Sunday, February 9, 2014

The First Annual MMM Excellence in Horror Awards - Best Actress Category

Hey all,

Shit's a'brewing at the old mancave. This month will bring the resurrection of Films My Spouse Made Me Watch, the film blog I write with my wife. I'll also continue contributing to From Midnight With Love starring The Mike, and I contributed a list of 5 Best Kills of 2013 to the 2013 Liststravanganzatacular Episode of the If We Made It Podcast.

But most importantly, I'm returning to my abandoned post here at the mancave. 2013 was a draining, tumultuous year, and I rarely poked out my head here on the old blog. Here's to hoping 2014 be a better and more productive year.

In that spirit, I'd like to announce a celebration of the juicy year in horror that I almost entirely neglected to cover. I know most peope made their best of 2013 list back in November, but out here in BFE we must wait until the DVD release to see late-year films. And of course there are plenty I haven't seen yet, but fuck 'em. If they're so damned good, why didn't they make more of an effort to attract my attention? (Okay, I regret not having seen Here Comes the Devil, Stoker, and Byzantium.)

I'm gonna be rollng out the nominees here every couple of days, and since February is known across this great internet as Women in Horror Month, I will kick things off with a celebration of the asswhippin' performances the ladies gave to the world of horror in 2013. You know how the Oscars bumped the nominees for best picture up to 10? Well, I'm doing it with the Best Actress category instead. Best picture? As good a year as it was, I've only got 5. Actresses? My list overfloweth.

So here they are in alphabetical order:

1. Nora Arnezeder in Maniac

Maniac is a great horror film. Let's just get out of the way right now. There's no room for argument or nitpicking. It's just great. Accept that as fact and we'll get along just fine. Elijah Wood is damned good in it, but believe it or not, his casting was not nearly as important as the role of Anna. Anna is what gives the film its heart, and if the audience couldn't fall in love with this character, the film just plain wouldn't work. Fortunately, the filmmakers cast Nora Arnezeder, an actress it's impossible not to fall in love with. From her initial charm and excitement over Frank's mannequins to her grief over her agent's death to her absolute fear when she realizes she's in danger, Nora has to play the full range of emotions and does so effortlessly. She's what gives Maniac real emotional stakes which makes it so gut-wrenching to watch.

2. Jessica Chastain in Mama

So, Mama isn't a great horror film. It was a lot of fun, and I was endlessly amused at the pre-teen girls in front of me screaming like they'd never seen a horror movie before. I think one of them was actually crying in fear. And honestly, there were a couple of very scary sequences in there, but it wasn't enough to outweigh the film's many problems. The acting, however, is not among these problems. Jessica Chastain gives a restrained, nuanced performance as the punk rocker chick turned reluctant caretaker of her husband's troubled nieces. Honestly, she's just a great actress who will elevate any material you give her.

3. Meg Foster in The Lords of Salem

I was ridiculously excited when I heard this bit of casting news. Meg Foster had long since retired from movies, and I missed those haunting, ice blue eyes. Yeah, she's a huge 80s crush for me. But then I saw Lords of Salem and it was jarring. Meg spends a good portion of the film completely naked, and I was in no way turned on. In fact, as an immensely powerful witch, she uses her nudity as a weapon. Her emaciated frame repulses, while the confidence with which she carries herself while completely uncovered exudes menace. And holy shit can she sell the menace. The greatest thing about her performance in Lords of Salem is that she isn't holding back at all. Whereas some actresses would consider horror unworthy or lowbrow, you can see that she really respects the material, the director, and the audience. And you can tell she's having a hell of a time with each blasphemous line of Rob Zombie dialogue that she utters.

4. Judy Geeson, Dee Wallace, and Patricia Quinn in The Lords of Salem

While Lords of Salem might have 99 problems, a witch ain't one. In my original iteration of the Best Actress category, I had but 5 spots, and I gave them all to the women of Lords of Salem. However, I knew there were just too many great performances in 2013 to ignore the other ladies. So many other ladies, in fact, that I had to cheat and put these 3 actresses into the same nomination. It makes sense though, since they function as a unit and are rarely seen apart. Judy Geeson gets the juiciest role as the leader of the sisters. She comes off as this supremely confident, capable, older-but-still-lovely free spirit who is cooler at her age than you ever were. Then she's suddenly 100% pure grade A terrifying during her scene with Bruce Davidson when her demeanor turns on a dime. "Did I say something funny?" Patricia Quinn plays a great eccentric who, from the very beginning, seems dangerous and predatory. Then there's the perennial favorite Dee Wallace, who is hilarious as the bubbly Sonny, who practically skips around crooning about chocolate chip scones before she gets down to her true vocation of homicide. The scene where Whitey encounters the 3 sisters on the stairs is the dictionary definition of quietly terrifying.

