6 Horror Performances That Deserved An Oscar Nomination


Despite making some inroads as of late, horror films still never quite get the respect that they deserve when it comes Oscar time.  That’s especially true of the performers who regularly appear in horror films.  If it’s rare for a horror movie to receive a best picture nomination, it’s even rarer for someone to get nominated for appearing in one of them.

And yet, it takes as much skill to make a monster compelling as it does a historical figure or a literary character.  In fact, it may take even more skill.  After all, everyone knows that Queen Elizabeth I actually ruled over England and that Atticus Finch was an attorney in the South.  However, everyone also knows that there’s no such things as vampires and that the dead cannot be reanimated or raised as a zombie.  It takes a lot of skill to make a monster seem human.

With that in mind, here are 6 horror performances that deserved, at the very least, an Oscar nomination:

1. Boris Karloff as The Monster in Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein(1935)

The great Boris Karloff is perhaps the most egregious example of a deserving actor who was consistently ignored by the Academy because of the type of films in which he appeared.  In the role of Monster, Karloff was never less than brilliant and he set the standard by which all future monsters are judged.

Dracula (1931, directed by Tod Browning)

2. Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931)

When viewed today, it’s perhaps a little bit too easy to be dismissive of Lugosi’s grandly theatrical interpretation of Dracula.  But, if you can ignore all of the bad imitations that you’ve seen and heard over the years, you’ll discover that Lugosi’s performance is perfect for the film in which he’s appearing.  Indeed, Lugosi’s best moments are the silent ones, when he goes from being a courtly (if vaguely sinister) nobleman to a hungry animal.  In those moments, you see why Lugosi’s performance endures.

3. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho (1960)

Ah, poor Anthony Perkins.  Before he played Norman Bates, he was considered to be something an up-and-coming star and even something of a neurotic romantic lead.  As with Lugosi’s Dracula, we’ve seen so many bad imitations of Perkins’s performance that it’s easy to overlook just how good he is in the role.  He was so perfect as Norman that spent the rest of his career typecast.  And, sadly enough, he didn’t even get a much-deserved Oscar nomination out of it.

4. Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man (1973)

Christopher Lee was one of the great actors and, though he may be best remembered for his horror work, he actually appeared in almost every genre of film imaginable.  Lee was often dismissive of the Dracula films that he made for Hammer so, as much as I’d love to argue that he deserved a nomination for The Horror of Dracula, I’m instead going to suggest that Lee deserved one for the role that he often cited as his favorite, the pagan Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man.  Lee brings the perfect mix of wit and menace to the role and, in the process, shows that not all monsters have to be undead.

5. Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis in Halloween (1978) and Halloween II (1981)

Much as with Lugosi and Anthony Perkins, it’s important (and perhaps a little bit difficult) to separate Pleasence’s performances in these two slasher films with all of the imitations that have followed.  In both films, Pleasence does a great job of playing a man who has been driven to the verge of madness as a result of having spent too much time in the presence of evil.  As potentially dangerous as Sam Loomis sometimes appears to be, there’s no way not to sympathize with him as he continually tries to get people to understand that he wasn’t the one who left Michael escape.  If nothing else, Pleasence deserved a nomination just for his delivery of the line, “As a matter of fact, it was.”

6. Betsy Palmer as Pamela Voorhees in Friday the 13th (1980)

“I’m an old friend of the Christys.”  AGCK!  RUN!

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Psycho III (dir by Anthony Perkins)


Norman Bates is back!

Released in 1986 and directed by Anthony Perkins himself, Psycho III picks up a few months after Psycho II ended.  Norman (Anthony Perkins, of course) is still free.  He’s still got his motel.  He’s still talking to his dead mother.  Of course, at the end of Psycho II, Norman was told that the woman who Norman thought was his mother actually wasn’t his mother.  Instead, Emma Spool told Norman that she was his mother, which led to Norman promptly hitting her with a shovel and then keeping her preserved body hidden away in the motel.  Got all that?  Great, let’s move on….

In Psycho III, business suddenly starts booming at the Bates Motel!  All sorts of people come by to visit.

For instance, there’s the obnoxious tourists who show up at the motel so they can watch a football game and get drunk.  Future director Katt Shea plays one of the unfortunate tourists, who ends up suffering perhaps the most undignified death in the history of the Psycho franchise.  Shea later ends up being stored in the motel’s ice chest.  At one point, the local sheriff grabs a piece of ice and tosses it in his mouth without noticing that it’s covered in blood.

