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.
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!
Watching Ed Wood’s infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space is something of an October tradition here at the Shattered Lens! And you know how much I love tradition!
Some people say that this film has a reputation for being the worst film ever made. Personally, I don’t think that it deserves that reputation. Is it bad? By traditional standards of quality, I guess it can be argued that Plan 9 From Outer Space is a bad movie. But it’s also a lot of fun and how can you not smile when you hear Criswell’s opening and closing statements?
(On another note: Watch this as quickly as you can because, over the least year or so, it seems like all the films of Ed Wood get yanked off YouTube as soon as they are posted. Copyright violations, they say. Personally, I think that’s shameful. First off, Ed Wood is no longer alive. Wood had no children and his widow died in 2006, having never remarried. Whatever money is being made off of his films is not going to support his family. Wherever he is, I think Ed would be more concerned that people see his films than some faceless corporation make money off of them.)
(It seems like, every year, someone threatens to either remake Plan 9 or produce a sequel. Again, the original is all that is needed.)
I swear, nothing annoys me more than when wannabe hipsters go out of their way to trash old movies.
You see that a lot on twitter. People who, for the most part, haven’t even studied film or cultural history will try to post something snarky about a film that was made decades before they were born. They either make fun of the acting or the dialogue or they attempt to call out the film for not being properly woke. It’s an easy way to get likes and retweets but it’s also about as intellectually lazy as you can get.
For instance, there’s a tendency to dismiss the 1931 version of Dracula and Bela Lugosi’s performance in the lead role. Personally, I do think that Dracula is a bit too stagey (it was, after all, based on a stage play that was based on Bram Stoker’s novel) and I wouldn’t put it up there with director Tod Browning’s best work. The Spanish-language version of Dracula, which was filmed at the same time, is technically a better film. But, that being said, I will accept no criticism of Lugosi’s performance. Lugosi is the perfect Dracula. If he seems overly theatrical …. well, Dracula’s a pretty theatrical character. It has to be remembered that Lugosi is playing a character who is supposed to be several hundred years old. If he acts like a man out-of-time, that’s because that is exactly what he is.
Ultimately, it comes down to this — a lot of actors have played Dracula. Some of them have been very good in the role. Some of them have been very bad. But, if not for Lugosi, none of them would have had the opportunity.
So, in honor of that legacy, today’s horror scene that I love comes from the original Dracula and features Bela Lugosi at his creepiest:
Universal Pictures kicked off the horror trend of the early 30’s with DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN , and soon every studio in Hollywood, both major and minor, jumped on the terror train. Paramount was the first to hop on board with an adaptation of Stevenson’s DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE , earning Fredric March an Oscar for his dual role. Soon there was DR. X (Warners), THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (RKO), FREAKS and THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (both MGM), and THE MONSTER WALKS and WHITE ZOMBIE from the indies. Paramount released ISLAND OF LOST SOULS at the end of 1932, a film so shocking and perverse it was banned in Britain for over a quarter century, and still manages to frighten even the most jaded of horror fans today.
Based on the novel The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells, the film begins with shipwrecked Edward Parker being rescued…
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It’s Oscar night in Hollywood! We all may have our gripes with the Academy over things like the nominating process (see my posts on THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND , STAN & OLLIE and THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD ), but in the end, we’ll all still be watching – I know I will!
One of my gripes over the years has always been how the horror genre has gotten little to no attention from Oscar over the years. Sure, Fredric March won for DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE , but there were plenty of other horror performances who’ve been snubbed. The following ten actors should have (at least in my opinion) received consideration for their dignified work in that most neglected of genres, the horror film:
(and I’ll do this alphabetically in the interest of fairness)
Atwill’s Ivan Igor in MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM goes…
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I’ve written about Bela Lugosi’s infamous ‘Monogram 9’ before, those ultra-cheap spectacles produced by the equally ultra-cheap Sam Katzman for low-budget Monogram Pictures. These films are all Grade Z schlock, redeemed only by Lugosi’s presence, giving his all no matter how ludicrous the scripts or cardboard the sets. BOWERY AT MIDNIGHT is a cut above; still schlock, but the pulpy premise is different from the rest, and Bela gives what’s probably his best performance out of the whole trashy bunch.
Lugosi plays kindly Karl Wagner, a benevolent soul who runs the Friendly Mission down on the Bowery. But wait – it’s all a front for recruiting down-on-their-luck criminals into Wagner’s gang of thieves. And when he’s done with them, he bumps them off and gives the corpses to ‘Doc’, a dope fiend ex-medico who uses the bodies for his own nefarious purposes!
But wait again! Wagner’s not really Wagner, he’s…
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Time to reach deep inside that trick-or-treat bag and take a look at what’s stuck deep in the corners. Just when you thought it was safe, here’s five more thrilling tales of terror:
YOU’LL FIND OUT (RKO 1940; D: David Butler) – Kay Kyser and his College of Musical Knowledge, for those of you unfamiliar…
…were a Swing Era band of the 30’s & 40’s who combined music with cornball humor on their popular weekly radio program. RKO signed them to a movie contract and gave them this silly but entertaining “old dark house” comedy, teaming Kay and the band (featuring Ginny Simms, Harry Babbitt, Sully Mason, and the immortal Ish Kabibble!) with horror greats Boris Karloff , Bela Lugosi , and Peter Lorre . It’s got all the prerequisites: secret passageways, a creepy séance, and of course that old stand-by, the dark and stormy night! The plot has Kyser’s…
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I’ve covered every Universal Horror Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi made together on this blog but one… it’s a Universal Picture, but not a horror! Instead, the Demonic Duo make cameo appearences in 1934’s GIFT OF GAB, an “all-star comedy with music” featuring the likes of Edmond Lowe, Gloria Stuart , singers Ruth Etting and Ethel Waters, Victor Moore, and others. In this scene, Paul Lukas , Binnie Barnes, Chester Morris, Roger Pryor, and June Knight perform a murder mystery sketch in which the Twin Titans of Terror make all-too-brief cameos:
The Terror Twins worked together one other time, in a 1938 guest shot on Ozzie Nelson’s radio program, “singing” (if you could call it that!!) a little ditty called “We’re Horrible, Horrible Men”:
Thankfully, Boris and Bela stuck to acting… though I have to admit, their singing’s pretty scary, too!!
Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s 1962 hit “The Monster Mash” was not only a graveyard smash, but has become an annual Halloween tradition here on Cracked Rear Viewer. This season, I’ve picked out a Monster Mash-Up of clips starring Universal Horror icons Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi set to Pickett’s groovy ghoulie tune. Break out your dancing shoes and get ready to Do The Mash with Boris and Bela:
Have a Happy HORRORween, Dear Readers!