Sometimes as an actor, you have to pay respects to your roots. For a lot of actors, that meant going to embarrassing auditions for lousy, awful horror movies. The 80s slasher film-era was a fad that didn’t churn out too many stars beyond Kevin Bacon, Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter and Academy Award winner Fisher Stevens (it’s important to stress that he won the Oscar for producing, not acting) – the latter three were in the same film.
Often, directors like to insert themselves in their own work as a wink to the knowing audience. Alfred Hitchcock was the king of the in-joke cameo, appearing in almost every film he made (particularly the ones in Hollywood). Hitch even took it a step further, delving into William Castle territory and “hosting” the trailers for his upcoming films. Usually, the master of suspense would speak directly to the audience, giving them a tour of the grizzly sites of murders or other horrific events that are sure to take place in his upcoming film. He even managed to appear in Rope – his classic logo a blinking light outside the window of the apartment in which the entire film is set.
Other directors cast friends and fellow colleagues in their work. This is often found in the horror genre, whose more obsessed fans take great delight in seeing the make up artist/actor/screenwriter pop up in the background of a scene. Here are just a few.
15. Stephen King – Maximum Overdrive
Stephen King was never shy about appearing in films based on his work, and his cameos are usually worth a bit of a knowing chuckle. His best, however, comes from the one time King directed his own film. According to the author, he has no recollection of filming Maximum Overdrive, and the film’s insane trailer – which features the master of terror verbally assaulting the audience in what is clearly cocaine-induced madness. In the film, which features machines being taken over by aliens due to a meteor (or something like that), King appears as a frustrated ATM user. The ATM then calls him an asshole, something most of the audience wanted to do after sitting through this disaster.
14. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright – Land of The Dead
Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright first toyed with the concept of spoofing a zombie film in a brilliant episode of their cult BBC show Spaced. In the episode, Pegg’s aloof slacker has stayed up all night playing Resident Evil 2 while on speed. The next night he attends an art show and while intoxicated and still high and sleep deprived, attacks patrons he views as zombies. They later expanded their love of the genre into a feature film. Shaun of the Dead is less of a spoof, more of a love letter. They respect the genre enough to even include their own social commentary (we’re all already brainless zombies anyway).
One notable fan of the film was Night of the Living Dead director George A. Romero, who invited the star and director to appear as zombies in his third sequel of the franchise, Land of the Dead. That the duo appear as the undead restrained by chains so tourists can be photographed mocking them is only an added layer of cleverness Romero peppers in this underrated anti-Bush diatribe.
13. Alice Cooper – Prince of Darkness
The second in John Carpenter‘s loose trilogy of apocalypse films focuses on a strange green gelatin substance found at a church that turns out to be Satan incarnate. Soon the city’s possessed homeless trap the paranormal researchers in the church in a standard Rio Bravo standoff that Carpenter so often employs. The leader of the band of rabid homeless is none other than shock rocker Alice Cooper. Cooper’s relationship with the horror genre in the 80s is far from tenuous. He also contributed to the soundtrack Friday The 13th part VI: Jason Lives. Here, he gets the film’s best kill: impaling someone with a bicycle.
12. Richard Dreyfuss – Piranha 3D
Universal studios tried to sue Joe Dante’s 1978 Jaws ripoff Piranha, but it failed after Steven Spielberg screened the film and loved it. Alexandre Aja’s 2010 remake -which had been in development under writer/director Chuck Russell since the late 90s – pays similar tribute to both Jaws and the film its based on in the opening scene. Richard Dreyfuss plays a character named Matt (Boyd, not Hooper) as he fishes on an Arizonan lake. One of his empty beer bottles causes a rift, opening up a second underground lake and unleashing prehistoric man-eating fish. Dreyfuss is singing along to “Show Me The Way To Go Home” before he is swallowed up by a tornado of fish – a respectful nod to his role in Jaws.
11. Eli Roth – Death Proof, Cabin Fever
It’s not rare for a director to insert himself in his own work, especially if he has aspirations to also act. It’s unclear whether or not Eli Roth has such a desire or if his budget couldn’t afford another actor in Cabin Fever, but his “funny” cameo as a stoner is one in a long line of insufferable scenes in his overpraised film debut. Much more appreciated is his cameo in friend Quentin Tarantino‘s Death Proof, in which he plays a bar patron who mocks serial killer Stuntman Mike’s late 70s attire by singing the chorus of Jerry Reed’s “Eastbound and Down”. Roth may be a mediocre film maker – perhaps the least desirable of the aptly named splat pack (or bro-horror) – but his enthusiastic love of the genre is always welcome in other people’s work.
10. Todd Farmer – My Bloody Valentine 3D
While not a household name, Todd Farmer has been a significant figure in the horror industry since the millennium. He scripted the insanely entertaining yet stupid Jason X, the ridiculously fun Drive Angry, and appeared in American Muscle alongside Arrowinthehead.com creator John Fallon. We’ve yet to mention his script for My Bloody Valentine 3D, Patrick Lussier’s ultra-violent update of the 1981 Canadian slasher. Farmer appears as Frank The Trucker, a sleazy bit character who is quickly impaled after filming a video of himself and a woman being intimate in a motel.
9. Carrie Fisher – Scream 3
Scream 3 is by far the worst of the quadrilogy. Screenwriter Kevin Williamson was not involved in the project, leaving to instead work on his directorial debut Teaching Ms. Tingle. Audiences were left with a weak script by notable Transformers hack Ehren Kruger. Still, the film had a few inspired moments. Particularly amusing was finding Carrie Fisher in the basement records room of a major studio. It’s a clever in-joke, given that Fisher spent much of the 90s as a script doctor, fixing drafts and dialogue for films like Lethal Weapon 3 and Die Hard With a Vengeance. Her work, much like her character stranded in a basement, went largely unsung and uncredited.
