with them. William is having an affair with Paul's wife (Angie Dickinson) and is being pushed out the door from his executive position. Terry is a rising star who's just learned his girlfriend is pregnant. And Sam won't close the deal with the agency until the other three agree to take a cross-country motorcycle ride through Baja California. They all agree to spend a week on the road, first getting photographed in their monogrammed "Wildcat" leather jackets.

But the trip turns bad when Sam, the self-anointed leader of the group, takes too much fancy to a hippy chick at a Cantina. William manages to pull him out of a fight, but Sam has decided he's going to have that girl one way or another. And Terry is willing to do just about anything to get Sam's favor. Paul? He just wants to go home and back to ignoring his wife.

Both movies were a major shift in how the viewing public saw Andy Griffith. While he plays a cold and methodical killer in Savages, he's the drooling potential rapist in Wildcats. He's great in both roles. There's just enough down-home country boy in each character to make you think of The Killer Inside Me. Both old horror movies are highly recommended, although they are hard to find these days.

I've been an old horror movie fan every since I watched Lugosi's DRACULA on Saturday afternoon TV. I'm a published author, a business owner, and a self-appointed expert on strange cinema.



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