When the Oscar nominations were announced this year, the collective Horror Community let out a Twitter-shaking roar of rage. A certain actress who we all loved this year was not nominated for an Academy Award for her stellar performance. People ranted and threatened a boycott, but should we have expected any different?
Last year’s Best original Screenplay Oscar win for Get Out was a singular, once-in a generation event. It was an honor just to watch Jordan Peele walk up those steps to accept it. The problem is that the win led the Horror Community (myself included) to feel like we were finally being seen. We saw it as the gateway drug the Academy needed to get that sweet, sweet spookiness into their veins. We were wrong. We were naïve. You see, the Academy has shunned stellar horror movies and performances for as long as there has been an academy. Last year, Get Out’s nomination for best film was just the sixth time a horror film has received that honor. Of the other five, only 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs brought home the hardware.
Think about that for a moment. There have been 554 films nominated for Best Picture in the history of the Academy Awards, and only six of those films have been horror pictures. So, you’re telling me that horror films account for only 1.08 percent of the best films ever made? That’s nonsense, and everyone knows it. I wasn’t being facetious when I said that Get Out’s nomination was a once-in-a-generation event.
Actors and Actresses have fared a little better than the horror films they were in, but it is still a travesty how many of them were forgotten or ignored. That’s why we’re here! We want to shed some light on the ten best horror performances that we felt were ignored by the Academy and finally give these incredible artists their due.
10. Catherine Keener (Get Out, 2018)
Think about the “Sunken Place” scene in Get Out. We were all mesmerized by one thing and one thing only, and that is Daniel Kaluuya’s incredibly moving performance. His inability to move, the look on his face as he’s trying to not talk about his mother, and the tears as they spilled down his face transfixed us and completely overpowered anything else we may have noticed in the scene. Take a moment and re-watch the scene, only pay attention to Catherine Keener’s Missy as she hypnotizes Chris. Do you hear that? The purring of her voice? Like sweet honey dripping into your ears and eating away at your brain? You want to escape the scene, but like Chris, you cannot move a muscle. You’re stuck there, sinking into the floor. That scene, coupled with her work in the rest of the film, is a horror performance for the ages.
9. John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane, 2016)
John Goodman has always been a stellar performer (he has also always been a national treasure), but his work in 10 Cloverfield Lane stands out as one of his finest hours. He has made us laugh for decades, but this is the first time I saw him as a terrifying, yet justified, maniac.
He is quiet. He is scared. His voice oozes out of his mouth with an exhausted determination. His face is the only evidence you have as to what is going on outside the bunker. He transitions from reserved resolve to panicked outrage in a millisecond, keeping the audience guessing until the final minutes of the film. Michelle may be the audience’s avatar in the film, and the one we identify with the most, but Goodman’s Howard is a representative of the world around us. Everyone is paranoid, facts mean nothing, and nobody trusts each other anymore. Goodman found a way to encompass the fear of the outside world in 2016, and he should have received more recognition for his work.
8. Robert Shaw (Jaws, 1975)
Jaws was nominated for four Academy Awards in 1975, and it won three (Best Film Editing, Best Original Dramatic Score, and Best Sound), but it lost the big award for Best Picture to The Godfather Part II. I have no qualms with that loss (The Godfather Part II is, um, very good), but it is an absolute travesty that none of the actors in the film were nominated for their work. Of these performers, none of them owned the screen quite like Robert Shaw’s Quint.
You need to only watch two scenes to justify this nomination. First, watch Quint’s chalkboard-screeching introduction. Watch him eat that cracker as he talks about the shark. He attacks it, but with an emotional detachment, much like the shark he talks about finding. It’s meant to showcase his indifferent attitude to the island’s struggle, I think, but it displays his absolute desire to catch this shark. Secondly, take a few minutes to watch him tell the story of the U.S.S. Indianapolis again. This is meant to be Quint’s humanizing moment in the film, and Shaw’s portrayal does exactly that. You feel like you’re in the water with him. You feel the cold, the bobbing of the waves, and the brush of something hungry against your leg.
7. Robert Mitchum (The Night of the Hunter, 1955)
Some of you might call me crazy, and the others might try burn my house down, but no film filled me with dread growing up like The Night of the Hunter. It wasn’t the hallucination-like visuals or stark story, mind you, but it was Robert Mitchum as Harry Powell that drew my covers up tight around my head. Some will claim that this isn’t a horror film, but my nightmares say differently.
Harry Powell was over-the-top, sure, but he was also deadly serious. Mitchum played the con man as a chameleon who was just learning how to change color. His cries were false, his blatherings about Jesus were fake, but his knife and his greed were not. He was ready to murder those children, and he stalked the farmhouse like the slashers would in the 1980’s. If you need any more proof of his evil, watch him sit on the stump in the yard, singing a hymn, waiting for the old woman protecting the children to make a mistake. It’s one of the most chilling performances in cinema history, and it deserved to be recognized by the Academy.
