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!

12 Things You May Or May Not Have Known About Friday the 13th!

As we all know, with one notable exception, the majority of the cast of the original Friday the 13th didn’t exactly go on to greater heights of stardom.  The movie may have made a lot of money but it didn’t lead to bigger roles for Laurie Bartram and Mark Nelson.  When the movie was released in 1980, Betsy Palmer was the best known member of the cast and, according to the book Crystal Lake Memories, the cast of Friday the 13th Part 2 used to joke that maybe the cast of the first film actually had been murdered in the woods because no one ever saw them again.

Of course, today, no one can watch Friday the 13th without saying, “Oh my God, Kevin Bacon’s wearing a speedo!” but, at the time he was cast as doomed Jack, he was just another struggling actor.  However, if things had gone as originally planned, today Bacon would not be the only respected actor with Friday the 13th on his resume.  When the film was in pre-production, director Sean Cunningham originally tried to get a star to play the role of Alice, the only camp counselor to make it out of Camp Crystal Lake alive.

Who was that star?

Sally Field.

The future multiple Oscar-winner was seriously pursued for the role of Alice.  She did not, as some sources claim, audition for the role.  Instead, she merely turned it down and went on to win her first Oscar for Norma Rae.  Once it became obvious that Field had no interest in going to Camp Crystal Lake, Cunningham decided to go with a cast of unknowns and Adrienne King was given the role of Alice.

Personally, I think that worked out for the best.  Not only was Adrienne King perfect for the role but the use of unknowns undoubtedly made the film more effective when it was released.  After all, everyone knows that a star is going to survive.  (That’s one reason why, when seen today, it’s still jarring to see Kevin Bacon get dispatched.)

Here’s a few more bits of trivia to make your Friday the 13th a good one:

2. After the success of Friday the 13th, Adrienne King was stalked by an obsessed fan and, when she was asked to return for 1981’s Friday the 13th Part 2, she requested that her role be as small as possible.  As a result, Alice showed up just long enough to be killed off.  Amy Steel replaced King as the film’s heroine.  Steel would later go on to star in another classic slasher film, April Fool’s Day.

3. Originally, 1982’s Friday the 13th Part 3 was envisioned with Steel returning to play Ginny.  However, Steel turned down the chance to return, leading to the filmmakers instead simply remaking the first film (in 3D!).  After being cast in the lead role, Dana Kimmel requested that the sex and drugs featured in the original script be toned down.  That’s just one of many reasons why many consider Friday the 13th Part 3 to be the worst film in the series.

4. Even if she didn’t return for Part 3, Amy Steel was instrumental in convincing her friend, actor Peter Barton, to appear in 1984’s Friday the 13th — The Final Chapter.  Barton’s likable performance as the handsome but definitely doomed Doug was a highlight of the film.  Another highlight was Ted White’s performance as Jason.  As opposed to the character he played, White once threatened to quit the film because he didn’t like the way the director was treating the film’s cast.

5. The working title for 1985’s Friday the 13th: A New Beginning was Repitition.  Having killed Jason at the end of The Final Chapter, Corey Feldman returned for a cameo that he shot at the same time that he was filming The Goonies for Richard Donner.  Along with the first film, this is the only one to not feature Jason Voorhees committing any murders (unless you count the ones that he committed in Tommy’s nightmare) and the film’s ending was specifically set up so that Tommy could take over Jason’s murderous ways.  However, the film’s disappointing box office reception led to Jason returning as a zombie in the next film.

6. With its intentional comedy and its emphasis on action over blood, 1986’s Friday the 13th: Jason’s Lives is a rarity in that it was a Friday the 13th film that actually got somewhat good reviews.  John Shepherd, who played Tommy in a New Beginning, was offered a chance to return to the role but turned it down, saying that the film’s went against his religious beliefs.  As a result, Thom Matthews was cast as Tommy.  Matthews also played the lead in another horror comedy, Return of the Living Dead.

