Sunday, January 6, 2013

THE CASTING CONUNDRUM: HORROR MOVIES AND THE MISTAKES WITH CASTING

After watching the horribly mediocre rehashing of a beloved classic with Texas Chainsaw 3D, I found myself incredibly frustrated.  I'm not even going to talk about the problems with continuity, or the poor dialogue, or the the terrible effects, or even the haphazardly lit scenery, I am going to talk about a little thing called casting.  Without a shadow of a doubt, casting can make or break a film.  That's just all there is to it.  Regardless of how talented an actor is, not every actor is meant to play every part. Except Meryl Streep. Meryl Streep could play anything at any age and I'd still pay to see it. I digress.  There is an unsettling trend in horror films where we have been sacrificing quality acting chops in lieu of a pretty face or pretty body.  Where I can sort of understand the idea that you want to pull in some viewers with promises of eye candy, this is a movie, not a modeling agency. Casting for looks isn't the only issue, we've also got the issue of miscasting by age, not utilizing character actors, bad accents, or quite simply, hiring non-actors to do an actors' job.  Yes, I said job. I wouldn't hire a non-doctor to do my heart surgery, so I sure as hell don't want a non-actor in my movies.  We train these people for a reason.   

While I'm on the subject, let's discuss hiring non-actors.  In the 1990s, horror films started a trend of casting rap and r&b singers in secondary roles in order to appeal to a new target audience.  African Americans had been (and still are) underrepresented in American cinema, and horror was one of the first genres to make it somewhat formulaic to have a token black character in their films.  Now, don't get me wrong, I get it.  I totally get why they do it.  In fact, E! online posted a statistic that "exit polling showed one in three moviegoers cited [Trey Songz], making his first turn in a major movie, as the horror remake's main attraction".  Texas Chainsaw 3D made $23 million Friday-Sunday and this box office splurge seems to have been driven by huge Songz obsessed females, who made up more than half of the opening-weekend audience.  If we're talking about making money, yes, hiring rap singers is a quick way to do it. It's no different than hiring celebrities to do voices in animated movies, even if they have no idea how to do a character voice.  People are drawn to the name and the already present fanbase will follow their idols every move.  The issue with this is that the quality of films are taking a major dive.  Horror is already seen as the bastard child of the movie industry and many people are under the misconception that it is impossible to have a horror movie that also contains merit as a quality film.  The fact we're still making bullshit casting decisions like hiring Trey Songz to do nothing more than brood and flex isn't helping our case.  Which gets me on another irritant: Trey Songz is not an actor...so what is he doing in a movie?  As a student of the performing arts and an actress myself, I know firsthand just how nearly IMPOSSIBLE it is to nab one of these big breaks.  There are hundreds of thousands of talented, sexy, African American actors that would have been far more talented and definitely more appreciative of the opportunity to have been in this movie.  Trey Songz did a horror movie for fun.  Participating in this movie isn't going to change his life, because he's still going to be Trey Songz and he's still going to be making millions off of his music.  By allowing these singers and rappers the opportunity to play in these huge roles, we are taking away the chance for someone truly deserving to get their big break.  Horror movies are known to be the jumping off point for some of Hollywood's greatest performers (Jamie Lee Curtis, Johnny Depp, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Aniston, Steve McQueen, John Travolta, Meg Ryan, Susan Sarandon, Jack Nicholson...) and we denied the possibility for some aspiring actor by allowing Trey Songz to shit all over this movie.  Now, TC3D wouldn't have made nearly as much money, but they could have potentially had a better quality film.  Nevermind, it would have still been garbage...nothing could have saved that piece of shit. However, with horror films as the jumping off point for most careers, we are denying not only the quality of horror films, but the future of all genres who could have benefited from up and coming talent.

Not utilizing character actors is another problem that needs to quickly be eradicated.  During horror's glory days, character actors were some of the most sought after performers.  Dwight Frye was undoubtedly the greatest of the early years, but look at actors like Zelda Rubenstein.  We don't have people like that anymore, and we should.  The closest thing we have is Lin Shaye and a good chunk of her movies never see a screen bigger than a festival (with a few exceptions).  It's just so frustrating how most horror movies today are so afraid to use actors who have perfected their craft and continue to make a living doing what they're best at. I mean, shit, we complain about Michael Cera playing nothing more than George Michael Bluth, BUT IT WORKS. It works and he's made a career out of it. Why can't we do the same with horror?  Why don't we have an actor to play everyone's creepy uncle, or the weird lady at church, or the town drunk who secretly knows it all?  Why are the character actors that we know and love spending their time trying to pay the bills with the money they get from signing autographs at conventions instead of being cast to do the shit we love them for in the first place?  It's just mind boggling.  Even worse is when we use character actors to do something other than character act.  Robert Englund will forever be painted as Freddy, but instead of utilizing his amazing comedic timing, he gets thrown in films for 5 minute appearances for no other reason than the fact he is Robert Englund.  The man can play roles other than Freddy.  2001 Maniacs or my personal favorite, The Paper Brigade is proof of that statement, yet we still don't give him the roles he deserves.   

