Bad horror movies are a dime-a-dozen, but a bad horror movie starring an actor who’d go on to be famous? That’s a rarity worth seeking out. Here are 15 good, bad, and hilarious performances from Hollywood’s top actors in less-than-stellar horror films.
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This A Few Good Men star got her start with Parasite, a 1982 post-apocalyptic Alien knockoff filmed in 3D. If you can find a copy of the DVD, you’ll see her image plastered on the cover… underneath the mouth of a killer alien parasite thing.
Iron Man 2 actor Sam Rockwell’s film debut was Clownhouse. The 1989 slasher film features him playing the bullying brother of a child whose house is besieged by three homicidal clowns. Of the films on this list, it may be one of the more watchable as it was produced by none other than Francis Ford Coppola. However, the film remains nearly impossible to find due to a child molestation scandal that happened during filming that involved the film’s director, Victor Salva, and the film’s lead actor, Nathan Forrest Winters. Salva would serve three years in prison and, unsurprisingly, Rockwell would not collaborate with him again over the course of their mutual careers.
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This Community and Mad Men actress would star in Born (2007) at the beginning of her career. In it, Brie plays a 21-year-old virgin impregnated and subsequently possessed by a demon fetus. It’s especially noteworthy for Brie’s hilarious, scenery chewing performance, which perhaps anticipates her career’s more comedic turns.
The Ocean’s 11 and E.R. star can count two noteworthy horror sequels among his early films—Return To Horror High and Return of the Killer Tomatoes. The former film is a 1987 sequel to a slasher film that never existed. The latter is the follow-up to a largely forgotten 1970s horror spoof that has Clooney in the lead. Both films were previously released in a double feature DVD, perhaps to cash-in on the esteemed actor’s appearance in both.
Before Jennifer Aniston was known for Friends, she squared off against a diminutive killer Leprechaun in the 1993 film of the same name. Even more interestingly, the film was one of the breakout hits of its year, spawning five sequels and a pending remake (from WWE Studios, no less!).
Paul Rudd is known for comedies like This Is 40 and Knocked Up, but he made his debut in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. The film, which credits him as Paul Alan Rudd, has him playing previous Halloween survivor Tommy Doyle. His character dedicates himself to battling slasher Michael Myers and the, um, cult that worships him. The plot is nonsensical, but a solid turn by Rudd and some solid scares makes Halloween 6 a cheesy, fun entry in the series.
Among Academy Award-nominated actor Viggo Mortensen’s early credits is a performance as Eddie ‘Tex’ Sawyer in Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. The film would wind up bombing in the wake of an MPAA backlash over its violent content, but Mortensen’s kill-crazy performance remains intact on the unrated DVD.
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This legendary actor practically learned the business making horror movies with producer Roger Corman. Jack got his first taste of acting in films like Little Shop of Horrors (1960) and The Raven (1963), two films widely regarded as classics among critics. However, The Terror (1963), would not be so well regarded—the plot-less period snoozer was helmed by no less than five directors (including Corman, Francis Ford Coppola and Nicholson himself) and assembled around pre-filmed footage of Boris Karloff. It’s easily among the worst of Nicholson’s long career…
Seinfeld star Jason Alexander would play what could be construed as a younger take on George Costanza in The Burning (1981). The film, co-written by Dimension exec Harvey Weinstein (!), is a standard slasher known for its gory special effects and Alexander’s comic relief debut (alongside Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter).
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The Departed star’s feature debut was as the lead in Critters 3 (1991). The Critters series was basically a mash-up of Alien and Gremlins that ran out ideas by the time DiCaprio’s entry came around. The film sees a youngster named Josh, played by DiCaprio, who has to fend off his apartment complex from the pint-sized, flesh chomping creatures. DiCaprio himself has shied away from discussing the film in recent interviews and for good reason– it’s a total snoozer.
Hot on the heels of Boyz n the Hood, Angela Bassett signed on to act in Critters 4 (1992). Shot back-to-back with the aforementioned Critters 3, the final entry in the series saw Bassett battling the spiny monsters… in deep space… in the future. Unfortunately, they didn’t team her up with DiCaprio’s character, but the fact this franchise anticipated such talent should tell you the creators of Critters were at least smart about their casting.
Before 300 made him a sex symbol, Gerard Butler was taking bit parts in films like Tale of the Mummy (1998). Directed by Highlander filmmaker Russell Mulcahy, the movie was a universally panned knockoff of Universal’s highly successful The Mummy remake. Tale of the Mummy went straight-to-video, where Butler’s scenes would be heavily cut down from the original version. Given the film’s reception, this was probably for the best.
One of Killer Joe star Matthew McConaughey’s earliest roles was in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994). As the fourth film in the franchise, McConaughey would essentially be playing the same role Viggo Mortensen played in the movie that came before it. As the ring leader of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre family, McConaughey gives a wide-eyed, shrill performance that borders on cartoonish. He fares better than Renee Zellweger, however, who makes an even more annoying debut as McConaughey and Leatherface’s virginal victim.
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Before he was famous, Jack Black was making a career for himself getting eviscerated in various movies. One of the most memorable of his corpse performances was in the sequel I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998). His white-boy Rastafarian gets spiked by a rain coat wearing slasher villain, only to be found by heroin Jennifer Love Hewitt toward the end of the film. To his credit, Black delivers the best performance in the film even though he’s only in it for a few minutes (and is dead the majority of the time).
The Academy Award-winning nice guy actor got his first role in the Halloween knockoff He Knows You’re Alone (1980). The film, about a faceless serial killer who targets brides-to-be, has Hanks as Elliott, a well-meaning psychology student who appears in one scene to comment on the heroine’s belief she’s being stalked. He also makes sex jokes. The latter feature would anticipate much of the early part of Hanks career, which would be built on sex comedies like Volunteers and Bachelor Party.