From H-to-A: Movie Stars Who Got Their Start in Horror

A lot of movie stars make derogatory remarks about the horror genre, all while failing to mention that before they were raking in the dough and starring in period dramas they might’ve actually acted in one or two of them. Which is why B-D reporter Chris Eggertsen headed over to IMDB to uncover some of the more notable examples of this phenomenon. Read on for his list of ten celebs who made their screen debuts in horror films (and no, Jamie Lee Curtis isn’t one of them).

Movie stars more often than not tend to be a pretentious bunch, enamored of their own fame, talent, wealth and accomplishments. We’re reminded of this every single awards season, in a non-stop string of red-carpet events where America watches in a stupor as an endless parade of self-aggrandizing celebrities pat themselves on the backs, give narcissistic acceptance speeches (“I’d like to thank God for this award”, *barf*), and generally preen and posture for the raft of salivating photographers shutterbugging their every move. Well, guess what? Many of these stars got their start in the low-budget horror flicks that, past the brilliant glare of their Oscars and hilltop swimming pools, they may indeed now view with haughty contempt (I would’ve paid at least five dollars to have seen Jennifer Aniston’s face during the Oscar horror tribute when they flashed a clip of the Leprechaun). Following, then, is my list of ten A-list (okay, maybe some B-list) movie stars whose first major acting credit was in a horror film, with the videos to prove it. Oh, and in case you’re wondering why I left a particular scream queen off the list: Jamie Lee Curtis was a series regular on Operation Petticoat before taking the role that made her famous in Halloween, so she doesn’t count.

Jennifer Connelly (Phenomena, 1985)

Role: Jennifer Corvino

Long before she won an Oscar for her role in the overrated melodrama A Beautiful Mind, Connelly made her starring debut in Dario Argento’s 1985 horror/mystery Phenomena, playing a teenage girl able to communicate with insects. When she goes to live at a Swiss boarding school, she becomes caught up in the search for a vicious serial killer. Interesting bit of IMDB trivia: after going on to star in studio films like Labyrinth, Career Opportunities, and The Rocketeer, she would next return to horror in her role as…an extra in Witchcraft V? I guess everybody suffers from low points in their career.

Related Quote: [talking about the films she did in the beginning of her career]: “You don’t want to get rid of your experiences, because they’re your experiences – good or bad – and you need them, but it would be great if they weren’t on the video shelf!”

Johnny Depp (A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984)

Role: Glen Lantz

He commands $20 million a picture and is one of the biggest movie stars in the world, but horror fans will always remember Depp for playing Heather Langenkamp’s boyfriend in Wes Craven’s ’84 classic A Nightmare on Elm Street. Interestingly, the friend he rode to the audition with was none other than Jackie Earle Haley, the new Freddy in Warner Bros.’ upcoming remake. Hey, I don’t know if it’s true, but it makes for a damn good story.

Related Quote: [about a scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)] “I love this stuff. The kid falls asleep and it’s all over, he’s sucked right into the bed and spit out as blood. His bloody body rises straight out and then topples over, too. I heard somebody talk about having a dummy shot out of the bed, but I said, `Hey, I want to do this! It’ll be fun! Lemme do it!’”

Kirsten Dunst (Interview with the Vampire, 1994)

Role: Claudia

Ok, so this adaptation of the 1976 Anne Rice novel isn’t exactly a small little horror movie, but nevertheless it was Dunst’s first major role, in a pretty great performance as Claudia, a 30-something-year-old vampire stuck in the body of a child. Arguably it’s still her best performance in a career that’s seen her transform from eerily mature child actor to object of fanboy ridicule, but regardless she’s gone on to have an illustrious career – and Interview served as a pretty colossal launching pad.

Related Quote: (On kissing Brad Pitt in Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994) ): “It was horrible, I hated it. Brad and Tom were like my big brothers on the set, so it was like kissing your big brother – totally gross.”

Tom Hanks (He Knows You’re Alone, 1980)

Role: Elliot

Hanks’ role in this Halloween-influenced slasher directed by Armando Mastroianni is relatively small, but large enough for the purposes of this article. The double Oscar winner here appears as Elliot, a college student who goes all meta, Jamie Kennedy in Scream style, when he explains to his costars the reasons why people are afraid of horror movies. As for the plot, it’s about a bride-murdering psychopath stalking a soon-to-be-married young woman and her two friends. Apparently, Hanks proved so charismatic on-screen that the director rewrote the script to keep his character alive. Far from the astronomical salaries he would later command, according to IMDB he was paid $800 for his work on the movie.