And then there’s Duane Duke (a young Jeff Fahey!), who is superhot but also super sleazy.  For reasons that are never quite clear, Norman hires Duke to be the assistant manager at the motel.  Duke turns out to be thoroughly untrustworthy but he’s Jeff Fahey so he remains strangely appealing even when he shouldn’t be.

Red (Juliette Cummins) shows up at the motel so that she can have sex with Duke and then get stabbed to death while taking off her top in a phone booth.  That, I guess, is Psycho III‘s equivalent of the first film’s shower scene.  Later, Duke comes across Norman mopping up all the blood in the phone booth but he doesn’t say anything about it.  Duke knows better than to ask why there’s blood in the phone booth.

Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell) is a journalist whose sole purpose in life is to prove that Norman murdered Emma Spool.  Tracy’s main function in this film is to explain just why exactly so many different women have claimed to be Norman’s mother.  It’s a rather complicated story and you’ll get a migraine if you think about it for too long.

And finally, there’s Maureen (Diana Scarwid), the former nun who has lost her faith and her sanity.  She shows up at the motel and stays in Marion Crane’s old room.  She takes a bath instead of a shower and slits her wrists.  When Norman storms into the room to kill her, the barely lucid Maureen mistakes him for the Virgin Mary and sees his knife as being a crucifix.  Maureen survives and Norman is hailed as a hero for rescuing her.  Later, Norman and Maureen fall in love.  You can guess how that goes.

When compared to the first sequel, Psycho III is much more of a standard slasher film and there’s certainly never any doubt over who is doing the killing.  However, Perkins again does a great job in the role of Norman, making him both sympathetic and creepy.  Fahey, Scarwid, Maxwell, and Hugh Gillin (as the hilariously clueless sheriff) all provide good support.  There’s really not a single character in this film who doesn’t have at least one odd or memorable quirk.  Duane Duke, for instance, is one of the most amazingly sleazy characters in the history of American cinema.  Just when you think that the character can’t get any worse, he proves you wrong.

As mentioned above, Perkins directed this film.  It was one of two movies that Perkins would direct before his death.  As a director, Perkins had a good visual sense, even if he did allow the narrative to meander a bit.  There’s nothing particularly subtle about Perkins’s direction and several of the scenes — like the sex scene between Duke and Red — are so over the top that they become rather fascinating to watch.  That said, there was really no longer any need to be subtle when it came to Norman Bates and his story.

With the exception of the weird Gus Van Sant remake with Vince Vaughn, Psycho III would be the last Psycho film to be released into theaters.  It would also be Perkins’s second-to-last time to play Norman.  (The last time would be in a 1990 made-for-TV sequel, Psycho IV: The Beginning.  Despite it’s title, Psycho IV pretty much ignored everything that happened in the previous two sequels.)  Perkins passed away in 1992, at the age of 60 but the character of Norman Bates would live on, both in his own performances and in the later work of Freddie Highmore in Bates Motel.

Scenes That I Love: Norman and Arborgast Talk In Psycho


When it comes to Psycho, everyone always talk about the first half of the film, in which Marion Crane steals the money, gets interrogated by the highway patrolman, meets Norman Bates, and eventually takes that fateful shower.

Those are all great scenes that are wonderfully acted and directed.  But they’re also the scenes that always get shared whenever anyone shares something about Psycho.  So, for today’s scene that I love, I’m sharing a scene from the 2nd half of the film.  In this scene, Milton Arborgast (Martin Balsam) attempts to question Norman (Anthony Perkins, of course!) about whether or not Marion came by the motel.  Detective Arborgast thinks that Norman is hiding something.  Norman thinks that he can out talk the detective.

This scene is a master class in great acting.  Balsam and Perkins are like two tennis players, just knocking the ball back and forth without missing a beat.  What I love is that both men are pretending as if they’re having a friendly conversation, whereas they both know that they’re not.  Of course, when audience saw this movie for the first time (before the famous ending became common knowledge), they probably thought that Norman was trying to protect Arborgast from his mother.

Anyway, here’s the scene.  It’s Arborgast vs. Bates, Balsam vs. Perkins, and it’s rather brilliant:

Horror Film Review: Psycho II (dir by Richard Franklin)


Norman Bates is back!

No, I don’t mean Freddie Highmore from Bates Motel or Vince Vaughn from the odd Psycho remake that I keep seeing on Showtime.  No, I’m talking about the original Norman Bates, Anthony Perkins!

