31 Days of Horror 2016: Guest writer Lindsay Gibb on Nicolas Cage
Nicolas Cage has the capacity to be the master of whatever genre he chooses. He’s tackled many, among them comedy, drama, adventure, sci-fi, con capers, crime films, and, of course, action. The films in his late ’90s action trilogy — The Rock, Con Air and Face/Off — are still cited as classics and, at the time, came out of nowhere for an actor who had barely touched the genre.
But when you think of horror movies, Nicolas Cage isn’t the first guy that comes to mind.
Last year I released a book, National Treasure: Nicolas Cage (2015), in which I argue that the reason Cage is a national treasure (in just about any nation) is due to this ability to be everything and convincingly take on all genres. Not only that, but his willingness and seemingly incessant need to try everything at least once (but usually at least three times) results in a diverse filmography and a fascinating collection of acting styles.
Trying new genres fuels him and yet, when I was writing this book and watching all 72 of his films (he’s now up to 78. Yep, he’s released six movies since my book came out a year ago. Prolific!), one genre that was suspiciously light was horror.
There are a handful of examples. The film most people would identify as his first horror foray is probably 2006’s The Wicker Man. The remake of the 1973 British cult horror classic wasn’t well received at the time (a 3.7 on IMDB, a sad 15% on Rotten Tomatoes) but upon re-examination some viewers (myself included) see it as a successful dark comedy. Either way, the neverending use of the “not the bees” clip in every Nicolas Cage supercut ever made clearly shows the necessity of the film in his repertoire. Not as an example of bad acting, but an example of big acting that magnifies the frustration of the character and takes it to unexpected places.
Last year he made Pay the Ghost, a film that is as haunting as it is not particularly good. The similarity between The Wicker Man and Pay the Ghost is that Cage plays the victim rather than the villain. In The Wicker Man he is a cop who is lured to a matriarchal island under the auspices of rescuing a child, but ends up being taunted into heightened frustration and burned in a ritual to make the islanders’ honey business boom. In Pay the Ghost he fares better as the father of a boy who is stolen on Halloween night by a vindictive (and dead) woman who was burned at the stake long ago along with her children, and who vowed to steal three children as replacements every year. (In that one he doesn’t get burned to death at the end.)
In both films Cage is trying to pull off the rescue of a child and is frustrated to find that no one believes him or no one will cooperate with his investigation. He is the put-upon hero (though that’s arguable in The Wicker Man, which can also be read as a man self-importantly fighting against a matriarchy, but that’s the subject of a different essay). He’s the victim, the one you sympathize with and root for. He’s more Nicolas Cage: leading man and less Nicolas Cage: character actor. He’s not Peter Loew from Vampire’s Kiss.
Vampire’s Kiss is an early career Cage classic and the closest he’d ever stepped to the macabre side. The 1988 film, which sees Cage as a literary agent turning into a vampire, is an early example of Cage’s impressive physicality and is one of his best performances. Because of the ambiguity of what is happening to his character, the role of Peter Loew left him a lot of room to experiment and the results were brilliant.
We need more Peter Loew.
The announcement earlier this year of Mom & Dad, a horror film written and directed by Brian Taylor (Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Crank), gives us hope that the role of horror villain — and a chance for Cage to experiment with genre and style again — is in his immediate future.
Mom & Dad focuses on a pair of kids who are trying to survive a 24-hour mass hysteria in which parents are trying to kill their children. Cage will be the dad who is, presumably, out to murder his kids.
“This is the kind of role Nic was put here to play,” Taylor said in a statement when the film was announced this February. “Human, funny, scary – somehow grounded while at the same time completely off the rails. For a filmmaker there is nothing quite like the experience of Nic Cage bringing a character you’ve written to life.” The film is due in 2017 and given Taylor’s filmography this feels like our best chance to see an unhinged, and hopefully terrifying, performance from Cage.
I hope I’m right in identifying horror as the next foray for Nic Cage’s endless abilities. Earlier this year, in an interview with Playboy, Cage announced that he would like to do a musical next. I think that’s an equally ripe choice. So while hardcore horror fans may (maybe even, will probably) object to his take on their genre, whether or not his choices are in keeping with anything we’ve seen in horror before, any chance for Nicolas Cage to reinvent himself will be a joy to behold. At least until he gets to do his musical.
Lindsay Gibb is a librarian, editor and writer with a special interest in zines, film and youth culture. She is also the author of the book National Treasure: Nicolas Cage. She is based in Toronto. Find out more about her at Lindsay the Librarian.