It’s no secret at all that the Academy doesn’t take very kindly to the horror genre. Aside from Silence of the Lambs, there hasn’t been a horror film that has been taken seriously by the Academy as a monumental and historically important film. Horror films have been traditionally known by respectable (staunch, old, boring) film critics as one of the “lesser genres”. While I’m not going to sit here and pretend that horror doesn’t pander to a certain type of audience, it’s completely asinine to think that in the 100 years that films have been shown to the masses, only a small handful of horror films deserve any kind of Academy recognition. In fact, there are a number of horror films that went completely overlooked by the Academy when they damned well deserved some proper recognition. Here are some examples of some very shocking oversights.
Let’s start at the 1961 awards where the brilliant actor Trevor Howard won for his role in the critically acclaimed and well know Sons and Lovers while Anthony Perkins didn’t even get nominated for Psycho. I fully understand that sometimes people get overlooked at the Academy Awards so maybe; just maybe I’ll let this one pass since he was never really billed as the star of the film. Well OK, so how about Best Picture then? Surely no one can argue the influence of Psycho and its place on the list of top films of any genre right? Well apparently the Academy could in 1961 when they nominated The Apartment (which really did deserve a nomination), Elmer Gantry, and Sons and Lovers. Well how about the Score to Psycho? Psycho has unarguable one of the most famous musical scores in all of cinema history, so surely it won for that. Well actually, it never even got nominated, instead classic scores from Can-Can, Bells are Ringing, and Let’s Make Love all got nominations with Song Without End winning it all. If I hadn’t properly set the tone yet, buckle up because this is only going to get more discomforting.
Horror reached a milestone moment with the Academy when The Exorcist was released in 1973 for the 1974 awards show. Garnering 10 nominations and scaring the living daylights out of anyone who saw it, it appeared that The Exorcist would go home with at least one or two of the big awards. Well as far as Best Picture goes, it lost to The Sting which may have deserved the award that year, but it also finished with less votes that Cries and Whispers and A Touch of Class. Out of the 10 awards it was nominated for, it only limped home with the award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium and Best Sound. Well I guess two is better than nothing right? Clearly the movies it lost to have the same amount of respect for them now than they did back in 1974. Oh you never heard of Cries and Whispers? Interesting.
In the 1983 awards, one of the most pop culturally obsessive horror films to that day named Poltergeist hit audiences and much like The Exorcist, freaked everyone out pretty efficiently. I personally don’t think that Poltergeist is better than The Exorcist, but then again Poltergeist wasn’t up against the Exorcist. That year, Poltergeist was nominated for three awards: Best Effects (Sound Effects Editing), Best Effects (Visual effects), and Best Music (Original Score). Poltergeist went home empty handed, while E.T. stole not one, but all three awards from Poltergeist. They couldn’t give them one of them? Really? Well in case you were wondering, the Best Picture that year went to Ghandi which swept a whole ton of awards that year. Other nominations for Best Picture were E.T. , The Missing, and The Verdict.
One of the most damning instances of a horror film getting overlooked had to have been in the 1981 awards when The Shining got nominated for a grand total of nothing. Not one nomination. This is unarguably one of the landmark and cornerstone pieces of the horror genre in terms of art, technical precision (this production invented the Steady-Cam), storytelling, and abstract thoughts and concepts and it didn’t get one single nomination. Best picture that year went to Ordinary People, with nominations from Coal Miner’s daughter and Tess which haven’t stood up well against the test of time. The best actor went to Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, which is an amazing performance, but still he should have gotten the award for Taxi Driver back in 1977. Other nominations for Best Actor including a pretty heavy board consisting of John Hurt (The Elephant Man), Robert Duvall (The Great Santini), Peter O’Toole (The Stunt Man), and Jack Lemmon (Tribute). These men were all Hollywood heavy hitters that turned in very solid performances but Jack Nicholson deserved it more than all of them for his portrayal of Jack Torrance. The biggest shock of my life was when I was looking at the awards the film had gotten and I found that it had been nominated for two Razzies for Worst Director and Worst Actress (Shelly Duvall). Absolute insanity.
Clearly I’m not happy about how things went down with horror films and the Oscars, but I understand that hindsight is 20/20. If we could all revote on the Oscars and take them away and reassign them, there would definitely be some reconsideration about these films and performances. I’m sure if we could go back and change things the Academy may have some room for Night of the Living Dead or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Of course in the same year, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre would have had to go up against the Conversation, The Godfather Part II, and Chinatown which would be a pretty tough sell to everyone. Well maybe in those 1983 awards I was talking about, the Thing would have got some credit if people weren’t so blinded by the adorable and confusing E.T. to bother about aliens that wanted to kill them. Plus it isn’t all bad, Silence of the Lambs won 5 Academy awards in 1993 despite the studio thinking that no one would like it and dumping it with a February release. So there is some hope that the great horror films that will be released someday won’t always go completely overlooked.