There’s something delightfully tawdry about a former A-list star taking on the leading role in a low budget horror film. The two most famous...

Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Plunge into Horror

There’s something delightfully tawdry about a former A-list star taking on the leading role in a low budget horror film. The two most famous examples that come to mind are the former Hollywood starlets Joan Crawford and Bette Davis who, nearing the end of their careers starred as objects of horror in the psychological thriller Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Another more modern exemplar is actress Lucy Lui who, after starring in high budget action flicks like Kill Bill and the Charlie’s Angels trilogy appeared as the lead in the vampire film Rise: Blood Hunter (2007). Looking at these actresses’ careers it’s clear that the genre of horror is the last stop on the Hollywood Gravy Train. So when I got a glimpse of the trailer for the “action-packed, apocalyptic, horror, thriller” The Devil’s Tomb starring Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. (?!??) I had to take a closer look.

The premise of The Devil’s Tomb is reminiscent of the first Resident Evil or even Doom. A team of special ops soldiers is sent in to recover a scientist holed up in a cavernous underground facility that has been cut off from civilization. Gooding plays Mack, the team leader who is haunted by a horrible deed he committed in the past. He leads his team into the facility but once inside they encounter some sort of evil being that plagues them with zombie-like creatures and hallucinations.

The team discovers one mangled body after another as they struggle to unravel the mystery behind the gore. The trailer gives zero clues as to the nature of the monster, but in the film he/she/it is revealed to be something like a fallen angel or a demon that just wants to do bad things. The Devil’s Tomb, with its all encompassing tag-line seems to be hedging its bets with fans of a variety of genres (action/adventure/horror/etc.) and it didn’t even get the benefit of a theatrical release which should clue you in to its quality (B). Instead it when straight-to-DVD this May and should be available on the shelves of your nearest Hollywood video.

Gooding's major transition from Oscar award winning actor to a straight-to-DVD horror schlockfest then begs the question: How could an A-list actor like Cuba go so wrong? The answer can be found in his films. Some of the highlights of his career include his break out role as Corporal Carl Hammaker in A Few Good Men (1992), Major Salt in Outbreak (1995), Rod ”Show Me the Money” Tidwell in Jerry Maguire (1996) for which he won his Oscar and Petty Officer Doris Miller in Pearl Harbor (2001). But the winding road that has led Cuba Gooding Junior to The Devil’s Tomb began its turning when he starred in the Disney feature Snow Dogs (2002) and the strained comedy Boat Trip (2002) where he played a heterosexual man who accidentally gets booked on a gay cruise. But the final nail in the coffin of Cuba’s A-list career came in 2003’s Radio where he played a developmentally challenged man who is mentored by a football coach. The film bombed and afterward Gooding took on several voice parts in animated films (A Dairy Tale, Home on the Range) but hasn’t been able to recover his pre-Oscar glory.

Cuba’s fall from the A-list and into the depths of horror is sure evidence that while there are talented horror actors (Robert Englund, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing etc.) who truly embrace and find success in the genre, for others it can be the last stop of an acting career on the decline.

Further Reading:
DVD Review: The Devil's Tomb
Horror Films: Big Named Celebrities Need Not Apply

2 comments:

  1. Dear Scholar: This post got me to thinking why Gooding's career problems should be made so clear because he appears in a horror film. I think the problem is that he appears as the good guy. Horror is a genre where monsters (Karloff, Lee, Price, Englund) are the stars. The only hero/good guy that ever made a mark in horror that I can think of is Peter Cushing, and he was a primary in the great Hammer Studio collection of actors. His good guys were sometimes very monstrous (his doctor in Curse of Frankenstein being an example). Cooding's mistake was taking the part of the guy sent to kill monsters. Boooring. Frankly, anyone can play that part. The monster is the part that calls for a memorable performance and a great actor. -- Mykal

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