8. Johnny Depp – Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
Both Freddy and Jason were supposedly killed off in the early 90s. It would be the second time Jason was thought dead before money hungry studios breathed new (if not very original) life into him. The Final Nightmare was sincerely meant as Freddy’s last outing, at least solo. Jason Goes To Hell ended with a promise the two would battle eventually. This was an idea that had been in some stage of production since the late 80s, but didn’t come to fruition until 2003. Nevertheless, Johnny Depp, whose first big screen role was as Heather Langenkamp’s boyfriend in the original Nightmare, showed up to give Freddy a send off. He appears on a television ad in a dream sequence. Freddy quickly disposes of him with a frying pan while Depp attempts a “This is your brain on drugs” PSA.
7. Jsu Garcia (Nick Corri) – Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
New Nightmare is one giant in-joke. There’s a legitimate question about whether or not its in the Elm Street canon or not (this writer votes no). Most of the cast and crew play themselves, haunted by a spectre that has taken Freddy’s form, but it is not actually Krueger. When Heather Langenkamp’s (the lead of the original Nightmare) husband dies, several cast members from the canon appear at his funeral, including John Saxon, Robert Englund, Wes Craven and, for about three seconds, Jsu Garcia, who played Tina’s boyfriend in the original film. Garcia’s stage name at the time was Nick Corri, as his agent did not think his Spanish name would attract studios.
6. Bizarre Cameos in Exorcist III
The Exorcist III has some of the most eclectic, bizarre, and inexplicable cameos ever filmed. Author William Peter Blatty directed this adaptation of his own novel Legion, which suffered greatly from studio interference. Today, the director’s cut is finally available thanks to Scream Factory’s Blu Ray release. In both versions, a viewer will stop every few minutes to say, “Isn’t that…?” Patrick Ewing and Fabio play angels. Samuel L. Jackson is a blind man. Larry King is eating at a restaurant, as does former Surgeon General C. Everrett Coop.
5. Wes Craven – Scream
Scream re-invigorated the genre in the mid-90s. Horror is an insidious genre that exists like so many of its monsters. It thrives in cycles, then lies dormant. Like Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees, just when you think it has died, the genre comes back with a vengeance. Scream began a cycle of hard R-rated horror, which soon gave way to weak PG-13 reboots that failed, and the line continues through J-Horror and finally back to the hard R films to which we’re exposed today.
And who better to steer one of those cycles than one of the most iconic directors of the genre? Craven couldn’t help but insert himself in the film. Shortly before Principal Himbry (Henry Winkler) is dispatched by the ghostface killer, Craven can be seen in Freddy Krueger’s sweater mopping the high school hallway.
4. Takashi Miike – Hostel
Give Eli Roth this much: his great respect for the genre is on display in nearly every frame. Like friend Quentin Tarantino, he revels in casting his heroes of grindhouse, foreign films, and genre classics in his own work. Takashi Miike is notorious for his extreme, nauseating gore – the kind Roth was trying to recreate in his own film Hostel. Miike’s episode of the short lived Masters of Horror anthology series was considered too gruesome and disturbing to air, available only on the DVD collection. So it makes sense that the director appears outside the abandoned factory where the super-rich pay to brutally murder backpackers. “Be careful,” he warns the film’s protagonist. “You could spend all your money in there.”
3. Horror Legends – Wishmaster
After Scream, Wes Craven turned to producing other projects for friends and up and coming filmmakers. Oftentimes, this meant simply lending his name to a product to entice Blockbuster customers. He lent his prestige to Wishmaster, shepherding the production for his longtime special effects make-up artist Robert Kurtzman. It was Kurtzman’s second directorial effort.
Kurtzman loaded the film with winking cameos for major players in the genre, including Robert Englund (who infamously portrayed Freddy Krueger), Tony Todd (Candyman), Angus Scrimm, and Reggie Bannister (Phantasm), Ted Raimi (Sam’s brother), and Jason himself, Kane Hodder. The cameos didn’t stop with actors. In the background of a party scene, the likeness of the demon Pazzuzu – who possessed and tortured Linda Blair in The Exorcist – appears in statue form.
2. Janet Leigh – Halloween H20
Twenty years after Michael Myers took his first victim, producers Moustapha Akkad and those at Dimension films were eager to re-invigorate their fledgling franchise. The fifth and sixth entries weren’t well received, and the anniversary felt like a blessing. John Carpenter was even in talks to return as director, however his fee was considered too high. Though series regular Donald Pleasance had sadly passed away, original lead Jamie Lee Curtis was on board. Scream’s Kevin Williamson did uncredited rewrites on the script, and the cast included Adam Arkin, L.L. Cool J, and early roles for Josh Hartnett and Michelle Williams. Friday the 13th director Steve Miner agreed to helm. It stands as the second most successful sequel in the franchise if you include Rob Zombie’s remake (which you shouldn’t based on its God-awfulness).
They even managed to snag Curtis’ mother Janet Leigh, whose connection with the genre dates back to her famous shower scene in Psycho. She plays the private school’s headmaster. In one of her few scenes in the film, she can be seen standing in front of the same car Marion Crane drove in Hitchcock’s classic.
1. George A. Romero – The Silence of the Lambs
Jonathan Demme came from the Roger Corman school of filmmaking. Like so many directors who got their start from Corman willing to take a chance on them, Demme often pays respect to the director producer. In The Silence of the Lambs, Corman appears as an FBI director berating Scott Glenn’s Jack Crawford. There is another, barely visible cameo in the film. In the last scene where Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling meet, a group of FBI agents arrive to remove her from the room. The agent on the far left, mostly out of focus and without his iconic thick glasses, is director George A. Romero.
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