For the final installment of our weekly 31 Days of Horror articles this month, we’re going to take a look at some Horror Icons who have sent some chills through the Warner Bros. Film and TV Libraries over the past 80 years or so. Not only are we spotlighting some of horror’s legendary actors, but also the Kings of Scream who have kept us—and will continue to keep us—shaking in the dark with their behind-the-scenes horrifying brilliance!
One man. One thousand faces. Both of Leonidas "Lon" Frank Chaney's parents were deaf, and Lon grew up amidst the students and teachers of the Colorado School for the Education of Mutes (now the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind). As such, he developed skills and sensitivities of an extraordinary nature, his entire being tooled to the task of communication. This extraordinary skill soon led him to conquer stage and screen, making him the undisputed king of the character actors who single-handedly created the very idea of a “horror star.” In films such as He Who Gets Slapped, The Monster, The Black Bird, The Unknown and his one talkie—the sound remake of The Unholy 3 (pictured above). Chaney captivates with his deft characterizations that subtly mix the alien and the human into a mesmerizing mirror of the self.
One half of Hammer Film's immortal diabolical duo, the man who would be Dr. Frankenstein began life as the son of a surveyor outside of London. Leaving the life of a surveyor's assistant behind, Peter Cushing embarked on a stage career shortly before World War II and came into his own in the 1950's. Adept at playing driven men possessed of keen intellects, Cushing would easily switch from heroic roles such as vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing (Horror of Dracula, Dracula A.D. 1972) and chilling psychopaths like Baron Frankenstein (Frankenstein Must be Destroyed) for Hammer Films. Other notable roles played by this master thespian include Sherlock Holmes, Grand Moff Tarkin (in the original 1977 Star Wars) and Dr. Who.
Christopher Lee lived a life as fantastic as his roles. Before he was 20, this son of an Italian contessa had met Rasputin's assassins and born witness to the last execution by guillotine. He served as an intelligence officer during World War II behind enemy lines with distinction, where his extraordinary abilities with languages undoubtedly aided in the espionage efforts. Deciding to become an actor after the war, Lee's star truly began its ascension with his pairing with future best friend Peter Cushing in a series of historic, horrific Hammer Films, most notably as the dreaded Count Dracula (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Horror of Dracula, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Dracula A.D. 1972). Lee's career, which would go onto to encompass roles in such titanic film series as James Bond, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, would end up landing him in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most film and TV credits of any actor.
After toiling in relative obscurity for years, British born William Henry Pratt quickly came to hold the crown of King of Horror thanks to his iconic performance as Mary Shelley's famous monster. With his sinister, Slavic sounding nom-du-theatre, Boris Karloff's size and dour intonations naturally lent themselves an air of menace. Coupled with his talents honed in years of work upon stage and screen, Karloff proved capable of delivering the jolts in and out of make-up, across all genres, whether it be monstrous (Frankenstein 1970) or 'merely' dramatic (Devils' Island, which can be found in Warner Archive’s Boris Karloff Warner Bros. Triple Feature). And Batman fans may wish to check out Boris' perfomance in the crime drama The Public Defender, where Karloff's character, The Professor, proves a neat forebearer to Bruce Wayne's butler, Alfred.
Hungarian actor Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó rose to fame as Bela Lugosi thanks to his breakout Broadway performance in 1927 as Bram Stoker's Dracula, a role which he would bring to the silver screen in 1931. Versatile and talented, with skills that lent themselves ably to comedy (Ninotchka), dark satire (Mark of the Vampire) and slapstick (Zombies on Broadway), Lugosi nonetheless felt himself trapped within the confines of a vampire's cape. The years have kindly allowed this icon's full measure to emerge, so that Bela once again rules next to his friend Boris as a true King of Horror.
Born in Hungary, Peter Lorre burst out of Wiemar Berlin's theater scene to achieve international fame as a creepy child killer in Fritz Lang's M (1931). Fleeing the Nazi's rise to power, Lorre was lured to Hollywood where his unforgettable performances as a maniac in Mad Love (1935) and a crazed killer in Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) cemented his iconic personality in the minds of millions. Although he appeared in top-notch films like The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942) with Humphrey Bogart, Lorre remained typecast for most of his life playing misfits and miscreants in films like The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) until his early death at the age of 59.
