Casey Chong with five essential Nicolas Cage horror movies…
Mock him or diss him all you want because there’s no denying that Nicolas Cage has been enjoying a renaissance over the last few years. Just not the kind of big mainstream Hollywood successes that he used to have in the ‘90s and ‘00s heydays seen in the likes of The Rock, Face/Off and National Treasure. Nicolas Cage of today sees the actor has revived himself into a genre icon that made the best use of his eccentric and off-the-wall acting style. Horror is among the genre that Cage is good at with plenty of movies under his belt.
With Renfield out in cinemas [read our review here], it’s time to look back at five of the best Nicolas Cage horror movies, listed in alphabetical order…
Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
I remember when I first saw Bringing Out the Dead back in 1999, I was hoping the much-anticipated reunion of Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader would result in another Taxi Driver-like cinematic gem. Well, I ended up hating the movie and even felt bored watching it for the first time. But over the years after I revisited the movie, I realise I shouldn’t have compared this with that aforementioned 1976 classic in the first place. Bringing Out the Dead may cover some of the latter’s familiar storytelling elements of a troubled protagonist (Nicolas Cage’s Frank Pierce working as a night-shift paramedic instead of Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle as a night-time taxi driver) on a slow descent of madness and insanity, and the New York setting being envisioned as a nightmarish city of despair and urban decay.
But Bringing Out the Dead is best seen as an antithesis to Taxi Driver since the protagonist’s seemingly self-destructive nature is less Travis Bickle than a person seeking redemption. We see Frank is constantly haunted by the ghostly sight of a girl (Cynthia Roman’s Rose) he failed to save and over the course of three crucial nights in the story, it looks as if he’s trapped in eternal damnation. He can’t sleep while the never-ending guilt consumes him inside out and it also doesn’t help when people he tries to save are either dying or dead.
Kudos to Scorsese for bringing out the best in Nicolas Cage, who delivers a perfectly subdued lead performance as Frank with a shade of unhinged turn in some scenes. He even does a great job providing the voiceover narration related to his own experience and feeling throughout his journey. The movie also featured a top-notch ensemble cast that includes everyone from Patricia Arquette to John Goodman, Ving Rhames, Tom Sizemore and even Marc Anthony (yes, that Marc Anthony the singer) as the crazy patient. Coupled with Robert Richardson’s atmospheric cinematography and Elmer Bernstein’s evocative score, Scorsese pulls all kinds of visual tricks he can think of – symbolic white lighting, flashing siren and sped-up camerawork among others to mirror Frank’s conflicted arc and his hellish ordeal. An overlooked Scorsese movie worth re-discovering.
Color Out of Space (2020)
Nicolas Cage and Richard Stanley. These two reasons alone are more than enough to make me excited for Color Out of Space, a sci-fi horror about Nathan Gardner (Cage) and his family (Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer, and Julian Hilliard) dealing with strange occurrences following a meteor strike. Based on H.P. Lovecraft’s short story The Colour Out of Space, Richard Stanley’s long-awaited return to filmmaking since the 1996 bomb of The Island of Dr. Moreau proves the South African director hasn’t lost his touch. He embraces the trippy Lovecraftian horror vibe for the bulk of the movie with enough dread-inducing tension, even though the slow pacing and perplexing storytelling tend to dilute its cinematic experience.
But if you can look past these flaws, Color Out of Space has a lot going for it. We have Nicolas Cage giving us the two sides of him – playing a mundane father role in the first half before he goes typically oddball and crazy in the second half. The latter is what makes him a perfect fit for all things otherworldly, weird, and surrealistic. Stanley’s gonzo direction is in full display here — the cause and effect of the meteor strike allow him to experiment with colourful special effects as well as gory and grotesque moments straight out of John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s early works in the body horror (the hideous alpaca mutation comes to mind). Stanley, who also co-adapted the screenplay alongside Scarlett Amaris manages to slip in subtle allegories of climate change and pollution, making Color Out of Space more than just a mere phantasmagorical show.
