From the original and still the best Halloween.
“Was that the Boogeyman?”
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!
From the end of World War II to 2007, the UK’s Central Office of Information used to produced Public Information Films (known as PIFs), which would often air on television during children’s programming. These were the British equivalent of the “More You Know” PSAs that appear on American television. A typical PIF would deal with a safety issue, warning children to be careful crossing the street or while visiting a farm or when thinking of sticking a fork into an electrical socket.
One of the most notorious PIFs was first broadcast in 1973 and aired for several years after that. Lonely Water warned children about the danger of foolish behavior and risk-taking at lakes, ponds, and other pools of standing water. Aimed at the 7-to-12 year-old age bracket, Lonely Water was narrated by Donald Pleasence and featured a black-clad figure watching as children foolishly dived into danger. Even though the children ultimately do the right thing, it only leads to Pleasence declaring, “I’LL BE BACK!”
Lonely Water reportedly scarred a generation for life and led to several traumatized British children deciding to never learn how to swim at all. In 2006, it was voted as the UK’s 4th-favorite PIF of all time.
Previous Great Moments In Television History
Axel McGregor (Donald Pleasence) is a world-famous author and big game hunter who, while on a hunt in the steamy jungles of Thailand, is maimed by a ferocious panther. With both his body and pride wounded, Axel posts a reward for the panther, demanding that it be captured and brought to his private island estate. When the panther is delivered, Axel plans to set it free so that he can hunt and kill it and regain his lost virility. Unfortunately, as soon as McGregor sets the panther free, unexpected guests show up at the island, Axel’s two daughters (Nancy Kwan and Jennifer Rhodes), his granddaughter (Lesly Fine), and an obnoxious tour guide named Ross (Ross Hagen). The panther proves to be harder to hunt than Axel was expecting and soon, one daughter has been killed and another daughter suffers a fate worse than death when she becomes Ross’s default love interest.
Night Creature is a strange film. It was obviously made as a part of the nature-gone-wild cycle that started in the wake of Jaws but, once the daughters arrive at the island, there are several lengthy stretches where the movie concentrates more on the love triangle between Ross and the daughters than on the panther. When the panther does show up, the attack scenes are so confusingly shot that it is difficult to be sure what has really happened. Director Lee Madden goes overboard with slow motion shots of the panther stalking its prey and an attempt to introduce some psychic bond between Axel and the panther largely falls flat.
At least we get Donald Pleasence, playing one of his twitchy roles and suffering another extended nervous breakdown. Night Creature may not offer much but it does have one of the best Pleasence freakouts ever captured on film. It’s always a pleasure to watch Pleasence chew the scenery, especially when he’s joined by panther.
Nosferatu the vampyre is back! Well, maybe. It’s complicated,
This Italian production from 1988 was originally envisioned as being a semi-official sequel to Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu, which was itself a remake of F.W. Murnau’s silent classic. The idea was that Klaus Kinski would reprise his role and this time, his feral version of Dracula would haunt Venice. Kinski agreed, initially, to reprise his role. However, after arriving on the set, Kinski lived up to his infamous reputation for being difficult. He announced that he would, under no circumstances, don the famous make-up that he wore in Nosferatu. And while Kinski was undoubtedly a good actor who was capable of giving performances that kept him employed despite reportedly being insane, Nosferatu without the makeup is not really Nosferatu. He’s just another vampire.
Still, Kinski was a big enough star that he got his way about the makeup. He also attempted to get his way during the first day of filming, when he refused to take any direction from director Mario Ciaino. When Ciaino attempted to figure out why Kinski was being so difficult, Kinski declared that he had been promised, by producer Augusto Caminito, that he would be allowed to direct the film. This led to Mario Ciaino quitting during the first day of production. Producer Caminito took over as a director, though apparently Kinski did end up directing several of his own scenes. Reportedly, other scenes were directed by Luigi Cozzi.
However, Kinski didn’t stop with getting the director replaced. He also demanded that nearly the entire cast be replaced as well. Kinski, in fact, was such a terror on the set that it was common for members of the crew to refuse to work with him, which perhaps explains why Kinski seems to spend so much of this film wandering around Venice by himself.
As for the film itself — well, yes, it’s exactly as big of a mess as it sounds like it would be. Kinski plays a vampire who may or may not be Dracula. Actually, very few of the traditional vampire rules seem to apply to him. He wanders around in the daylight. He looks at his reflection in a mirror. He does, however, drink a lot of blood so I guess some things never change. Because he refused to wear the vampire makeup or shave his head, Kinski spends the entire film looking like the aging lead singer of a 70s prog rock band. At the same time, it must be said that Kinski actually does give a fairly good performance. He’s a vampire who is desperate to find someone pure of heart who can end his ennui-stricken life. Kinski’s screen presence is undeniably powerful and he looks appropriately miserable.
Christopher Plummer has the Van Helsing role and Donald Pleasence plays a priest who always seems to be somewhat nervous. (In other words, a typical role for Donald Pleasence.) Plummer is in Venice because, back in the 18th century, it was the last place that Kinski’s vampire was seen. This leads to several confusing flashbacks, all of which are somewhat randomly sprinkled throughout the film.
There’s not really any story beyond Kinski walking around with a stricken-look on his face but, oddly, the film kind of works. Despite all of the directors who worked on it, the film is often visually stunning. I think it’s the power of Venice. No other city has quite the same atmosphere as Venice and it turns out to be the perfect location for a film about an ennui-stricken vampire.
