One of the many things I love about Jamie Lee Curtis is that she’s never shied away from her roots in horror; she rocketed to true “Scream Queen” status in the late ’70s-early ’80s when she appeared in a string of fright flicks including Halloween , Halloween 2 , Terror Train, Prom Night , and The Fog . Even after achieving mainstream success, Curtis continues to embrace the genre by leaving her early efforts on her resume as well as by returning to it in movies such as Halloween H2O and Halloween: Resurrection. Really, it’s pretty big of her to acknowledge Resurrection; I know I’m certainly trying to forget it.
As I’m sure you’re well aware, Jamie Lee Curtis isn’t the only big name celebrity to get her start in our favorite genre. Sometimes their roles were large, sometimes they were small… heck, sometimes these actors weren’t credited at all. Once they become a marketable commodity, though, you can bet that the next DVD release of any of these movies will have a familiar face plastered all over the front. After all, an unsuspecting Renee Zellweger fan might just pick up a copy of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation because she’s on the cover. In fact, let’s use TCM: TNG as a launching point into the vast, hostile world I call Stars Before They Were Stars and the Horror Movies in Which You May Find Them. Catchy, isn’t it?
Renee Zellweger & Matthew McConaughey: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
I could sum up this movie in one word, it would be: Dreadful. So
dreadful that it was placed wherever it is the sun don’t shine until
1997, when McConaughey (appearing here as… sigh …Leatherface’s
ca-razy brother!) and Zellweger were popular enough to warrant a DVD
release. Unsuspecting fans beware, indeed.
Holly Hunter, Jason Alexander, and Fisher Stevens: The Burning (1981)
The Burning is a veritable cornucopia of future Hollywood talent. Seinfeld‘s
Jason Alexander appears as a camp counselor, while Fisher Stevens and
Oscar winner Holly Hunter star as campers in this cult classic slasher.
There are plenty of familiar names behind the scenes, as well: The Burning
was the first movie produced by Miramax, and here Miramax founders
Harvey and Bob Weinstein act as co-writers and producers. Another
co-writer, Brad Grey, went on to executive produce The Sopranos, and oh, now runs Paramount.
Tom Hanks: He Knows You’re Alone (1980)
another Oscar winner who got his start in slashers. Here a mop-headed
Hanks briefly appears as psych major “Elliot”; he’s on screen long
enough to deliver his psych major-tastic treatise on why people like
scary stuff, but not long enough to get killed.
Johnny Depp: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
those days before Depp made each character “kooky” and “affected” and
the only acting crutch he relied on was a half-shirt? I do. Depp bared
his midriff as Glen, boyfriend to Nancy and dope who couldn’t stay
awake. Once his blood defied gravity, gushed out of his bed, and
splashed all over his ceiling, though, I bet he wished he drank more
coffee. Stupid Glen!
Naomi Watts: Children of the Corn IV (1996)
of Watts’s earliest roles pitted her against those stupid jerk children
who are all about the corn gods and whatnot. Surprisingly enough, the
movie’s not as bad as you’d think it would be — in fact, it’s kind
of…dare I say it…OK. Then again, I’m a Naomi Watts fan. Lucky for
me she’s continued to work in the genre, having recently appeared in Funny Games and The Ring .
Jennifer Aniston: Leprechaun (1993)
I ever have a chance to interview Jennifer Aniston, I’m going to ask
her about this movie. I have no idea what I’ll ask, exactly, but it
seems as if the world likes to pretend that the sitcom and rom-com
sweetheart wasn’t in a movie about a homicidal leprechaun, and I’m
sorry, that sh-t don’t fly with me. Embrace your past, Jennifer
Aniston, embrace the homicidal leprechaun buried deep in your past.
Fictional leprechaun, I assume… hey, now I know what I’ll ask her!
Kevin Bacon: Friday the 13th (1980) & Kelly Hu: Friday the 13th Part VIII (1989)
It’s a bit surprising to me that with approximately 10,000 sequels out there, the Friday the 13th
franchise hasn’t spawned more now-recognizable names. Aren’t actors
jumping at the chance to, say, have an arrow thrust through their neck
a la Mr Bacon, or be strangled on a light-up disco floor whilst wearing
suspenders a la Ms Hu?
Jennifer Jason Leigh: Eyes of a Stranger (1981)
are so many reasons to love this early ’80s slasher that I don’t even
know where to start. I’ll just say it features Lauren Tewes of
television’s Love Boat as an uppity TV anchorwoman with a
penchant for tracksuits AND well-respected actress Jennifer Jason
Leigh, as a young girl who’s blind and deaf and dumb. I’ll also just
say that those facts are either gonna sell you on this movie or send
you running the other way. Choose carefully!
Here are a few more notable Stars Before They Were Stars and the Horror Movies in Which You May Find Them:
John Ratzenberger (Cheers) hypnotized in the meat garden of Motel Hell (1980)
Brooke Shields choked, stuffed into a box, and set on fire in Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)
Brad Pitt avoiding the killer’s knife and cutting class in Cutting Class (1989)
Demi Moore battling a parasite (in 3D, even!) in Parasite (1982)
George Clooney is the first to die in Return to Horror High (1987)
Patricia Arquette uses her dream mastery to battle Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987)
Daphne Zuniga gets her head run over by a car in The Dorm That Dripped Blood (1982)
matter how far they think they’ve come since their early days in
horror, I think these actors should be proud of what they’ve
contributed to the genre. I mean, what’s so embarrassing about battling
leprechauns, or being buried up to your neck and subsequently getting
turned into a meat fritter, or getting swallowed by a giant Freddy
Krueger worm monster? Nothing, that’s what. We should all be so lucky!
A fan of horror movies and scary stuff, Stacie Ponder started her blog Final Girl so she’d have a platform from which she could tell everyone that, say, Friday the 13th, Part 2 rules. She leads a glamorous life, walking on the razor’s edge of danger and intrigue.Read More