7. 1988’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood was originally envisioned as being a cross-over with A Nightmare on Elm Street.  However, when Paramount (who held the rights to Jason) and New Line Cinema (who held the rights to Freddy) could not come to an agreement, the project was temporarily abandoned.  According to Crystal Lake Memories, the film’s executive producer, Barbara Sachs, wanted Friday the 13th Part VII to be the first Friday the 13th to win an Academy Award and came with an extremely ambitious storyline that she envisioned being directed by none other than Federico Fellini.  Cooler heads prevailed and, instead, The New Blood found Jason battling a young woman with psychic powers.

8. The initial working script for 1989’s Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan was entitled “Ashes to Ashes.”  The film’s anemic box office convinced Paramount to sell the franchise to New Line Cinema.

9. After New Line purchased the franchise, the first film’s director, Sean S. Cunningham, returned to produce 1993’s Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday.  Much like The New Blood, this was originally envisioned as being a Freddy vs. Jason film but that plan was, again, abandoned.  Freddy Krueger does make one brief appearance, when his clawed hand appears and drags Jason’s hockey mask to Hell.  Director Adam Marcus also included a shot of a book that was meant to be the Necronomicon as an attempt to link Jason to the Evil Dead universe as well.  Because New Line did not own the rights to Evil Dead, Marcus did not tell them what he was planning to do and instead asked Sam Raimi if he could borrow the prop.  Raimi thought it was a great idea.  Less amused was Tom Sullivan, the man who actually created the prop and who received no money for its use in Jason Goes To Hell.

10. The 8 year gap between the release of Jason Goes To Hell and 2001’s Jason X was a result of Freddy vs. Jason being stuck in development Hell.  Jason X was largely produced to keep audiences from forgetting about Jason.  Screenwriter Todd Farmer appeared in Jason X, playing a character named Dallas (a nod to the original Alien).

11. After spending two decades in development, 2003’s Freddy vs Jason finally brought the two infamous serial killers together.  Kane Hodder, who had played Jason in every film since New Blood, was not asked to return for Freddy vs. Jason, supposedly because the film’s director wanted Jason to tower over Freddy and it was felt that Hodder was not tall enough.  At one point, Freddy vs. Jason was envisioned as ending with Pinhead appearing and defeating both of them but New Line could not secure the rights to the Hellraiser character.

12. 2009’s Friday the 13th was meant to reboot the series.  Perhaps the less said about it, the better.  Plans for a sequel to the reboot are currently trapped in the same development Hell that once imprisoned Freddy vs. Jason.

Happy Friday the 13th!


Film Review: Friday the 13th (dir. by Sean S. Cunningham)

(Warning: Spoilers Below)

This month, the 13th is going to fall on a Friday so I figured what better time would there be to watch and review the Friday the 13th franchise?  Through April 13th, I’ll be reviewing each film in the franchise.  Some of these reviews will be positive and quite a few of them will not.  Let’s get things started with the one that started it all, the original 1980 Friday the 13th.

Is there anyone out there who does not know the plot of Friday the 13th?  For those who don’t, here’s a spoiler-filled refresher.  In the late 50s, at the rather crummy looking Camp Crystal Lake in New Jersey, two counselors sneak off from a sing-along so that they can do whatever it was that young people used to do in the 50s.  Suddenly, someone else walks into the room.  “Uhmm, we weren’t doing anything,” one of the counselor says right before a machete is plunged into his stomach.

Jump forward 25 years.  Annie (Robbi Morgan), a bubbly young woman who won’t stop talking about how much she loves children, hitchhikes into Crystal Lake.  She tells the townspeople that she’s looking for a ride to Camp Crystal Lake and everyone give her that “Oh no you didn’t” look.  Crazy old Ralph (played by Walt Gorney) tells her, “You’re doomed.”  Since this is a slasher film, Annie ignores him and ends up getting her throat slashed in the woods by an unseen assailant wearing black gloves.

