Welcome to The Last Horror Blog, a biweekly column on all things horror.
Directors spend most of their careers behind the camera -- leaving the fame to the actors -- but occasionally filmmakers get the urge to immortalize themselves on-screen in their work through a cameo appearance. A good cameo is like an inside joke – a wink to fans who are clever enough to pay attention, but they always add a little something to the experience. Join me today in looking back at some of the best director cameos in horror films – once you’re done here you’ll be able to impress your friends and relatives the next time you watch these films.
Wes Craven: Scream
Like Lucio Fulci, Wes Craven is a filmmaker who wasn’t simply content to stay behind the camera. While Craven never starred in a film of his very own, the director did have a fairly substantial role in 1995’s forgettable The Fear. However, he’s also had more than a few cameos over the years – but none quite as memorable as his turn in his 1996 slasher classic Scream.
Craven not only turns up in his own postmodernist riff on slasher cinema, he does so while paying homage to his most infamous creation in the process. The director appears in a scene with Henry Winkler, playing a janitor named Fred who sports a red-and-green striped sweater and dirty old hat – a not-so-subtle nod to Craven’s Freddy Krueger.
Craven would cameo in all of the subsequent Scream sequels (his turn in the fourth film wound up on the cutting-room floor), but none of them were as memorable as the first time.
Lucio Fulci: The Beyond
Fulci, hailed by many as “The Godfather of Gore,” was no stranger to turning up in his own films. In fact, it was sort of a hallmark of the director’s films that he would turn up somewhere – even if just as part of the background during a scene. There was one notable exception – 1990’s Cat in the Brain aka Nightmare Concert found Fulci in the leading role… and he wasn’t bad.
However, for our purposes today, we’ll be focusing on a smaller, but no less entertaining, appearance from one of Italian horror’s most beloved icons – Fulci’s appearance in The Beyond. Here, the master of splatter turns up twice – once reflected in a bar mirror during a phone conversation, then later as a man in a library talking about lunch breaks. Of all the various Fulci cameos, this is the one that brings me the most joy, if only because The Beyond is easily my favorite Fulci film. The wonky tale of the gates of Hell being opened by a plumber in New Orleans is a trippy and gory masterpiece of cult cinema, and it’s only fitting that its creator is immortalized in several scenes.
John Carpenter: The Fog
Director John Carpenter followed up the massive success of his groundbreaking slasher film Halloween with a more supernaturally tinged ghost story in The Fog, and the director made sure to give horror fans a glimpse of his face in the revenge tale early on.
Carpenter turns up near the beginning of the film, playing a janitor at the local church in Antonio Bay. It’s a brief appearance, but it’s unmistakably him. The director would play a much larger part in the 1993 anthology film Body Bags, which found the director playing a ghoulish (literally) doctor.
Alfred Hitchcock: The Birds
Legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock wasn’t the first director to the make a cameo in one of his films, but he is arguably the guy who made it a standard. Hitch turned up in an astonishing 39 of his 52 films over the course of his career, often carrying a musical instrument. Spotting the Hitchcock cameo has become a game for fans – so much so that the filmmaker eventually started making his appearance earlier in his features so not to distract audiences from the story.
Take, for instance, his appearance in 1963’s classic The Birds. Hitchcock turns up a mere two-and-a-half minutes into the film, exiting a pet shop as actress Tippi Hedren enters. As an added bonus, the two terriers Hitch is walking are his very own – Geoffrey and Stanley.
John Landis: An American Werewolf in London
An American Werewolf in London was one of those films that really helped turn me into a horror geek as a child – the special effects work was so amazing that I had to love it. It also helped turn me into a John Landis fan, even though it wasn’t until a few years later that I realized the director actually appeared in front of the camera.
Landis isn’t just content to appear in a scene in his film, he gives himself some action too. Near the end of the movie, in the Piccadilly Circus sequence, Landis is a bearded man who gets hit by a car and tossed through a glass window. Shooting in that location was quite the coup as local authorities didn’t allow anyone to shoot there for years after the Michael Winner smoke bomb incident in The Jokers.
Dario Argento: Innocent Blood
Italy’s Hitchcock doesn’t often do ons-creen appearances (although you can spot his face reflected in the glass in the taxi scene in Suspiria and his hands in a lot of black gloves in his various features), and one of his bigger cameos came in John Landis’ underappreciated vampire film Innocent Blood.
Landis’ tale of a sexy French vampire (Anna Parillaud) taking on the Mafia features quite a few cameos (Sam Raimi, Tom Savini and Frank Oz also turn up), but it’s Argento’s turn as a paramedic that stands out. It’s not much of a cameo, but in the pre-Internet days, this was the first time a lot of viewers had ever seen the man who gave us films like Suspiria outside the pages of Fangoria.
Takashi Miike and Ruggero Deodato: Hostel 1 and 2
Eli Roth is a horror fan’s fan, so it was only natural that when he got around to making his two Hostel films, he worked in a few appearances from legendary horror icons.
While Roth himself turns up in his film Cabin Fever, he goes bigger and better in the first Hostel – which finds Jay Hernandez’ character running into none other than the Rabid Dog of Japanese Cinema Takashi Miike coming out of the building. I can only imagine what the man who gave us Audition and Visitor Q was doing inside that joint – I wonder if it involved sawing off feet.
The best part of the Miike cameo is that it was totally unexpected. Going into the screening, I had no idea he was going to turn up in the film (and if my audience was any indication, very few people even had a clue who it was), so when he gets a brief bit of camera time and a line, it was the coolest moment of the film by a mile.
Roth then upped the stakes in his sequel, enlisting Cannibal Holocaust filmmaker Ruggero Deodato to appear in a brief scene. Seeing Deodato is great (it’s also great seeing giallo queen Edwige Fenech in the film too), but that one wasn’t kept a surprise. Still a cool cameo, but I spent a lot of time waiting for that one, whereas Miike’s appearance came completely out of left field.