Monday, October 14, 2013

Professional Terrors: Actors in Horror Films

Actors are a tricky bunch. At best you'll have no idea they're an actor and are pleasantly charmed to find out that they are. At worst they're soul destroying narcissists. The whole notion of an actor protraying an actor is quite meta in and of itself so while I won't be going into notions of performance theory in this post, know that there are entire areas of studies that some academics have built their careers on. For this post we're going to be focussing on the profession of acting in horror films and what that artifice means to the story.

Guy Woodhouse (Rosemary's Baby, 1968)

Guy may be the ultimate example of a actor within the film. His young wife Rosemary dotes on him setting aside her wants for his needs. As the primary breadwinner she is extremely proud of the small successes he's had and puts up with his bad moods and temper tantrums when he faces professional failure. His ego is his tragic flaw. He's easily seduced by the Castevets when they flatter him and promise him fame and fortune. One of the most fascinating things about Guy is his first line in the film where he joke that he and Rosemary are Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. A joke, yes, but it's also a lie. A lot of writers and film scholars are fascinated by a character's first line in a film and Guy's not-very-funny duplicitous remark sets him up as an untrustworthy character.

Upon my many rewatches of this film, what strikes me is that he's not a very good actor. Guy is unable to control the situation or hide his disgust after Rosemary becomes pregnant triggering her paranoia. I guess he needed a lucky break wherever he could get one.

Half the cast of Scream 3 (Scream 3, 2000)

In what was believed to be the third and final installment of the Scream franchise, the Woodsboro gang head to Hollywood where they are making the third film based off Gail Weathers' book Stab. Scream 3 led to a lot of opportunities to make fun of franchises and Hollywood but the most interesting moments for me are when Gail (Courtney Cox) is paired up with the actress playing her in the movie (Parker Posey). While director Wes Craven milks these moments far too much, it allows for Gail to come face to face with herself and not only have a partner in crime but to also recognize that she's a sometimes horrible person.

Heather Langenkamp (Wes Craven's New Nightmare, 1994)

 This is possibly the strangest example in the list. Heather Langenkamp as Heather Langenkamp shows us an actress who has essentially retired form acting to raise her young son. It also shows us an actor from a successful horror franchise who is unable to escape it and as her character Nancy triumphed over Freddy a handful of times she is also the target of the evil spirit of Freddy who's like a genie... or something.

Craven and Langenkamp have both talked publicly about how some of the initial ideas for this film came from Langenkamp's own experience with a stalker. In New Nightmare, Langenkamp is a again stalked but this time by Freddy Krueger who appears both as a malevolent demonic figure as the pop culture cult of Freddy. While I think most of us like having a job to earn money and support yourself, New Nightmare explores the notion of fiction and reality and what happens when you give your image and emotion over to the fictional.

Actors are both hero and villain, victim and confidant. What all art attempts to do is hold a mirror up to society and show it its triumphs and failures. The character of the actor attempts to serve this notion but on a much more personal level.


  1. What about an actor playing an actor, whose new role is as an actor playing an actor...wait, what was I talking about?

    Would you say the same thing about an author writing about an author? I can think of a few examples of that as well.

  2. It really takes more than a blood curdling scream to sell such tremors in a movie. It should be imprinted in the very actresses' face that takes a bit to mentoring to hone, which is apt as it involves the whole being of a person.
    That is why it's sometimes rather tough to pull off.

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