Wednesday, March 7, 2012

*Men who make my heart pound: Fifteen of my favorite male horror performances

John Amplas in Martin – Not your typical vampire, Martin (Amplas) is an unsure, faltering, nerdy kind of anti-hero who uses syringes and razor blades to procure the blood he needs.  As one of the undead, he shuffles aimlessly about the wasted streets of Braddock, wondering aloud who should be next. Amplas is so unintentionally subdued here, like he could be the neighbor next door.  If you didn’t know it first hand, you’d never suspect him of a thing.  Which of course, is the entire point.  An unnerving representation of irrational behavior – or is it?  Because we’re never really privy to the truth, we draw our own conclusions of whether Martin is truly a ‘nosferatu’ as his family insists on labeling him constantly – or just a sad, depressed man who’s made a unique and disturbing world for himself that only he can belong to.  The ending speaks for itself, as does Amplas’s acting.

Griffin Dunne in An American Werewolf in London – Most people look at David Naughton as the hero in John Landis’s classic tale of what not to do while traveling in Europe. But I am quite fond of Jack, played by Griffin Dunne. Essentially the comedic relief in the film, Jack is almost immediately compromised by an unfortunate werewolf bite, but his humorous appearances throughout the movie in various stages of decomp are one of the main reasons to check this one out.  And hey, he was the cute one.

Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart - The first time I saw Angel Heart I was blown away. Fresh off his controversial hit 9 1/2 Weeks, I was rather obsessed with Mickey Rourke (yeah, back when he had a face). The story is based on ‘Falling Angel‘, a book by William Hjortsberg, and while this is one time when I saw the movie first, I can’t imagine a better Harry Angel than Rourke. In a period film that takes place in the mid-fifties, Rourke exudes seediness as a somewhat corrupt private detective, and is no more perverse than when he starts a sordid affair with a girl half his age who turns out to be more than she lets on. He’s really spot-on with his character development and though you’re really rooting for Harry to uncover the truth, there’s a part of you that just knows it’s not going to end well.

George C. Scott in The Changeling- Let’s face it, pretty much everything Scott does sounds over the top, with his gruff voice and his penchant for getting louder and louder as the tension climbs. But despite being seemingly too old to be the father figure in this film (grandfather seems more appropriate), he really plays frightened well. As a man who is recovering from the shocking death of his wife and child, he moves into a sprawling estate that has dealt with a few deaths of its own. Scott takes care with the role, never letting John Russell seem too sissified or gullible.   His determination to get to the bottom of the mystery keeps the film rolling on to its satisfying conclusion. This is a man who never gives up, and we wouldn’t want him to.

Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead II – Of course I could have mentioned the first Evil Dead, but truly to me, Campbell’s work in the second one is pure genius. The physical comedy aspect of the film, with Ash falling all over the place, punching himself out while fighting with his own hand…can we really say that isn’t just fantastic stuff?  Billed as a sequel but really more of a re-vamp, Evil Dead II showcases Campbell’s knack for hilariously exaggerated faces of gloom and doom and his talent at carrying an entire movie. The chainsaw-for-an-arm scene where he simply says: “Groovy” – classic. I love him unconditionally, and to me he’d be my number one nerd freak-out if I’d ever meet him in person.

Keith Gordon in Christine – I’m not sure a lot of people would mention this name on a list like this. More likely to be forgotten, Keith Gordon shines in his role as a textbook nerd, complete with taped up eyeglasses and bad hair.  He spies a 1958 Plymouth Fury in the front yard of an old geezer and buys that classic up. The near-schizophrenic transformation he goes through as Christine affirms her influence over him is startling. When he becomes so intensely obsessed with the car that his girlfriend nearly dies and his best friend has to reluctantly intervene, you can see all the degrees of madness materializing right before your eyes. It’s terrifyingly well played.

The men of JAWS – Yeah, I know. This is cheating. But when I tried to separate the performances of the three male leads in my favorite movie, I found it just couldn’t be done. Each one does such an impressive job, from Quint (Robert Shaw) as the crotchety old sailor to Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) as the scientist who knows what they face, to Brody (Roy Scheider), a man fearful of the water yet heroic in the paramount moment of the film. It’s just too hard to decide between them. Though my love of Quint’s Indianapolis speech definitely gives him the upper hand, all three actors were superb. Besides Shaw’s shining moment, I give kudos to Dreyfuss when he’s examining the body of the first victim (“Do not smoke in here!”) and to Scheider for his tender moment with his onscreen son (“Give us a kiss”). Good, no…great stuff.

Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth – Talk about carrying a film. Vincent Price did just that back in 1964 when he played a man on the edge, seemingly alone in the world after a plague of epic proportions has turned everyone into vampires. Every day he sharpens new stakes and wanders the streets, finding undead to dispose of. His melancholy shows through though, and his desperation for contact with any living being (even the dog he finds) renders him nearly mad. The first time I saw this I was quite young and impressionable, and it caused me to have a life-long love of all things Price.  It’s really not to be missed.

Duane Jones in Night of the Living Dead (1968) – By now I think everyone realizes what a statement it was when George Romero selected an African-American as his lead in the zombie classic, so I’m going to set that aside and just proclaim Jones’ performance in this movie as certainly one of the best in horror. While dealing with a nervous wreck of a temporary house-mate, he takes charge of the situation at hand and makes formidable, well thought-out decisions in the wake of the bizarre events that are unfolding. I love Jones in this, portraying the cool, level-headed protagonist seemed as easy as breathing for him.  And just when you think he’s going to make it through as our ‘final guy’….

Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs - I’m sure many have heard that this movie was partially filmed right here in my tiny hometown, so of course I was bound to like it just on that justification. But to witness such a tour de force depiction of Hannibal Lecter was simply put, entertaining.  Anthony Hopkins, while only on screen a mere 15 minutes or so, strikes fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned horror fan. The scene with the fava beans is most recognized and quoted, but my favorite scene is when Jodie Foster finally gives up the goods and tells Lecter about her ruined childhood and that damn lamb. His gentle prodding scored him the confession, and the look of sheer ecstasy on his face speaks volumes. Stellar.

Kevin Bacon in Stir of Echoes - Just because this film got pushed into the shadows of the mighty juggernaut that was The Sixth Sense, Kevin Bacon’s performance shouldn’t. I’ve always liked Bacon, and this film is certainly proof positive that the man has acting chops.  I love that he gets so involved in the mystery that he digs up his entire backyard and then trashes his (rental) kitchen by digging a massive hole right through into the basement and beyond with power tools, including a jackhammer.  He is so believable in the role that he sends shivers down my spine due to his palpable fear.  Chronic insomnia, psychic visions, and a ghost who’s commanding his every move make for a tense, obsessive portrayal of a man who just very well could be descending into madness.

Jack Nicholson in The Shining – I’d get about a thousand protests (maybe more) if I left this man off my list. Again I say, these are men whose performances just blew me away – not necessarily everyone else. But I doubt anyone would disagree with my inclusion of Jack here. While Stephen King states that Kubrick messed his book all up with Jack’s bombastic acting, I say it’s a classic that stands by itself, with Nicholson creating one of the most celebrated characters in horror. There’s really not much that can be added to the immense amount of accolades Nicholson has gotten over the years for his portrayal of Jack Torrance, so I won’t even try.  But the moment when he is staring down at the miniature hedge maze – that look in his eyes? Chilling. And perfect.

George Clooney in From Dusk Till Dawn – Can I just say I love Clooney in this role? Yes, Tarantino and Keitel are good, but Clooney is great.  At first you think Seth (Clooney) just a thug, but it’s not long till you see his feelings run a bit deeper than that.  His love for his brother Richie (Tarantino) causes him both confusion (at seeing what he did to the female hostage) and pain (when Richie succumbs to the beautiful Salma Hayek).  And he does indeed, turn out to be the good guy when he simply hands Juliet Lewis a wad of cash and wishes her well, instead of corrupting not only her virginity but her life. Favorite line? “Did they look like psychos? Is that what they looked like? They were vampires. Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them, I don’t give a fuck how crazy they are!”

Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd – For those of you who don’t know me well, I’m telling you now, Johnny Depp is by and far my favorite actor, ever. I love his choices, and he has always been known to head to the dark side as a frequent contributor. I fancy just about any of his roles in the horror genre (yes, even The Ninth Gate, which I think is underrated) but Sweeney Todd was quite frankly, divine. His cold attitude, vengeful deeds, and apathetic moods all make for a splendid display of indifference and murderous intent.   His nonchalant attitude about the deaths of the townspeople by his hand is at once chilling, but near-comedic at the same time.  Oh, and his singing wasn’t too bad either.

Anthony Perkins in Psycho and Psycho II - As expected, Norman Bates is of course on my list. He will always be my first true love, climbing the ladder of my heart and hanging off the top rung precariously. It’s well known that Perkins was unable to escape Norman’s clutches and found it hard to step out of the circle of madness fans had placed him in. Obviously, this can only mean that his display of sheer perfection as the demented mama’s boy was just too good. And it is. You know when people say things like “I can’t imagine anyone else in that role”, well – this is perhaps the biggest offender. No one but Perkins can be thought of as the sadly pathetic motel proprietor, stuffing Mother full of sawdust and ogling beautiful women through peep holes before slashing them to death. Movie antagonists have been killing people on screen for decades, but really – has anyone ever done it with such panache? I rest my case.

*Previously posted elsewhere.


The Scream Queen said...

Clooney in From Dusk Til Dawn is SO underrated! Good choice :)

Will Errickson said...

I don't think you're cheating including the men of JAWS - that's some of the finest ensemble acting in the entire history of film, horror or not.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Amazing list! Totally agree about Campbell in Evil Dead II, that stuff is just genious. That scene where he looks at himself in the mirror "We just chopped up our girlfriend with an axe...does that sound fiiiine?" Love that stuff!

George C Scott in The Changeling just adds a level of gravitas to the role...he is so damn serious, as well as the movie itself, which by the way I thought inspired the filmmakers behind The Ring a whole lot.

Amplas in Martin is amazing, so sublte, he seems like he wouldnt harm a fly...that is until he whips out his sirynge! Then he is deadly! Loved that movie to death.

Great choices!

Anonymous said...

I love you.

Christine Hadden said...

Scream Queen: I've always thought Clooney was overshadowed by Tarantino's weirdness in FDTD, which is hardly fair as that film is totally George's.

Will: Absolutely agreed. And it's not like we're biased Jaws enthusiasts... Oh yeah, we are! But truth be told, Jaws is one of the greatest films ever. Period.

TFC: I love Bruce in all the Evil Dead films but he truly shines, in all his crazy glory, in Part 2.
And George C. Scott made The Changeling a step above your average ghost story, definitely.

Anonymous: Gee, thanks. I think.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha! Maybe I shoulld have just written Great post as usual... my computer died so I have no identity. Arthur Teagarden & not stalking. :^D

Christine Hadden said...

Good to know, Arthur, and thanks! :)