The four-time Oscar nominee Julianne Moore stars in a new horror movie, 'Shelter,' which was supposed to open this week, but -- not too surprisingly -- the Weinsteins are playing their usual chess game and have pulled it from release. Goodness knows we love horror movies, but let's face it: as far as prestige is concerned, they're just a step above the Three Stooges and a step below romantic comedies. Regardless, it got me thinking about all the times that high-profile and respectable actors have taken on jobs such as this. And I'm not talking about high-profile movies, either. Were they interested in the movie's themes? Did they need a paycheck? Who knows?
1. (tie) Bette Davis in 'Wicked Stepmother' (1989) and Joan Crawford in 'Trog' (1970)
Bette Davis was a two-time Oscar winner and Joan Crawford was a one-time winner, and they both went down this sad track, winding up their respective careers with these two movies, the final theatrical film for each. The road to horror started when they made the huge hit 'What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?' (1962) together, and audiences presumably demanded more, but how much more was up for debate. 'Trog' is from Hammer alumnus Freddie Francis, and it's as bad as it sounds. 'Wicked Stepmother' (1989) is by Larry Cohen, one of the most prolific of "B" movie makers, and it's worse than it sounds.
2. Hilary Swank in 'The Reaping' (2007)
Hilary Swank was a two-time Oscar winner when she chose to make this, and it wasn't several decades after her most recent win: it was only 3 years. We can only hope that Hilary saw something interesting in some early version of the screenplay -- ostensibly about the ten deadly plagues -- or else she lost a bet.
3. 'The Wicker Man' (2006)
This incredibly wrong-headed remake of the great 1973 cult classic was helmed by the once-promising Neil LaBute and somehow managed to attract two Oscar winners. Admittedly Nicolas Cage immediately embarked upon a bubble-gum career after winning his Oscar in 1996, but he had been nominated again as recently as 2002 and was clearly capable of choosing better. Ellen Burstyn won her Oscar in 1974, and has been nominated six times in all, but maybe -- at age 74 -- she was just happy to have a job at all. What's more, one of our current nominees, James Franco, also appears in a tiny role.
4. 'Gothika' (2003)
Oscar-nominee Robert Downey Jr. could probably be forgiven for taking this; he was working on a comeback after dealing with drug addiction, various arrests, and attempts at rehab. Likewise Penelope Cruz, who hadn't yet received her first Oscar nomination (she has three now, plus one win); she was dealing with the then-held prejudice that she couldn't act in English. But Halle Berry had just collected her Oscar less than two years earlier, and was riding high from having been in the hit 'X-Men' movies as well as a Bond girl. She didn't have much of an excuse. Perhaps she only read the first 20 or 30 promising pages and thought that it was going to be a pretty good mystery, or perhaps she hadn't seen enough horror movies to know about all those clichés.
5. Jennifer Connelly in 'Dark Water' (2005)
Connelly is no stranger to horror and sci-fi, as many geeks out there already know. She was in a vintage Dario Argento chiller, 'Phenomena,' as well as things like 'Labyrinth,' 'The Rocketeer,' 'Dark City' and 'Hulk.' Even her debut, 'Once Upon a Time in America,' and 2000's 'Requiem for a Dream' have a certain clout with movie buffs. She won an Oscar for one of her worst films, the insipid 'A Beautiful Mind,' and so perhaps she was stuck for a while between prestige projects and genre projects. This J-horror remake had an Oscar-nominated director, Walter Salles ('Central Station'), at the helm, so maybe it seemed like a good bet. Instead, it was dead in the 'water,' so to speak. (Note: this also starred three other Oscar nominees: Tim Roth, Pete Postlethwaite and John C. Reilly.)
6. Renee Zellweger in 'Case 39' (2010)
Has any former Oscar winner fallen so far? (OK, besides Cuba Gooding Jr. and Roberto Benigni.) Zellweger earned three nominations and one win and seven years later, she's in this terrible entry in the "killer kid" horror subgenre. It was such a stinker that it sat on the shelf for almost three years. By the time it hit theaters in the U.S., bootlegs of the British commercial DVD release were already available online. This actually did my heart good, though, since I loudly protested Zellweger's Oscar win for 'Cold Mountain.' I wrote in 2003: "Apparently no one told her that she wasn't doing 'Oklahoma!' -- she struts and stomps around with an outrageous farmer accent. You almost expect her to burst into song at any moment." Plus, why wasn't Scarlett Johansson nominated in that category for 'Lost in Translation'?
7. Geoffrey Rush in 'House on Haunted Hill' (1999)
This one I can understand. Rush is a trained stage actor with experience in Shakespeare, and by 1999 he had received two Oscar nominations and one win. (He was nominated a third time in 2000 and he currently has his fourth.) But Rush is a huge ham, and a great scenery chewer. A remake of a cheesy 1958 William Castle movie did not bode well, but how could he resist a role that had been originated that other great ham, Vincent Price?
Are there any others I forgot? Please send in your favorite prestigious actors in bad horror films.