Horror cinema has been around since the late 19th century. That gives us 130+ years of thousands of individuals who have laid some cement on the foundation of the genre that we have today. From the performers who were drenched in blood and screamed their way through countless films, to the writers and directors who created the causes for those screams, to the makeup artists and costume designers who brought the horrors to life.
Isn’t it swell when you’re reminded that an incredible actress has starred in a few remakes? Horror remakes, at that. Some damn fine horror remakes, at that, at that. The choice for The Return Month here at Nightmare on Film Street’s Where Sc[Are] They Now doesn’t have a lot of genre fare in her resume. The horror films that she has starred in are all heavy hitters, though. Each character that she has portrayed were made memorable by her. Fiends, I present to you, the incomparable, the dynamic, the unforgettable (although I shamefully had to be reminded) Geena Davis.
“[…]without Davis’ Barbara, a bunch of the humor and scare tactics [of Beetlejuice] would be amiss.“
The horror films that Davis graced – although, as mentioned, few – were of a range of subgenres. In one film, Davis makes you cry. In another film, she makes you giggle. In a TV project, she makes you do both of those things whilst giving one of the best shocking moments that I’ve ever experienced in a TV show. Davis has the range. Let’s ponder upon those dynamic roles of her’s in the genre that we love, yes?
Davis’ first dip into the genre was in 1985’s rip on the classic movie monsters, Transylvania 6-5000. This quirky comedy with horror elements was Davis’ third theatrical film (following 1982’s Tootsie and 1985’s Fletch). Her role, Odette, was definitely a quirk among quirks in the film which took the aspect of classic movie monsters, and gave them a little spin. Odette, a vampire whose sole film goal is to bed and love Ed Begley Jr.’s Gil, is brought to life (or unlife?) courtesy of Davis’ comedic chops combined with raw sex appeal. Although Transylvania 6-5000 wasn’t well received, initially, it has become sort of a cult classic. It’s also the first of three films that Davis starred alongside Jeff Goldblum making them a sort of 80s staple of wonderful costars.
This brings us to Davis’ next film. 1986’s remake of The Fly, directed by David Cronenberg, which reteamed Davis with Goldblum in one of – if I may say – one of the best remakes that has been offered. Davis’ Veronica enters the world of Seth Brundle (Goldblum) with hopes to score deets on a scientific discovery, but instead discovers love and a whole bunch of fly like trauma. More than anything, The Fly is a traumatic love story. Issues such as boundaries of scientific research, the patriarchy, obsession with appearance, and abortion are expressed throughout the film. Davis handles each twist that these issues place upon her with such intensity.
I’ll go ahead and declare that The Fly is my favorite performance of Geena Davis’. There’s just something about her portrayal of Veronica that is pure. From the driven journalist that she starts out with to the person in emotional peril that she ends the film. Her performance is aces, and alongside Goldblum’s equally as incredible performance, the film definitely deserves a spot on the list of best remakes of all time.
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Then, in 1988, you get a mixture of Odette’s comedic chops with Veronica’s emotion and wit with Davis’ portrayal of Barbara in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice. One may say that Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice is the reason the film is successful, and okay, sure. Maybe it’s Winona Ryder’s Lydia. I could agree. Yet, without Davis’ Barbara, a bunch of the humor and scare tactics would be amiss.
“[Geena Davis’s] performance [in The Fly] is aces, […] the film definitely deserves a spot on the list of best remakes of all time.“
For me, she’s always been in the images from the film that I remember the most. The body horroresque reshaping of her face, that flower printed dress that she dies and is forced to wear for the rest of eternity, the sandy looking corpse bride that she becomes … there’s just so much that Davis offered to the film aesthetically that places her as one of the best characters of Beetlejuice.
After Beetlejuice, there would be a timespan where Davis didn’t dabble in the genre. Instead, she partook in many other genres, starring in classics such as Thelma and Louise (1991), A League of Their Own (1992), and if you’re into them (cause I am), Cutthroat Island (1995) and The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996). Multiple TV appearances occurred including her own sitcom, The Geena Davis Show (2000-2001), Will & Grace (2004), and an Emmy award winning role in Commander in Chief (2005-2006).
Then in 2016, nearly 30 years since she last dabbled in horror, Davis starred in FOX’s reboot of the classic possession tale, The Exorcist. When I tell you that Geena Davis is the star of the first season of this reboot, I say that with such a conviction that not even Pazuzu itself could possess me to change my mind. Sans spoilers because I want anyone who hasn’t watched it to experience it firsthand, I will simply say Davis’ role as Angela Rance should have garnered her a second Emmy.
Angela starts out as the mother of a possessed daughter, but takes such a turn in the middle of the season that I simply stood up, gasped, and applauded the writers as well as Davis’ performance. Her performance as Veronica in The Fly may be my favorite, but her role as Angela is the most memorable.
I absolutely love how after nearly 30 years of being away from the genre, Davis was able to jump right back in with such a spectacular showcase. There’s no doubt that her talent is immense given her other works, but within the genre that we so love, the few roles she’s had is what made me a fan of her work.
It’s not just her work within film that is inspiring. She’s an advocate for gender equality within Hollywood. After watching children’s shows with her daughter, she realized the ratio of male to female in them were incredibly different. She didn’t just proclaim this statement, she headed many studies that resulted in the creation of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. This 2007 venture worked and still works to increase the inclusion of women in front of and behind the camera as well as female oriented stories. The statement of the institute is, “If she can see it, she can be it.” More information can be found at seejane.org.
“I’d love to see Geena Davis give us another wholly memorable performance within the genre.“
Within recent years, she’s had a successful stint on Grey’s Anatomy, beginning in the TV series’ 14th season, as Dr. Nicole Herman, had a recurring role on Netflix’s Glow as Sandy Devereaux St. Clair, and continued her relationship with Netflix as Huntara in She-Ra and the Princess of Power. Within 2020, she had role in the female assassin film, Ava, and in 2021, will be seen in recently announced, Cowgirl’s Last Ride.
While The Exorcist is the only genre offering that she’s graced within the past 30 years, we will always give praise to her few yet magnificent offerings. As I do within Where Sc[Are} They Now, I put out into the universe that I’d love to see Geena Davis give us another wholly memorable performance within the genre. I wish that The Exorcist would have received a third season (which it incredibly deserved), and we could revisit her character. Or heck, yanno, a new Beetlejuice that has been rumoured, hinted, and promised for many years in which Barbara returns. For now, we will be extremely grateful for what Geena Davis has given us.
What’s your favorite performance of Geena Davis’ within the genre? Let us know on our Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.