If I listed my top ten favorite film actors/actresses, living or dead, a minority of them could claim significant contributions to the horror genre. George C. Scott, however, is on my list, has been celebrated in the mainstream, and has made impressive contributions to horror cinema.
Also a television and live theatre actor, George C. Scott (who died in 1999) was probably better-known as a movie star by the general public. This is ironic, as Scott was decidedly un-Hollywood… and vocally anti-Academy Awards. He refused two Best Actor nominations. When he won one anyway - for Patton (1970) - he declined the Oscar.
Despite his cantankerous attitude toward Tinseltown, George C. Scott built a striking motion picture career, delivering performances in more than thirty feature films - a few of which are renowned classics. Making this feat even more notable is the fact that Scott was born well outside the mostly-impregnable walls of entertainment industry success. Scott’s childhood held no hint of the stardom to come.
Born to a poet and an auto industry executive in Wise, Virginia, Scott grew up in Detroit, Michigan. After four years as a US Marine in Washington, D.C., Scott moved to the Midwest to pursue his ambitions of becoming a writer and journalist. While attending the University of Missouri, Scott decided to dabble in acting. He auditioned for and received a role in a campus production of “The Winslow Boy”. Performing in this play made George C. Scott realize he was born to be an actor. Scott was now on the path that would lead him to becoming a major figure in film history.
After earning sky-high praise for his performances in Anatomy Of A Murder (1959) and The Hustler (1961), Scott really started to turn heads with the classic Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964), directed by the legendary Stanley Kubrick. A few years later, Scott played the titular role in Patton, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, and written by Francis Ford Coppola. Dr. Strangelove and Patton are the two movies Scott is best known for, and they are among my favorite films of his - a list that also includes The Hindenburg (1975), directed by Robert Wise, and Hardcore (1979), directed by Paul Schrader.
Scott’s inimitable filmography brought credibility, and his exceptional acting talent brought dramatic weight to the horror genre. He starred in one of my favorite fright films, The Changeling (1980), directed by Peter Medak. One of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, the well-crafted The Changeling succeeds primarily thanks to Scott’s performance. The loss, fear, and obsession experienced by his character is brilliantly realized by Scott, making The Changeling engaging and terrifying.
Another outstanding horror film starring Scott is The Exorcist III, directed by William Peter Blatty (author of the novels the first and third Exorcist films adapted). Scott gives this horror sequel the extra punch you’d expect from him. The charisma, tension, and emotional agony Scott delivers here contribute to The Exorcist III being another among the most fascinating and frightening horror films I’ve seen.
Throw in Firestarter (1984), based on the Stephen King novel, and you see something not very common in horror: a revered, superbly talented actor with some legendary film performances on his resume, granting his talents to a genre not generally known for Oscar-worthy acting. While many elements, beginning with the script, must mesh properly to create an impactful horror film, George C. Scott proved that performance is crucial to scaring the hell out of an audience.
Thanks for reading.
- Eric Stanze