When Billy Crystal returned to the stage at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, he presided over a celebration of the best of the best of what cinema had to offer. As usual, missing from the affair was a recognition of the horror film.
If films like “The Artist” and “The Descendants” are considered to be the caviar of the movie industry, horror movies are more often than not lumped into the junk food category. Sure, you may want to partake occasionally, but it’s really not good for you.
Because of this bias by the Academy against films that even flirt with the horror genre, the list of horror movies that have actually garnered those gold statutes is not a lengthy one.
But for those films that have managed to take home Oscar honors, the accomplishment probably deserves more respect than those awards won by other films. After all, the mountain these winners had to climb was far steeper and more fraught with peril.
Here’s a list of a few horror films that have managed to overcome the overwhelming odds and actually win recognition on movie’s most hallowed of nights:
Sayers is a gifted dancer who lives with an oppressive mother who had given up her own career as a professional ballerina when she gave birth to Nina.
Nina has dark visions that ultimately drive her to homicidal thoughts.
Her slow descent into paranoia and madness is no different than films like “The Shining” or “Carrie” so while some might label this movie as a “psychological drama” that’s really just Hollywood code for “a horror movie we plan to vote for come Academy Awards time.”
• Silence of the Lambs (1991): This movie swept all the major awards, winning Best Picture honors to go along with Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress (Jodie Foster), Best Director (Jonathan Demme) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally).
Not bad for a film that features a convicted murderer/cannibal who helps an FBI agent in her hunt to track down a serial killer who is kidnapping women in order to use their skin to craft a nifty outfit for himself.
If this Texas Chainsaw Massacre-meets-Project Runway isn’t a horror film, I’ll eat my hat… with fava beans and a nice Chianti, of course.
• Aliens (1986): While it only won for Sound Effects Editing and Visual Effects, Sigourney Weaver did receive a nomination for Best Actress in this hybrid film that somehow combined elements of science-fiction, horror and war films into a perfect package.
In the end though, the horror elements truly standout, as Weaver’s Ripley squares off head-to-head with the mother of all aliens, an unstoppable killing machine every bit as terrifying as Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers.
Jamie Lee Curtis would be proud!
John Landis’ comedy-horror film about a young student in England who gets bit by a werewolf only to become one of the creatures himself may not be all that original a story, but Rick Baker’s makeup demanded that even the Academy stand up and take notice.
The transformation scene when we first see David (David Naughton) change from man to beast took what used to happen off-screen and showed it in all of its agonizing glory for all to see. Baker’s work in this film is still the standard for all aspiring makeup artists in the horror genre, and beyond.
• The Exorcist (1973): The film was indeed nominated in several of the big categories, including Best Picture, Actress (Ellen Burstyn) and Supporting Actress (Linda Blair) but ended up winning only for Adapted Screenplay and Sound.
Still, the fact that a movie about the demonic possession of a young girl was even nominated had to be considered a victory for the genre as a whole.
In the last few years alone, films involving similar themes of possession and exorcism have become more and more prevalent, yet it would take something extremely special to avoid being compared to this horror classic.
The true horror of the tale, of course, is one of big city living and how well it is that we know our neighbors (which included Gordon’s Minnie Castevet, a ringleader of the cult responsible for the events of the movie) and even how well we know our spouses (Rosemary’s husband was complicit in the whole affair.)
As Rosemary, Mia Farrow’s paranoia leaves the audience guessing right up to the very end whether all of this might well be in her head, but what isn’t imagined is the fear that this fictional tale might not ring far truer than many of us might want to admit.