Every actor has some form of talent. But this Horror Icon has an extraordinary amount that just oozes from him. Whenever he takes to the screen, the eyes of the audience are trained on him and more often then not, his presence can take the focus from the other actors in the scene. This Horror Icon is none other than the Lakeshore Strangler himself, Brad Dourif.
Born on March 18, 1950, Bradford Claude Dourif made his mark on the world in Huntington, West Virginia. He is the won of Joan Felton (actress) and Jean Henri Dourif, an art collector who owned and operated a dye factory. His father sadly passed away when Brad was only three and his mother remarried to champion golfer, William C. Campbell, who helped raise Brad plus his brother and four sisters.
From 1963 to 1965, Brad attended the private Aiken Preparatory School in Aiken, South Carolina. It was there that he pursued his interests in art and acting. Although he briefly considered being an artist, he was eventually inspired to become and actor by his mother's participation in the local community theatre.
After Aiken Prep, Brad attended another private school, Fountain Valley School in Colorado Springs, Colorado, graduating in 1969. He attended Marshall University for a little while before quitting college and moving to New York City to study acting, on the advice of actress Conchata Ferrell.
Brad was interested in acting from an early age, starting in school productions before moving on to community theatre. While he was attending Marshall, Brad joined up with the Huntington Community Players. When he left Marshall and headed to New York, Brad worked with the Circle Repertory Company.
But it was during the early '70's that Brad began appearing in a number of plays off-Broadway and at Woodstock, New York, including The Ghost Sonata, The Doctor In Spite Of Himself and When you Comin' Back, Red Ryder? This last play was cruicle to Brad as he was spotted by director Milos Forman who cast him in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975).
Now, just to clarify, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest has often been cited as Brad's film debut, but in fact he made his first appearance in a low budget film called Split which was never actually released. His first studio film was W.W. And The Dixie Dancekings (1975) but alas, Brad's part was cut from the final version.
Brad's performance in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest was his big break. Playing the role of Billy Bibbit, Brad's portrayal was so groundbreaking and outstanding that he earned himself a Golden Globe (Best Actor Debut) and a British Academy Award (Supporting Actor) as well as being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Despite his success, Brad was skeptical and returned to New York where he continued in theatre and taught acting and directing classes at Columbia University until 1988 when he moved to Hollywood.
Brad's brilliance has often lead to him being typecast as disturbing or eccentric characters, despite his desire to get away from that kind of label.
In 1978, Brad was cast in the movie Eyes Of Laura Mars along side Tommy Lee Jones and Faye Dunaway. The film was enjoyable but Brad's performance for me stole the show. Disturbing, powerful and deranged, Eyes Of Laura Mars is a forgotten gem in the psychological thriller genre. (Fun Fact: Eyes Of Laura Mars was based on a screenplay written by the master of horror, John Carpenter)
The film is on par with most thrillers, however there's something disturbing about this film. It's thrilling but also strong enough to be emotionally devastating. Brad as the shifty-eyed driver was shocking and Raul Julia (Gomez Addams from The Addams Family) was Dunaway's ex husband was pure thriller poetry. If you can find it, it's a must see film.
In 1980, Brad teamed up with big gun actors like Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, John Hurt and Jeff Bridges for the movie Heaven's Gate.
I won't lie, Heaven's Gate is a long movie (219mins) and at times it just drags on, but it's still something that people should see, especially if you're a history buff like I am. This film laid out the circumstances of the Johnson County War of 1892 in Wyoming, showing how the Wyoming Stock Growers Association hired 50 assassins to hunt down and murder a large group of European immigrants accused of cattle rustling; and all with the assistance and conniving of authorities, right up to the President of the United States. If you can sit through it, then I suggest locating it and giving it a watch. Brad (and the amazing team of stars) truly shined in this film.
In 1984, Brad continued his run of strange characters with Dune. Dune was one of those films that you either love or hate. Sadly, I dislike it, however, I will say one thing. Brad is exceptional in it. Set in a distant future where life in the universe and space travel is dependent upon a spice found only on the planet Dune. The natives of this planet await the arrival of their Messiah who will lead them into a holy war against the evil Harkonnen empire. Dune is the film adaptation based on Frank Herbert's cult novel. Not my kind of film, but I have plenty of friends that love it. So, if you're into what I can really only describe as science-fiction, then check Brad out in this cult classic.
