With Get Out and The Shape of Water recently garnering nominations for Best Picture, the refined world of The Academy Awards was turned upside down. Sure, co-nominee Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri takes a look at some pretty horrific things. And yes, The Shape of Water is more of a creature feature, but Get Out is a bonafide horror movie. Its nomination makes one wonder how many horror films have ever won an Oscar.
For starters, horror movies tend to be done on the quick. Due to this, their production values, performances, and screenplays tend be not as good as, say, The Post. In fact, they rarely approach anything like The Phantom Thread and they certainly don't look anything like Dunkirk. With Get Out, we have a movie that has the nuance of Call Me By Your Name and the comic sensibility of Lady Bird. All wrapped up in a really good yarn of a thriller.
However, there are many horror films that have garnered Oscars. They are just in categories that aren't as sexy as things like Best Picture, Best Actor, or Best Actress. Yet, the awards the aforementioned films have garnered, essentially made these movies. If there's a reason why we remember these films, these awards are it.
Horror films ebb and flow. One minute they're hot commodities and people can't wait to make the next Split. The next minute the market is flooded and we've got more found footage pictures (thanks Paranormal Activity) than we know what to do with.
However, like all genres, there are times when horror movies are allowed to rise above themselves. It isn't often. Dramas are the movies that tend to inhabit this space. However, Get Out and The Shape of Water have reminded us that great art can be mainstream and make an important statement. So sit back and enjoy, 18 horror movies actually won Oscars.
The Exorcist - Best Adapted Screenplay / Best Sound
Taking home screenwriting and sound honors had to be a letdown for this monumental film. It was initially nominated for 10 awards. The Exorcist, a tale of a possessed young girl having a demon exorcised from her body, has stood the test of time. It has stayed with us because of what was on the page, and what was heard and seen back in 1973. Sure, it was scary. However, The Exorcist didn't take place far away. In took place in homes that looked and sounded like ours. Populated with people that looked like us. That was the scariest thing of all.
Rosemary's Baby - Ruth Gordon / Best Supporting Actress
Director Roman Polanski gave Rosemary's Baby a true whimsical feel. At least this story of a mother carrying Satan's fetus did that in the first half. Then it became a claustrophobic tale of a woman trying to save herself and her child against all odds. Anchoring all of this is Ruth Gordon's portrayal of Minnie Castevet, a neighbor who truly embodies the word nosey. So rich and odd was her performance that it makes sense that she would take home an Academy Award.
Misery - Kathy Bates / Best Actress
Anybody who has ever feared being bound to a bed and mutilated has to be scared to death of Kathy Bates. In Misery she really elevated the fangirl persona to another level. Taking in the writer (James Caan) of her favorite books, Bates truly goes overboard when he kills off her favorite character. There aren't many locks with the Academy Awards but something tells me all the other actresses that year knew she had it in the bag.
The Fly - Best Make-Up
The Fly is one of those movies you rewatch because of the effects. Sure, David Cronenberg has put together an imminently rewatchable story. However, it's the make-up that keeps us coming back. The story follows a scientist that develops a teleportation machine. His body is permanently altered as he teleports and a fly is in his machine. From there his body starts to change in many grotesque ways. He loses an ear. He has to vomit on his food in order to eat it. At one point it seems like his penis is in the medicine cabinet! And the stodgy Academy got passed all that to give this film the high honor of Best Make-Up.
Black Swan - Natalie Portman / Best Actress
Okay, Black Swan is more of an art film than it is a horror film. I mean, it's about ballet for crying out loud! However, Darren Aronofsky's story of a dancer losing her mind as she plays the lead in "Swan Lake," is unlike any horror movie you have ever seen. There are moments we think we know what's happening. Mixed with moments where we have absolutely no clue. Somehow Portman holds this together, with a grand assist from Mila Kunis, and it all comes out as a film the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences couldn't resist.
Death Becomes Her - Best Visual Effects
One would be had pressed to watch a movie from Robert Zemeckis that didn't at least deserve to be nominated for something. However, Death Becomes Her is a horror comedy with a effects that go beyond anything we had ever seen on the screen. This film sees Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn going at it. Streep tries to get a leg up using a serum that offers immortality. Bolstered by solid visuals, sadly, Death Becomes Her is the kind of movie that the Academy probably won't ever get enough to give its highest honors.
Silence Of The Lambs - It Won A Lot
This one took Oscar by storm. It won Best Picture, Jonathan Demme for Best Director, Anthony Hopkins for Best Actor, Jodie Foste for Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. The Silence Of The Lambs is another horror film that isn't exactly a horror film. Rather it is a character study into the human psyche that turns out to be pretty horrific. Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) plays an FBI cadet who enlists the help of serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Their goal is to a catch a killer. So scary is this film, Hopkins barely moves and he has you terrified from the opening frame.
Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde - Frederic March / Best Actor
This 1931 gem Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde sees Frederic March playing the title role of both characters. So it should come as a surprise to nobody that he took home the Best Actor Oscar. The Academy must've really loved the way March embodied both characters so totally. This long told story of Dr. Jekyll allowing his dark side (aka Mr. Hyde) to run amok is the stuff of legend. That it still holds up is a testament to not only solid story telling but wonderful cinematic execution.
Beetlejuice - Best Makeup
The Best Makeup award certainly belonged to Beetlejuice in 1988. At the same time, there is something so special about Michael Keaton's performance in the starring role, it's hard not to figure out how he didn't win Best Actor! The fact that he wasn't nominated probably had something to do with it. Beetlejuice is a whimsical story about a guy who helps ghosts kick new owners out of their homes. With an idea so unique, how did the Academy not nominate this film for a Best Picture Oscar?
Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? - Best Costume Design
Starring such luminaries as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a giant among the horror movie set. This film turns its lens on a famous actress who brings true fear to her sister with special needs. Even more amazing is that this film came out in 1962. The costumes throughout What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? are really characters in their own right, and that helps underscore this moody horror/thriller.
Alien - Best Visual Effects
Alien, a contained horror/sci-fi film, is the cream of the crop of this genre. It has such amazing character development that we truly care about all the players involved. Heck, we even care about the cat in this film. Ridley Scott's tale of a spaceship heading home that heeds a disastrous distress call, is not only a cinematic cautionary tale, it's a cautionary tale for life as well. The visual effects in this 1979 film were clearly ahead of their time. So much so that it would be nearly half a decade before it's sequel proved to be a more than worthy successor.
Bram Stoker's Dracula - Best Costume Design / Best Sound Editing / Best Makeup
Master director Francis Ford Coppola truly made a horror film that could please the Academy. I am not suggesting that Bram Stoker's Dracula set out to do that, however, it does that nonetheless. With a cast that includes Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder and Anthony Hopkins, this story of Count Dracula descending on England to wreak unmitigated bloodshed is (at two hours and 8 minutes) a real slow burn. So well put together is this film, that it should come as no surprise that took home 3 Oscars.
Jaws - Best Sound / Best Original Score / Best Film Editing
When a giant shark literally takes over a beach resort three men team up to stop it. That is Jaws in a nutshell and the three men just happen to be three solid actors: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss. One wonders how neither of them took home an Oscar? They weren't even nominated! At the same time, the Academy did the right thing by bestowing Oscars for Best Sound, Best Original Score and Best Film Editing. Jaws may a horror film but it's more than it. It's a cultural touchstone that kicked off an era of blockbusters that we are still experiencing.
Aliens - Best Visual Effects / BestSound Editing
Basically, take the battles from the first Alien and amp that up by about 300 million degrees. Then you have Aliens. James Cameron carried on the vision of Ridley Scott in such a perfect way that if there was an Oscar for Best Tone he should have gotten that. The awards for Best Visual Effects and Best Sound Editing don't really do justice to the fact of what a special movie Aliens is. Talk about a great sequel to a great film.
The Omen - Best Original Score
Jerry Goldsmith's score for The Omen is nothing short of pitch perfect. How does one score a film about a man who is raising the Antichrist? If you're Jerry Goldsmith you create haunting strains that instill fear at every turn. There's nothing about The Omen that is easy, and it's score totally underpins that. This explains why Richard Donner's classic was celebrated by the Academy for the mood that its music created.
An American Werewolf in London - Best Make-Up
This 1981 horror classic features Make-Up that, to this day, looks incredible. There is so much about An American Werewolf in London that is perfect, one has to wonder why the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences didn't give it a Best Picture nod (or at least a nomination). John Landis's tale about a man who is attacked by werewolves and then becomes one of them is a horror classic. It utilizes familiar horror tropes to give us a movie that is stunning, thoughtful and... gulp... arty? Rick Baker's Oscar was rightly deserved.
Sleepy Hollow - Best Art Direction
Tim Burton's take on the classic tale of the headless horseman is unique and different. Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) comes to Sleepy Hollow to investigate some grisly murders. This leads him to the trail of the headless horseman. Sleepy Hollow is a very interesting film. At times unique, bizarre and scary all at once, it really is tied to together by Depp's performance as Crane. It's look is so rich, so vivid, and fervent that it isn't any surprise that the Academy granted it an Oscar for Best Art Direction. It had all the other films that year beat by miles.
The Picture of Dorian Gray - Best Cinematography
Harry Stradling, Sr's camera work on The Picture of Dorian Gray would be phenomenal in any era. The fact that it was bestowed on this film in 1946 only further bolsters its credentials. This story of man whose good looks are undone by a painting, still strikes fear into all who watch it. This idea was so unique, so ahead of it's time that it isn't surprising that throughout the years this film, based on a novel by Oscar Wilde, has only gotten better with age.