Monday, September 26, 2011

Snubbed: The Top Ten Oscar-Worthy Horror Performances

Fall has arrived and that means we're headed for Oscar season as Winter sets upon us. With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the best horror performances over the years that should have been nominated for Academy Awards... and weren't. The rule here is that they must not have even been nominated, let alone won. So Sissy Spacek in Carrie, Linda Blair in The Exorcist, none of them count.

So, with that in mind... let's count 'em down.

10. Elsa Lanchaster in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

She's only on screen for a few moments, but in those moments, Elsa Lanchaster steals the show as the title character. Her movement is based on animals, the only thing close to dialogue is a cat-like hiss and yet we sympathize with her completely. More than any character that had appeared in the movie before that climactic scene.

9. Nathan Baesel in Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

It takes talent to play a truly creepy movie villain. It takes even more talent to play a movie villain who makes no apologies for who and what he is, and yet make him completely likable. Leslie Vernon (or Mancuso, as the case may be) has agreed to let a documentary crew film the moment he has been waiting for his entire life, his rise to fame as a newborn slasher star. He guides them step-by-step on who he is going to kill and how he is going to do it... but Baesel so convincingly shows how dedicated Leslie is to this and what it means to him that we actually want him to see it through. We're on his side when we (and the documentary crew) know we shouldn't be, and that is brilliance on the actor's part.

8. Robert Englund in The Phantom of the Opera (1989)

Robert Englund will never win an Oscar for Freddy Krueger and he never asked for one. That's pretty far from the point of that character. But in this lesser-known adaptation, he played another famous boogeyman and he did a superb job. In this supernatural retelling, Erik is the victim of a Faustian pact and we can't help but feel for him. He is disfigured, mad, and terribly in love. Englund tapped into the tragedy of the character as a quieter, softer maniac than the one he's most well-known for. But certain scenes (such as buying a prostitute and telling her that her name is Christine for the night) work because of the talent of a prolific character actor who brings a sense of class to even the weirdest role.

7. Angela Bettis in May (2002).

Here's another pick from the previous decade with terrific genre star Angela Bettis as one of the few female boogeymen. May is a very sad, lonely, strange girl and is such an offbeat character in such an offbeat movie that she had to be played perfectly to be remotely convincing. Bettis pulled it off fantastically. May goes from a quiet veterinarian's assistant to a psycho killing people to steal their body parts in order to make a perfect, human doll. A friend who will never abandon her. And she makes the transition feel completely natural.

6. Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby (1969).

This one should seem obvious, but it really deserves a place on the list because, while she won some awards, she was snubbed at the Oscars and her performance in this film really deserves more credit than that. The entire film and the nature of the Satanic Cult would not have worked remotely as well if Farrow was just not as completely, hopelessly scared as she is in the film. Very few lead actresses in a horror movie have elicited more empathy than this.

5. John Amplas in Martin (1977).

George Romero considers this his best film, and one can see why. While he's best known for zombies, Martin is Romero's vampire film... sort of. You can get more info on the plot and nature of the film in my review, but just know that the whole idea of the movie hinges on how convincingly Amplas plays the title character. Martin may or may not be a vampire, all we know is that he thinks he's a vampire, and the movie almost feels like a documentary due to its low budget grittiness. It looks and feels more real than any vampire film before and possibly since. It seems that, in the end, Martin does not turn out to be what he claims to be, or what his demented Uncle claims he is, but one thing is for certain. We believe that he believes.

4. Tony Todd in Candyman (1992).

Here's another great horror actor who's been making his rounds in the genre ever since this film. Yes, Candyman is known now as another killer amongst the horror pantheon. Right up there with Freddy and Jason, only with less sequels. But if you look at the original and Todd's fantastic job as a tortured, mythic soul, you'll see why he's deserving of a place on this list. Candyman is an artistic, fantastic movie. Tony Todd makes an incredibly sympathetic monster, and also he did the climax of the movie with bees in his mouth... an extra step that most actors would not be willing to take. He stayed at the top of his game for the also-great sequel, and even in the lesser-quality Candyman 3, he was a professional who brought everything he could to the role.

3. Colin Clive in Frankenstein (1931).

Boris Karloff did an excellent job too, but his animalistic performance was still upstaged by Clive as the poor doctor, so driven by obsession that he risks his life, his family, and his mind in order to accomplish his dream. He was also fantastic in the sequel, but it's the original, in which we follow the Doctor down his descent, that remains wholly captivating. While other actors (Peter Cushing in particular) have done great things with the part, Clive's Frankenstein has never been topped.

2. Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992).

Similarly, we have Gary Oldman in a much more recent take on one of the classic roles. So many actors have played the role of Count Dracula and while Christopher Lee remains my personal favorite, none have ever given a more tragic, romantic (and yet scary) portrayal of the character. Oldman plays the Count as a sort of fallen angel and for Coppola's artistic, bloody romance, it really works. This is also one of the few portrayals of the Count in which you really feel and believe the character's age.

1. Anthony Perkins in Psycho (1960).

Really, there could be no other number one pick than this. Arguably, this is the greatest performance in any horror movie ever made. For me, it tops even Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs and Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Perkins is so quiet, empathetic and likable as one of the first modern horror monsters. Even though he was obviously unbalanced, I can't imagine the shock audiences felt when the big reveal came at the end of the movie. For this movie, Perkins remains one of my favorite actors to this day, making the blasphemy that was Psycho (1998) that much more unfortunate.