In 1986, Brad's typecasting didn't exactly go away when he was cast as Raymond in Blue Velvet along side the late great Dennis Hopper as well as Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini and Laura Dern. Blue Velvet is about a man who returns to his home town after being away and discovers a severed human ear in a field. Not satisfied with the police's pace, he and the police detective's daughter carry out their own investigation. The object of his investigation turns out to be a beautiful and mysterious woman involved with a violent and perversely evil man.
A three things stand out about this film. Firstly, the timing. It has all the traits of a typical mystery with thriller timing that leaves the audience guessing. Secondly, Dennis Hopper and Kyle MacLachlan work really well off each other, creating an eerie tension whenever they appear on screen together. And thirdly, Brad Dourif, given half the chance, is nutty then a fruitcake.
Blue Velvet isn't a film to everyone's tastes, but if you're into something that's a little out there and different, yet presents the familiarity of most mystery and thriller movies, then it's for you. Worth checking out.
Now we move into the year of 1988. A great year for Brad. Mississippi Burning is an all time favourite film of mine and is the one film where I began to appreciate Brad Dourif as an actor. Yes, he was sleeze and a scumbag, but his performance as Deputy Clinton Pell was outstanding. Teaming up with talents like Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe, as well as past Horror Icon Of The Month star, Michael Rooker, Brad proved he could match it with the best of them, often stealing the limelight from the others that shared his screen.
One scene that really sticks out in my mind is when the bodies of the young men are found and Brad is told by the Sheriff to go home, because it has become apparent that Pell's wife (Frances McDormand) has informed the FBI about the location of the bodies. Brad, and a few other officers, return to his home and proceed to beat his wife to the point that she winds up in the hospital.
It's not so much the violence that draws me into that scene, but rather Brad's expressions. His eyes are cold, his body language is calm and yet there's something still very unhinged about him.
Brad holds himself well during this film, and if you remember back to my Michael Rooker article, you'll remember me saying that Mississippi Burning is a film that you must see.
That same year, Brad stepped up for the horror genre, delivering one of the most recognisable characters and performances that horror has. In 1988, we were introduced to Charles Lee Ray. OK, so if you're not a horror nut, that name might not mean anything to you. But I bet you've heard of him. If not by his full name, then at least by his nickname. And I bet you even heard it in this sentence; “Hi, I'm Chucky. Wanna play?”
That's right, I'm referring to Child's Play.
Brad starred as Lakeshore Strangler, Charles Lee Ray a.k.a Chucky. At the beginning of the film, we see him running away from the cops, wounded. His getaway car drives off without him, leaving him stranded as the police move in.
Seeking refuge in a toy store, he then stars in a shoot out with a detective that was following him. He is wounded again, this time in the chest and knows that it'll be the end for him. Before he dies, Chucky passes his soul into that of a Good Guy doll with a voodoo curse. And that's where the terror begins.
It's Andy Barclay's birthday and all he really wants is a Good Guy doll. Mrs. Barclay wants nothing more than to keep her son happy, so when a homeless man sells her a Good Guy doll, she thinks it's wonderful especially since Andy is so happy with it. But then Andy begins to change, blaming his doll for certain things. What she doesn't know that Chucky is alive and back to his old tricks. This time, he's killing all those that get in his way because in order to remain alive, Chucky must get his soul into Andy's body.
Child's Play is a fantastic horror film and Brad loaning his voice to the psycho doll added an extra depth to it. His performance at the start was chilling and, despite not physically being present in the film, he still managed to give nightmares to audiences that watched. Let's face it, there's something incredibly creepy about killer dolls.
In 1990, Brad returned to horror with a role befitting his talents as The Gemini Killer in The Exorcist III. The Exorcist III was about a police lieutenant in Georgetown mourns the anniversary of a priest's death as a serial killer strikes. That serial killer is Brad. Not the best film but certainly worth a watch.
That same year Brad also starred in Hidden Agenda, Horseplayer and Graveyard Shift, which is based on a Stephen King novel and is about the workers in a very old textile mill discover a horrifying secret deep in the basement. The book is much better however this film does also star Andrew Divoff from Wishmaster.
