Greetings Halloween lovers, and welcome back to my series of October features revolving around the world of televised horror. Last weekend, I ranked my top ten favorite episodes of 'Tales From The Crypt.' Some liked it, some didn't, but that's par for the course with any list column. Today, I take a break from ranked lists and present a small smattering of now famous actors that made early appearances in horror-based TV series. Consider it a sort of "Before They Were Stars: Horror Edition."
Let's begin with:
Currently Famous For: Being one of the biggest movie stars in the world.
Early Appearances: 'Freddy's Nightmares,' 'Tales from the Crypt'
Three years before his breakout role as a handsome thief in 'Thelma and Louise,' Brad Pitt was just a 25-year-old actor trying to get his big break in Hollywood. One of his early TV appearances was on an episode of the short-lived anthology show 'Freddy's Nightmares.' The show was set in the fictional town of Springwood from the 'Nightmare on Elm Street' films, and each episode was hosted by everyone's favorite child murderer, Freddy Krueger. Pitt starred in the episode 'Black Tickets' as Rick, one half of a young couple that chooses to elope against their respective parents' wishes. Needless to say, things don't go according to plan, and lots of surreal dream sequences are had by all.
One year after 'Thelma,' Pitt was on everyone's radar, but still wasn't close to being "Brad Pitt" as we know him today. Taking work when it came, the future a-lister starred in a 'Tales from the Crypt' episode called 'King of the Road.' Pitt played a psychopathic drag racer that goes to great lengths to lure the old "king" out of retirement, in order to usurp his legend as the best behind the wheel. Brad was already displaying tons of charisma and star quality here, and it's no wonder that by 1995 he was starring in critically acclaimed films like 'Seven' and 'Twelve Monkeys.'
Currently Famous For: Creating 'Robot Chicken,' Starring in 'Dads' and 'Family Guy'
Early Appearances: 'Tales from the Darkside,' 'Stephen King's IT'
Way, way before the public knew Seth Green as the lovable red-headed comic actor he is today, he was a 10-year-old boy trying to make it in television. In the comedic 'Tales from the Darkside' episode 'Monsters in my Room,' Green plays a frightened young boy named Timmy that is plagued by various beasties that hide inside his closet, under his bed, etc. Despite a premise that could easily have gone for scares, the monsters actually end up helping Seth by killing his abusive stepfather. The lesson here kids is to always stand up to creatures that live in your closet, if you do, they'll take out the parent you like the least.
About five years later, a teenage Seth was cast in the fondly remembered TV mini-series 'Stephen King's IT.' He portrayed the character of Richie Tozier, the wise-cracking smartass of the group of kids collectively known as 'The Loser's Club.' Richie is one of the most reluctant when it comes time to battle the sewer-dwelling shape-shifter primarily known as "Pennywise the Clown,' but really, who the hell wouldn't be? I'd probably need a new pair of pants if that thing appeared in front of me. Sadly, producers made the terrible casting decision of having adult Richie be played by 'Night Court' star Harry Anderson, who seems half asleep through most of his scenes. If only the adult cast had half the charm and energy of the kids.
Currently Famous For: Playing Det. Olivia Benson on 'Law & Order: SVU'
Early Appearance: 'Freddy's Nightmares'
It might be hard to imagine tough-as-nails cop Olivia Benson running and screaming from the 1980s preminent dream stalker, but that's exactly what 24-year-old Mariska Hargitay was doing in a 1988 installment of 'Freddy's Nightmares.' Unlike Brad Pitt above, Mariska actually received the honor of tangling directly with Freddy himself, in one of the rare episodes where he serves as more than just the host. In 'Freddy's Tricks and Treats,' Hargitay plays a college student that would rather study than party on Halloween, with her real crime being not believing in Krueger's legend. Gravely offended, Freddy does what he does best, scare the crap out of her and then attempt to kill her. Surprisingly enough, she survives the episode, becoming one of the only series protagonists to do so. Even back then, Olivia Benson was not to be messed with.
Currently Famous For: Her eight year run on 'Desperate Housewives.'