(I know that when I visited Venice the summer after I graduated high school, I often found myself thinking about vampires. That’s just the type of city it is.)
Anyway, the film will be best appreciated by Italian horror enthusiasts and Kinski completists. Others will probably be bored out of their mind. If you just want to see a good horror film set in Venice, I recommend Don’t Look Now.
Like a lot of people, I enjoy browsing the trivia sections of the IMDb. While it’s true that a lot of the items are stuff like, “This movie features two people who appeared on a television series set in the Star Trek Universe!,” you still occasionally came across an interesting fact or two.
Of course, sometimes, you just come across something that makes so little sense that you can only assume that it was posted as a joke. For instance, I was reading the IMDb’s trivia for the original 1978 Halloween and I came across this:
Peter O’Toole, Mel Brooks, Steven Hill, Walter Matthau, Jerry Van Dyke, Lawrence Tierney, Kirk Douglas, John Belushi, Lloyd Bridges, Abe Vigoda, Kris Kristofferson, Sterling Hayden, David Carradine, Dennis Hopper, Charles Napier, Yul Brynner and Edward Bunker were considered for the role of Dr. Sam Loomis.
Now, some of these names make sense. Despite the fact that Sam Loomis became Donald Pleasence’s signature role, it is still possible to imagine other actors taking the role and perhaps bringing a less neurotic interpretation to the character.
Peter O’Toole as Dr. Loomis? Okay, I can see that.
Kirk Douglas, Sterling Hayden, Charles Napier, Steve Hill, or Lloyd Bridges as Dr. Loomis? Actually, I can imagine all of them grimacing through the role.
Walter Matthau? Well, I guess if you wanted Dr. Loomis to be kind of schlubby….
Abe Vigoda? Uhmmm, okay.
Dennis Hopper? That would be interesting.
Mel Brooks? What? Wait….
John Belushi? Okay, stop it!
My point is that I doubt any of these people were considered for the role of Dr. Loomis. Both director John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill have said that they wanted to cast an English horror actor in the role, as a bit of an homage to the Hammer films of the 60s. Christopher Lee was offered the role but turned it down, saying that he didn’t care for the script or the low salary. (Lee later said this was one of the biggest mistakes of his career.) Peter Cushing’s agent turned down the role, again because of the money. It’s not clear whether Cushing himself ever saw the script.
To be honest, I could easily Peter Cushing in the role and I could see him making a brilliant Dr. Loomis. But, ultimately, Donald Pleasence was the perfect (if not the first) choice for the role. Of course, Pleasence nearly turned down the role as well. Apparently, it was his daughter, Angela, who changed his mind. She was an admirer of John Carpenter’s previous film, Assault on Precint 13. Carpenter has said that he was originally intimidated by Donald Pleasence (the man had played Blofeld, after all) but that Pleasence turned out to be a professional and a gentleman.
Of course, Halloween is best known for being the first starring role of Jamie Lee Curtis. Curtis was actually not Carpenter’s first choice for the role of Laurie Strode. His first choice was an actress named Annie Lockhart, who was the daughter of June Lockhart. Carpenter changed his mind when he learned that Jamie was the daughter of Janet Leigh. Like any great showman, Carpenter understood the importance of publicity and he knew nothing would bring his horror movie more publicity then casting the daughter of the woman whose onscreen death in Psycho left moviegoers nervous about taking a shower.
There was also another future big name who came close to appearing in Halloween. At the time that she was cast as Lynda, P.J. Soles was dating an up-and-coming actor from Texas named Dennis Quaid. Quaid was offered the role of Lynda’s doomed boyfriend, Bob but he was already committed to another film.
Not considered for a role was Robert Englund, though the future Freddy Krueger still spent some time on set. He was hired by Carpenter to help spread around the leaves that would make it appear as if his film was taking place in the October, even though it was filmed in May.
Interestingly enough, Englund nearly wasn’t need for that job because Halloween was not originally envisioned as taking place on Halloween or any other specific holiday. When producer Irwin Yablans and financier Moustapha Akkad originally approached Carpenter and Hill to make a movie for them about a psycho stalking three babysitters, they didn’t care when the film was set. It was only after Carpenter and Hill wrote a script called The Babysitter Muders that it occurred to Yablans that setting the film during Halloween would be good from a marketing standpoint. Plus Halloween made for a better title than The Babysitter Murders.
And, of course, the rest is history. Carpenter’s film came to define Halloween and it still remains the standard by which every subsequent slasher movie has been judged. Would that have happened if the film had been known as The Babysitter Murders and had starred John Belushi?
Sadly, we may never know.
Now, this is good acting!
In this scene from the original Halloween, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) attempts, as best he can, to explain the unexplainable. I’ve always felt that Pleasence’s performance in the first film is extremely underrated. People always tend to concentrate on the scenes where he gets angry and yells or the later films where an obviously fragile Pleasence was clearly doing the best he could with poorly written material. But, to me, the heart of Pleasence’s performance (and the film itself) is to be found in this beautifully delivered and haunting monologue.
In this scene, we see that Dr. Loomis is himself a victim of Michael Myers. Spending the last fifteen years with Michael has left Loomis shaken and obviously doubting everything that he once believed. Whenever I watch both Halloween and its sequel, I always feel very bad for Dr. Loomis. Not only did he have to spend 15 years with a soulless psychopath but, once Michael escapes, he has to deal with everyone blaming him for it. Dr. Loomis was literally the only person who saw Michael for what he was.