John Llewellyn Moxey
Biography by Jason Knowles and Dan Hunter
John Llewellyn Moxey was born on February 26, 1925 in Argentina. His family had a coal and steel business and his father was operating out of South America at the time. Moxey entered the film industry subsequent to serving in the armed forces during World War II. After working in the editing side, he directed several episodes of the British series London Playhouse, followed by another program, The Adventures of Tugboat Annie.
As simply “John Moxey,” the director’s next project remains one of his most celebrated works. Also known as Horror Hotel, the enjoyable The City of the Dead (1960) is a low-budget chiller concerning a reincarnated witch and a coven of the occult in a misty New England town. The picture stars Christopher Lee, fresh off his newfound success in Hammer horrors. As Professor Alan Driscoll, Lee was menacingly deceptive and under Moxey’s direction, delivers a polished and nuanced performance. For a first feature, City of the Dead is a startling debut. And very influential. More than a few people have noticed similarities to Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO the same year, beginning with the early demise of a central leading lady.
The film’s success led to much work throughout the sixties, mostly in British television. 1966 saw Moxey returning to the big screen with Psycho-Circus (AKA Circus of Fear). Essentially a crime thriller with horror overtones, Christopher Lee was back as black-hooded Gregor. Based on a novel by Edgar Wallace, the picture is in the style of a German krimi rather than an outright terror story. It’s difficult to understand why Moxey didn’t direct more theatrical movies, as he settled comfortably into television for the remainder of his career. But what a stellar output.
Now using his middle name again (thanks to the suggestion of a numerologist), John Llewellyn Moxey would go on to become one of the most prolific directors of the TV “Movie of the Week.” The House That Would Not Die (1970) was the first of two projects with the legendary Barbara Stanwyck, and the initial collaboration (of several) with producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg. A haunted house flick, House is bolstered by Stanwyck’s professionalism and a fine script (courtesy of Henry Farrell) that refreshingly stays true to the supernatural storyline. Stanwyck returned for 1971’s A Taste of Evil (written by Jimmy Sangster), a “drive the girl insane for her inheritance” picture which features a terrific cast that included Roddy McDowall, William Windom and Barbara Perkins.
The following year, Moxey was hired to helm The Night Stalker for Dan Curtis. A vampire (played terrifyingly by Barry Atwater) on the loose in Vegas? Ratings gold! Bolstered by Darren McGavin’s winning portrayal of reporter Carl Kolchak, Night Stalker was a sensation...becoming the highest rated television movie up to that time, with a 33.2 rating and 54 share.
The seventies were a busy era. He found time to direct episodes of every cop show imaginable, including Hawaii Five-O, The Mod Squad, Police Story, Mannix and Shaft. Film wise, Moxey made Home for the Holidays (1972), an excellent Yuletide slasher with Julie Harris, Eleanor Parker, Sally Field, Jessica Walter and Walter Brennan. Another very memorable picture came with 1974’s Strange and Deadly Occurrence, a hybrid haunted home/psycho flick that contained an unforgettable sequence with a dress dummy. 1976 was a good and productive year. He helmed the pilot for Charlie’s Angels, whose success led to the hit series.
And then he took on Nightmare in Badham County, a television entry in the “women in prison” cycle so popular during the decade. It was a gritty and disturbing film, and one that received a theatrical release overseas (with added nudity and adult themes). Over the next decade, Moxey continued to work steadily, serving up fine thrillers for the small screen including Smash-Up on Interstate 5 (1976), Sanctuary of Fear (1979), The Violation of Sarah McDavid, No Place To Hide and Killjoy (all 1981), Desire, the Vampire (1982), The Cradle Will Fall (1983) and Deadly Deception (1987).
Moxey last directed an episode of Murder, She Wrote in 1989...but his legacy of suspense lives on in his films. He has spoken about his love of horror movies and his ambition to make ones that SUGGEST violence, rather than showing it explicitly. On the whole, he succeeded admirably with his goal.
John Llewellyn Moxey is currently retired and lives in beautiful Washington State.