Meanwhile, at Camp Crystal Lake, the somewhat jerky Steve Christy (played by an actor named Peter Brouwer who never gets enough credit for giving a good performance here) is working hard to get the long-since deserted camp up and ready for its grand reopening.  Helping him out are his fellow camp counselors — lovers of life and fun Marcie (Jeannine Taylor) and Jack (The Kevin Bacon, who is like such a total hottie in this film I don’t even know where to start), boring Bill (Harry Crosby), bossy meanie Brenda (Laurie Bartram), obnoxious practical joker Ned (Mark Nelson), and finally Steve’s girlfriend, Alice (Adrienne King).  Steve tells his counselors to get the camp ready and then heads off to pick up supplies in town.  (Or at least, that’s what Steve says he’s doing.  As far as I can tell, the only thing he does when he gets to town is head over to the local diner and start flirting with the 90 year-old waitress…)

With jerky old Steve gone for the day, the counselors decide to spend their time swimming (and, in Ned’s case, pretending to drown), having sex, smoking pot, and eventually getting killed one-by-one by an unseen murderer.  Eventually, once Alice is the only counselor left alive, she runs into a nice, older woman named Pamela Voorhees (played, with a lot of genuine menace, by Betsy Palmer).  When Alice explains that everyone’s dead, Pamela responds by mentioning that her own son — Jason — drowned at the camp 25 years ago because the counselors were too busy “making love.”  Pamela then tries to kill Alice and Alice ends up chopping Pamela’s head off and then floating out onto the lake in a canoe.  (Meanwhile, the camp is nowhere close to being ready for opening day.)

The next morning, Alice wakes up in the canoe and spots a bunch of police officers on the shore.  As she starts to call out to them, a deformed boy suddenly jumps out of the water and grabs her.  This, of course, is one of the most famous scenes in the history of horror and one that has been parodied and ripped off numerous times.  However, when I first saw Friday the 13th, that scene made me scream and, even today, I still find my heart racing  just a little bit faster whenever I know that it’s coming up.

The first time I ever saw the original Friday the 13th, I was either 8 or 9 and it was all incredibly daring because I was staying up way too late with my older sisters and watching a  cable station for grownups that I knew I wasn’t supposed to be watching.  We didn’t want to wake up mom or dad so we had the volume turned down as low as it would go and we whispered our comments of “Ewwww!” and “Agck!”  (Yes, even at the age of 8, I was already saying “agck.”)  Even though I couldn’t hear the film, I could see it and the end result was thatm when I did eventually go to sleep, I was awake after about an hour, screaming because I had a Friday-inspired nightmare.  I doubt that the movie would scare me as much today because today,I know who Tom Savini is and, if I need proof that Kevin Bacon was actually not killed by Mrs. Voorhees hiding underneath the bed, I can watch my DVD of Crazy,Stupid Love.  But when I was younger, Friday the 13th was the fuel of nightmares and, seeing as I’ve always had my little morbid streak, I think that’s why the franchise continues to interest me.

If there’s one thing that everyone seems to agree about when it comes to Friday the 13th, it’s that the true stars of the film were the disturbingly plausible gore effects designed Tom Savini.   Even when I rewatched the film before writing this review, I was surprised by not only just how bloody a movie Friday the 13th was but also at how realistic it all looked (especially when compared to the intentionally over-the-top gore effects that Savini provided for Dawn of the Dead).  There’s a surprising brutality to the film that reminds us that — unlike future installments in the franchise — the original Friday the 13th was not made for mainstream audiences but instead for the audiences who populated New York grindhouses and dark Southern drive-ins.  The special effect that every other reviewer always seems to point out is the scene where the arrow bursts through Kevin Bacon’s neck.  While that scene is indeed shocking (and sad too, because it’s Kevin Bacon dying), I’m always more disturbed by the scene that immediately follows, where Marcie gets hit in the face with the axe.  That’s the scene that showed up in my nightmare after I watched the film for the first time.

Director Sean Cunningham has said, in numerous interviews, that he was inspired to make Friday the 13th largely because of the box office success of Halloween and there are some pretty obvious similarities between the two films.  What is less often commented upon is just how much of the original Friday the 13th was inspired by the Italian giallo films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento.  Whether it’s the focus on the killer’s black gloves or the use of Harry Manfredini’s iconic theme to signal when something bad is about to happen, the giallo influence is pretty obvious.  Sean Cunningham was hardly an innovative director but when he stole, he stole from the best and the end result, crude as it may have sometimes been, was undeniably effective.

