The Oscar nominations for 2016 are just days away, which means we’re in full-on awards season. And with these announcements, it got me to thinking – we all know that horror has so often been overlooked by the Academy. Sure, there have been a few notable exceptions. Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie received Oscar nominations for De Palma’s Carrie. Ruth Gordon won an Oscar for Rosemary’s Baby. Back to back – Kathy Bates won the big acting award for Misery, and a year later, Silence of the Lambs swept the big five — including Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars for Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster; respectively. And let’s not get into an argument about how Silence of the Lambs is not horror – it’s at least partially horror – and we’ll leave it at that.
But overall, horror films so often get the shaft by the Academy voters.
So I went back and looked at some iconic, legendary and just damn impressive performances in horror films – which were not even so much as nominated for the big award. And while there are dozens and dozens of snubs which could be dredged up throughout the history of cinema, these are ten that are either shocking or feel like some sort of personal slight against my own deeply-held horror movie beliefs.
Just take a look at this list. These folks didn’t win, much less enjoy the prestige of a deserved nomination. For shame, Academy! In no particular order:
Anthony Perkins – Psycho
Seriously? It’s a Hitchcock film (at least Hitchcock was nominated for Best Director here — he never did win). Perkins’ is a seminal slasher/serial killer performance. Perkins was NOT nominated for his stellar work as our beloved Norman Bates. Norman’s quirky, socially awkward (just watch how he eats his candy corn), has his fair share of physical tics and is actually quite sympathetic. But he’s a psycho, you say! And when he “psychos” out, we get yet another layer of Perkins’ brilliant acting. It’s a shame that the film, as well as Perkins’ performance was overlooked by the Oscar voters, especially considering the film’s eventual legacy and legendary status. It’s a classic, and frankly, I’m tempted to use that old cliche, “Which side of history will you be on?”. Indeed, a question I would have asked of the voters back in the early ’60s when they chose to snub this mesmerizing, terrifying and yes, endearing performance from Perkins as Bates. And who could overlook the amazing non-dialogue acting of his final chilling moment (pictured above)? Yikes! Perkins never did win an Oscar, although he was nominated in the supporting actor category for 1956’s Friendly Persuasion.
Nicole Kidman – The Others
Sure, Kidman was nominated for Moulin Rouge (which she’s great in) the same year that The Others was released, but her more nuanced and superior performance comes from this instant classic haunted house masterpiece. I’ve often called Kidman’s performance as Grace Stewart “the epitome of an Ice Queen”. She’s so cold (matching the atmosphere of the film) and no-nonsense. But when things in her world begin to crumble and the clues to pile up, we get chillingly genuine emotion. No one does paranoia and fear better than Kidman. And when she needs to cry, she just does it. In a sea of brilliant acting choices, nothing is as heartbreaking as the film’s final reveal — as she realizes what she has done and what she now is. Kidman would finally win a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in The Hours one year later. She was nominated two other times, for the aforementioned Moulin Rouge and for her role in 2010’s Rabbit Hole.
Mia Farrow – Rosemary’s Baby
As mentioned above, Ruth Gordon deservedly won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Minnie Castevet — Rosemary’s busy-body next door neighbor, but would you believe that Rosemary herself (Mia Farrow) wasn’t even nominated? Not only does she have to portray the physical deterioration of Rosemary — as the devil’s spawn inside or her continues to grow — she’s also got to put her wide and earnest eyes to work as Rosemary’s seemingly paranoid fears begin to come to light. Her best moment surely comes at the film’s end. She’s rushed into her neighbor’s apartment to find a gathering of Satanists and a creepy black bassinet near the window. It’s certainly her baby, but just wait until she moves aside the blanket to lay eyes on this blessed delivery. It’s a priceless (and Oscar-worthy) reaction from Farrow, as her hands go to her face and she eventually screams, “What have you done to him, you maniacs!”. Shockingly, Farrow has never won, or even been nominated for an Academy Award.