First released in 1983, Psycho II is a direct sequel to the classic shocker from Alfred Hitchcock.  The film opens with a replay of the original film’s famous shower scene and then immediately jumps forward 22 years.  Having been found not guilty by reason of insanity, Norman Bates has been in a mental institution ever since he was arrested for the murders of Marion Crane and Milton Arborgast.  However, Norman’s psychiatrist, Dr. Raymond (Robert Loggia, who was considered for the role of Sam Loomis in the original film), now feels that Norman has been cured and is no longer a danger to himself or others.  A judge agrees.  Marion Crane’s sister, Lila Loomis (Vera Miles, reprising her role from the original) does not.  She presents the judge with a petition demanding that Norman not be released.  When the judge ignores her, Lila yells that Norman will murder again!

Now free, Norman returns to the Bates Motel and discovers that it’s now being run by the sleazy Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz).  When Norman finds various party favors in the motel rooms and asks Warren what they are, Warren laughs and says, “They’re drugs, Norman.”  Norman’s not too happy about that.  As Dr. Raymond tells him, the world has changed considerably over the past two decades.

However, Norman has other issues to deal with.  For the most part, most of the people in town are not happy that their most famous resident has returned.  Emma Spool (Claudia Bryar) gets Norman a job at a local diner because, in her words, she believes in forgiveness and second chances.  Norman gets to know the new waitress, Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly) and, when Mary tells him that she’s had a fight with her boyfriend, he invites her to stay at the hotel until she can get things together.

From the minute that he returns home, Norman is struggling to keep it together.  When he first reenters his former house, he hears his mother’s voice but he tells himself that she’s not really there.  But if his mother isn’t there, then who keeps calling him on the phone and yelling at him about the state of the motel?  Who keeps taunting him about his awkward (yet rather sweet) relationship with Mary?  And when two teenagers are attacked after breaking into the house, who else could it possibly be but Norman’s mother?

I was really surprised by Psycho II, which turned out to be a really entertaining little movie, an effective thriller with a healthy dash of dark humor.  It’s a very plot-heavy film, with almost every scene introducing a new twist to the story.  With the exception of the sleazy Warren Toomey, no one in this film turns out to be who you initially expected them to be, including Norman.  Meg Tilly does a good job in the somewhat oddly written role of Mary Samuels and even manages to make an awkward line like “Norman, you’re as mad as a hatter” sound natural.  Not surprisingly, the film is dominated by Perkins’s performance as Norman Bates and what a great performance it is.  The best moments are the ones where Norman awkwardly tries to fit back in with society, nervously laughing at his own jokes and struggling to maintain eye contact with whoever he’s talking to.  You really can’t help but feel sorry for him, especially as the film progresses.

Wisely, Psycho II set out to establish it own identity as a film, as opposed to just trying to duplicate the shocks of Psycho.  (There is a shower scene that’s filmed similarly to the one from the first scene, with a key difference that I won’t spoil.)  It’s what a sequel should be, not a remake but a continuation of the original’s story.  This is definitely a film that’s far better than you may expect.

 

Monster Chiller Horror Theatre: Deadly Companion (1980, directed by George Bloomfield)


Deadly Companion starts with John Candy sitting in a mental institution and snorting cocaine while happily talking to his roommate, Michael Taylor (Michael Sarrazin).  Michael has been in the institution ever since the night that he walked in on his estranged wife being murdered.  Because of the shock, he can’t remember anything that he saw that night.  When his girlfriend Paula (Susan Clark) comes to pick Michael up, Michael leaves the institution determined to get to the truth about his wife’s murder.  Once Michael leaves, John Candy disappears from the movie.

Michael suspects that his wife was killed by her lover, Lawrence Miles (Anthony Perkins) but there is more to that night than Michael is remembering.  Deadly Companion is a typical low-budget shot-in-Toronto thriller from the early 80s, with familiar Canadian character actors like Michael Ironside, Al Waxman, Kenneth Welsh, and Maury Chaykin all playing small roles.  Michael Sarrazin is a dull lead but Anthony Perkins gets to do what he did best at the end of his career and plays a thoroughly sarcastic bastard who gets the only good lines in the film.

What’s interesting about Deadly Companion isn’t the predictable plot and it’s certainly not Michael Sarrazin.  Instead, what’s strange is that several cast members of SCTV show up in tiny supporting roles, though none of them get as much of a chance to make as big an impression as John Candy.  Deadly Companion is a serious thriller that just happens to feature Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, and Dave Thomas.  It’s strange to see Michael Sarrazin trying to figure out who killed his wife while Eugene Levy loiters in the background.  It leaves you waiting for a punchline that never comes.

