Written by: Lois Kennedy
As a goofy nerd-fest/situation comedy, The Big Bang Theory doesn’t immediately bring to mind horror movies. However, many of its actors have a darker side to their resumes, and play characters often very different from their familiar roles.
- MayimBialik—Pumpkinhead (1988)
How we know her: As intelligent but socially inept biologist Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler.
The horror: Bialik’s first movie appearance was at age 12 in the late-‘80s creature feature Pumpkinhead. The movie concerns Ed and his young son Billy, who live in a rural community. When Billy is accidentally mowed down by selfish city folk, Ed turns to a demon (the titular Pumpkinhead) to get revenge. Bialik is virtually unrecognizable as an unnamed “Wallace kid.” (I’m pretty sure she’s the one who sees a camera and asks what it is.) She’s a dirty ragamuffin who taunts her brother with a rhyme about Pumpkinhead and then is unseen for the rest of the movie.
My verdict: Movies revolving around revenge, whatever the genre, tend to have flat characterization and simplistic notions of good and bad. The resounding theme throughout this movie is that seeking vengeance is wrong; it only leads to more pain and destruction. Ed feels each victim die, and he’s not crazy about it (even though he looks like he’s having an orgasm). The characters are flawed and human, which makes them more interesting. Of the five youths involved in Billy’s accident, the only one who’s really unlikable is Joel and to a lesser extent his selfish, enabling girlfriend. Ed in turn is gruff but loving with his son; their relationship is poignant and endearing. The movie wasn’t really scary; Pumpkinhead is actually kinda cute, especially when we see him as a baby. Haggis, the woman who summons him, is more intimidating with her world-weary attitude and ancient features. Overall, it’s more than just a cheesy slasher. You might have already seen this, but even if you have, give it a watch.
- KunalNayyar—The Scribbler (2014)
How we know him: As awkward but amiable Dr. Raj Koothrappali.
The horror: The Scribbler is about Suki, a young lady with multiple personalities. She has just moved out of a mental hospital into a high-rise full of other former patients. She is using an experimental treatment to cure her disorder that involves a type of shock therapy, which releases her powerful (but possibly dangerous) alter, The Scribbler. When the ladies in the building start jumping (or being pushed) off of the roof around the time she has a treatment and blacks out, Suki wonders if she’s to blame. Nayyar is Dr. Karim, one of Suki’s doctors during her stay at the hospital. He sounds exactly like Raj and is also a doctor, but he’s more assertive and his hair is slicked back.
My verdict: The movie is admittedly more psychological thriller rather than horror (in that no one gets disemboweled), but it’s very dark and there’s a monster. The special effects are pretty good, but the sets and costumes are spectacular. There’s an interesting theme of letting go of self-imposed barriers and not hiding one’s true self; Suki realizes her full potential for awesomeness only after she gets rid of her other alters, who live to whisper negative things and call her names. This goes along with the theme that normalcy is boring. The movie is delightfully cerebral and has strong and quirky female characters. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
- Simon Helberg—The Selling (2011)
How we know him: As dorky, girl-crazy engineer/astronaut Howard Wolowitz.
The horror: The Selling centers on Richard, a real estate agent who’s “too nice.” His problems multiply when he desperately needs money for his mother, who has cancer. Then he’s saddled with a haunted house—in 2011, no less. Helberg has a bit part as a client; he’s a whole ‘nother man without his trademark dickie and Beatles haircut.
