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!

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.

 

6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Picture: The 1960s


Sonny and Cher walk down the 1968 Oscars Red Carpet

Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1960s.

Psycho (1960, dir by Alfred Hitchcock)

The director was nominated.  Janet Leigh was nominated.  Amazingly enough, Anthony Perkins was not nominated for playing the role that would come to define him.  And, in the end, the film itself was not nominated for best picture.  Perhaps it was too sordid for the Academy.  Perhaps they resented no longer feeling safe in the shower.  Regardless, Psycho has gone on to influence every horror thriller made since 1960.  And let’s not even talk about how much we all cried while watching the finale of Bates Motel.

From Russia With Love (1963, dir by Terence Young)

The first great James Bond film should have also been the first Bond film to be nominated for best picture.  Actually, looking over the films that actually were nominated in 1963, From Russia With Love should have been the first Bond film to win best picture.

Blow-Up (1966, dir by Michelangelo Antonioni)

Mimes playing tennis and David Hemmings briefly breaking out of his shell of ennui to investigate a murder that has no solution!  How could the Academy resist?  Somehow, they did.  Michelangelo Antonioni received a nomination but the film was, at the time, considered to be too controversial to nominate.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1967, dir by Sergio Leone)

Though initial reviews were mixed, Sergio Leone’s Civil War epic has come to be recognized as one of the greatest and most important Westerns of all time.  Perhaps it’s understandable that the Academy of 1967 would be skeptical of an Italian western starring Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, and Lee Van Cleef.  Still, it would have been one of the coolest best picture nominees of all time.  (Shockingly, not even Ennio Morricone’s iconic score was nominated.)

Petulia (1968, dir by Richard Lester)

Though Richard Lester will probably always be best known as the man who directed the first two Beatles films, he also directed one of the definitive 60s films, Petulia.  Sadly, in a year when many lackluster films were nominated, the challenging and rather melancholy Petulia was not.

Night of the Living Dead (1968, dir by George Romero)

Again, we really can’t be shocked that the Academy held off an recognizing a low-budget, independent film about zombies  But come on!  A Night of the Living Dead vs. Petulia Oscar race would have bene one for the ages.

Up next, in an hour or so, the 1970s!

20 Shots from 20 Alfred Hitchcock Films


Happy National Hitchcock Day!

20 Shots From 20 Films

The Pleasure Garden (1925)

The Lodger (1927)

Blackmail (1929)

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

The 39 Steps (1935)

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Rebecca (1940)

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Lifeboat (1944)

Notorious (1946)

Strangers on a Train (1951)

Rear Window (1954)

The Wrong Man (1956)

Vertigo (1958)

North by Northwest (1959)

Psycho (1960)

The Birds (1963)

Topaz (1969)

Frenzy (1972)

Family Plot (1976)

 

The Man Who Would Be Bond (Almost): RIP John Gavin


cracked rear viewer

Most people know John Gavin, who died today at age 86, as the nominal hero of Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, who saves Vera Miles from a ghastly fate at the hands of maniacal Anthony Perkins. What most people don’t know is Gavin was once signed, sealed, and ready to go as the movie’s most popular secret agent of them all, James Bond!

Gavin in “OSS 117- Double Agent” (1968)

It’s true! Gavin had signed the contract with producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli to star as 007 in 1971’s DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER , taking over the role from George Lazenby. He would have been the first (and only) American actor to portray MI-6’s suave secret agent, except the powers that be at United Artists wanted someone with more star power to take the role. Saltzman and Broccoli then threw an enormous (at the time) sum of money at original Bond Sean…

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Jedadiah Leland’s Horrific Adventures in The Internet Archive #23: Psycho (1988, Starsoft Development Laboratories)


For my next horrific adventure in the Internet Archive, I played Psycho (1988, Starsoft Development Laboratories).

Psycho is an example of game that borrows a famous name but has next to nothing to do with its supposed inspiration.  Despite the picture above, you do not play Norman Bates in Psycho.  You are not Marion Crane, either.  You are not even Aborgast, Lila, or Sam.

Instead, you are a nameless detective who is searching for some jewels that were stolen from a museum.  For some reason, you believe the jewels were stolen by Norman Bates and that Norman is holding a curator hostage at his motel.  (None of that sounds like Norman.)  You go to investigate.

You have only four hours to find the jewels and rescue the curator.  Unfortunately, once you enter the house, you will be randomly besieged by ghosts, dogs, and other members of the Bates family.

If they touch you, you fall asleep for a period of time.  Somewhere in the game, there is a gun. If you find it, you can at least shoot at the ghosts.  Why wouldn’t a detective have his own gun?  I’m not sure.

Psycho the game has not aged well.  What was probably state of the art in 1988 now feels clunky and slow.

I do like the painting of Mother Bates, though.

Since first discovering it, I have tried to play Psycho on ten separate occasions.  Each time, I got frustrated with the slow gameplay and I quit.  Norman can have the jewels and the curator.  After all, he wouldn’t hurt a fly.