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Top 20 lunatic cameos in movies - part 2


10: Stephen Tobolowsky - Sammi Jenkis, Memento (2000)

Sammi Jenkis (Stephen Tobolowsky) in 'Memento' (2000)


If this list is ultimately about memorable movie loonies, this is a fitting if ironic entry. Tobolowsky, best-known until Memento as needle-nosed Ned The Head in Groundhog Day (1992) plays a former client of ex-insurance investigator Guy Pierce, and one with an affliction which was shortly to enter the life of the Pierce character - an inability to make new memories after a severe head trauma. The clip below shows Sammi Jenkis repeatedly failing to learn that a test-object in a laboratory is electrified, and ultimately the character is doomed to a lonely existence when his doubting wife puts him to the test. Except, [SPOILER] the real Sammi Jenkis was never married, and appears just to be a place for Pierce to deposit his guilt and pain without having to feel them...

9: Merv Griffin - The 'Elevator Killer', The Man With Two Brains (1983)

Merv Griffin in 'The Main With TWo Brains' (1983)

It's the deadpan delivery and dry-as-dust conversational attitude that makes this lunatic cameo a comedy gem. The revelation that one of America's most beloved celebrities was murdering a string of European women in elevators was an additional treat in Carl Reiner's hot contender for best laugh-out-loud comedy of the 1980s.

Hfuhruhurr: You. You're the elevator killer. Merv Griffin.
Merv Griffin: Yeah.
Hfuhruhurr: Why?
Merv Griffin: I don't know. I've always just loved to kill. I really enjoyed it. But then I got famous, and - it's just too hard for me. And so many witnesses. I mean, everybody recognized me. I couldn't even lurk anymore. I'd hear, "Who's that lurking over there? Isn't that Merv Griffin?" So I came to Europe to kill. And it's really worked out very well for me.

8: John Carradine - Erle Kenton, The Howling (1981)

John Carradine in 'The Howling' (1981)

Unable to work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, despite decades of trying, veteran actor Carradine eventually had to spread the work among his numerous sons. Even so, he couldn't stay off film sets even in his advanced years, and turns in a fine and grizzled performance as a lycanthrope discontent with the new innovations of werewolf leader Patrick MacNee (almost equally prodigious throughout his career).

7: Charles Durning - Waring Hudsucker, The Hudsucker Proxy (1992)

Kenneth MacMillan takes the fall in 'The Hudsucker Proxy' (1992)

Durning's workmanlike career began to branch out into more eccentric roles by the late eighties; none more so than during the spectacular exit of Waring Hudsucker that sets up the need for a corporate 'patsy' in this first (and most under-appreciated) of the Coen Brothers requent tributes to the filmic style of years gone by. Pretty much as soon as we meet Waring Hudsucker, he's up on the board-room table and taking a joyful flying leap from the 100th floor of a New York skyscraper. Not even when the character returns to save Tim Robbins from a similar doom at the end of the movie do we find out quite why New York was wearing Hudsucker in reel one, but it's a hell of a start to a movie...

6: Rex Holman - J'onn, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

Rex Holman in 'Star Trek V' (1989)

Ex-folk-singer Holman has an emaciated physiognomy that sells his lonely existence digging holes (and apparently finding nothing) on Nimbus III, the Planet of Galactic Peace in William Shatner's sole writing/directorial entry in the Star Trek film series. For a movie this disappointing, Star Trek V has one of the most promising openings ever, and the dust-addled Holman, clearly shy about his orthodonture, helps sell the bleakness...

5: Stephen Root - Milton Waddams, Office Space (1999)

Milton in 'Office Space' (1999)

Root presents a simmering and bubbling-under lunatic who's not only ready to blow into a pyromaniac frenzy, but warns everyone who will listen (which is no-one) of this throughout the whole movie. They've taken his stapler, they've moved his desk back one time too many and soon it's payback time. Ultimately, nutty as he is, Milton burns Initech down for a rather more pragmatic reason - to hide his purloining of Ron Livingston's stolen funds. Though consigned to a secondary but ultimately crucial role in Mike Judge's cult comedy, the characters of Milton and office administrator Lumbergh (played in the movie by Gary Cole) were the seed from which Office Space sprang, appearing in a Judge animated short on Liquid Television in 1992, and progressing to a sketch on Saturday Night Live.

4: Katherine Borowitz - Ann Nirdlinger Brewster, The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)

Ann Nirdlinger in 'The Man Who Wasn't There' (2001)

There's something rather 'Tim Burton' about the above picture, isn't there? The Coen Brothers introduced a poetic strand of early-fifties 'B'-movie sci-fi into their film noir entry, to suggest the potential insanity of Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) and the more interesting world beyond the barber's shop life that bores him to death. Borowitz turns in a fine performance as the widow of murdered James Gandolfini, confiding to Ed (who actually did murder her husband, albeit by happenstance) that she is convinced it was all the work of extraterrestrials...

3: Frances Bay, Mrs. Pickman, In The Mouth Of Madness (1994)

In The Mouth Of Madness

If the thought of a really old woman dragging her equally old nude husband around in an S&M suit by leg-irons constitutes for you a little too much horror, then In The Mouth Of Madness may not be for you. There are far too many loonies in David Lynch films for them to feature in this list, yet Mrs. Pickman seems to have entered Carpenter's Stephen King horror/satire straight from the reels of Twin Peaks or even Eraserhead. Those eyes, those chains...on the way out of the theatre, there should have been a sign saying 'Now wash your brain'.

2: Brad Dourif - The Scorpio Killer, Exorcist III (1990)

Brad Dourif as the Scorpio Killer in 'Exorcist III' (1990)

Like list-mate Vincent Schiavelli, Brad Dourif cut his cinematic teeth (as ingenue looney Billy Bibbit) in Miloš Forman's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, and more than any other star launched from that fine vehicle, has continued in the vein that he started. With a string of nutty cameos and supporting roles already to his credit, Dourif reached his unbalanced apotheosis as the serial killer using the body of the hero-priest in The Exorcist (Jason Miller) as a base for a new and bloody campaign. His unnerving and often terrifying chats with investigating detective William Kinderman (George C. Scott) were as chilling in William Peter Blatty's book as in this, the author's second outing as a director. A few boos from the gallery for the unnecessary attachment of Nicol Williamson as a title-justifying exorcist thrown in at the last minute, but otherwise this is a blood-curdling turn in an under-regarded horror entry.

1: Dennis Hopper - Photojournalist, Apocalypse Now (1979)

Dennis Hopper in 'Apocalypse Now' (1979)

Apparently based on war photographer Tim Page, Dennis Hopper's spaced-out photojournalist brings the drug-fuelled delusions of the swinging sixties to the harsh realities of Vietnam in Coppola's superb adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness. With his empty-headed surfboard-mania, Lance (Tim Bottoms) brings to 'Nam the early sixties and the naiveté of the Kennedy years, but it isn't until you see acid-burnt Hopper finding deep meaning in freshman poetry such as If and Prufrock amidst a carpet of severed heads, that the dissonance between the homeland and this distant war comes into focus. Hopper is the madness of Vietnam itself, the failure to comprehend, taking the photos without capturing the story and hero-worshipping the war-God (Marlon Brando) who barely tolerates him. The influence of various substances on the character are rumoured to have required little or no research on the part of Hopper during the location shooting in the Phillipines.

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