10 Actors Who Achieved Cult Status in Just One Movie – Part 2
|LISTS - MOVIE LISTS|
From Dracula to Maul, this lot needed just one performance to leave a lasting impression...
Motion pictures have been in existence for over a century, so it’s quite obvious that there are more than just the ten actors previously mentioned in the last article who have achieved immortality on the strength of one unforgettable film performance. After a bit of extensive research I have managed to find ten more actors who, for various reasons, will always be remembered for their one role. Some of these actors went on to achieve major Hollywood success while others completely disappeared from view leaving their one film as the sole legacy of their work in the industry.
So for the cult movie enthusiasts everywhere, here is another assortment of classic screen villains. I’m glad to say that the following list has not been restricted to those in the horror genre. Villainy exists everywhere in movie land!
10. Carlos Villarias (Dracula, 1930)
As an obligation to the Hispanic community, Universal’s head of foreign production, Paul Kohner filmed a Spanish language version of the Bela Lugosi classic. The film was shot after hours using the same sets and script, but with a different cast and crew. As it turned out, this version is far more superior. Tightly edited and briskly directed, it features a remarkably effective performance from Spanish born Carlos Villarias in the title role. Unlike Lugosi’s suave Eastern European gentleman, Villarias has erotic, almost feral magnetism that must have influenced Christopher Lee’s interpretation thirty years later. The film was lost for many years until complete prints turned up in the last seventies. Fully restored in 1990, the film’s new cult following has done much to enhance Villarias’ reputation as one of the best screen Draculas, especially in view of his rather undistinguished career and subsequent obscurity.
9. Niall MacGinnis (Night of the Demon, 1958)
Jacques Tournier’s subtle chiller may have dated over the years, but it still makes interesting viewing because of its unusual sense of foreboding. But what makes the film is the understated performance of Irish character actor Niall McGuinness as Aleister Crowley inspired cult leader Dr Julian Karswell. A versatile and reliable performer, McGuinness has provided solid support in a variety of British films, including an excellent turn as Zeus in Jason and the Argonauts (1962). Unlike most cinematic Satanists, who are portrayed as suave, charismatic or downright evil, McGuinness’ Karswell is an affable, approachable and quite likeable mother’s boy who entertains the village children as Dr Bobo the Clown. He’s also fairly reasonable, giving Dana Andrews’ bulldozing skeptic every opportunity to recant from the curse Karswell has put upon him. McGuinness plays his role for sympathy, although the malice is never far away.
8. David Peel (The Brides of Dracula, 1960)
Although disliked by Christopher Lee fans at the time of its release, this troubled production remains one of the best Hammer horrors ever made. Imaginative and visually striking, its features career defining turns from Peter Cushing, Marita Hunt and Freda Jackson. It also produced one of Hammer's most interesting vampires, Baron Meinster, brilliantly played by the unknown David Peel. Blonde and boyishly handsome, Peel’s effeminate looks are certainly different from the average vampire, but it works in his favour because he exudes an unusually decadent evil behind his upper class civility and elegant clothes – a prototype for Anne Rice’s Lestat. But when he adopts the same aggressively animal intensity as Lee, his schoolboy youthfulness takes on a harder edge (Peel was actually 40 and had 20 years of stage and TV behind him). It’s an outstanding performance all round, but surprisingly this was his penultimate movie. Retiring not long after Brides, Peel became a successful antique dealer, a career he stayed with until his death in 1982. As the film’s reputation continues to grow, so does Peel’s well deserved cult status.
7. Susan Denburg (Frankenstein Created Woman 1966)
One of the best looking screen villains, and also one of the saddest, especially in view of Susan Denburg’s own decline echoing the tragedy of her memorable alter ego Christina. After a few minor Hollywood films, the former playboy model was chosen by Hammer to play the poor disfigured Christina, forever humiliated by the trio of drunken upper class twits who frame her lover Hans (Robert Morris) for the murder of her father. Hans is subsequently executed and she commits suicide. When Frankenstein transports Hans’ soul into her body, she comes back to life as a beautiful but confused young woman. Naturally she uses her feminine charms to kill the three toffs before taking her own life one last time. As the doomed lover, Denburg gives a moving performance despite having her voice re-dubbed, as was Hammer’s policy with foreign actresses. But by this time she was already mixing with the fast crowd and doing LSD. Frankenstein Created Woman was her last film of any note. She returned home to her mother in Austria where she underwent various mental health problems before disappearing altogether. Rumours that she committed suicide turned out to be false. At the time of writing she lives as a recluse in Austria, which has, as with Greta Garbo, added to her mystique and secured her cult status and one of Hammer’s most interesting monsters.
6. Bill Hinzman (Night of the Living Dead 1968)
The most iconic figure in George Romero’s seminal horror classic, and the first of the killer zombies to appear in the film. The gaunt faced; dishevelled Hinzman first appears, apparently harmless, wandering around the graveyard that brother and sister, Johnny and Barbara are visiting. When Johnny utters his classic line “they’re coming to get you Barbara”, the poor girl is attacked by this lone individual, who later kills Johnny and chases Barbara to the farmhouse. Once joined by several more ghouls, the fun really starts! Although not a great actor, Hinzman’s impassive stare and silent, towering presence creates an effective and unforgettable monster that ranks alongside modern bogeymen Freddy Kruger and Pinhead. A bit part actor, who featured in a couple of Romero’s early films, Hinzman traded on his ‘Graveyard Ghoul’ image to star in a few low budget slashers. When Night of the Living Dead was repackaged years later, there was newly filmed (and unnecessary) scenes that revealed a little of the zombie’s past life. It doesn’t work because Hinzman, now too old for the part and the footage, destroys much of the ghoul’s mystique. What makes this character so effective in the first place is the fact we know nothing about him. Who he is? What’s his name? Where he’s from? His background should always remain a mystery.
