Alfred Hitchcock was the master of the cameo appearance. Out of 39 of his 52 films, the director managed to fit his ample frame somewhere in a scene, be it a man late for a bus in the opening minutes of North By Northwest, or his signature caricature appearing in neon outside the one-house setting of Rope. Even in the claustrophobic setting of Lifeboat, he managed to appear in a weight loss advertisement in one of the character’s newspapers.
Other directors, to varying degrees of success, have attempted to mimic this little self-tribute/in-joke. The most notable, embarrassing failure was M. Night Shyamalan, whose cameos became extended supporting roles as his films got worse (what can you expect from a man whose writings, according to himself in Lady in the Water, will one day change the world for the better?).
Then there’s John Landis (The Blues Brothers, Innocent Blood), who makes a point of casting every small role or bit part he can with director and producer friends – from Sam Raimi to musician Carl Perkins.
Hollywood is a lavish production filled to the brim with in-jokes. Here’s a few of the most bizarre cameos that ever came out of tinsel town and, as often as possible, the reasons behind why they occurred.
10. Sam Raimi – Miller’s Crossing
As the war heats up, and speakeasies and brothels are raided by corrupt police, an unnamed gunman unflinchingly guns down a barkeep holding a white flag of surrender, then laughs. The kill is a short celebration before a hail of gunfire takes the gunman down, played by director Sam Raimi.
It’s no secret that Raimi and the brothers Coen have maintained a friendship and working relationship throughout their respective careers. Though no one would have suspected that Joel Coen was assistant editor on Raimi’s first feature length film, The Evil Dead. Raimi later helped get funding for the Coens’ Blood Simple.
9. Senator Pat Leahy – The Dark Knight
Pick a Batman film, from Forever to the recent critical disaster Batman V Superman: Docket Case #0092-631 – you’re sure to find, somewhere in a crowd, Democratic Senator from the great state of Vermont somewhere. His brief appearances have only gotten larger over the years, culminating in telling Heath Ledger’s Joker that “We’re not intimidated by thugs.”
This is actually very sweet. Leahy is a huge comic-geek, and has written essays and forwards for The Dark Knight over the years. Royalties from his cameos go to charity – namely the very library where he read comics as a child.
8. Bruce Campbell – Fargo
Every nerd’s favourite action-horror star, and Sam Raimi regular, can be seen just briefly on a fuzzy TV screen in this Coen Bros. Academy Award Winning “true” crime caper. It’s just before the brutal pancake-loving Peter Stormare swings a fatal blow to Steve Buscemi’s motor mouth.
Campbell’s barely visible role as a soap doctor gives us an all-too-brief glimpse of Stormare’s gentle side, as he reacts to the news that the doctor’s love is pregnant.
We’ve already discussed the close connection with Raimi and the Coens, which also extends to their favourite lead actor. Earlier, he was given a speaking role as a fast talking journalist in The Hudsucker Proxy.
7. Truman Capote – Annie Hall
Woody Allen’s Best Picture-winning comedy is often intentionally surreal, with a framing device that features Allen’s Alvy Singer directly addressing the audience. The most memorable cameo (apart from early roles for Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum) is that of everyone who majored in Communications in college’s favourite name-drop Marshall McLuhan.
However, another surreal cameo occurs when Annie and Alvy are people watching. Alvy points out a man who just won the Truman Capote lookalike contest. Yeah, that’s actually Truman Capote.
It’s the kind of joke Capote liked. Earlier he appeared in the murder-mystery spoof Murder By Death playing essentially a version of himself.
6. Tom Waits – Wolfen
There has never been a movie made that could not have benefited from a Tom Waits appearance. The musician’s eccentric, quirky persona is charming enough on its own, though it doesn’t hurt that he is a seriously talented actor; he nearly walked away with Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula as Renfield.
One of his earliest appearances in film occurs in Michael Wadleigh’s cult classic Werewolf thriller Wolfen, in which he appears as a sad, drunken bar owner.
The man rivals only Charles Bukowski in writing about drunks, drunken bar owners, drunks at bars and so on. Who else would you cast?
5. Bernie Sanders – Sweet Heart’s Dance & My X-Girlfriend’s Wedding Reception
First Leahy nerds up the Batman franchise, now – without explanation – video has surfaced of Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders appearing in not one, but two romantic comedies.
