Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Heavy Action: 10 Action Stars in Horror Movies

by Patrick Bromley
It's Scary Movie Month, but we can't forget our favorite action stars. Even they've gotten into the horror game at least once.

Don't forget about the Scary Movie Challenge III!
Arnold Schwarzenegger, End of Days - By the time Arnold Schwarzenegger finally dipped his chiseled Austrian toe into supernatural waters in 1999, he was on shaky ground as a movie star. With only two big hits in the '90s, Schwarzenegger was clearly looking to change it up a little and tweak his image. Enter the horror movie. Despite being directed by Heavy Action hall of famer Peter Hyams (Timecop, Sudden Death), End of Days is pretty lame -- Schwarzenegger is the wrong fit for the material (though "Jericho Kane" is one of the all-time great action hero names, up there with Johnny Utah and Ray Tango), Gabriel Byrne is a boring devil and neither the comedy nor the horror works. The movie's best contribution is that it gives Schwarzenegger the chance to play depressed and alcoholic -- so, basically he got around to playing Martin Riggs a year after the fourth and final Lethal Weapon movie was released. At any rate, he's pretty good at being sad about losing his wife. The practice would pay off later in life.
Sylvester Stallone, Eye See You - Unlike Schwarzenegger, Stallone's movie star days were basically over when he made his horror movie (they would come back thanks to Rocky Balboa and Rambo and The Expendables, but no one knew that would happen when the movie came out in 2002 because time travel hasn't yet been invented but in 30 years it will be). The straight-to-video Eye See You (also known as D-Tox), which features Stallone as an alcoholic FBI agent who checks into rehab and finds himself in the middle of a slasher movie, owes more to the "crime thriller" boom of the '90s (Se7en, Copycat, etc.) than to straight horror. But like a lot of action stars who turn to horror late in their careers, Sly was clearly trying something different in the hopes of reinventing himself -- or, at the very least, capturing a new audience. It didn't really work.
Steven Seagal, Against the Dark - Steven Seagal's lone foray into horror (because the biological mutants were cut out of Submerged during post-production) is -- how do you say? -- fucking horrible. Everything about Against the Dark feels like it was made both by and for the SyFy Channel, from the screenplay to the production design (it takes place on a single set) to the special effects. It's not really a Seagal vehicle, either; he's a supporting player -- a guy who shows up every once in a while to wear a trench coat and kill vampires (because have you guys seen Blade?) -- in a movie that's much more focused on whiny teenagers trying to survive in a world where a disease has turned almost everyone into vampires (because have you guys seen Daybreakers?). In a career chock full of less-than-distinguished efforts, Against the Dark stands out as one of Seagal's worst.
Rutger Hauer, The Hitcher - Because Rutger Hauer really became known in the '80s for playing several notable villains (in stuff like Nighthawks and, of course, Blade Runner), it was actually jarring when he showed up in an action movie as the hero. Just one year prior to headlining his own action movie (1987's big screen adaptation of Wanted Dead or Alive), Hauer played one of his most iconic villains in the Robert Harmon-directed horror thriller The Hitcher. He's a psychotic hitchhiker who is stalking and tormenting C. Thomas Howell, no doubt because he's a big fan of Soul Man. The movie has a cult following, but I could never really get into it because of the way it treats Jennifer Jason Leigh. Some shit cannot be overlooked.
Bruce Willis, Planet Terror - The way that Robert Rodriguez shoots his movies makes it easy for him to get great casts, because he shoots quickly and cheaply and patches together his scenes from footage shot on different days and different locations (I'm pretty sure no cast member in Spy Kids 3 ever filmed with any other actor). He can get a Bruce Willis to come in and play a key role in Planet Terror, his half of the great double feature Grindhouse, because it probably gets knocked out in the span of a single afternoon. Willis isn't asked to do much in his role of a military lieutenant trying to keep his soldiers from turning into zombies, but he lends just the right amount of star power (in 1983, the role would have been played by John Saxon) and gets one good speech about killing Bin Laden. Sometimes in exploitation horror movies, characters have to be established in quick, broad strokes. Bruce Willis is a guy who can do that by virtue of being Bruce Willis.