On paper, Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy sounds simple enough: A loving couple (Nicolas Cage’s Red Miller and Andrea Riseborough’s Mandy Bloom) live peacefully in the lake cabin near the woods of the Shadow Mountains. He earns his living as a lumberjack while his girlfriend works as a cashier at a local gas station. But their life ultimately shattered when a crazy cult dubbed the Children of the New Dawn led by Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) come across Mandy and immediately falls for her. Well, since this is a Nicolas Cage horror movie we are talking about, what follows next resulted in the horrible death of Mandy. Red goes crazy and vengeful as he determines to track down the cult and kill them all.
Cosmatos, who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Aaron Stewart-Ahn isn’t interested to settle down with a typical this-time-it’s-personal revenge tale. The writer-director laced his movie as if we are invited to a hallucinated trip with the stark-raving-mad Red on an LSD-fuelled murderous rampage. The movie is as surrealistic as it goes, where Cosmatos clearly wanted us to toss our logic out of the window and just embraced the visual madness. Benjamin Loeb’s psychedelic cinematography and the late great Jóhann Jóhannsson’s synth-heavy score are all on point, giving the movie the ultimate visual-aural sense of twisted ambience and mounting dread.
Then, there’s Cage, whose all-hell-breaks-loose raging performance seen in the second half of the movie is the classic anything-goes Nicolas Cage acting style. He doesn’t speak much other than screaming and grunting in anger but the minimal dialogue works well in his favour. His expression is more than enough to justify his blood-soaked action as he hunts and kills the cult members using different weapons from a crossbow to a heavily-modified axe and at one point, a chainsaw duel that pays homage to 1986’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
Mom and Dad (2017)
Writer-director Brian Taylor, the one-half of the Neveldine/Taylor duo who gave us the first two Crank movies, asks us the radical question: What if a strange phenomenon turns moms and dads into raging parents and start attacking their children?
It’s an absurd but conceptually interesting premise that made Mom and Dad such a fun and delirious B-movie horror, complete with jet-black comedy elements spreading all over the place. Taylor’s screenplay doesn’t bother to lay out the details of how and why the moms and dads go crazy all of the sudden. The only “reason” here is the transmitting static effects from the radios and TVs causing the mass hysteria and that’s just about it. The movie only runs a scant 83 minutes so any form of exposition or backstory is out of the question here. In other words, forget about trying to make logical sense while watching Mom and Dad. It was more of a cinematic experiment that meant to be embraced its whatever concept wholeheartedly and just enjoy the ride.
The short running time helps to keep the pace brisk while Taylor’s signature over-the-top filmmaking style perfectly mirrors the unexplained insanity surrounding the homicidal moms and dads on a killing spree. His wild camerawork matches with Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair’s loony turns as the infected parents try to kill their children (Anne Winters and Zackary Arthur). We have a full-on Cage here, acting all frustrating and hysterical here and he sure has a field day playing such a character. The movie is also worth mentioning for its second half’s Home Alone-like battle between the scared children and their murderous parents.
Vampire’s Kiss (1988)
A year after Nicolas Cage scored a breakthrough in the romantic comedy Moonstruck co-starring Cher, he followed up with Vampire’s Kiss. The movie failed to find an audience at the time of its release but despite its box-office flop, it has since become a cult classic and even ranked as among the best by Nicolas Cage. Joseph Minion’s screenplay is best described as an offbeat genre mishmash of dark comedy and vampire-centric horror revolving around Cage’s character as the egoistic literary agent, Peter Loew, who’s on the verge of madness following a bizarre sexual tryst with a woman named Rachel (Jennifer Beals, looking all seductive and comely). She bites his neck, which leads to Loew believing he’s turning into a vampire.
And that’s where the fun starts. We see Cage goes unhinged and gleefully over-the-top which later becomes his signature acting style. From the way he verbally abuses his meek secretary played by Maria Conchita Alonso to ranting his problems to his therapist (Elizabeth Ashley) and finally, going batshit crazy walking around the streets wearing a set of cheap plastic vampire teeth – Cage’s wild-eyed performance is one for the ages. His performance is so popular that he becomes the subject of memes in today’s generation.
Beyond the insanity of Cage’s lead turn and pitch-black humour within its vampire-horror subgenre, you will find several underlying metaphors of capitalism, workplace bullying and of course, the 1980s obnoxious yuppie culture as seen in Cage’s character, which is deliberately amplified to an excessively cartoonish effect.
What are your favourite Nicolas Cage horror movies? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…
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