Shelley Duvall – The Shining
Oh Shelley. Your Wendy Torrance is a thing of beauty. How could someone so irritating and whiny as Wendy gain our utmost sympathies? That feat is on you, Ms. Duvall. Many will scoff at the inclusion of this much-maligned performance, and wonder how on earth Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in the same film, was snubbed not only for an Oscar, but for this very list. Well, Nicholson tends to go over the top in The Shining, and although he has some pretty sweet acting moments, I wouldn’t say he was Oscar-worthy. Ms. Duvall, on the other hand, is all over the place, in a good way. Whether being a submissive doormat to her husband, a meek and needy voice on the other end of the radio, a terrified and protective mother or a witness to supernatural madness, Duvall makes Wendy believable, if alas — pretty darn annoying. Case in point: When she locks Jack in the massive walk-in pantry, she slobbers and sobs uncontrollably. And it’s a hell of a performance, but man — Wendy’s sure an ugly cryer. Ugly or not, we buy her helplessness and utter confusion. And I have to mention the uncomfortable physicality and stumbling conversation that Shelley brings to the scene with the doctor — very early on in the film after Danny has fainted in the bathroom. Wendy and the doctor discuss Jack’s drinking and Danny’s dislocated arm, and Duvall blows my mind with her almost-slurred delivery here. Duvall has never been nominated for an Oscar.
Geena Davis – The Fly
Had an Oscar campaign succeeded for Ms. Davis after The Fly was released, I’m unsure if she would have been designated as a lead actress or a supporting actress. I mean, she is the lead female actor in the film (portraying journalist Veronica Quaife), but it’s definitely Seth Brundle’s (Jeff Goldblum — see below) character metamorphosis (ahem) that we follow. Regardless of her award classification, Davis delivers one of the most emotionally powerful performances in modern horror. It’s a tortured love, and Davis sells it so thoroughly, that even in the presence of an ailing/changing Seth, we can see how difficult of a time she is having. And based on all of the gross-out factors (disease, contagion, rot), she is still torn apart by her love. Davis is a marvel all throughout, as a determined and skeptical reporter and later as a terrified and confused mother-to-be, hitting all the right notes before Veronica’s final decision in the film. It hurts to see her make the choice — almost as much as it hurts to see the result of that choice. Just a few years later, Davis would win a supporting actress Oscar for The Accidental Tourist. She was also nominated in the lead actress Oscar category for 1991’s Thelma & Louise.
Jeff Goldblum – The Fly
If we were basing Oscar qualifications solely on a character’s physicality, Goldblum’s turn as the brilliant and ill-fated Seth Brundle would have had a nomination (and perhaps a win) wrapped up! But his performance in Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly is far more than that. At the outset, Brundle has plenty of idiosyncrasies which gives Goldblum lots to play with, and immediately we like him, even though in real life, we’d be taken aback by this odd and socially awkward uber-nerd! But as his transformation begins, and the fly’s personality takes over, so then does Goldblum’s body. It’s not just the horrifying and exceptional make-up which bring “Brundle-Fly” to life, it’s the hunched over and athletic physique which Goldblum brings to the role. On top of that, Goldblum retains Brundle’s humanity through the only part of his body left exposed — his eyes. This is apparent in the heart-wrenching scene where Veronica (Geena Davis) arrives at the lab to break the news about her pregnancy. His speech about “insect politics” ending with “I’ll hurt you if you stay”, is terrifying and deeply emotional. Goldblum follows up Davis’ exit with a stifling bit of sobbing (does Brundle even still have tear ducts?) — illustrating Brundle’s confusion, anger and growing instability. Although Goldblum has been nominated for an Oscar, it was not for his acting, but for the 1996 short film — Little Surprises.
JoBeth Williams – Poltergeist
There was a campaign to get Ms. Williams an Oscar nomination for her “Diane Freeling” in Poltergeist and it’s a damn shame that it didn’t come to fruition. The performance was at least worthy of a nomination, for heaven’s sake. In a bevy of amazing acting moments, what can outdo the Tangina “Beast” speech? Williams’ tearful reactions to this terrifying tale are bar-none her crowning achievement in the film. And there are plenty of either heightened emotional moments throughout (“the swimming pool, the swimming pool!”), but I’ve always marveled at the quieter times before the ghosts kidnap little Carol Anne. Among my favorites is the scene in which Diane and Steven (Craig T. Nelson) are smoking a joint in their bedroom. It’s a genuine scene for both actors, and a true gem as a high and relaxed Diane recounts the tale of her sleepwalking/kidnapping. So despite the heavy moments she must conjure for Diane (“Don’t touch my babies!”), Williams excels at all of the smaller, everyday moments. She doesn’t wait for the s*** to hit the fan and move into “scream queen” territory, before she delivers a quality, living and breathing person in Diane Freeling. Williams was nominated (as a producer) for an Oscar for the 1994 film On Hope. It was a nod for Best Short Film — Live Action. She has never been nominated for an acting Oscar.