Somewhat on the same page, we are totally under-utilizing older actors.  One of the biggest complaints with the TC3D movie is the continuity issue that the main character should have been 38 and that Leatherface should be pushing 70.  Instead, we have a tight bod 20-something and a 30-40 year old chainsaw killer.  Shit, I would have LOVED to see a late 30 year old trying to escape a decrepit Leatherface.  It would have made for a far more interesting movie, and we wouldn't have had to sacrifice the "eye candy" appeal the film was going for.  Kate Beckinsale is 39 and she's sexier than anyone in that film and STILL doing the Underworld movies.  There are more than enough actresses of her caliber that could have been better suited in TCM than this 20 year old who was only as good as her cup size.  Why are we so afraid of using actors that are closer to menopause then they are to puberty?  I just don't understand it.  Not only would it help with continuity in a lot of horror films, but we are then given more experienced actors, and perhaps will have better quality performers.  I mean, look at the remake of The Omen in 2006, Julia Stiles looked like she should still have an after school job and I was expected to believe she was a mother and wife of an U.S. Ambassador? Get real.  This isn't solely a female issue either, there are plenty of men that are miscast because of their age, it is just far more frequently apparent with women.   

Though it can be argued that casting simply for the sake of appearances is probably the biggest problem.  Filmmakers have a tendency to go after the more socially aesthetically pleasing actors and actresses rather than who would be better suited for the part.  Case in point: The Amityville Horror remake (ever notice a lot of these problems exist in remakes?).  As much as I love Ryan Reynolds, he in no way, shape, or form looks like anyone's dad. I'm sorry. You can slap a '70s beard on Ryan Reynolds, but he's still going to look like something chiseled out by Michaelangelo.  Seriously, my dad looks like the poor man's Pesci, not a Calvin Klein model.  I'm not saying that he's a bad actor, but he was so horribly miscast in that film because he was not convincing as a father figure.  Often times, people are cast as parents that look waaaaaaay too young to be the parent of a teenager or more often than not, a set of siblings that look nothing like the other.  I'm not against hiring pretty actors, but if they don't look like the character description (or if they can't fucking act), you can't just throw them on screen and expect magic to happen. It just doesn't work that way.  There is a reason that acting coaches and schools exist, acting isn't for everyone.  For once I would like to see a big budget horror movie that cared less about the amount of abs on a man or the cup size of a woman and instead focus on whether or not they can showcase more emotion than a Cabbage Patch doll.  

The biggest victims of all of this nonsense are what I like to call Everyman(s).  The gentleman in the photo to the left is actor Ed Ackerman.  For those unaware, he's the chair lift operator in FROZEN, and the ticket tacker in CHILLERAMA (amongst a couple other things).  He, my friends, is an every man.  He's not overly one thing and looks like every guy that you could pass on the street.  You know, a real person.  However, this guy who actually has some impressive acting chops is going to lose out on roles playing average guys, because the filmmaking industry would rather give roles for his character type for people that look like Ryan Reynolds.  I want to see this guy play someone's dad in a haunted house movie, because he actually looks like he could be someone's dad. Go figure, right?  Not only is he a good actor, but he's a nice guy and deserves far more work than some of these asshole pretty boys who are only famous because they look nice and can speak full sentences.  It's a shame that we care more about giving people work who look naturally photoshopped than we do giving actors with actual talent the time of day.  Shit, I should just become a casting director.

5 comment(s):

DrunkethWizerd said...

Tray Songs can suck my dick! I wouldn't let him... but I'm sure he's fully capable. Fuck this guy and his bullshit hip-hop influence on the new Texas Chainsaw film.

Tempest Nightingale LeTrope said...

I'd rather see a plain looking person who can really pull me into the story with their intensity and acting ability than another vapid pretty face, likely with plastic knockers to boot if female and the obligatory washboard abs if male.

Rob said...

I'd just like to say that your blog rocks. It's probably one of the most consistently in-depth and interesting horror blogs I'm aware of and you write like a seasoned pro! You should consider writing a book. Seriously.

Good show, brazos, keep it up, etc., etc.

Richard Waters said...

Just wanna point out Ryan Reynolds character in Amityville is a boyfriend to the mother, not the father to the kids. I take your point overall, but I liked him as the outside in Amityville!

Anonymous said...

AMEN, sister, A-MEN! I've been saying the same thing ever since Scream was released (which is the movie I see as starting this horrid trend). The lack of "real people" in many of today's American horror movies is a huge turnoff for me...which is one reason why I avoid most of the shit remakes and sequels in favor of foreign, indie, or pre-90's horror. Ironically....very few of these beautiful people ever show any skin like they did in the 70's and 80's.

And...who the hell is Trey Songz?

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