In Peter Bracke’s fascinating history of the franchise, Crystal Lake Memories, there’s an interesting quote from Jeannine Taylor, the actress who  played Marcie.  When discussing her reaction after first reading the script, Taylor says, “To me, this was a small independent film about some very carefree teenagers who are having a great time at summer camp where they happen to be working as counselors.  Then they just happen to get killed.”  Taylor’s comment gets at one reason why Friday the 13th — out of all the slasher films to come out after Halloween — continues to be watched by even people like me who weren’t even alive when it was first released.  Uniquely among the films in the franchise, Friday the 13th is a true ensemble film and, though the performances are somewhat uneven and the characters are pretty one-dimensional, the cast has an easy and likable chemistry.  Watching the film today, it’s a bit hard not to concentrate on the fact that you’re seeing Kevin Bacon in a low-budget slasher film but once you get over that, you realize that Bacon and the entire cast are totally believable as bunch of likable, carefree kids who end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.  A lot of critics have complained that the first half of the film drags as we just watch everyone goofing off around camp.  To me, those early scenes make the film because they get us to care about the characters just enough so that we don’t necessarily want to see them killed.

Another frequent critical complaint is that it’s difficult to have much sympathy for characters who consistently do stupid things that ultimately lead to them getting killed.  Viewers tend to shake their heads as they watch Ned go wandering into a deserted cabin or when Brenda just happens to wander out on the archery range.  Myself, I always tend to roll my eyes whenever the film reaches the point that Marcie decides to run out into the rainy night in just her panties and a shirt.  I always find myself going, “Yeah, like anyone’s really that stupid…”

Of course, even as I type this review, I’m thinking about how, a few nights ago, I thought I heard a catfight at 3 in the morning and my immediate response was to run outside and walk up and down in the alley, wearing only a t-shirt and a thong, calling my cat’s name.*  Even as I searched for our cat, I found myself muttering, “This is like a slasher movie waiting to happen.”  However, I still kept wandering around that alley in my half-naked state because, at the time, I was pretty confident that there weren’t any masked maniacs around.

That’s what people who criticize films like Friday the 13th for featuring stupid characters refuse to admit.  We all do more stupid things than we care to admit because we’re usually pretty confident that there won’t be any negative consequences to our stupidity.  We all know that there are evil psychopaths out there but we’re also confident that we won’t run into them.  The reason why the slasher genre has remained popular is because it forces us to confront our deepest fear, which is that we might not be as safe or have as much control over our fate as we tell ourselves.

Not surprisingly, Friday the 13th and its subsequent sequels has never been as popular with critics as they have with audiences.  In fact, critical reaction upon the initial release of Friday the 13th was so hostile that one critic even printed Betsy Palmer’s address and invited outraged filmgoers to write her letters of protest.  The standard critical complaint about Friday the 13th was that it presented death as a punishment for having sex and smoking weed and here I would say that the critics were mistaken.  While it is true that Jack and Marcie die after doing both of these things, I think there’s actually a far more relevent message to be found within the film.  Consider this: Ned dies after he spots someone in a deserted cabin and says, “Can I help you?”  Steve Christy is killed because he spots someone out in the rain and approaches them, saying, “What are you doing out in this mess?”  Brenda thinks that she hears a child crying for help outside of her cabin and foolishly goes walking around in the middle of hurricane in her nightgown, calling out, “Hello!?” until she’s killed off-screen.  What the critics, so caught up in their moral panic, failed to understand was that the message of Friday the 13th is not that people shouldn’t have sex.  The message is that people shouldn’t offer to help random strangers.

Despite the amount of critical scorn heaped upon it, Friday the 13th was a box-office success and the 18th highest grossing film of 1980.   At the time, for a low-budget, independent film, this was highly unusual.  Despite the fact that Friday the 13th ended with Mrs. Voorhees losing her head and Jason still in that lake, there would be a Friday the 13th Part 2.

We’ll deal with that tomorrow.  Until then, don’t help any random strangers…


*Doc, our cat, was fine, by the way.  It turned out, he was sitting in the kitchen the whole time I was outside desperately searching for him.