The first of which, Sweet Heart’s Dance (1988), features Bernie alongside Susan Sarandon and Jeff Daniels. He nails the role of “Bernie”, who may as well have been credited as “Man giving out Halloween candy, presumably to underprivileged children in an effort to convert their young minds to socialism.”
His second, more involved role occurred in 1999, in My X-Girlfriend’s Wedding Reception. He plays Rabbi Manny Shevitz, who keeps trailing off from a traditional wedding blessing to rant about baseball.
Sweet Heart’s Dance was shot in Vermont when Sanders was Mayor of Burlington. Also, it may have been a ploy to get Sarandon’s unwavering support, about which she has recently been vocal.
4. George Lucas – Beverly Hills Cop III
As mentioned, John Landis is known for allowing his geeky, film nerd glee to seep into every single frame of a picture. Every film he makes is some kind of nerd party. Unfortunately for his little-loved third entry in the Beverly Hills Cop franchise, the party is the cinematic equivalent of an awkward school dance – with the famous standing on the opposite ends of the room from the nerds. Star Eddie Murphy has referred to the film as “atrocious” and famously walked away from his iconic Axel Foley role, never again to return.
Still, Landis tries his damnedest to breathe life into the bizarre antics. The script was reportedly meant to be a Die Hard-in-an-amusement-park riff, and Murphy’s wise-cracking Detroit cop feels crammed into a film where he doesn’t belong.
Of the cameos Landis managed to fit, the oddest is that of Star Wars creator George Lucas, who plays an amusement park guest shut off of a ride by Foley.
Landis was always on the fringe of the brat pack of 70s filmmakers that included Steven Speilberg, Brian De Palma and Lucas. His presence in the film however can only be answered with… I guess he was free that afternoon?
3. Vanilla Ice – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Perhaps the most obvious and memorable cameo on this list just had to be brought up. Now, through a kaleidoscope of awkward nostalgia filled with bright neon slap bracelets, pogs and Ecto-Kool Aid, Vanilla Ice can be seen as the joke that he was. But there was a time, specifically during the filming of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze, our eight-year-old selves thought he was the greatest thing since Bubble Jug.
What’s particularly bizarre about his appearance is how nonchalant (Ice’s only acting-mode) he is about rampaging giant lizards and a murderous steroid-infused Ninja assassin. So cool as Ice is Ice, he launches into an in-no-way-rehearsed freestyle.
The worst word in the history of modern business: Synergy.
2. Guns N’ Roses – The Dead Pool
The Dirty Harry franchises fired out of the early 70s with a polarizing, brutal, fascistic take on the hero cop, forever instilling the genre with now-classic tropes. It ended in the 80s with Harry Callahan being chased by a remote-control car loaded with explosives.
That’s not to say that each of the five entries in the franchise are not independently awesome. Though flawed, each one offered an interesting take on the cop genre using ripped-from-the-headlines plot lines; the implied homosexuality of Magnum Force, the radicalized hippies-cum-terrorists in The Enforcer, the sexual assault-revenge conundrum of Sudden Impact, the smack-addicted Jim Carrey of The Dead Pool.
You read that correctly. A young Carrey plays the film’s first victim – a heroin-loving Heavy Metal star who lip synchs “Welcome to the Jungle” in a music video directed by a pony-tailed Liam Neeson. At his funeral, the actual band shows up as the bereaved, for reasons that make sense in-universe, but your mind is still trying to wrap itself around Liam Neeson with a ponytail.
1. Multiple Awkward Cast Members – The Exorcist III
William Peter Blatty’s second sequel to his novel-turned-groundbreaking horror film has one of the more fascinating and ultimately tragic histories of films that were brutally re-cut via studio interference. Based on his novel Legion, the studio insisted on cramming in an exorcism in the third act.
Exorcist III has it’s defenders, and it does boast one of the most genuinely frightening kills in the genre.
Within its runtime, the film managed to include basketball stars Patrick Ewing and John Thompson, a young Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett, Larry King, former surgeon General C. Everett Coop and, perhaps most shockingly, Fabio.
No one knows. And that’s much more frightening.