As champions of horror, we all know how our beloved genre can sometimes be marginalized as the bastard child of cinema. While this is not as true today as in decades past, there are a host of new problems for horror that threaten to push it even further down the ladder of universal acclaim. But the trump card horror will always have is the sheer number of now critically-worshiped and Academy-validated actors/actresses who cut their proverbial teeth on the edge of a butcher knife or the rubbery skin of a practical effects monster. Whether their very first role, or the one that put their names on the map, I thought I'd take a little time out and showcase a few of these now household names that owe so much to this genre.
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The Year: 1984
The Break: A Nightmare on Elm Street
This first entry is the most obvious, but as we are only one weekend removed from the Platinum Dunes remake I thought it would be criminal to ignore. Johnny Depp had never acted before Wes Craven cast him as the lovable, but dorky, Glenn in this titan of horror classics. He basically landed the part because, out of the three Wes Craven was considering, his daughters found Depp to be the sexiest and urged Wes to cast him. I think he did a fantastic job in the role despite the handicap of having to act in some scenes without the benefit of an entire shirt. He was sympathetic and funny and never the too-cool-for-school you might expect him to be. His ultimate demise in the film is one of horror's great death scenes and one that only gets better with age. Mike Moody liked Johnny enough to make him the subject of Horror Squad's I Would Have Saved/Killed feature; check it out.
Where Are They Now: I think it's safe to say Johnny found a fair amount of work after A Nightmare on Elm Street. He went on to roles in Oliver Stone's Platoon as well as John Water's Cry-Baby before starring in the wildly successful television series 21 Jump Street. From there he met a little director named Tim Burton and the rest is history. Depp has been nominated for three Academy Awards (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Finding Neverland, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) .
Horror Films Since: Johnny paid tribute to the film that made him a star by appearing in 1991's Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (the sixth Nightmare on Elm Street film). He pops up in a parody of the notoriously awful "this is your brain on drugs" public service ads from the early 90's. Other horror credits include:
The Ninth Gate (1999)
The Astronaut's Wife (1999)
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
From Hell (2001)
Secret Window (2004)