Over the years, several genres have had trouble getting proper representation at the Oscars. Back when The Dark Knight came out, there was a mountain of Oscar buzz, but no nomination ever arose. There’s always a certain balance between being artistic and being commercial. If a film is highly artistic, but doesn’t have a wide enough release, don’t expect a nomination. On the same note, if something is too commercial/popular, though it has artistic merit, the Oscar nods also vanish. With those key factors in mind, one can see how horror would have a hard time ever fitting the bill, yet it has happened. After all, The Shining was not only ignored at the Academy Awards, but was nominated for two Razzies: Worst Director and Worst Actress. Let’s look at some of the cases when horror bucked its negative image, then see what the outlook is for horror films in terms of garnering their deserved critical acclaim.
In 1968, Rosemary’s Baby got nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress, the latter of which Ruth Gordon won. Many consider this an injustice to what is one of the most successful blends of horror and drama to date, that it should’ve gotten more attention. Frankly, it’s a miracle it received such public recognition at all. Having Roman Polanski at the helm and containing such a strong dramatic focus was what did it, though I’d argue his earlier works, such as Repulsion, were just as deserving.
Then all was quiet for horror on the Oscar front…until The Exorcist hit the big screen in 1973. It was the first horror title to even get a nomination for Best Picture. The religious themes could’ve easily helped or hindered its odds, but it managed to pull a solid nine nominations, winning for Best Sound and Best Screenplay. Both were well deserved, though I actually prefer Rosemary’s Baby over it. But hey, at least Jaws got Best Editing, Best Score and Best Sound in 1975, coupled with a nomination for Best Picture. The nomination broke ground for horror, and we can thank Spielberg for that.
A more surprising nomination arose six years later (1981) with An American Werewolf in London. It wasn’t for the scathingly comedic screenplay or the superb acting chops, but for Best Achievement in Makeup. Similarly, Aliens got awards for Best Visual Effects and Sound Editing in 1986, along with The Fly, which earned Best Achievement in Makeup. Horror rocked the screen that year, despite how much controversy surrounded the genre as the levels of realistic violence kept going up with improvements in effects. It’s Cronenberg at the Oscars, which is almost the strangest happenstance I can fathom. Want to hear an even less likely one? Beetlejuice won Best Makeup in 1988. Deservingly so, but it’s so odd the flick was even considered for the roster.
At this point, we’ve established the realms in which horror tends to prevail, and just as the pattern was looking like it’d never end, Kathy Bates went and did what didn't even work for Mia Farrow in 1968 – she won Best Actress. Misery stole the show in 1990. That means something. Even more, Silence of the Lambs won BEST PICTURE in 1991. That’s monumental. It hadn’t happened before and hasn’t happened since. Truthfully, Silence of the Lambs was amazing, but I believe many others were on par with it. Take that as you will.
Somehow, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation of Dracula won three Oscars: Best Costume Design, Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Makeup. Some of those were perhaps undeserving and, frankly, it marked when horror became perhaps too much a staple of pop culture, though it was worth it. The 90’s were fun and commercially successful for the genre, but the artistic elements were overlooked. Jurassic Park in 1993 was the closest thing to a horror film with a win anything until Sleepy Hollow in 1999 for Best Costume Design and then Sweeney Todd in 2007 for Best Actor.
The question all this beckons is what’s happened to horror nominations since 1992? They’re so scarce Tim Burton, for all he’s worth, is all we’ve seen hit the stage in the last twenty years. Why is that? This last year’s Annabelle at least deserved being eyed. Insidious should’ve gotten at minimum Golden Globe attention in 2010. Even when horror films were getting recognition, much got overlooked. Hellraiser in 1987 had stellar effects and editing. As mentioned, The Shining ended up with Razzie Nominations instead of Oscar or Golden Globe buzz. Let the Right One In undoubtedly should’ve gotten attention for Best Foreign Language Film. Same goes for Pan's Labyrinth.
Can you think of any others deserving of Academy attention?