I used to hold a firm belief that you can tie just about ANY actor or actress to a horror film. While this theory has been debunked a few times (enough for me to rescind the theory all together, actually), there is still an ENORMOUS amount of actors and actresses that have “dabbled” in our genre at some point in their careers – usually when they were just starting out. Horror was always a good “gateway” career choice for many celebs, and it’s often a lot of fun to revisit something and go, “Is that who I think it is?”
Sadly, in some instances, the celebrity looks back on their early days in horror as an embarrassing blemish on their resumes, and would prefer to forget all about it. Others, look back fondly, remembering it as a fun entry into what eventually blossomed into a long, wonderful career. But whether they’re proud of these early roles or not, us horror fans tend to stand by them no matter what, and take some pride in knowing that yep, even the great Johnny Depp once appeared alongside the likes of Freddy Krueger in the original A Nightmare On Elm Street. Or Kevin Bacon once fell into the sex/drugs trap at the end of a sharp object in Friday the 13th. Humble beginnings (at the time), yes, but memorable contributions to the genre nonetheless.
And while it’s mostly common knowledge, even to non-horror fans, that celebs like John Travolta was in the original Carrie, or that two of Drew Barrymore’s earliest roles were in Stephen King adaptations (Firestarter and Cat’s Eye), there’s still a plethora of celebs who popped up in horror that often flew right under the radar, and become part of that fun crowd of actors and actresses who suddenly pop up in something you haven’t watched in awhile and cause you to re-wind a few seconds, supposing your own eyes have deceived you.
So for fun, here’s a quick list of 10 celebrities (though there’s many, many more where this came from) who appeared in horror at some random point in their early careers that you may, or may not have known about.
10.) Christine Taylor in Night of the Demons 2 (1994) – Long-time spouse of Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor was recognized early on for her long-running stint as Melody on Nickelodeon’s ranch comedy “Hey, Dude” before appearing as Marcia Brady in the 90s film versions of The Brady Bunch. But some might forget her early turn as snarky Catholic school girl Terrie in the 1994 cult fave sequel, Night of the Demons 2. Seeing her lip-lock with Amelia Kincade in a demon-transfer smooch and freaking out over toilet demons (!!) is definitely worth running back to the video stores for a second look!
9.) George Clooney in Return of the Killer Tomatoes(1988) – “Product Placement!” Clooney is no stranger to horror, having kicked ass through the Titty-Twister bar in the vampire exploitation yarn From Dusk Till Dawn in 1996, or as an early victim in 1987’s Return to Horror High, or as Bruce Wayne in the atrocious 1997 horror spectacle Batman & Robin…sorry, I digressed. But few big-name, A-list celebrities can safely say they’ve done battle with vegetation!
8.) Vanna White in Graduation Day (1981) – Nope! Not kidding, and if you watched it recently, yes, thatwas “Wheel of Fortune’s” gorgeous “letter-turner” (Is my age showing? She really DID have to TURN the letters back in my day!) was a catty high school chick in the wonderfully retro school slasher yarnGraduation Day, featuring a fencing-mask wearing murderer with a stop-watch!
7.) Brad Pitt in Cutting Class (1989) – So I’ve mentioned the Return to Horror High and Graduation Day – looks like big-name celebs got their starts in a “crash course” in every sense of the word, and that’s also quite true of Brad Pitt, the token “hunk” hooked to Stepfather’s Jill Schoelen’s arm in the high-school slasher comedy Cutting Class. Sure, the killer is as easy to spot as a streaker at a pep rally, but seeing Brad Pitt play the slasher movie’s equivalent to “Zack Morris” to Schoelen’s innocent “Kelly Kapowski” is hilarious.
6.) Meg Ryan in Amityville 3-D (1983) – Long before she met Harry, or lost sleep in Seattle, Meg Ryan was kicking up dust in that infamous Long Island Haunt in Amityville, with her gal-pal, Lori Loughlin (before she was “Jesse’s Girl” in the hit sitcom “Full House”). Aside from stirring up trouble with homemade Ouija boards in the house with the bleeding walls, she posed the question, “Did you know you could have sex with a ghost?” Fair enough – someone get me a Ouija board, quick! I have a hot date with Bettie Page!
5.) Matthew McConaughey in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994) – Alright, alright, alright! McConaughey tight-rope walks between chewing the scenery, to flat-out gnashing it to pieces in what’s arguably one of the oddest, weirdest, and most puzzling chapters in the Chainsaw Massacre saga. Remote-controlled legs, government officials, alien conspiracies (!!) all surrounding a pre-Jerry MaGuire Renee Zellweger, and you’ll either be slapping your knee with laughter or scratching your head in bewilderment. Either way, “It ain’t no fuckin’ biggie!”
4.) Jessica Lange in King Kong (1976) – The classic tale of beauty taming the beast was remade first in 1976, and casting agents knew that audiences 43 years after the original film would truly have to believe that the mighty ape of Skull Island could fall in love with someone as beautiful as Faye Wray. But who? Enter newcomer Jessica Lange – a jaw-dropping beauty who immediately captures Kong’s fancy…um, so much so he tries to literally undress her! Hands-off, dude! Of course, Lange would have a wonderful career jumping off from this point, and has currently been enjoying a healthy resurgence thanks to the popularity of “American Horror Story”.
3.) Ed Harris in Creepshow (1982) – While it was certainly tempting to mention Ted Danson’s pre-“Cheers” turn as the unlucky lover Harry Wentworth in the third fable of this genius comic book tribute by George Romero/Stephen King, I just couldn’t resist throwing the spotlight on a very young Ed Harris appearing the opening tale “Father’s Day”. A brilliant actor, and absolutely amazing in a litany of films since, you won’t believe your eyes when you see our normally quite intensely dramatic thespian busting out his disco shoes and some truly hilarious moves during a dance sequence in the first story…before meeting the business end of a falling tombstone!
2.) Scarlett Johansson in Eight-Legged Freaks(2002) – Long before she was kicking so much ass as our catsuit-sporting assassin Black Widow in Marvel’s Iron Man 2, The Avengers and Captain America: Winter Soldier, the stunning beauty Scarlett Johansson was battling hoards of giant spiders! Okay, while it might not have been as exciting (or as sexy) as seeing her save the world every couple of days in big-budget comic adaptations, the criminally underrated horror/comedy found her going toe-to-fang with web-spewing arachnids creeping in through her bedroom window alongside Scream‘s David Arquette and cult fave Kari Wuhrer.
1.) Clint Eastwood in Revenge of the Creature(1955) – There’s a special section of Hollywood for only the most respected, the most elite, the most legendary, and by God, the great Clint Eastwood fits every one of those categories to a raspy-voiced, steely-eyed T. However, as this entire list demonstrates, even the greatest of the great “had to start somewhere”, and that’s no different for Clint Eastwood, who appeared here in a very brief (and uncredited) scene as an absent-minded lab geek in this sequel to the wonderful Universal classic The Creature From the Black Lagoon, that finds our aquatic monster captured and put on display at a theme park!
Naturally, there are several-dozen more examples from where these came from, but for those new and uninitiated, these are 10 wonderful “starter films” to finding some of their favorite film and television personalities who gave their long careers that early, needed “boost”. Part of the genre’s charm is looking back, and it’s always a blast to catch that early, awkward performance by the “newcomer” you already know becomes a mega-star.
-Jason S, Marsiglia