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Vintage Screams:  A Career Hidden In Plain Sight – Craig Wasson

If you were to walk up to 100 horror fans today and ask them to name a film that Craig Wasson starred in, you’re likely going to get blank stares from the bulk of them. While his work in the genre was somewhat short lived, it was most certainly of note and due of discussion and praise.

I first recall watching Wasson in the 1981 adaptation of Peter Straub’s eerie, gothic Ghost Story. A slow burning, elegant film, at the time of its release Ghost Story was celebrated because four of its main stars were iconic performers from the hey day of Hollywood: Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and John Houseman. You would think that with a leading cast like that it would be difficult if not down right impossible for anyone else on the screen to even garner a second look but, you would be wrong. Wasson plays David, the son of one of the four old gents who gather every now and again under the name the Chowder Society to sip brandy and tell ghost stories. The problem is, one of those spooky tales holds all too much truth.

When David must return home after the death of his twin brother, the lies, deceit, and the horror comes alive. Wasson’s wide-eyed energy is the perfect subtext to the four older stars’ low key performances and offers a connection to the younger, horror-hungry crowd that was packing the theaters back in the early ’80s. A true throwback to an era of horror film making that was certainly reaching it’s end, Ghost Story stands the test of time and that is in no small part due to the excellent performance by Wasson.

That same year, 1981, Wasson found himself nominated for a Golden Globe Award; not for his work in Ghost Story but instead for his role of Danilo in Four Friends. A few years later Wasson ventured back to genre cinema in a surprisingly overlooked 1984 film that may not appear to be a horror film first glance, but that fits comfortably in our genre of choice: Brian DePalma’s Body Double.

A crazy, sexy, disturbing tale of murder, obsession, and voyeurism, this film is damn near impossible to take your eyes off of. Wasson has the lead this time around and takes full advantage of the opportunity. Once again, he plays the wide-eyed receiver of all the horror as Jake Scully. When he returns home from work early one day to find his lady in the midst of some afternoon delight, he takes a friend up on an offer to house sit while he’s out of town. A lovely lady in the building next door has forgotten how blinds or curtains work and gives Jake a free show. One evening, while waiting for his nightly entertainment, he’s instead treated to a horrific murders. If you haven’t seen the film, I don’t want to ruin it for you, but let’s just say you’ll never look at power tools the same way again.

Wasson handles the lead role in exceptional fashion and once again serves as the audience’s main connection to normalcy in the midst of insanity. At this point in his career, DePalma was often being compared to Hitchcock and it’s films like this that lead credence to those comparisons. Wasson was DePalma’s Jimmy Stewart for this project and he fully embraced and exploited the opportunity. Also of note is fan favorite Barbara Crampton in a small role and a brief appearance from scream queen royalty, Brinke Stevens, during the film-within-a-film segment.

Although either of those films make his mention in Vintage Screams to be a given, the piece de resistance and his claim to horror movie royalty came in 1987 when he was cast as Neil Gordon in the wildly popular A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Heralding the return of series lead Heather Langencamp – and putting the franchise back on track –Dream Warriors is viewed by many as the best of all the sequels. Once again Wasson was cast as the voice of reason in a situation that defies explanation. While this is Wasson’s most high profile genre film, his role is only a supporting appearance at best and fails to highlight his incredible talent as brightly as the previous two mentions. Regardless, he brings his characteristic “man next door” approach to the horror that is unfolding. 

It should also be noted that Mr. Wasson had a turn in the Tales From The Darkside series for the 1986 season episode titled “The Geezenstacks.” His final film was also the 2006 Bigfoot flick for the SyFy Channel titled Sasquatch Mountain. Although he hasn’t spent any time in front of the camera since then, he is still very active in the genre but in a way that may surprise you. Over the last several years Wasson has recorded the audio versions of the Stephen King novels Blockade Billy, A Face In The Crowd, Full Dark, and No Stars, and has received critical acclaim for his work on the audio adaptation of the epic 11/22/63.  

Staying out of the public eye and with no website or Facebook page, it would be easy to overlook Craig Wasson’s iconic place in the annals of horror history, but he’s certainly worthy of included as a Vintage Scream.

 

About David Dreher

A lifelong fan of all things dark and spooky Dave has written for Creature Corner, House of Horrors, Horrornew.net and The Horror Channel. He is co-host of Horror News Radio and has spent the last 18 years working with Tom Savini as the webmaster of his website. Dave holds a BA in Creative Writing and a MA in New Media Journalism.

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