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Should Celebrities Ever Star In Horror Movies?

– Posted in: Creative Process

In my latest efforts to watch at least one science fiction or horror movie a week, I picked out The New Daughter with Kevin Costner and Intruders with Clive Owen. I enjoyed both horror films and would have given both higher scores than their average 5’s in IMDB (I’m an easy scare!). Both Costner and Owen did a fine job, and I can see why each would want to play their sympathetic leading roles. But it got me thinking about celebrities in horror movies. I couldn’t lose myself in the story with such familiar faces on the screen. Should celebrities ever star in horror movies?

The producer side of me wants the celebrity. It would be such an easier sell to investors and audience. People might see your film just because Kevin Costner is in it. Or investors will fund you just because you got Clive Owen so you’re obviously serious about getting the film done.

But the creative side of me wants the unfamiliar face to go with the unfamiliar story. How creepy can it get when Dances With Wolves is in the house? As Costner unravels the mystery of what is happening to his daughter, I find myself rooting for him to use his military training from No Way Out!

Sometimes it works to have a celebrity decoy – I loved seeing Samuel L. Jackson die prematurely in Deep Blue Sea, mid-monologue no less.

But mostly it’s distracting – I would have loved War of the Worlds so much more if Tom Cruise were just Tom Doe. Of course, nobody would bankroll a $MM film with Tom DoeL

So what’s the best compromise? The New Daughter and Intruders got close, putting these charismatic stars in subdued parts. These movies also came out in 2009 and 2011 respectively, so well after the peak of either celebrity. Toning down the flash definitely helps.

A sad ending helps too. I won’t spoil it but sometimes the celebrity doesn’t save the day.

Finally, a supporting cast that I at least didn’t recognize helps to counter-balance the familiarity of the star.

What’s your preference on celebrity in horror movies? Can you get into the story with a marquee name in the lead?

3 Comments… add one

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3 comments… add one
Leo Kubota May 1, 2013, 9:52 pm

This is a very interesting article and observation. I would agree that watching certain actors playing specific roles in horror movies would be distracting. What gives horror its thrill is the unexpected.

With the media crazed over popular celebs, it can be hard to separate their tmz emblazed “personalities” from their role because of the fact that we have an “expectation” of them as people. There is also the consideration of actors playing into their established roles, which can either enhance a movie, or more likely with horror, become distracting.

However, I do believe that there are exceptions to what we may initially cringe over, regarding celebs in horror flicks. Would we deny Daniel Day Lewis as Norman Bates in a remake of Psycho? Does any one deeply involved in the film industry hear Fava Beans, and not think of Anthony Hopkins?

It would have to take a great actor and an even more talented celebrity to grasp the elusive sense of the unknown that horror thrives on. The more baggage to that talent, the more drag.

Caroline May 3, 2013, 7:10 am

Leo, thanks for sharing. I think it’s a great point that some actors can rise above their celebrity and make any role their own, even a horror role. I do think the horror genre in particular, especially if there is a supernatural element, is more challenging than other genres. So for the casting director/ producer/ director, is it worth the risk?

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