Visceral Beginnings: The Gateway Genre for Fame


Horror is a gateway. It is a gateway for actors and directors alike. Anyone in the industry can cut their teeth in the genre and that’s one of the best things horror has going for it: fearlessness when it comes to new blood. There a multitude of famous actors, actresses and directors who got their start in horror and that’s part of what makes horror so great.

Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, James Cameron, Sam Raimi, Jack Nicholson, George Clooney, Jason Alexander, Crispin Glover, Peter Jackson, Oliver Stone. This is an incomplete list of very famous individuals who got their start in the business through horror productions. Some, like Raimi and Jackson, were making their own horror movies, but others, like Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp, got their acting breaks in movies that are a bit lax in some aspects of their productions.

That’s not an insult! Horror movies are about the horror, so if the acting is a bit stilted, well that’s just par for the course. A horror director can take a chance on an actor or actress because their performance is not going to make or break the film. I think Heather Langenkamp is a pretty bad actress, but A Nightmare on Elm Street is a great horror flick. It will stand the test of time, but not because of Nancy. The character of Freddie Kreuger will keep that movie afloat in pop culture while the special effects will ensure that Nightmare stays popular. Don’t get me wrong, if the acting is great, the movie will only benefit, but bad acting is not going to kill a horror film.

Horror fans are forgiving when it comes to actors. We don’t ask for much. We need only a girl with a decent figure who can scream like a banshee and a guy with the jaw line of Bruce Campbell who can make us laugh either at how genuinely funny he can be (Bruce Campbell!) or at how ineptly he tackles some elements of the script (Bruce Campbell!). Are there great performances in horror? You bet your sweet ass there are! Frontiere(s), The Shining (1980), Jaws, Audition, and those movie will stand the test of time. It’s the range of quality compared with the size of the cult followings of horror movies that astound and impress me. We latch onto and violently defend horror movies with Oscar-worthy performances and shit performances alike.

If you’re thinking about horror and wondering what you can say to those people who don’t think it has anything to offer them, remember that without horror movies we would never have Jamie Lee Curtis, Lawrence Fishburn, Brad Pitt, Kevin Bacon or Christian Bale. (Before you complain, it’s my opinion that American Psycho put Bale on the map. He was just an actor before that. American Psycho made him a fucking star.)

You can look at it another way: There are a number of great actors/directors who have decided to grace horror with their presence and in so doing have made it better. Donald Sutherland made Don’t Look Now and it’s a masterpiece. Stanley Kubrick thought horror was worthy of his touch and he made a kick-ass version of The Shining. Sam Raimi will never leave horror behind him. Watch the scene in Spider-Man 2 when Doctor Octopus wakes up on the operating table and kills all his doctors. That scene is straight out of Evil Dead with no compromises.

Horror can suck you in though, so you have to decide if you’ll remain in its clutches and make it work for you or if you’ll rebel and try to break free. Tobe Hooper got his start with Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but he has tried a few times to break out to no avail. His non-horror efforts just haven’t had much success. On the other hand Wes Craven and George Romero started with horror and decided to remain there. They’re both masters and deserve to be mentioned alongside the likes of Spielberg, David Lean or the Coen brothers.

This is a rambling piece, so thank you for bearing with me, but the point I’m trying to make is that horror is a great place to start and a great place to end up for folks in the movie-making business. It’s comfortable. It can be the perfect commencement to a great career, and it’s also like coming home. Thank you, Horror Genre, for letting people strut their stuff and try their hand at the biz. I’ll continue to enjoy watching up–and-comers getting their throats slit and intestines dragged out through their mouths as a precursor to their Oscar- and Tony-winning performances.

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