Julie Harris – The Haunting
The late Julie Harris played the timid and easily-swayed Eleanor, one in the small group meant to investigate paranormal activity in the mysterious and haunted Hill House — in Robert Wise’s classic, The Haunting. The first time we see Eleanor (Nell), she wants to escape from her dull life following the death of her long-suffering mother, whom Nell had been caring for. Harris’ immediate impatience properly introduces us to Nell’s need and desperation. We also get a sense of her enjoyment in this new freedom and her newly-found gumption. The remarkable thing about Harris’ performance is in watching Nell succumb to Hill House’s evil charms. She’s fragile and wide open to suggestion and driven by her deep-seated need to belong to someone or something. Among her best moments, the first night, Nell and Theo (Claire Bloom) hear the ungodly pounding on Theo’s bedroom door. Afterward, she and Theo laugh at their silliness, but there’s that undercurrent of absolute terror. Harris keeps Nell on edge all throughout, as she discovers her purpose, and anyone who suggests she leave Hill House is met with yelling and anger. It’s fascinating to watch Nell quickly catch herself after she’s snapped at her co-horts. Harris is perfect wall-flower casting for Nell, and with all the levels of fear, guilt, excitement and underlying sexual uncertainty, Harris was certainly worthy of award recognition. Harris was nominated for only one Oscar in her career — leading actress for 1952’s The Member of the Wedding.
Margot Kidder – Sisters
Long before she was the Lois Lane in the Donner Superman films, and even a year before she faced the wrath of Billy’s glass unicorn horn in Bob Clark’s Black Christmas, she played the dual roles of Dominique and Danielle Britton — the Siamese twins of De Palma’s Rear Window homage — Sisters. On this latest revisit, it was clear that she and co-star Jennifer Salt (as the meddling reporter Grace Collier) had about equal screen-time, but Kidder steals the show. For starters, I was impressed with her accent work as the French-Canadian model. But it’s her moment when (SPOILERS) she is sedated next to Grace and is reminded of her failed pregnancy where she truly shines. It’s a desperate and tearful refusal to accept the loss — even though it actually happened a good year prior. Also worthy of praise is her physical transformation from Danielle to Dominique. Sure, it’s some makeup and hair changes that help her along, but Kidder goes from a soft-spoken Danielle who truly seems like she wouldn’t hurt a fly, to a desperate, almost slobbering maniac as Dominique. There’s also the brilliant moment as Emil (William Finley) knocks on Danielle’s apartment door — and she turns around to see what has happened in her living room. The reaction is this weird combo of surprise paired with nonchalance. Surprise that she missed what happened, but non-surprise that Dominique had done something so vile. Despite her always good work, Kidder has never been nominated for an Oscar.
Robert Shaw – Jaws
It certainly would have been a supporting actor nomination for the late Robert Shaw (had the Academy done the right thing). Jaws was nominated (and it won several) for a slew of Oscars in 1975, including one for Best Picture. But no acting kudos were divvied up — for anyone. And everyone’s spectacular in this film. But no one can top the grizzly old sea-farer that is Shaw’s Quint. He’s quite the character, and that long (and now legendary) monologue which he delivers aboard the Orca – as they’re hunting the killer shark – well, there’s no other word to describe it but “wow”. His story of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in WWII is haunting. What’s extra creepy is that it’s based on those true events. For as much of a hard-ass as Quint is, there’s real fear in his eyes as he recounts this terrible memory to Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and Brody (Roy Scheider). And then he ends the telling with a “what are you gonna do?” smile and a raised glass. Shaw draws you in with this nauseating tale, and Spielberg wisely just put the camera on him and let him tell it. Shaw’s role in the 1966 film, A Man for All Seasons earned him a best supporting actor Oscar nomination.
So which horror performances throughout the decades do you feel were horribly overlooked by the so often near-sighted Academy?