Halloween is almost upon us, and a lot of folks like to watch old horror films to get in the mood. Of course, some of us are into horror movies all year round and they represent a major source of entertainment for us. I belong to that second category, and have an enormous collection of old scary movies in my collection. One of the funny things about watching those older films is the "Aha!" moments, where you realize that a star who went on to much greater fame appeared in some gem of a fright film in the early stages of his or her career.
It makes sense. Horror is traditionally one of the easier genres for beginning filmmakers to make a successful attempt at, and actors and actresses who are just starting out are often offered a role in one. The thing is, horror movie fans are some of the most dedicated groups of film viewers, and there's a built-in viewership for horror movies that other types of films don't have. It's still funny and sometimes a little sad how quickly some stars turn their backs on the scary movies in their past once their level of fame increases. But it's fun to stumble across one of them starring in a grisly slasher film or monster movie, especially when they've gone on to become big stars. So what A-list actors and actresses were in horror movies way back in their careers?
6. Jennifer Aniston was in Leprechaun.
Yep, the star of Friends, Bruce Almighty and countless other TV shows and movies was the female lead in a violent 1993 horror film about a murderous leprechaun hell-bent on killing humans he thinks have stolen his Lucky Charm...er...gold. Unsurprisingly, she's got good acting chops, and the film is sort of a cult classic in certain circles. Aniston is a brunette in the movie and seems to have a different nose, but it's her all right. I'd love to see someone interview her today and ask questions about Leprechaun just to see what happens.
5. Matthew McConaughey and Renée Zellweger were both in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel in 1994. The original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is rightfully considered one of the best horror films ever made. Unfortunately, its sequels are all pretty terrible, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre - The Next Generation might be the worst of all of them. Anyone unfortunate enough to watch this cinematic turd will notice that two very famous people are in it. Matthew McConaughey, playing a psychotic member of the film's killer family, goes so over the top he's the only thing fun to watch in this awful movie, while Renée Zellweger plays the female lead, and might as well be interchangeable with any other "main girl" in a slasher film. The movie is terrible and should be avoided at all costs, and I can't imagine this one has been on either's résumé in years.
4. George Clooney was in Return to Horror High in 1987.
This not very good, generic, late-period slasher film is one of George Clooney's earliest roles, and it's worth tracking down for his puffy '80s coif alone. A year later, Clooney appeared in Return of the Killer Tomatoes, so I guess he either really needed the money or enjoyed being in low-budget horror comedies.
3. Kevin Bacon is in the first Friday the 13th
Friday the 13th came out in 1980, and was an enormous hit, spawning a film franchise that continues to this day. And Kevin Bacon is in it. He plays one of the doomed camp counselors and meets his bloody end during the movie's murder spree when an arrow gets pushed through the mattress he's lying on and exits right through his throat. It's not Footloose or Apollo 13, but Friday the 13th IS considered a classic of sorts, and I'd be proud to be in that one if it were me.
2. Tom Hanks was in He Knows You're Alone in 1980.
Tom Hanks has become a mega star and is as A-List as a person can get, but he still starred in an obscure and crappy slasher film way back in the early days of his career. I've seen this one, and my memory of it is basically "Tom Hanks is in it and looks very young" and "It's really boring," so I can't really recommend it. Watch some old reruns of Bosom Buddies instead.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
1. Holly Hunter and Jason Alexander are both in The Burning.
In 1981, during the height of the original American slasher movie craze, The Burning was released. It's really gory, and was extensively edited to appease censors at its release, and also features more nudity than was common in these types of films. So, yeah, it's pretty violent and sleazy and a lot of fun. It also has Seinfeld's buddy Jason Alexander sporting pre-baldness hair, and Holly Hunter in an early role, both playing camp counselors in this more mean-spirited take on a murderer picking people off at a summer camp.
These are but a few of the famous actors I've found in early horror film roles before they hit major levels of fame. I guess honorable mention should go to Johnny Depp for being in the first Nightmare on Elm Street and Jamie Lee Curtis for Halloween, its sequel and numerous other early films, but since they're fairly famous for those roles, it doesn't seem to be a forgotten part of their careers.