6. Essie Davis (The Babadook, 2014)
The Babadook took me completely by surprise back in 2015. I rented it one night with my wife and was completely hypnotized by Davis’ performance as a grieving, frustrated mother who will do anything to protect her annoying son. That was before I had a child. Now, as a new father who is frustrated and will do anything to protect my annoying son, I have gained a whole new appreciation for her and her role.
Trapping your fear, owning your fear, nurturing those around you while still feeling the oppressive weight of terror are all real things that you experience as a parent. Davis takes these very real, very human emotions and fears and communicates it brilliantly in her performance. Her face, her shoulders, and her panicking eyes can be seen in the mirror of every struggling parent in the world. It’s a powerful performance that should have received more recognition.
5. Anthony Perkins (Psycho, 1960)
Janet Leigh, rightfully, received an Oscar nomination for her brief run as Marion Crane in 1960’s Psycho, but Anthony Perkins was criminally shut out of the running for his work as everyone’s favorite taxidermist, Norman Bates. It’s a travesty that this man, who was already an Oscar-Nominated actor when Psycho was filmed, received no critical praise for his horrific portrayal.
If you sit down and think about Psycho, what sticks out in your mind? For the majority of non-horror fans, it’s the shower scene. For horror fiends like us, however, it’s Norman Bates. His quiet, unassuming, polite façade hid a monster that was fighting the entire time to be released. It was like watching someone who was so uncomfortable in his own skin that he squirmed in his chair. Watching him work is unsettling, but strangely satisfying. We watch him do the crime, but much like the police, we all still think that he wouldn’t hurt a fly. It’s brilliant acting that has been a template for others to copy for almost 60 years now.
4. Alex Wolff (Hereditary, 2018)
While Toni received the majority of the Hereditary-related outrage this Oscars season, we need to take a second to scream into the void for Alex Wolff and his snub for his work on the film. His portrayal of Peter in Ari Aster’s mind-melting horror film will go down as one of the finest ever, and we need to recognize this young man for his contribution to the genre.
I don’t feel like I need to justify this selection at all. Watch the movie again and pay special attention to the scene where he is in the car and (REDACTED FOR SPOILERS) happens. Watch his face. Watch his eyes. Those few seconds are enough to shatter anyone’s brain, and he keeps up that level of acting for the rest of the film. Listen to his cries for “mommy”, or the terror on his face while in class, and tell me that he isn’t one of the most talented actors to ever appear in a horror film.
3. Isabelle Adjani (Possession, 1981)
Long known as a video nasty where a woman bone-zones a tentacled monster, Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession deserves to be re-watched and appreciated by today’s horror audience. Yes, there is some octopus-inspired sex and a lot of marital abuse, but there is also one of the best horror performances I have ever seen from Isabelle Adjani.
Adjani gives us one of the most intense performances in horror history. Sure, watch the subway scene and be grossed out by the body horror, but pay close attention to her eyes during the rest of the film. She is unhinged, she is violent, and she is perfectly captivated by her new lover. There are moments of clarity that flicker across her features and are quickly replaced by a physical need for independence and personal freedom. It’s a weird, unnerving, disgusting-at-times, dreadful film that features a perfect performance. Although Adjani won the Best Actress Cesar Award at the Cannes Film Festival for her work, it is a shame that the Academy refused to reward such a daring performance.
2. Toni Collette (Hereditary, 2018)
What can be said about Toni Collette’s Annie that hasn’t already be said? She owns this movie and dominates every scene she is in. Her grief is palpable, her heartbreak is physical. You feel it with her and watching her on screen genuinely hurts. She is able to switch back and forth from annoyed, to grieving, to hateful, to apologetic, to horrified in the span of just a few seconds. It’s rare that an actor can physically make me sick, but Collette was able to do so. I wanted to vomit when she lost her daughter. He screams of pain still haunt my dreams. It’s a perfect performance and the Academy should be genuinely ashamed of itself for ignoring her devastatingly heartbreaking work in this film.
1. Jack Nicholson (The Shining, 1980)
For being a film that many horror fiends have in their top 10 (or even in their top 5, like myself), The Shining doesn’t have a lot going on. It is a two-and-a-half-hour-long film that features as many dog-costumed blowjobs as it does murders. It’s a slow burn that take a looong time to get going, so why does everyone love it so much?
We love it because of Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Jack Torrance. It’s as simple as that. He is the reason the film worked as well as it did and haunts the dreams of horror fans to this day. Watch the film again and pay close attention to Jack’s transformation. He is completely possessed and taken over by the hotel, but there’s no black smoke like in Supernatural to signify the transformation. We only have his face and his actions. He delivers such a haunting performance because Torrance, himself, is a haunted man. Without Nicholson, we would have long-forgotten about The Shining, and the horror genre would not be what it is today.
So, there you have it, folks! These are the ten best performances in horror history that were completely snubbed by the Academy. Whether or not any of these actors should have won the Oscar is up for further debate, but no one can deny that they should have been recognized for their work. Maybe, someday, the Academy will come to its senses and start giving horror its due, but until then, we can continue to carry the torch and sing its spooky praises for all to hear.
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