13 Horror Movies Featuring Actors Before They Were Stars
Article By: Ben Raphael Sher
It is a well-known fact that stars must often walk through the valley of the horror film before achieving mainstream success. Everybody knows that Kevin Bacon got his start in Friday the 13th (1980), Johnny Depp first made everybody fall in love with him and his hair in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and Jennifer Aniston wore sneakers really well in Leprechaun (1993). We are not interested in stating the obvious here at Chiller TV! Today, we take some less-publicized skeletons out of celebrity’s closets for a walk.
1. Meg Ryan in Amityville 3D (1983)
In one of her most interesting roles, Meg Ryan plays Lisa, the best friend of Susan, whose father recently moved her into the infamous Amityville house to prove that it’s not really haunted (Susan is played by Lori Loughlin, who would later play Becky on Full House and have her baby stolen by Kate Jackson in the TV movie Empty Cradle). Lisa is weirdly obsessed with the Amityville house, and is convinced that it was built over an “Indian burial ground” (wrong franchise, Lisa!). Amityville 3D is, unfortunately, less frightening than the utter lack of wit in Meg Ryan’s remake of The Women.
2. Holly Hunter and Jason Alexander in The Burning (1981)
Before winning an Oscar for The Piano and starring on Seinfeld, Hunter and Alexander played campers stalked by a severely burned maniac with large garden sheers in this gory, much beloved Friday the 13th knockoff. If you wisely think about this as the predecessor to Broadcast News (1987), the intense neurosis of Hunter’s character in that film becomes even more understandable.
3. Leonardo DiCaprio in Critters 3 (1991)
You may be Martin Scorsese’s darling now, Leonardo. But we remember when you were badly influencing Mike Seaver on Growing Pains and getting chased by evil trolls through a seedy apartment building in this mélange of Critters and Melrose Place, which bears a suspicious resemblance to Gremlins 2 (released the previous year). Pre-pubescent Leo is all bangs and skater-chic in his film debut. He seems all ready for the cover of Tiger Beat magazine.
4. Laurence Fishburne and Patricia Arquette in Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Before she was a medium, Patricia Arquette was a dream warrior. And she could really scream. Lawrence (then “Larry”) Fishburne makes his side character, an orderly, his own. In his big moment, he shares his theory that all of the kids on Elm Street have emotional problems because of the acid that their parents dropped in the sixties (a good point that could have formed the basis for a really good prequel).
5. Angela Bassett in Critters 4 (1992)
Literally one minute before Angela and Larry left “small parts in horror sequels” purgatory and ascended to prestige as Ike and Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993), she battled critters in space. Critters 4 is more or less a cheap, vaguely spoofy rip-off of Alien, and Angela deserved a lot better. Thankfully she has gotten her horror groove back as Marie Laveau, the dazzling voodoo priestess on American Horror Story: Coven, who would have made this movie vanish from existence with one wave of a feather and a sprinkling of goose blood.
6. Tony Goldwyn in Friday the 13th Pat VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Now Tony Goldwyn plays the President of the United States on Scandal, but in 1986 he was just another yuppie-in-gestation getting killed on the way to his camp counselor gig in one of the best Friday sequels.
7. Jack Nicholson in The Terror (1963)
Needless to say, Nicholson later became known by horror fans for his role in Stanley Kubrick’s prestigious art-horror epic The Shining. However, he got his start in low-budget Roger Corman cheapies like Little Shop of Horrors (1960), The Raven (1963), and The Terror, of which he also directed parts. Corman decided to film The Terror in order to use leftover sets from The Haunted Palace (1963) and The Raven. As a result, this tale, in which Nicholson plays a soldier who becomes embroiled in a whole lot of drama with a family whose members may or may not be alive, feels incoherent and bizarre.
8. Julianne Moore in Tales from the Darkside (1990)
Before she was haunted by Virginia Woolf’s prose in The Hours (2002), Julianne Moore found herself stalked by an ancient Egyptian mummy in “Lot 249,” one story in the movie adaptation of the popular horror anthology TV series. A permed Moore and her preppy boyfriend cheat their poor, nerdy classmate (Steve Buscemi) out of a competitive scholarship. In vengeance, he unleashes an ancient Egyptian mummy on them. Anybody who has seen Moore’s performance in Magnolia (1999) knows that she reveals the deep core of her characters’ interior worlds in all of her performances. Appropriately, the mummy guts her and stuffs her with flowers. Later she comes back as a zombie. For more, more, Moore horror, see also her close encounter with a rigged greenhouse in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.
9. Tom Hanks in He Knows You're Alone (1980)
Tom Hanks allegedly made three figures for his film debut, a small role in this gem from the salad days of the teenage slasher film. He Knows You’re Alone breaks the (then) unspoken slasher rule that the promiscuous die while the virginal survive by diplomatically demonstrating that soon-to-be brides can be slaughtered by psychopaths, too. Hanks, sporting his Bosom Buddies fro, plays a Psychology major who pontificates (with surprising insight!) on the nature of fear while waiting in line for an amusement park ride. It ain’t Big (1988), but it’s infinitely preferable to Larry Crowne (2011).
10. Brad Pitt in Cutting Class (1989)
It’s hard to believe that when this film was released in 1989, Jill Schoelen, Donovan Leitch, and Roddy McDowell were its biggest stars. Pitt plays Dwight, a bad boy type in a love triangle with Schoelen and Leitch, a disturbed young man who has just been released from a mental institution after the mysterious murder of his father. Naturally, as soon as he re-enters society, the murders begin again. Has he gone off his rocker, or is Dwight trying to get people out of the way so that he can go steady with Jill? Pretty tepid stuff, but Schoelen (who also starred in the fantastic The Stepfather and Popcorn) should have had Pitt’s career!
11. Octavia Spencer in Halloween II (2009)
A mere two years before she won Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Help, Spencer played a nurse who gets stabbed in the face in Rob Zombie’s much maligned sequel to his remake of the John Carpenter classic. Please, somebody make a movie in which the brilliant Spencer doesn’t need to be victimized by insane white people.
12. Brooke Shields in Alice Sweet Alice (1976)
For years, every VHS bargain bin in America was selling copies of Alice Sweet Alice “STARRING BROOKE SHIELDS!,” released by distributors hoping to exploit the film’s accidental public domain status. Actually, Shields has a relatively small role in this deeply disturbing, haunting, underrated classic. She plays the “good sister” in a Catholic family living in New Jersey in the early 1960s. Her ghastly murder at her first communion seems to unleash a series of gory killings. Is “bad sister” Alice to blame? Shields rose to fame two years later playing a child prostitute in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby (1978), in which she posed completely nude. After all of this trauma, one cannot blame her for pursuing a career as a jeans model and sitcom star.
13. Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
Basically an even more comedic, whacked out remake of the original, TCM: The Next Generation was made in 1994 but sat on the shelf for several years. It finally appeared in theaters for a minute in 1997 and then showing up on video, largely in order to capitalize on the presence of “before they were famous” McConaughey and Zellweger. It was greeted with many boos at the time, but has gained a cult following over the years that appreciates its insanity. Renee and Matthew play, respectively, a “final girl” wearing glasses and a tattered prom dress, and a big baddie with a tendency towards slapping himself and an electronic leg that he controls with a TV remote control. When Renee gets her hands on said remote, things get really cuckoo.