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Making The Cut

Stars in slasher flicks

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Forget the monster match-up on the marquee: Film fans who check out Freddy vs. Jason might instead want to keep their eyes on the supporting ranks. Will Katherine Isabelle, who plays party girl Gibb, be winning an Oscar five years from now? Will Christopher George Marquette, cast as nerdy Charlie Linderman, be earning $15 million a picture before the end of this decade?

Doubtful? Yes. Impossible? No.

After all, despite its standing as one of the most disreputable of all genres, the "splatter flick" -- those cinematic gore fests whose plotlines usually involve a mad slasher hacking away at scores of disposable characters -- has served as a launching pad for a handful of stars, some of whom have indeed moved on to Oscar glory or box office riches.

Take, for instance, the series of Texas Chainsaw Massacre films. While George Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead trilogy featured actors who never really made any forward strides in their respective careers, a handful of TCM players have since become familiar faces in film or on television. John Larroquette, whose recurring role on the popular TV sit-com Night Court earned him four consecutive Emmy Awards, can be heard though not seen in the original 1974 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Though uncredited, that's his voice providing the narration during the film's opening moments. The 1986 sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 doesn't feature any stars-to-be (unless you count Joe Bob Briggs, whose scene was edited out before the movie hit theaters), but 1990's Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III showcases a supporting turn by an actor who currently reigns as a major-league cinematic heartthrob: Viggo Mortensen, the dashing Aragorn in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, here plays Tex, one of the more normal-looking (if not normal-acting) members of the series' cannibalistic clan. Finally, there's the case of 1994's Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was barely released and then completely forgotten... at least until 1997, when it was re-released (under the title Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation) to cash in on the subsequent success of its two leading players, Renee Zellweger (OK as the virginal heroine) and Matthew McConaughey (overacting outrageously as clan member Vilmer).

Three other long-running slasher series have also mined future name players, albeit not as extensively as the Chainsaw franchise. Two years after his debut in National Lampoon's Animal House but two years before his breakthrough turn in Diner, Kevin Bacon can be seen as one of the hapless teens who gets shish-kabobbed by Jason in 1980's Friday the 13th -- he's the guy who gets speared through the neck while lying on a bed. A 12-year-old Corey Feldman, soon to become an 80s fixture in films like The Goonies and The Lost Boys, had a leading role in the fourth installment, 1984's Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, as the little boy who kills off Jason (at least until the next installment); one of his co-stars was Crispin Glover, on the brink of emerging as cinema's premiere oddball in works like River's Edge, Wild At Heart and the recent Willard remake.

Meanwhile, over in Freddy Krueger territory, 1984's A Nightmare On Elm Street featured Johnny Depp in his film debut, playing (what else?) one of Freddy's teenage victims. And while the Halloween franchise has been surprisingly light on stars-in-the-making (aside from Jamie Lee Curtis' lead work in the 1978 original, of course), 1981's Halloween II does feature Dana Carvey (like Depp, making his film debut) in the tiny part of a TV station crew member. Given that the Halloween villain's name is Mike Myers, and that Carvey's most famous role is in the Wayne's World movies opposite comedian Mike Myers, it strangely makes sense.

Tom Hanks personally never had a run-in with Freddy Krueger or Mike Myers, but he's no stranger to the slasher mentality: The two-time Academy Award winner made his motion picture debut in 1980's He Knows You're Alone, in the small role of a college student. And Hanks isn't the only Oscar winner to grace this sort of film: An uncredited Marisa Tomei can be spotted in the 1985 cult favorite The Toxic Avenger, while no less than Holly Hunter made her film debut in a miniscule role in the Friday the 13th rip-off The Burning (co-written by future Miramax heads Harvey and Bob Weinstein!). Those of us who saw this 1981 release back in our youth have never forgotten the raft scene in which the killer slices off a teen's fingers with a hedgeclipper -- years later, we've learned that the poor kid was played by Fisher Stevens, known less for his film roles (Short Circuit, Hackers) than for his status as The Lucky Bastard Who Used To Date Michelle Pfeiffer. And for added value, The Burning even includes the screen debut of future Seinfeld co-star Jason Alexander, at the time all of 21 and with a head full of hair.

Even Hollywood's premiere married couple have common ties (besides matrimonial ones), each dabbling in this genre before moving on to superstar status. Before he began commanding $20 million paychecks, Brad Pitt had a co-starring role in 1989's Cutting Class, in which he played a hunky basketball player who was one of the prime suspects in a slew of gruesome murders taking place at his high school. And Pitt's significant other in real life, Jennifer Aniston, scored a leading role in 1993's Leprechaun, playing one of the hapless humans trying to stop an evil leprechaun that's been hiding out in the basement. Aniston's character isn't the one who succumbs to death-by-bouncing-pogo-stick, so she doesn't need to feel too embarrassed.

British actress Rachel Ward (The Thorn Birds) double-dipped in the genre, making her debut in 1981's wretched Terror Eyes (a.k.a. Night School), in which her character gets stalked by a maniac in the city, and appearing two years later in The Final Terror (a.k.a. Campsite Massacre), in which her character gets stalked by a maniac in the country. The Final Terror turned out to be a breeding ground for up-and-comers, also employing the services of Joe Pantoliano, the reliable character actor from The Fugitive, The Matrix and TV's The Sopranos, as well as Daryl Hannah.

Finally, there are a handful of stars who, like some of the aforementioned actors, didn't even have the distinction of appearing in the first film in a particular series but instead had to suffer the further indignity of popping up in one of its sorry sequels. Bill Maher, a struggling actor before he became nationally known for Politically Incorrect, had a supporting role in 1987's House II: The Second Story, portraying an unctuous record label executive. A 16-year-old Leonardo Di Caprio had a major role in 1991's little-seen Critters 3, while George Clooney topped everybody by launching his big-screen aspirations with three horror yarns: 1987's Return to Horror High (not a sequel, despite its title), the same year's Grizzly II: The Predator, and 1988's Return of the Killer Tomatoes! Granted, some of the titles in this paragraph may not qualify as "splatter flicks" per se, but hey, given their current status, these stars can withstand a little embarrassment.

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