5. Andrew Robinson (Dirty Harry, 1971)
This talented baby-faced American actor was playing the axe murderer in a Broadway production of Night Must Fall when he caught the eye of Clint Eastwood. Eastwood then suggested to director Don Siegel that Robinson would be perfect for the part of psychotic marksman Scorpio in their upcoming crime thriller Dirty Harry. How right he was! Robinson is excellent as the thoroughly hateful sociopath who holds San Francisco to ransom by randomly shooting anyone and everyone. He’s a sick, creepy individual, but also intelligent. Perhaps he was abused as a child or maybe an academic who suffered a mental breakdown. Scorpio hates authority but uses it to get himself off the hook on a legal technicality. But he hasn’t had to deal with Inspector Harry Callaghan, a detective who shoots first and doesn’t bother to ask questions afterwards, as seen in the final showdown where Harry gives Scorpio his “do you feel lucky punk” speech before blasting the nut job to kingdom come. Following the success of Dirty Harry, Robinson was offered loads of Scorpio type parts. Rather than be typecast as a psycho, he returned to the theatre and remained there until he was almost forgotten by Hollywood. With the exception of Hellraiser (1987), Robinson’s film career was pretty spotty but he did find TV success as Cardassian Gul Dukat in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
4. Mercedes McCambridge (The Exorcist, 1973)
Although Linda Blair made her name as demonically possessed teenager Regan, her scary foul-mouthed voice during the possession scenes was provided, brilliantly, by veteran character actress Mercedes McCambridge. In fact her vocal work is so effective, it overshadows her many fine movie performances which included an Oscar nomination for All The Kings Men (1949). McCambridge was rumoured to have suffered mental health problems in her later years, and her demon voice (coupled with bronchitis) was supposedly based on the voices she heard during her time in a mental institution. Whether this is true, it remains powerful and disturbing stuff. Initially uncredited on the film’s release, she successfully took Warner Brothers to court over this matter and with the help of the Screen Writer’s Guild, her name is now deservedly mentioned on the credits. Possibly one to the very few times an actor gets cult immortality on the strength of her voice.
3. Ronald Lacey (Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981)
Harrison Ford wasn’t the only person to benefit from one of the greatest action adventures ever made. A number of British actors did pretty well out of it too, with Denholm Elliott, Paul Freeman, John Rhys Davies and Alfred Molina all moving on to high profile careers. But the real stand-out was the distinctive Ronald Lacey, as the sniveling, black suited SS psycho villain Arnold Toht. Lacey was always the most individual of performers, having had an impressive TV career playing an assortment of creeps, low life criminals and village idiots. He was about to quit acting to start his own business when Steven Spielberg offered him the part after Klaus Kinski turned it down. It was a wise move. Lacey’s performance has so much raw, nervous energy it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role. You can almost see the sadism lurking behind the thick rimmed specs. Not surprisingly it led to a decent and varied career on both sides of the Atlantic, which kept him busy until his early death in 1991. Although he never equaled his career defining turn, he remained a venerable scene-stealer.
2. Brian Cox (Manhunter 1986)
An odd name on this list in view of his successful Hollywood career. But for many cult movie buffs, there is only one role the Scottish actor will be remembered for – the original Dr Hannibal Lector. Even though Anthony Hopkins made the role his own in Silence of the Lambs (1990), there is now a long standing debate about who is the better Lector, and many agree Cox is far superior on a number of levels. The role is smaller, less showy and pretty much low key but Cox’s underplayed performance works because he comes across as a real human being, a factor made more obvious by Hopkins’ increasingly overt and over-the-top style that eventually topples into ham acting. Baring in mind Lector was once a respected psychiatrist; if you see Cox’s Hannibal walking down the street, you will probably walk over to him for a chat. If its Hopkins’ Lector doing his “hellooo Clarice!” routine, you’d run a mile! Always an intelligent presence, the malevolent streak is never far away and in his few scenes, Cox creates a true epitome of evil.
1. Ray Park (Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace 1999)
The first trilogy had the iconic Darth Vader, and that is a hard act to follow. Although The Phantom Menace falls short of the original films, it did introduce a new bad guy in the shape of Darth Maul, played by Scottish martial arts expert and stunt co-ordinator Ray Park, in what was to be his film debut. It wasn’t a great part (his few words of dialogue were dubbed by actor Peter Serafinowicz), and Park has little to do until the film’s climax, but it was enough to make Darth Maul the movie’s mascot. With his red, demonic, devil like face appearing on every poster, billboard and advertisement going (the action figures were like gold dust when the film was released), it was enough to give Park overnight cult status, and a fair bit of work in Hollywood. Not bad going mate!
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