The SCTV people are in the film because it was directed by George Bloomfield, who also directed several episodes of SCTV.  Since this film was made before SCTV really broke into the American marketplace, it was probably assumed that no one outside of Canada would ever find the presence of John Candy in a dramatic murder mystery distracting.  Of course, when Deadly Companion was later released on VHS in the late 80s, Candy and the SCTV crew were all given top billing.

When Bronson Met Perkins: Someone Behind The Door (1971, directed by Nicolas Gessner)


Dr. Laurence Jeffries (Anthony Perkins) is an American-born neurosurgeon living in the UK.  One night, as Dr. Jeffries is preparing to head home, he meets a confused and frightened man who is identified in the credits as being The Stranger and who is played by Charles Bronson.  The Stranger has no memory of who he is or how he came to be where he is.  Dr. Jeffries takes the Stranger back to his house.  Dr. Jeffries says that he often takes patients back home for overnight observation but it turns out that he has more than treatment on his mind.  Dr. Jeffries knows that his wife, Frances (Jill Ireland, who was Bronson’s offscreen wife), has been cheating on him with her French lover.  What if Dr. Jeffries can convince the Stranger that Frances is married to and cheating on him?  Could The Stranger, who may have already attacked another woman on the beach, be manipulated into murdering Frances’s lover?

Before Death Wish made Charles Bronson a box office force in the United States, he was a huge star in Europe.  Someone Behind The Door is one of many films that Bronson made in France before he returned to America.  It’s always interesting to see Bronson’s European films because European directors were willing to cast him as something other than just a vengeance-driven vigliante.  In Someone Behind The Door, Bronson actually gets to play someone who isn’t in control of his fate and who doesn’t always have the perfect tough guy quip on the end of his tongue and Bronson gives a surprisingly good performance.  He brings The Stranger’s inarticulate fear and eventual rage to life.  Indulging in his usual nervous mannerisms, Anthony Perkins matches him every step of the way.

Someone Behind The Door largely takes place in just one location and it’s really too stage-bound to be successful.  Still, fans of Perkins and Bronson should find the pairing of the two to be interesting.  The pair play off each other surprisingly well, with Perkins nervy energy bouncing off of Bronson’s physicality.  It’s too bad that this was the only time that these two actors appeared opposite each other.

Horror Book Review: Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello


57 years after it was first released, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho remains one of the most influential films ever made.

Certainly, every horror film ever released since 1960 owes a debt to Psycho.  The infamous shower scene has been duplicated so many times that I’ve lost count.  Whenever a big-name actor is unexpectedly killed during the first half of a movie, it’s because of what happened to Janet Leigh in that shower.  If not for Psycho, Drew Barrymore would have survived Scream and that shark would never have eaten Samuel L. Jackson in Deep Blue Sea.  Every giallo film that has ended with someone explaining the overly complex psychological reasons that led to the killer putting on black gloves and picking up a scalpel owes a debt to Simon Oakland’s monologue at the end of Psycho.  Psycho is so influential and popular that, decades later, A&E could broadcast a show called Bates Motel and have an instant hit.

What goes into making a classic?  That is question that is both asked and answered by Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho.  Starting with the real-life crimes of Ed Gein, Rebello’s book goes on to examine the writing of Robert Bloch’s famous novel and then the struggle to adapt that novel for the screen.

This book is a dream for trivia lovers.  Ever wanted to know who else was considered for the role of Marion Crane or Sam Loomis or even Norman Bates?  This is the book to look to.  Read this book and then imagine an alternate world where Psycho starred Dean Stockwell, Eva Marie Saint, and Leslie Neilsen?

(That’s right.  Leslie Neilsen was considered for the role of Sam Loomis.)

The book also confronts the controversy over who deserves credit for the shower scene, Alfred Hitchcock or Saul Bass.  And, of course, it also provides all the glorious details of how Hitchcock handled the film’s pre-release publicity.  Ignore the fact that this book was cited as being the inspiration for the rather forgettable Anthony Hopkins/Helen Mirren film, Hitchcock.  This is a fascinating read about a fascinating movie and a fascinating director.

First published in 1990 and still very much in print, Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho is a must-read for fans of film, horror, true crime, history, Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, and Psycho.