Fright Club: Future Oscar Winners in Horror

One of the most fun facts in acting is that most of the greats, even the truly greats, started off in horror. And, apparently, they all co-starred at one point or another with Keanu Reeves, whose Oscar is apparently still forthcoming. Today we look at some horror films with casts dripping with future gold.

5. Constantine (2005)

Two Oscars plus three nominations. Not for Constantine, obviously, but that’s the hardware and would-be hardware shared among the cast of this one.

We have no explanation for this, but Keanu Reeves shows up three times in this countdown, regardless of the fact that he’s never been nominated for an Oscar.

No!

Francis Lawrence (of the many Hunger Games fame) made his directorial debut with this big screen take on the comic Hellblazer. Reeves mumbles his way through the lead role of John Constantine. Destined to hell because of an early-life suicide attempt and cursed with the ability to see demons and angels in their true form, Constantine battles on behalf of the light in the hopes of regaining favor and avoiding his eternal fate.

Tilda Swinton plays the angel Gabriel! Peter Storemare plays Satan! I don’t know what else you need to convince you to waste two hours, but Rachel Weisz also plays twins, Pruitt Taylor Vince plays a priest, Djimon Hounsou plays a witch doctor, and there’s absolutely no reason any one of these people said yes to this job. Glorious!

4. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

OK, well Coppola alone has five outright Oscars and one Thalberg Memorial Award, as well as nine additional nominations. Add to that Oldman’s win and nomination, Hopkins’s win and three nominations, Ryder’s two nominations and Richard E. Grant’s nom and you have to just wonder why this movie doesn’t work better.

Overheated, overperformed and somehow undeniably watchable, Francis Ford Coppola’s take on Stoker’s classic vampire tale is a train wreck.

Keanu Reeves is awful. Winona Ryder is awful. Anthony Hopkins is so over the top as to be borderline hilarious. And yet, Coppola somehow matches that ridiculous volume and pitch with a writhing, carnal atmosphere – almost an oversaturated Hammer horror, all heaving breasts and slippery satin.

At the heart of the film is a glorious Gary Oldman, who is particularly memorable as the almost goofily macabre pre-London Dracula. Tom Waits makes an impression as Renfield, Richard E. Grant offers a nicely wearied turn as the asylum’s keeper, Dr. Seward, and the lovely Sadie Frost joins a slew of nubile vampire women to keep the film simmering. It’s a sloppy stew, but it is just so tasty.

3. The Gift (2000)

Blanchett has two, Swank has two, Simmons has one, writer Billy Bob Thornton has one plus, including Danny Elfman and Greg Kinnear, there’s another 11 Oscar nominations for this cast and crew. And yet…

Thornton co-writes this supernatural backwoods thriller, allegedly about experiences his mother had as a clairvoyant. Sam Raimi, who’d just directed Thornton to an Oscar nomination with A Simple Plan, directs a star-heavy cast: Cate Blanchette, Keanu Reeves, JK Simmons, Gary Cole,  Hilary Swank, Giovanni Ribisi, Katie Holmes and Greg Kinnear.

Blanchette is a small town Georgia fortune teller (though she doesn’t like that label). Recently widowed and raising three young boys, she’s the picture of vulnerability and Blanchette is, of course, excellent. This is one of Reeves’s stronger performances, too, as the violent rube suspected of murdering a lovely young missing person (Holmes).

Ribisi does the best by the film, which is a fun if predictable little spook show. Raimi can’t quite find his tone, and humorless horror is definitely not the filmmaker’s strong suit. Still, the cast is just about enough to make the film really shine.

2. Zombieland (2009)

Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin and Bill Murray each have at least one Oscar nomination; Stone’s also won one. And in a lovely change of pace, the movie they made together kicks all manner of ass.

Hilarious, scary, action-packed, clever and, when necessary, touching, Zombieland ranks as one of the most fun zombie movies ever made. How much of that is due to Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s spot-on screenplay? Loads. How much credit goes to director Ruben Fleischer? Well, he did stage that utterly fantastic theme park kiosk shootout of death, didn’t he?

But let’s be honest, the chemistry among the four leads, their comic timing and simple, undeniable talent is what raises this film to the highest of genre heights.

1. American Psycho (2000)

Truth be told, Christian Bale should have won the Oscar for this iconic slice of perfection. He did not, but he did win for The Fighter, with three nominations in quick succession after that. Reese Witherspoon has one win, one nom and Jared Leto has one win. Meanwhile, Chloe Sevigny has one nomination to Willem Dafoe’s four.

It this film better than all of those? Hell yes. These fantastic actors mingle in a giddy hatchet to the head of the abiding culture of the Eighties. American Psycho represents the sleekest, most confident black comedy – perhaps ever. Writer/director Mary Harron’s send up of the soulless Reagan era is breathtakingly handled, from the set decoration to the soundtrack, but the film works as well as a horror picture as it does a comedy. 