Jason Statham, Ghosts of Mars - Like Charles Bronson and Steve McQueen before him, Jason Statham was not yet an action star when he signed on to John Carpenter's last theatrical feature prior to his 2011 "comeback" movie The Ward. This explains why he plays a third or fourth-tier supporting role while the action hero duties are left to Natasha Henstridge (of Maximum Risk, filling in at the last possible second for Courtney Love) and Ice Cube, who plays Desolation Williams, a name only slightly worse than Jericho Kane. The movie, a sci-fi/horror relic from America's brief love affair with Mars in the early 2000s, is deadly dull, with Statham showing pretty much the only sparks of life on screen. It's no surprise he went on to be a great big action star. Or that Carpenter didn't make another movie for a decade.
Chuck Norris, Hellbound - Yes, Silent Rage has horror elements and is a much more well-known and respected movie, but Hellbound deals full-on with chasing down the devil (or, at least, the devil's no. 2 guy). Norris plays a character named Frank Shatter, a name somewhere right between Jericho Kane and Desolation Williams, who goes to Israel to solve the murder of a rabbi but ends up fighting off an emissary of Satan before he regains the pieces of an ancient scepter and achieves ultimate power. I KNOW, RIGHT? Like so many other action stars whose forays into horror come at the beginning or at the end of their mainstream careers, Norris was well past his prime when Hellbound was (barely) released in 1994. That doesn't mean it's much junkier than most of what he put out in the late '80s and '90s. It's about as bad as everything else he made, only with horror in it.
Charles Bronson, House of Wax - Ok, so it's kind of a cheat, because this one was made before Charles Bronson really became an action star. As the mute assistant to crazed wax sculptor Vincent Price, he doesn't really register -- although who could next to Vincent Price and a bunch of 3-D gimmicks (including my favorite, the old "paddle ball at the camera" routine)? There's little indication that he would go on to be a huge movie star, although his later work could have picked up a thing or two from his performance here. And by that I mean not allowing him to speak.
Steve McQueen, The Blob - Future action movie icon Steve McQueen made his leading man debut in the original 1958 version of The Blob. Again, there is no indication of the superstar he would become here -- he's just a regular, decent teenager. There are no car chases. He never once snorts coke off of Ali McGraw's boobs. All he does is save a small town from the pinkish-purple (puse?) alien goo that's swallowing up everything in sight. Don't tell JB (he never reads this site), but I prefer Chuck Russell's 1988 remake. If only Kevin Dillon had become an action star.
Wesley Snipes, Blade - Well, here you go. While Blade isn't the reason for this list to exist, it is the best combination of action and horror ever made. It's also the movie that's pretty much responsible for the glut of comic book and superhero movies we've gotten in the last decade, so, you know, thanks a lot, daywalker. Blade works much better as an action movie than as a horror movie, because all the vampire stuff is little more than a gimmick (and, while we're at it, the main villain played by Stephen Dorff is pretty horrible). Wesley Snipes knows how to kick much ass, but I wish Blade was a more interesting character. Someday, there will no doubt be a whole Heavy Action column devoted to this one.


  1. What about Kurt Russell in The Thing?

  2. That paddle-ball scene in House of Wax never gets old. Easily one of the most egregious "oooooooh, something floating at you in 3D!" moments in movie history, exceeded only by the entirety of Avatar.

  3. This a stretch and I certainly wouldn't expect it on this list, but one of the all-time oddball pieces of horror casting is Humphrey Bogart in "The Return of Dr. X" (1939), where he plays a resurrected corpse who lives on synthetic human blood. Funny thing is, it's actually a pretty good movie.

  4. I never saw it but isn't Chuck Norris' film "The Hero and the Terror" a horror film too?