Already in his forties by the 1950s, Vincent Price’s career skyrocketed with his starring roles in two of the horror genre’s most famous films: House of Wax in 1953 and House on Haunted Hill in 1959. Despite having major success covering a wide swath of genres in both films and television in the decades that followed, Price’s name, face and iconic voice will always be synonymous with horror. So much so that Price even lent his voice and persona to shock-rock legend Alice Cooper on Cooper’s 1975 hit album, Welcome to My Nightmare, and appeared in Cooper’s musical TV special that same year. Price’s “cool” factor cut across all generations of horror fans during his lifetime and continues to do so to this very day.
Probably no other child actor has ever terrified movie audiences like a young Linda Blair did in 1973's classic The Exorcist, arguably the most frightening horror film ever made. In fact, it was so powerful and shocking that it became the first horror film to be nominated for a "Best Picture" Academy Award (and did win the Golden Globe that same year for "Best Drama"). Many have imitated it, but no one has pulled off director William Friedkin's take on demonic possession found in The Exorcist. From her make-up and head-spins to projectile-vomiting pea soup, Blair's performance as little Regan MacNeil remains one for the ages.
Pictured above making a rare on-screen appearance in 1982's Creepshow, writer Stephen King has made an indelible mark on the horror genre (not to mention outside of it as well, with such hit movie adaptations of his work as The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, as well as next year's miniseries based on his riveting time-traveling novel 11/22/63). But we'll stick to the horror side of things with this sample list of must-see Stephen King chillers in the Warner Bros. Library: The Shining, Stephen King's The Shining (the sadly underrated television miniseries version written by King himself), A Return to Salem's Lot, Dreamcatcher and Stephen King's Cat's Eye.
Writer-director Wes Craven was originally going to be a college professor, but, unfortunately, for our fragile psyches, became a true master of horror instead. After the success of the 1972 cult classic Last House on the Left and several mid-level horror films, Craven introduced the world to Freddy Krueger, one of the most iconic horror villains of all time, in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. Spawning five sequels he did not direct, Craven returned to the helm a decade later writing and directing the bold Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, a meta-movie about Freddy coming into our world to haunt the actress of the original film. Craven further honed this twisted parody/homage genre when he directed 1996's Scream and its subsequent sequels. Sadly, horror fans lost one of its most influential filmmakers this past August when Craven passed away at the age of 76.
Emerging from the world of B-movies, Joe Dante became a stylish director who proudly wears his love of genre film-making on his sleeve. After creating a splash with the witty werewolf tale The Howling in 1981, Dante made one of the most memorable comedy/horror films of all time—Gremlins—which also spawned a crazy 1990 sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch. The critically-acclaimed Matinee, about the travails of a low-budget creature feature promoter, is still beloved by classic horror fans, as is Dante's website dedicated to educating the world about the timeless thrills of genre-films—Trailers From Hell.
Author Clive Barker parlayed his mastery of the literary horror genre into a long Hollywood career leaping onto the screen both writing and directing 1987’s Hellraiser, which mixes bizarre sexuality and violence in such an unforgettable new way that it spawned a long-running series of films. While Barker is mostly credited as a producer on many of the films adapted from his novels and short stories, when he does direct, we get incredibly disturbing films like Nightbreed (Barker is pictured far right, on the Nightbreed set giving direction to actors Craig Sheffer, left, and David Cronenberg, center), which served as fuel for many fans' nightmares in 1990.
Director/writer/producer Guillermo del Toro, pictured getting animated with his cast on the set of the dark gothic horror fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth, has covered everything from vampire action flicks (Blade II) to havoc-wreaking monster epics (Pacific Rim), while also sharing writing credit on Peter Jackson's hugely successful Hobbit trilogy. Known for his masterful visual sense and a penchant for fantasy-based horror elements, del Toro hit it big with critics and audiences alike with 2006’s Spanish-language epic Pan’s Labyrinth which won three Academy Awards (and was nominated for three others, including one for del Toro’s script). His lifelong love of monsters and darker fantasies bode well for the future of the genre and filmmaking in general.
Director James Wan, pictured with Vera Farmiga on the set of The Conjuring, brought old-school horror back to theaters with 2013's box-office blockbuster. Receiving an "R" rating with no blood, no slashing and no bad language, but, rather, just straight-out scares deserves praise in and of itself in this day-and-age. Wan also served as producer for 2014's prequel Annabelle and is currently at work filming The Conjuring 2, which is slated for release on June 10 of next year.