For Your Consideration: Sam Neill for the FANGORIA Hall of Fame!News Ken W. Hanley
To this writer, the FANGORIA Hall of Fame is no laughing matter, as those within it represent decades upon decades of horror’s most iconic and celebrated figures. While the Hall does have some glaring omissions (Boris Karloff?! Bela Lugosi?! Marilyn Burns?! William Friedkin?!), the FANGORIA Hall of Fame does include a wide range of brilliant performers and filmmakers, including Vincent Price, Tom Savini, Clive Barker and Wes Craven. Yet with voting for the 2015 Chainsaw Awards now in session, and only 2 names that will make the cut into this years Hall of Fame, FANGORIA’s staff has decided to throw some names in the ring for your humble consideration.
While I’d love to start my round of picks with one of the many lovely ladies throughout horror who have yet to find their way into the FANGORIA Hall of Fame, I have one nomination that I feel especially strongly about. Therefore, I believe I should put his name out there for my first Hall of Fame suggestion. Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to recommend that your vote for the FANGORIA Hall of Fame this year should go to none other than acting extraordinaire, Sam Neill.
While Neill’s career isn’t solely dedicated to the world of horror, his contributions are many, often times bringing intense, committed and unforgettable performances whether as hero or villain. And one often forgets that Neill landed on most genre fans radar in one of the most evil inherited roles of all time: the cognizant and ruthless Damien Thorne in THE OMEN III: THE FINAL CONFLICT. As Damien, Neill embraced the dark side of the Antichrist, while using his youth and charismatic charm to deliver both Shakespearean monologues and deceptive innocence. It’s a damn near perfect performance from a man who had to fill some mighty dastardly shoes.
Neill would then follow his performance in THE OMEN III with a whole different league of horror, taking on the role of the obsessed and emotionally disturbed husband Mark in Andrzej Zulawski’s POSSESSION. Acting opposite the stunning and terrifying Isabelle Adjiani, Neill offers a literally hysterical and supremely physical performance, and one that transforms into something much more sinister by the film’s end. It’s an occasionally depressing, frequently mesmerizing performance from Neill, who gives Zulawski every fiber of his being to bring the complicated and troubled Mark to credible life. And for the many who are unfamiliar with the film, I doubt there will be many who will be able to shake his frantic performance anytime soon.
Unfortunately, Neill wouldn’t return to the world of horror for 8 more years, perhaps out of fear of typecasting, as he finally found himself back in the genre fold in Phillip Noyce’s claustrophic DEAD CALM. This time on the side of good, Neill portrayed a victimized husband who is left to die at sea by a psychopath, and delivers a surprisingly touching and involved performance. However, it wasn’t long before Neill went back to villainous material either, taking on the murderous lead role in the black comedy DEATH IN BRUNSWICK.
Following DEATH IN BRUNSWICK, Neill went onto another villainous role, playing the foil in John Carpenter’s action-comedy MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN. However, it was Neill’s next studio gig that would bring him firmly into genre material once more, taking on the lead in Steven Spielberg’s modern monster movie JURASSIC PARK. Once again, Neill found himself playing the hero, but now opposite Stan Winston’s unbelievable practical animatronic dinosaurs, as well as a colorful cast that included the likes of Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough and Samuel L. Jackson. Neill’s performance in the film was excellent and 100% committed, which caused fans to rally for his return in 2001’s JURASSIC PARK III.
In 1994, however, Neill took on John Carpenter’s most beloved film of the ’90s: IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS. Playing the lead in the director’s love letter to horror novels (specifically, the work of H.P. Lovecraft), Neill’s versatile performance playing a man going through various stages of desperation, skepticism and insanity makes the film all the more engaging. And Neill’s confident gumshoe portrayal at the top of the film truly makes his descent into madness one of the more memorable in a contemporary horror film. It’s an exceptionally great performance in a film that’s finally finding its audience, and one that helps establish Neill as a real deal horror performer.
Neill would return to horror three years later with a pair of roles in two incredibly different fright films. The first showed Neill as a vulnerable supporting role as King Frederick in Michael Cohn’s acclaimed SNOW WHITE: A TALE OF TERROR, allowing Neill to flex his classically trained dialogue muscle while work opposite Sigourney Weaver at her most villainous. While the role and the material were limited, Neill made the most of his performance and added a level of gravitas to an otherwise surprisingly restrained production.
The second film is a much more memorable role, taking on the lead villain performance in Paul W.S. Anderson’s cult classic EVENT HORIZON. A role that allowed him to truly embrace his darkside, while also go through various states of make-up SFX, Neill takes on the role of Dr. Weir convincingly and chillingly. To date, EVENT HORIZON is among the scare fare that Neill is most known for, and for good reason: he’s a legitimately creepy and quotable force of nature in the flick.
Following EVENT HORIZON, Neill would take on some other genre projects, such as the 2003 thriller PERFECT STRANGERS, the 2005 miniseries THE TRIANGLE, the 2006 thriller IRRESISTIBLE and the 2009 thriller IN HER SKIN. But Neill didn’t formally return to horror until a whopping 12 years after EVENT HORIZON, playing the lead corporate-minded villain in The Spierig Brothers’ DAYBREAKERS. Chewing scenery and leaning heavy on his character’s ambiguous nature, Neill became one of the most memorable performers in DAYBREAKERS, which is no easy feat when your co-stars include Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Isabel Lucas.
Following DAYBREAKERS, Neill was featured on two short-lived genre television projects, the dark HAPPY TOWN and the more sci-fi leaning ALCATRAZ. However, Neill’s career is far from over, and there’s a good chance we may see more genre projects from the actor in the near future. In any case, Neill has certainly payed his dues as an unforgettable and devoted genre performer, and his presence is almost enough to lift a genre film up a few notches. So whether you know him as Damien Thorne, Mark, Dr. Grant, William Weir, John Trent or Charles Bromley, the only name you need to know when you cast your FANGORIA Hall of Fame vote is Sam Neill.