Why Nicolas Cage Thrives in (Indie) Horror

With the upcoming release of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, the recent set photos of him as Dracula, and his own recent comments about not regretting a single role, the internet has certainly had its eye on Nicolas Cage recently.

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In The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Cage plays himself in the ultimate meta film experiment!

Well-known for his unique and sometimes bizarre style, Cage is honestly a difficult actor to categorize as he’s very much his own category.  He makes bold choices and commits to them absolutely.

And while he’s certainly given some iconic performances in critically acclaimed dramas and critically panned action movies, there is one genre that always seems to fit Cage like a glove, and that of course is horror (especially indie horror).

There’s just something about our favorite genre that brings out the best and most interesting of Cage and we wanted to take a deep dive and find out why that is!

Recent Renaissance
It’s hard not to notice the recent slew of indie horror films in which Cage’s performances have been praised.  Both audiences and critics loved his unhinged and raw rage in Mandy, as well as his perfectly over the top attitude in Color Out of Space.  And while critics weren’t as into Willy’s Wonderland or Mom and Dad, horror fans loved Cage’s willingness to just go all out in any role he does.

Mom and Dad especially taps into his great ability to just go insane and over the top in a way that’s both entertaining and hilarious.  A lot of people describe this type of acting as “so bad it’s good”, but that’s not an entirely fair statement when you consider the goal of the performance or the film itself.

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Most fans would agree that Cage is at his most entertaining when he’s just going batshit crazy!

Certainly watching Cage shout the hokey pokey as he attempts to smash his own children to death reaches levels of parody that most movies wouldn’t go to.  But in order for a movie to be “so bad it’s good”, it has to genuinely try to be a serious film and fail miserably.  Whereas the ludicrous, overt nature of both the movie and Cage’s performance are very much intentional.

Cage himself has cited Japanese kabuki theater as a major inspiration for his acting style and it’s very much on display in all of his roles.  There’s a very larger than life, theatrical nature to what he does.  And in movies whose plotlines include an epidemic of parents killing their children, a meteor causing grotesque physical changes in people, a man going on a revenge mission against a cult leader, or an army of animatronics coming to life to kill you, Cage’s unique style matches the absurdity of the plots themselves.

Long Tradition
But the brilliant combination of Nicolas Cage and horror movies is hardly just a recent trend.  Going all the way back to 1988’s Vampire’s Kiss (a movie he admitted was a personal favorite), he was giving one of the most iconic performances of his career.  On paper, the plot is pretty simple and straightforward: a man is slowly losing his mind as he turns into a vampire.

It very easily could have been a forgettable, run of the mill movie in the hands of any other actor.  But due to Cage, we got an absolutely unforgettable movie that’s spawned a thousand internet memes.  We can debate whether or not an absurdly hilarious movie is on the same “cinematic” level as something like Leaving Las Vegas (which he won the Oscar for), but there’s absolutely no denying the fact that Vampire’s Kiss is incredibly entertaining.

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Even if you’ve never seen the movie before, you’ve definitely seen this meme.

Granted, not every horror film he’s done was a hit.  Perhaps the most infamous would be 2006’s remake of The Wicker Man.  But even that is regarded as “so bad it’s good” and people do enjoy watching it for its unintentional humor.  To be fair, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is also something of a miss, but Cage himself wasn’t the issue with that movie, the directing very much was.

Taking Risks
All of this begs the ultimate question, why does Cage work so well within the horror genre.  The reason of course is that both he and horror (mostly indie) aren’t afraid to take risks.  One of the biggest criticisms of modern day blockbusters is that they all feel like they were designed by committee.  Major studios sink hundreds of millions of dollars into their tentpole movies and with that much money on the line, you can’t afford to take risks.

The result is movies that pander to fan service, nostalgia, and always playing it safe, so to speak.  Horror on the other hand, particularly independent horror, is usually working with a much smaller budget, and therefore, there’s a lot more room to take risks.

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When these set photos went public, a lot of people laughed if off, but clearly this is just another bold choice that Cage (and his movies) aren’t afraid to make.

You could never have a movie about parents trying to kill their children with a $100+ million budget because general audiences wouldn’t go for it.  But you could afford to spend $7 million and see how Mom and Dad does on VOD and streaming.

Which brings us back to Nicolas Cage, the horror genre of actors.  We haven’t seen him leading a major blockbuster in well over a decade, because his talents are put to better use making these strange low budget horror movies that allow him to truly utilize his craft.

Not every choice he makes and not every movie works, but you can’t help but admire that fact that at least it’s unique and trying to be different than the norm.  So let Nicolas Cage keep starring in roles like these. Let him play the strangest version of Dracula we’ve ever seen in Renfield, and we’ll all be better off for it!

What’s your favorite Nicolas Cage horror performance? Let us know in the comments!

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