Serious actors don’t do genre films.
What does that mean? Well, generally speaking, genre films–science fiction, mystery, crime, and most importantly, horror–are not considered serious works and so serious actors don’t take roles in these kinds of films.
This is not really true any longer. These days, there are many “serious” films that fit into these genres and so more actors are being drawn to them. Crime stories, mysteries, and science fiction have all been accepted into the Academy, so to speak.
The hold-out continues to be horror. But even the horror genre is getting some clout these days, with The Walking Dead on television and critics reconsidering older films like Don’t Look Now, The Wicker Man, and The Shining and calling them classics.
Gabriel Byrne has never been afraid of horror films. In fact, I think he secretly relishes them. Perhaps they provide a tonic to the spirit, a relief from all that “drama.” Perhaps they are a lark. Perhaps he really takes them seriously and finds them challenging and interesting in their own way. At any rate, Mr. Byrne has plied his craft in his fair share of these films over the years. Here are examples:
The Keep (1983)
Early in his film career, Mr. Byrne took on the role of Major Kaempffer in Michael Mann’s murky Nazi/monster/horror film, now a cult classic. We tend to remember this film, as Byrne fans, for his rather severe haircut.
Ian McKellen also appears in the film:
Set in Romania during World War II, The Keep is a stylish horror film involving Nazis, a professor in a wheelchair, monstrous evil forces, and lots of fog and smoke. Jürgen Prochnow (Das Boot, Dune) and Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects) are German officers who have commandeered an ancient fortress, unleashing Molasar, the creepy denizen of the castle’s keep. After losing several of their soldiers to Molasar’s unnatural appetite, they desperately enlist the only man who can help them: a Jewish professor (Ian McKellen), now an internee at Auschwitz, whose expertise includes haunted fortresses. ~ Ian McKellen’s website
Now this was a serious horror film. Or an horrific serious film. Or something. Directed by Ken Russell, it recounts the story of a very scary weekend in 1816, with Gabriel Byrne as Lord Byron. Mr. Byrne won the International Fantasy Film Award for Best Actor in 1987 for this role.
Directed by cult favourite and “enfant terrible” Ken Russell, “Gothic” delves into the erotic and terrifying night in 1816 that ultimately gave birth to Mary Shelley’s classic horror novel “Frankenstein” and Polidori’s “The Vampire”. While a wild storm rages in the sky over poet Lord Byron’s literary house party on the shores of Lake Geneva, the exiled English poet suggests everyone invent a ghost story. As the dead of night closes in, he and his guests go on to hold a séance to conjure up their deepest, most secret fears. But is it their intense lusts and vivid imaginations at work, or have they truly created a monster? –Stephen Volk’s website (Mr. Volk wrote the screenplay)
Harlan Ellison observes enthusiastically:
You will cleave to this tortured bit of cinematic epilepsy because it is ALIVE… I came away from Gothic with my soul on fire… (…) because it is dangerously conceived, impudently mounted, uncaring of its footing, determined to crawl the wall or tumble into the abyss, all in the name of disgorging the absurd demon in thought. ~ Harlan Ellison’s Watching
Fast forward a few years and meet Gabriel Byrne as Father Andrew Kiernan, priest, scientist, and debunker of myths. Stigmata is a favorite with Byrne enthusiasts because 1.) he is physically so appealing we can’t take our eyes off of him and 2.) his compassion and sympathy for poor Frankie, the victim of a religious mystery, are so strong that we take the story seriously. There is that word again.
Stigmata is a supernatural suspense story about good, evil, and faith. Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette) is a hair stylist in her mid-20s who has no strong religious convictions until odd things start happening to her after she’s given a rosary by her mother: she begins speaking with another person’s voice; unknown and unseen forces start to attack her; and she develops stigmata, bleeding wounds that spontaneously appear on her wrists, feet, and side, as Christ was wounded at Calvary. Some people believe that a holy miracle has been visited on Frankie, though no one can say why. A Cardinal from the Vatican (Jonathan Pryce) sends a priest, Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne), to investigate Frankie and her condition; after getting a first-hand look, Father Andrew finds himself less concerned with whether Frankie’s wounds are a legitimate miracle and more concerned with saving her life. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide
End of Days (1999)
Famously, Mr. Byrne changed his stripes in the same year and played Satan. This role was one he seemed to enjoy with a certain relish. After all, he gets to do all those things that nice people just don’t do: indulging in orgies, blowing up buildings, ripping off heads, and giving Arnold Schwarzenegger nightmares. And he wears an Armani coat, too.
With the millennium approaching, a series of disturbing signs suggests that Satan (here played by Gabriel Byrne) has returned to Earth and is walking the streets of New York City. It seems that Satan needs to find a woman who will bear his child, as the time for the arrival of the anti-Christ draws near. A woman named Christine (Robin Tunney) believes that she has seen the Devil and felt his presence, and it’s up to Jericho Cane (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a former policeman turned elite bodyguard, to keep her safe from The Dark Lord. End of Days was both directed and photographed by Peter Hyams; Kevin Pollak, Renee Olstead, and Udo Kier are among the supporting cast. –Mark Deming, Allrovi.com
Ghost Ship (2002)
As Captain Sean Murphy, Gabriel Byrne plays an Irish sea-faring man in this somewhat soggy effort. That does not sound particularly scary, and neither did the original script for this film, which was more of a psychological thriller than a horror story. But special effects and gore (the opening scene is ranked near the top of everyone’s “goriest scene ever” list) took over the spotlight. That’s okay. Mr. Byrne lent the film his trademark gravitas, looked suitably craggy and intense, and died nicely.
…Murphy and his crew — salvage expert Maureen Epps (Julianna Margulies), first mate Greer (Isaiah Washington), and crewmen Santos (Alex Dimitriades), Dodge (Ron Eldard), and Munder (Karl Urban) — set out to find a large craft seen adrift off the Alaskan coastline. To their surprise, the crew of the Arctic Warrior discover what appears to be the Antonia Graza, a famous Italian ocean liner, legendary for its luxury, which vanished without a trace in 1962. While they at first anticipate the payday of a lifetime from this find, the crew soon discover a sinister force has taken control of the ship, and before long they’re battling not for salvage rights, but for their lives. ~ AllMovie.com
And now we come to Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters (2014). While not really horror, per se, the story revolves around the world of vampires and vampires have traditionally been considered horrific. In this case, the emphasis is on youth, as in Young Adult Fiction. Richelle Mead’s book series has proven popular world-wide and I can attest that she is a cracking good writer who knows how to tell a story. The film seems to be emphasizing humor and action, also highlighted in the book. The central adult role–Victor Dashkov, played by, you guessed it, Gabriel Byrne–is a complicated figure and pivotal to the plot, which makes the film very intriguing.
Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters opens February 14, 2014. I cannot provide a promotional picture of Mr. Byrne from this film at the moment, but expect one soon.
So, after taking a look at the list above, are we surprised that Mr. Byrne has chosen to participate in this film?
What do you think? Are you excited to see Gabriel Byrne in his first foray as a vampire? Seriously? wink
And which of the films above provides you with a chilling genre experience? I am a Stigmata fan myself, in case you had not guessed!