My verdict: The movie took a little while to grow on me. It’s classified as a horror comedy, but it takes some time to get funny. The humor really comes out when Richard and his business partner Dave doggedly continue to try to sell the house despite the ghosts’ wishes to the contrary. One of my favorite scenes is when Richard warns the spirits about an open house, and courteously asks them to behave: “No creepy little English children at the end of the hallway, no naked ladies in the bathtub who turn into old women when you kiss them, no spectral music, no making people think they’ve peeled off their faces…” Also fantastic is the scene when Richard gives up trying to hide the haunting from clients: “Sometimes the bedroom closet becomes a portal to the spirit realm.” The characters are funny and likable; I particularly appreciate the female characters that refuse to be victimized: Ginger, a medium of sorts who is very knowledgeable about ghosts, Richard’s mother, who’s always kindly and brave in the face of her illness, and Richard’s coworker Mary, who’s somewhat of a villain, obsessed with her career and cheating her way to the top. I found a lot of things to enjoy overall. There’s also a fun cameo by Barry Bostwick as a priest. The references to haunted house movies are a funny nod rather than a Scary Movie type parody. If you see none of the other movies mentioned here, see this one.
- Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting—Killer Movie (2008)
How we know her: As ditzy but well-meaning wannabe actress Penny.
The horror: Killer Movie is the adventure of a film crew making a documentary T.V. series (not a movie) about a high school hockey team in North Dakota. One by one, crew members are being killed off. Cuoco-Sweeting plays Blanca, a latte-throwing spoiled actress doing research for an upcoming movie role. As one character describes her, she’s “a cocaine-fueled gutterslut.” Basically she’s as willfully ignorant and vain as Penny, but not as pleasant and more creepily interested in teenage boys.
My verdict: It’s classified as a horror comedy, but it’s neither scary nor funny. There are also baffling reality show style confessionals by movie characters throughout. It was fairly entertaining, though I had serious issues telling the characters apart. There are four brown-haired women and five brown-haired guys, and they don’t set themselves apart very readily. They’re unremarkable but blandly likable (aside from Blanca). After a certain point, it gets unrealistic and tiresome for characters to wander off by themselves into a dark, deserted area. There seems to be a theme that real life and reality T.V. are beginning to mesh in uncomfortable ways, like when a guy finds one of the murder victims, and he takes a video on his phone and offers to sell the footage. It’s not as cheesy as the title suggests, but it’s not great. See it if you’re interested in the novelty of Cuoco-Sweeting free of network censorship and able to shout such expletive-loaded phrases as “Fuckety-fuck-fuck-fuck!”
- Johnny Galecki—I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
How we know him: As nerdy nice guy Dr. Leonard Hofstadter.
The horror: A quartet of (mostly) spoiled teenagers, while partying, accidentally hit a man with their car and leave him for dead. There’s beauty queen Helen, dumb jock Barry, final girl Julie, and poor guy Ray. They cover it up but don’t fully recover emotionally. Then they find themselves menaced by a murderous stranger who claims to know what they did. Galecki is Max, Julie’s creepy friend who tries too hard. He’s just as nerdy as Leonard, but he stands up for himself a bit better, for example telling Barry, “Don’t you test me, motherfucker!”
My verdict: While the cast and the pop-py soundtrack made me nostalgic for the late ‘90s, mostly I focused on how unlikable the characters are—especially after the accident. Barry’s reaction, for instance, is: “Jesus Christ, my fuckin’ car!” Helen hopes they hit an animal, while Ray refers to the man as “it” even after being presented with proof that he hit a person: “I didn’t see it!” Aside from the obnoxious main characters and weird Max, there’s Helen’s evil sister Elsa, the teens’ indifferent parents, and the victim’s none-too-bright sister. There’s a small amount of screen time exploring the difficulties of getting by in a fishing community, but the main plot revolves around the town’s wealthy inhabitants. As can be expected, the “teenagers” are in their early 20s, aside from Jennifer Love Hewitt. You’ve probably seen it already, but if you haven’t, it’s not the worst slasher out there.
So the next time you watch The Big Bang Theory, don’t forget that the actors have lives outside of sitcoms.
Author’s note: I owe a debt of thanks to Internet Movie Database for actors’ filmographies and ages, and occasional spelling.
Lois Kennedy is an avid horror fan who also loves to write. You can find her under her pseudonym Ghoulie Joe on YouTube, WordPress, and Facebook.