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!