With an obvious disdain for horror, Oscar voters go out of their way to ignore great work in the genre, including these 5 powerhouse female performances.
With few exceptions, the horror genre has long been overlooked, and quite frankly ignored, by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, also known as The Academy, or Oscars. With Get Out being released to critical acclaim last year and breaking through The Academy’s notoriously stuffy facade and nabbing some nominations, including Best Picture, one would think that this year’s Hereditary would enjoy the same type of recognition.
With Hereditary, I am speaking specifically about Toni Collette who started the award season strong but was ultimately snubbed by the Oscars. Early buzz on Lupita Nyongo’s performance in Us is that she’s nothing short of incredible. Let’s keep an eye on her for next year and hope the Academy corrects some of its past mistakes, including overlooking the following five Oscar-worthy performances from women in horror.
Toni Collette, Hereditary (2018)
What else can be said about this Oscar snub other than, “What the hell, Academy?” Hereditary was both a critical and box office hit, scoring an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and taking in over $40 million at the box office. Collette is simply incredible as Annie, the mother of a family experiencing dark and disturbing occurrences after a death in the family. Collette doesn’t just portray this character, she somehow tapped into a force that made the character of Annie inhabit and consume her.
The pure anguish that crawls all over her face as the situation of her family worsens is an example of unbelievable awareness and muscle control that has to be seen to be believed. The scene featuring Annie and Joan contacting Joan’s dead grandson is a masterclass in acting. In my opinion, this scene is evidence of that force consuming Collette; the squeamish anxiety continuously moves through her entire body and there was no acting involved, just the best example of being “in the moment” that I’ve ever seen. Forget a nomination, Collette should have won this year’s Oscar for Best Actress.
Dee Wallace, Cujo (1983)
After starring in E.T., one of the most beloved films of all time, Dee Wallace became known as America’s mom. But the following year she would cement her presence in the hearts of horror fans in Cujo. Wallace again plays the role of a mother here, but instead of playing opposite a lovable alien, she stars alongside a very big (and very angry) dog.
The sheer torment Wallace demonstrates as a mom protecting her son against the bloodthirsty Cujo is simply breathtaking. Every second Wallace is on screen, you can see her incredible performance not only on her face but behind her eyes as well. The relentless desperation to survive and protect her son is in every look and every move she makes. It’s a towering performance that at the very least deserved an Oscar nomination.
Ella Ballentine, The Monster (2016)
I could have just as easily went with Ballentine’s co-star Zoe Kazan with this pick, as both women do phenomenal work in The Monster. I decided on Ballentine because of her age and very compelling, emotionally layered portrayal of Lizzy, a young girl desperate for her mother’s attention. When Lizzy and her mother break down on a deserted road and must confront a terrifying monster, Ballentine gives a heart stopping and moving performance.
The combination of fear and courage is a difficult emotional balance for any actor to manage, and Ballentine pulls it off in a fashion well beyond her years. To think that Ballentine at such a young age can conjure up such authentic, raw emotion is simply a small miracle to witness. The result is a touching and powerful performance that should have earned Ballentine an Oscar nomination.
Kiernan Shipka, The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)
This is a performance that has haunted me since I first saw it. Kiernan Shipka in The Blackcoat’s Daughter simply blew me away with her performance as Katherine. With her hair pulled back and up in braids, she appears intensely proper while the labored body language of her small frame coupled with her slow, quiet speech pattern suggests, at first, a lonely and shy girl. In short, she’s a fragile powder keg.
With her physical choices, Shipka does incredible work in this film. Her face and eyes move with swift and seamless ease, changing from a blank, innocent expression to a mischievous smile in a way that recalls Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho. Yes, she’s that good. Shipka shifts from having a fire-like joy flicker behind her eyes, enjoying the darkness inside of her, to a stone-faced killer, brutally decapitating her victims for sacrifice. It’s a powerful and utterly terrifying performance, and The Academy should have recognized Shipka with an Oscar nomination.
Marilyn Burns, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the little indie horror movie that became not only a classic but a milestone in the horror genre. The film created the iconic Leatherface and spawned a franchise that still has films made to this day. But it also featured an unbelievably raw and gut wrenching performance from the late Marilyn Burns.
Let’s talk about that dinner scene. Burns’ character Sally is tied to a chair and surrounded by the most grotesque, disturbed and unstable family ever put on screen. The psychological torture she endures is mind shattering, and Burns reflects every second of this madness in her eyes, just straight up fear and despair. Screaming and squirming and writhing with every move and sound a desperate attempt to survive minute to minute, clinging to what may be the ill-fated closing moments of her life, the lengthy scene is exhausting to experience as a viewer.
Co-star John Dugan said Marilyn could barely talk the following day. Capping off this harrowing scene is the maniacal joy Burns shifts to as she escapes in the back of a pick up truck, laughing as if possessed, leaving Leatherface behind dancing with his chainsaw.