13 Characters Killed Off Early
Article By: Sean Abley
Alfred Hitchcock defied convention by killing off what his audience assumed was the leading lady in Psycho. Since then, convincing A-list stars to appear in horror films has been either impossible or a slam dunk depending on what’s going on in the zeitgeist at the time. Scream is a huge hit? Line ‘em up. Some bloated studio “thriller” tanks at the box office? Best to start looking at the supporting casts of the various CW “pretty kids in trouble” series.
But once ya get ‘em, what do you do with them? Keep them in play for the entire 90 minutes? Or shock the audience with their gruesome demise in the first act? In the tradition of (and including) Psycho, we’ve gathered together thirteen horror flicks where the big stars collect big paychecks for small screen time.
1. Janet Leigh in "Psycho"
Poor Marion Crane! One bad impulse decision and it’s all downhill from there. Janet Leigh was well established in Hollywood by the time Alfred Hitchcock cast her in Psycho, having played roles in dozens of films including Little Women and Touch of Evil (in which she wore a cast on her arm for most of the production.) Having an A-list star killed savagely so early in the film went against everything mainstream Hollywood was known for at the time. The unconventional story structure, violence and subject matter were très scandaleux, as was the close-up of a flushing toilet, another first for mainstream Hollywood.
2. Drew Barrymore in "Scream"
One wonders what would have happened had Casey known the answer to “Who was the killer in Friday the 13th?” According to Scream lore, Drew Barrymore had pursued the role of Sidney Prescott, and was cast before having to drop out because of scheduling conflicts. Accommodations were made, and Barrymore took the plum role “Marion Crane” role of Casey, butchered well before her star status would have dictated. While she was still cast as the lead role, other high-ish profile actors were drawn to the part due to her presence. Ultimately the film was a massive hit, making horror okay for stars again… for a while.
3. Jada Pinkett Smith and Omar Epps in "Scream 2"
While Scream was all meta, Scream 2 was meta about meta. During a screening of Stab, the film-within-a-film about the events of the previous film, Pinkett Smith and Epps are killed in the titular manner in front of hundreds of cheering horror fans. By this point, Scream had made a gajillion dollars, and stars lined up to get butchered in the sequel. And get butchered they do, in ways more cruel and less satisfying than the original. In the first film the audience is trying to figure out if the killer is either one of the other characters, or just some psychopath to be named later, whereas in Scream 2 we know it’s one of the B+ listers, so we spend the entire film trying to figure it all out. The puzzle of it all replaces character depth, with Randy’s (Jamie Kennedy) death the only one that elicits true sorrow from the viewer, as he, more than Sidney, is the audience stand in.
4. Sandra Bullock in "The Vanishing"
Now you don’t actually see her die, but Sandy B disappears super early in this irritating American remake of the maddening Dutch original. And we eventually find out she was buried alive, so that’s something. In between is 90 minutes of infuriating cat-and-mouse shenanigans between Kiefer Sutherland (Bullock’s boyfriend) and Jeff Bridges (psycho burying enthusiast), the latter eventually convincing the bereaved beau to experience what the missing woman went through three years earlier. Step one—drink a cup of drugged coffee. Step two—get buried alive. That was the end in the Dutch version, but the American take has a “happy” ending where Sutherland escapes and chops off Bridges’ head with a shovel, then sells the whole story as a novel. So… yay? (Favorite moment in the trailer—the close-up shot of the cat for no reason…)
5. Samuel L. Jackson in "Deep Blue Sea"
If it’s not snakes on a plane, it’s sharks in a… underwater shark place. There’s not much to say about this scene where Mr. Jackson meets his end except it’s, as the kids, say, amazeballs.
6. Juliette Binoche and Bryan Cranston in "Godzilla" (2014)
How many Godzilla remakes are there now? Like, fifteen or something? In the 2014 version, Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche play scientist types who are working in a Japanese nuclear power plant when something goes terribly wrong. Binoche (who presumably took this film because she wanted to buy a second home) dies because she can’t run faster than nuclear radiation. Fifteen years later, Cranston goes back to the site, only to be mortally wounded by Godzilla.
7. Gwyneth Paltrow in "Contagion"
World traveler Beth (Paltrow) brings home a superbug from her trip to China and promptly drops dead mere moments into this throwback to the star-studded disaster films of yore. Paltrow haters no doubt cheered at this turn of events, and then double cheered when Beth’s status as Patient Zero is revealed near the end of the film. Playing out like an episode of Law and Order: Big Stars Get the Sniffles Unit, there’s exactly zero character development here, but tons of familiar faces demanding that something needs to be done.
8. Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "Halloween: H20"
Gordon-Levitt was well into his star turn as Tommy Solomon on 3rd Rock from the Sun when he took an ice skate to the face in the best Halloween sequel after Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Unlike most of the examples on this list, however, you pretty much know anyone in a Halloween movie is gonna bite it sooner or later.
9. Richard Dreyfuss in "Piranha 3D"
Academy Award winner for Best Actor Richard Dreyfuss appears in the opening scene of Piranha 3D. Let that sink in for a minute.
10. Owen Wilson in "Anaconda"
We love horror movies, and we’d never disparage an actor for appearing in one. But we really have to wonder how all these bankable stars got talked into appearing in what amounts to a basic (but fun) creature feature flick. We can only imagine what it took to talk Jennifer Lopez out of her trailer every day on set. Owen Wilson plays the Owen Wilson part just long enough for us to remember his name before the gigantic anaconda decides he’s had enough.
11. Sarah Michelle Gellar in "The Grudge 2'
While Gellar has always been part of the horror world, with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, Scream 2, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scooby-Doo, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed and The Grudge, and she’s played dozens of other starring roles in non-genre films. So why would she take a throwaway role in a horror sequel that gives her ten minutes of screen time, then has her unceremoniously tossed off the roof of a building? (Spoiler: Sarah Michelle Gellar is unceremoniously tossed off the roof of a building in The Grudge 2.)
12. Bill Murray in "Zombieland"
Possibly one of the greatest horror cameos of all time, Bill Murray plays himself in the midst of the zombie apocalypse. When we first meet him he’s wearing zombie makeup, used to disguise himself from the real zombies so he can move freely about the city. Sadly he’s promptly shot by Jesse Eisenberg who thinks the zombie makeup is real.
13. Amy Irving in "The Rage: Carrie 2"
Irving returns as Sue Snell in this money-grab sequel just long enough to do very little before she is killed almost as an afterthought. Although the death of Sue Snell doesn’t happen early, the fact it happens at all is just silly. Sue was one of the good ones—she deserved better!