Slaying Their Dues
Jamie Lee Curtis is the most obvious graduate of Slasher U to cross over into big-time stardom--she's back, in Halloween: H20, for the class reunion. But she's not alone. Some major, no kidding, Oscar-winning, A-list stars have also matriculated the world of disreputable, low-budget slice-and-dice movies. Here's a brief compendium:
Tom Hanks--Yep, Oscar's Golden Boy himself--a current contender for statuette number three--began his screen career with an inauspicious role in a Canadian slasher picture called He Knows You're Alone (1980). He plays neither victim nor villain, just an incidental fellow that the main characters meet at a carnival. As a psych student, he gets to deliver a moody little monologue while they wait in line for the fun house about the paradox of why people enjoy being scared. Then he disappears from the film. It's a serviceable performance, but you probably wouldn't look at this guy and say, "Screen legend in the making!"
Kevin Bacon--Although his movie debut was actually in National Lampoon's Animal House--as the "thank you, sir, may I have another" pledge--Bacon established some of his fabled six-degree linkups during his fourth film, the original Friday the 13th (1980). As one of the studly camp counselors, he gets skewered through the neck with an arrow early on, just after a rather graphic sex scene.
Vanity--Under the name "D.D. Winters," the future pop star turned Born Again rode with Jamie Lee C., Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner and magician David Copperfield on the Terror Train (1980). Directed by Brit Roger Spottiswoode, later of the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, and shot by Kubrick cinematographer John Alcott, this Canadian shocker is probably the most visually elegant of all slasher flicks, for whatever that distinction may be worth. There's an admirable twist at the end, too.
Holly Hunter--Long before giving semi-nude piano lessons to Harvey Keitel in The Piano, Hunter suffered an almost-as-scary fate as a cast member of The Burning (1981), a ringer for Friday the 13th in which a gruesomely scarred caretaker goes after some payback at the summer camp where he used to work. This movie had a heck of a graduating class: In addition to Hunter, Jason Alexander and Fisher Stevens were both in the cast, and the Miramax brothers, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, were co-writer and producer, respectively.
Dana Carvey--Before his Saturday Night Live glory days, Carvey had a tiny, tiny role in Halloween II (1981) as a TV news crewman. Surely the Church Lady wouldn't approve.
Crispin Glover--The Master of Weird's third film and first starring role was in Friday the 13th--The Final Chapter (1984). Corey Feldman was also in this wretched and falsely titled sequel--it was the fourth in what would ultimately prove a nine-film series (to date).
Johnny Depp--The Ed Wood star's debut was a major role in Wes Craven's great A Nightmare on Elm Street. He also popped up for a grateful cameo in 1991's Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare--yet another empty promise of a title.
The message in all this to young actors should be: If somebody offers you a role involving the business end of a knife, ax or pitchfork, think hard before turning up your nose.
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.