As solid as this cast is, and top to bottom it is perfect, every performance is eclipsed by the lunatic genius of Bale’s work. Volatile, soulless, misogynistic and insane, yet somehow he also draws some empathy. It is wild, brilliant work that marked a talent preparing for big things.

Fright Club: Oscar Nominee Skeletons in the Closet

You know what? This year’s batch of Oscar hopefuls have made some genuinely excellent horror movies. Richard Jenkins starred in not only the amazing Bone Tomahawk, but also the underseen Fright Club favorite Let Me In. Willem Dafoe took a beating in the amazing Antichrist and grabbed an Oscar nomination for his glorious turn in Shadow of the Vampire. Laurie Metcalf made us laugh and squirm in Scream 2 and Woody Harrelson led one of our all time favorite zombie shoot-em-ups, Zombieland.

But what’s the fun in talking about that when so many of the nominees have made so many bad movies? Here we focus on the worst of the worst, but if you check out the podcast we mention even more.

5. Halloween II (2009)

Octavia Spencer’s 20+ year career, struggling early with low-budget supporting work, guarantees her a place in this list. Indeed, she could have taken several slots (2006’s Pulse is especially rank), but we find ourselves drawn to Rob Zombie’s sequel to his 2007 revisionist history.

Zombie ups the violence, adds dream sequences and suggests that Laurie Strode (played here, poorly, by Scout Taylor-Compton) shares some hereditary psychosis with her brother Michael.

Spencer plays the Night Nurse, which naturally means that she dies. Pretty spectacularly, actually, but that hardly salvages the mirthless cameo-tastic retread.

4. Gary Oldman: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Francis Ford Coppola took his shot at Dracula in ’92. How’d he do?

Cons: Keanu Reeves cannot act. Winona Ryder can act—we’ve seen her act—but she shows no aptitude for it here, and lord she should not do accents. Anthony Hopkins has always enjoyed the taste of scenery, but his performance here is just ham-fisted camp.

Pros: Gary Oldman, who can chomp scenery with the best chewers in the biz, munches here with great panache. He delivers a perversely fascinating performance. His queer old man Dracula, in particular – asynchronous shadow and all – offers a lot of creepy fun. Plus, Tom Waits as Renfield – nice!

Still, there’s no looking past Ryder, whose performance is high school drama bad.

3. Clownhouse (1989)

There are several fascinating pieces of information concerning the derivative yet uniquely weird Clownhouse. These range from odd to awful.

1) The Sundance Film Festival somehow found this film—this one, Clownhouse, the movie about 3 escaped mental patients who dress as clowns, break into a house where three brothers are home alone on Halloween night, and commence to terrify and slaughter them— worthy of a nomination for Best Drama. If you haven’t seen this film, you might not quite recognize how profoundly insane that is.

2) The great and underappreciated Sam Rockwell made his feature debut as the dickhead oldest brother in this movie. The clowns themselves—Cheezo, Bippo, and Dippo—are genuinely scary and garishly fascinating, but outside of them, only Rockwell can act. At all.

3) Writer/director Victor Salva would go on to create the Jeepers Creepers franchise. But first he would serve 15 months of a 3-year state prison sentence for molesting the 12-year-old lead actor in this film, Nathan Forrest Winters.

So, basically, this film should never have been made. But at least Rockwell got his start here.

2. Margot Robbie: ICU (2009)

Margot Robbie is a confirmed talent. Underappreciated in her wickedly perfect turn in Wolf of Wall Street, she has gone on to prove that she is far more than a stunning beauty (though she certainly is that).

Not that you’d realize that by way of her early work in this low-budget Aussie dumpster fire.

The then-19-year-old leads a cast of unhappy teens vacationing for the weekend with their estranged dad, who’s called into work yet again. To entertain themselves, they peep on their neighbors through the facing skyscraper windows.

Robbie showers, swims and changes clothes at least 3 needless times within the film’s opening 10 minutes, which makes a film that wags a finger at modern voyeurism feel a little hypocritical. But to even make that statement is to take writer/director Aash Aaron’s film too seriously. Heinously acted, abysmally written and tediously directed, it amounts to 50 minutes of whining followed by utterly ludicrous plot twists, unless Australia boasts the largest per-capita number of serial killers on earth.

But the point is this: Robbie would go on to deliver stellar performances, so this is just something we all need to shake off.

1. Frances McDormand: Crimewave (1985)

Is a horror film really a horror film just because imdb.com says so?

Well, anything as bad as Crimewave is a horror, that’s for sure. The fact that it’s a slapstick crime comedy at its heart hardly matters.

Co-written by Joel and Ethan Coen, directed by Sam Raimi and co-starring Bruce Campbell, this film has a pedigree. And we love them all so much we can almost forgive them for this insufferable disaster. But we suffered through it for two scenes—one at the beginning, one at the end—involving a nun who’s taken a vow of silence.

Frances McDormand, what the hell are you doing in this movie?

No, no. We get it. If we were duped into optimism by Coen brother involvement, what hope did you have? You couldn’t have known that the result would be a tiresome, embarrassing, un-funny, painful waste of 83 minutes.