Related Quote: [from earlier in his career] “I’ve made over 20 movies, and 5 of them are good.” (Let’s just assume He Knows You’re Alone wasn’t one of the five he was talking about.)

Eva Mendes (Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror, 1998)

Role: Kir

She may be a glamorous sexpot and leading lady now, but in 1998 Eva Mendes was “Kir”, a beautiful teenager who falls in with the titular deranged kiddie cult in Children of the Corn V after getting stranded with her friends. Later on in the film, her character sacrifices herself by jumping off a silo into a raging fire lit by the little delinquents. (No, crybaby, that did not merit a “spoiler alert”. It’s fucking Children of the Corn V.)

Related Quote: “I love horror movies. The Shining is my favorite.”

Sharon Stone (Deadly Blessing, 1981)

Role: Lana Marcus

She had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it part in Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories the previous year, but Stone didn’t enjoy her first starring role until Wes Craven’s little-seen 1981 horror flick Deadly Blessing, about three women caught up in a series of murders perpetrated by an Amish cult known as the Hittites. Stone plays Lana, one of the three women forced to fight off the religious fanatics in a battle to the death that includes a dream sequence where Stone’s character has a spider dropped into her mouth. Unfortunately for the actress it was one of Craven’s lesser efforts, and after toiling in relative obscurity for years, she finally broke through 11 years later as the femme fatale in Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct.

Related Quote: [from a 1990 interview]“I was this cute young girl with a nice ass who was a terrible actress. But I’ve worked real hard to become a good actress and now I think I’m starting to reap the benefits of that hard work.”

Hilary Swank (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 1992)

Role: Kimberly

Nearly ten years prior to winning her first Oscar, golden girl Swank appeared in the film that was supposed to make Kristy Swanson a big star (whatever happened with that, anyway?) as Kimberly, one of Buffy’s one-liner spouting high school friends (“Get out of my facial!”). Unlike its later incarnation as a TV show, the film underperformed both critically and commercially, but after a few false starts (remember The Next Karate Kid?) Swank’s career later took off and she ended up winning Oscars for both Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby.

Related Quote: [on walking around nude in front of her boyfriend's six-year-old son] “You wonder at what age you should stop walking around nude. But he doesn’t look twice. He doesn’t think about it yet.” (Ok, I’ll admit this has nothing to do with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)

John Travolta (Carrie, 1976)

Role: Billy Nolan

Although in his early career he’s most closely associated with his role as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, Travolta made his big debut (after a bit part in another horror film, The Devil’s Rain) in director Brian de Palma’s Carrie at age 22. In the film he plays Billy Nolan, the dumbshit boyfriend of teen-queen Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen) who helps orchestrate the climactic prank on telekinetic loner Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), leading to famously disastrous results. It’s merely a footnote in his megastar career, but a memorable one.

Related Quote: “I wanted to work with Brian De Palma. I knew the film would be interesting and attract a lot of attention.”

Paul Walker (Monster in the Closet, 1986)

Role: `Professor’ Bennett
Some things never change: Paul Walker was making crap movies then, and he’s making crap movies now. Although to be fair, Monster in the Closet is a low-budget Troma production that at least has a sense of humor about itself, which instantly raises it a notch or two above those retarded Fast and the Furious movies. In the film Walker has a small role as `Professor’ Bennett, a nerdy kid tormented by – what else? – the monster in the closet. Oh yeah, Fergie is in it too – before she got all that face work and joined some stupid hip-hop group.

Related Quote: “It’s not about working anymore, its about doing work I can be proud of.” (You mean like Snow Dogs?)

Elijah Wood (Child in the Night, 1990)

In this made-for-TV movie starring Tom Skerritt and JoBeth Williams, Wood plays Luke, a young boy who holds the key to solving a series of grisly murders perpetrated by a rain slicker-wearing killer wielding a hook (sound familiar?). The only problem is, he’s blocked out the details of the murder he witnessed – that of his own father – and now a child psychologist (Williams) must force him to remember before the killer claims his next victim – her! Following this little gem there’d be no looking back for Mr. Wood, and eleven years later he’d go on to score his biggest career coup to date by winning the role of Frodo the Gay Hobbit in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings.

Related Quote: “I think God gave me a talent to use for the positive and to do a horror movie would be, like, overstepping my bounds. If I was to do a horror film, I wouldn’t want to be paid. It would be like a vacation, because you don’t really have to use your acting skills.”