Early Appearance: 'Tales from the Crypt'
Three years before she hit it big as Lois Lane on the popular Superman series 'Lois and Clark,' Teri Hatcher was still primarily known for her years as a model and NFL cheerleader. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as she is absolutely stunning in the 1990 'Tales from the Crypt' episode 'The Thing from the Grave.' Hatcher plays Stacy, a model with an abusive boyfriend/manager, played by 80's & 90's sleazebag extraordinaire Miguel Ferrer. Teri makes the mistake of seeking comfort in the arms of her understanding photographer, causing Miguel to snap and kill the guy. Of course, true love is stronger than death, at least on 'Crypt.'
Currently Famous For: Being an A-list action icon.
Early Appearance: 'The Twilight Zone' (1985)
This is an especially interesting one, as Willis would skyrocket to fame via 'Moonlighting' less than a year after starring in the first episode of 'The Twilight Zone's '80s revival. Bruce plays Peter Jay Novins, a drunken louse of a man that treats his girlfriend and mother with contempt, and is generally wasting his life. Unhappy with this result, the universe itself retaliates, creating a doppleganger of Novins that wastes no time in correcting the original's mistakes. The only problem being that there can't be two Peter Jay Novins. Like Pitt, Bruce was already displaying the charisma and likability that would propel him to superstardom, managing to imbue both characters with distinct personalities and mannerisms. He even managed to make me feel bad for the original Novins by the end, which was hard to do.
Currently Famous For: Being Morgan Freeman. The man is one of the most beloved and iconic actors working today.
Early Appearance: 'The Twilight Zone' (1985)
Also making an early stop in 'The Zone' was 'Red' Redding himself, Morgan Freeman. Way before 'Driving Miss Daisy' or 'The Shawshank Redemption,' even before 'Street Smart,' Freeman played Tony in the 1985 episode 'Dealer's Choice.' When a group of friends sit down to play some poker, they find themselves joined by an uninvited fourth guest: the devil himself. Unlike the rest of my picks above, Freeman didn't even play the lead here, instead appearing as part of an ensemble cast that included other recognizable names like Dan Hedaya, M. Emmett Walsh, and Garrett Morris. He still acquits himself quite well though, and still exudes the laid back charm everyone now expects him to.
Currently Famous For: Playing Walter White on the phenomenon known as 'Breaking Bad.'
Early Appearance: 'The X-Files'
Two years before he began playing Hal on the long-running FOX sitcom 'Malcolm in the Middle,' actor Bryan Cranston was busy impressing future boss Vince Gilligan on a season six episode of 'The X-Files' called 'Drive.' Cranston played Patrick Crump, a man on the run from the law. The thing is that Crump wasn't an ordinary criminal, he absolutely had to stay on the move, or his head would literally explode. Why? A secret government test of course. Things really got interesting when Crump kidnapped Mulder, and forced him to drive further west at gun point. Vince Gilligan (who wrote 'Drive') has said that Cranston's performance here directly influenced the casting of Walter White.
Currently Famous For: Playing Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens on FX's 'Justified'
Early Appearance: 'Night Visions'
Almost a decade before the role that made him one of the best regarded leading men on television, and even before his well-remembered role on HBO's 'Deadwood,' Timothy Olyphant was just a working actor trying to become something more. Sure, he'd already appeared in a few films, but usually as a supporting player. That brings us to a 2002 episode of the short-lived anthology series 'Night Visions,' in which Olyphant got to play the lead for a change. He appears in the episode 'Harmony,' as a traveler that gets inadvertently stranded in the titular backwoods town. The town strictly bans music, singing, or even humming, based on an old legend of a monster that is supposed to appear and kill them all if anyone indulges their inner rock star. Olyphant naturally assumes that the legend is a load of bull, and finally convinces the town to sing 'Amazing Grace,' rather than kill the latest person that was caught with a CD player. So, of course the monster does indeed appear, and kill them all. The moral of the story: All legends are true, so mind your own business city slicker. Or something like that.
That's all for this trip down memory lane. Feel free to point out any instances you think I should have covered below, and maybe I'll do another one next October. Next Sunday, I'm counting down my choices for the cruelest and most sadistic twists in anthology series history. See you next time.