5. Katherine Isabelle in American Mary

Excellent choice Soskas, excellent choice. Katherine Isabelle long since won the hearts of horror fans everywhere in her role as the lycanthropic Ginger in Ginger Snaps. I kind of thought she dropped off the face of the Earth after that, but a glimpse at her filmography shows that she's been working steadily ever since. But I was glad to see her return to horror, especially in a movie as hotly anticipated as American Mary. Just by virtue of being Katherine Isabelle, she's immediately likeable, and the nonjudgmental way she treats her clients makes her something of a saint. Just... don't cross her. She'll use her considerable surgical skills to put you in a great deal of pain. Both sides of her personality are underplayed perfectly. Whereas a lesser actress would ruin this role with histrionics, Isabelle keeps a cool distance between herself and her actions, which is perfectly fitting for the character.

6. Jane Levy in Evil Dead

Apparently Jane Levy was pretty well-known for being in some sort of TV show that I never saw. But I went into Evil Dead not knowing a thing about her. What I saw was an exceptionally cute, sweet girl who, when faced with heroin withdrawal, becomes a raw nerve, then a cursing screaming monster. And that's before the demonic possession. Ms. Levy plays a deadite gleefully, relishing every grotesquery that comes out of her mouth and luxuriating in some of the most disturbing self-mutilation scenes I've seen. She turns the intensity up to 11, just shy of going completely over the top, but never quite tips it in that direction. This girl's got the goods.

7. Lily Taylor in The Conjuring

Is a Lily Taylor performance ever anything short of flawless? (BTW, I no longer believe The Haunting remake actually happened. That was just a fever dream). Well, she does it again here, starting out as a somewhat meek, loving mother who ends up a terrorized victim of supernatural violence, then becomes a murderous, possessed creature. Purportedly a movie about the ghostbusting Warrens, The Conjuring is really Lily Taylor's movie. She's so relatable that you can't help but feel her terror, and then feel the terror of others as she transforms into a would-be child killer who can levitate while tied to a chair. And you get the sense that she's having a really good time doing it.

8. Juno Temple in Magic Magic

I didn't really know Juno Temple before I saw this movie, but you can count me as a fan now. She gives an incredibly realistic performance as a girl abroad who is having a mental breakdown in the worst possible circumstances. Her character, Alicia, just kind of lets things happen to her, never taking control when she needs to. She is meek and mousey most of the time, but as her mental state deteriorates, she gets more desperate and forceful. As an actress, Temple makes all the right choices, and really makes you care about this troubled girl.

9. Sharni Vinson in You're Next!

SPOILER ALERT: My favorite newcomer of the year is a final girl for the ages. Imagine if Nancy Thompson racked up a body count bigger than Freddy and you have You're Next's Erin. She begins the movie as an instantly likable, charming grad student who is visibly excited to be meeting her boyfriends parents. Because of her own weird upbringing, she sees Crispian's as the ideal family, overlooking the many signs at all is not well at home. When the home invasion starts, however, she shows her survivalist side, which is more than a little brutal. She never goes full-on antihero though; we're solidly rooting for her the whole time. I'd love to see a sequel with her character, provided it's nothing like its predecessor.

10. Sherri Moon Zombie in The Lords of Salem

Let's get one thing clear. All this SMZ hate has got to stop. Yes, you're right. She was annoying in House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects. But that was the character. Yes, she wasn't great in Halloween II, but it was a weird part and no one could have played it convincingly. But this is the 2nd rock-solid piece of evidence that homegirl can act. She was fantastic in Halloween, and she's even better here. The best thing about this performance is that it seems a lot like her real-life personality, and she's cool as they come. I'd totally hang out with her and so would you, admit it. That's key for a good horror protagonist, you have to get the audience to like you. They have to care, or they won't give a shit that you're being used as a vessel for the antichrist. I think SMZ plays the mental turmoil perfectly, and as someone going through considerable mental turmoil when I watched this, the performance really affected me. She truly made me feel what this character is going through, which is, after all, the point of acting. So forget what you know about Rob Zombie's muse, watch Lords of Salem with fresh eyes, and show the girl some love. 

So them's the noms. I'll be announcing the winners on Oscar night, because why would a horror fan possibly watch the Oscars, right?


  1. It would be cool to have a horror category at the awards shows.

  2. Jennifurla,

    No doubt. The Oscars don't really break things down into genres, but the Golden Globes has categories for Drama and Musical or Comedy. Why no Best Horror/Thriller or Sci-Fi/Fantasy?

    Checked out your Nail Bites blog BTW. You have impeccable taste in horror.


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