Peter S. Traynor, Director and Producer on 'Death Game,' Dies at 77

Peter Traynor - Obit -Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Bob Murawski

His other exploitation efforts in the 1970s included 'Truck Stop Women,' 'Evil Town' and 'Black Fist.'

Peter S. Traynor, a former insurance salesman who directed and produced the cult favorite Death Game, a suspense thriller starring Sondra Locke, Colleen Camp and Seymour Cassel, has died. He was 77.

Traynor died Oct. 15 of natural causes at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Bob Murawski, Oscar-winning editor on The Hurt Locker, announced.

Death Game starred Locke and Camp as psychotic nymphets who invade the home of a random married man (Cassel), then seduce and hold him captive for a weekend of terror. The film was finished in 1975, but an investigation into its finances delayed its release for two years.

The late Sage Stallone purchased theatrical and home video rights for his company, Grindhouse Releasing, and Eli Roth remade the movie with Keanu Reeves, Ana de Armas and Lorenza Izzo as Knock, Knock (2015).

In 1974, Traynor had hired untested director Curtis Hanson to direct a horror film titled God Bless Grandma and Grandpa, starring Dean Jagger, but he was unhappy with the work in progress and took the reins himself. The result was the little-seen God Damn Dr. Shagetz (aka God Bless Dr. Shagetz aka Evil Town), which was finally released in 1977. 

Traynor also served as an uncredited producer on the 1974 blaxpoitation film Black Fist, starring Richard Lawson as a street fighter.

Born and raised in Newton, Massachusetts, Traynor graduated from Newton North High School in 1959. He left Boston University in 1962 to come to San Francisco, where he landed a job selling insurance. Penn Mutual named him "the highest producer in the company's 120-year history" in 1967 and credited him with $8.5 million in sales. 

A few years later, Traynor formed an investment company called Leverage Funding Systems that catered to doctors seeking tax-shelter schemes, a business model that he brought to the film industry and Death Game.

Traynor also executive produced and distributed Steel Arena (1973), featuring demolition-derby driver Dusty Russell, and Truck Stop Women (1974), starring Claudia Jennings — low-budget exploitation features made in partnership with writer-director Mark L. Lester — and financed The Ultimate Thrill (1974), which starred Britt Ekland and was set on the ski slopes in Vail, Colorado.

"I know there are a lot of people in the movie business who claim they are in it for art's sake," Traynor told Merv Griffin in a 1973 interview. "I'm not. I'm in it to make money for my people. I don't know who Art is, but I bet he's awfully hungry by now." 

Traynor later worked in the medical and fitness sectors in direct marketing via videocassette; directed a sales film for Ford Motor Co. using Buster Keaton footage and the voice of Laurence Olivier; and launched the fashion label Icon, creating custom shoes painted with works of art by Andy Warhol and others.

A month before his death, he was interviewed on camera by Roth for Grindhouse's upcoming Blu-ray release of Death Game.  

Survivors include his daughter, Dyan, a writer and producer, and his partner of 40 years, Susan Hanger.