Also that year, Chucky returned with Child's Play 2. Most of friends state that Child's Play 2 was better than any of the other Chucky films. More gruesome and more fun. Chuck had an attitude that had only been matched by Freddy Krueger and audiences were loving it.
The following year, saw Child's Play 3 released and the reception was pretty cold. I'm not a fan of the third instalment. I actually think it's the weakest in the series (with Seed Of Chucky running a very close second).
The next year, Brad found himself in another sequel to a horror franchise, Critters. Critters 4 saw Brad play the role of Al Bert, and despite the fact that I enjoyed his portrayal, the role was clearly beneath his talents.
In 1993, Brad found himself in a diverse number of role and films from Amos & Andrew to Trauma as well as appearing on TV series like Wild Palms and Tales From The Crypt.
Even when his name doesn't appear in the credits, Brad still manages to move people with his performances. Take 1998's Urban Legends for example. At the beginning we meet our first victim who pulls up at a gas station, only to have a creepy man appear. That creepy man was Brad. His performance set the tone for the movie, from his stutter to his appearance, Brad delivered one hell of a good scare. (Fun Fact: Where the killings took place was in a town called Melbourne, named after the director's – Jamie Blanks - home city in Australia)
That same year, Chucky returned. This time Chucky gets lucky and winds up with a bride named Tiffany. Bride Of Chucky was actually the first Chucky film I saw and despite how comical it is, it's one of the most enjoyable in the series. (Fun Fact: Bride Of Chucky is also Brad's favourite film in the series) Why do I like this film so much? Two words: Jennifer Tilly. She and Brad work so well off each other and watching them in the studio together recording the voices for the dolls filled the room with an electric energy as they bounced one liners off each other.
Some actors when you watch them have a chemistry that is undeniable (Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe in Cruel Intentions for example). Brad Dourif and Jennifer Tilly have the same kind energy. Only they're trading insults and tips on how to butcher people, not kisses and intense stares that leaves audiences melting.
1998 was a busy year for Brad. From movies to television appearances including that of Saturday Night Live in which he loaned his voice for a Chucky appearance. He even loaned his voice as Chucky for a stint on Sabrina The Teenage Witch.
In 1999, Brad's TV work grew with stints on The Magnificent Seven, The Norm Show and The Hunter.
At the turn of the century, Brad was in hot demand for voice work. And with his voice, why not. Especially when it came to video games.
It wasn't just video games that lured Brad. The horror/thriller genre came a knockin' and Brad happily answered. From movies like Shadow Hours (2000), Cypress Edge (2000), The Ghost (2001) and Soulkeeper (2001) to something a little more well known like The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002), Brad delivers solid performances every time.
In 2004, Brad joined the cast of Deadwood, starring in 36 episodes as Doc Cochran. That same year, he finished up the Chucky series with Seed Of Chucky. This time, Chucky becomes a dad. Needless to say, if you haven't seen it, you're not missing much. Watch it if you're a Chucky fan, but otherwise, don't lose too much sleep over it.
In 2007, Brad teamed up with Scream Queen, Danielle Harris for the second time (Danielle was also in Urban Legends) to bring Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween to life. Brad took over the role of Sheriff Lee Brackett. Now, you all know where I stand on this remake, but I will say one thing about it. I originally saw the film because of three reasons 1 – To see Danielle Harris return to Haddonfield, 2 – To see Brad Dourif do something horror related that didn't involve a really ugly doll, and 3 – To see what kind of back story Rob Zombie and his crew gave to Michael Myers. Out of the three reasons I went to see it, only one left me disappointed. Danielle was brilliant and Brad was outstanding. Watching them play father and daughter was mesmerising.
A prime example of that brilliance was when Annie (Danielle) was stabbed and left on the floor as the cops turn up. Michael by this stage has taken Laurie and disappeared. Brad pulls up at the house with Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) and scrambles out. His reaction to finding Annie on the floor is gut wrenching. From his facial reaction to body language, Brad goes from being a hard nosed cop to doting father. The sign of a remarkable actor.
In 2009, Brad backed up that performance with a return to Haddonfield for Rob Zombie's Halloween II. If I could describe this film, I would need stronger language. Abysmal is probably the best description I have at this moment. I love Brad and Danielle, but even they're brilliance couldn't save this film. Their dynamic was just as strong as the first film, and watching Brad return home to find his daughter's body was heart breaking, but aside from that, this film is just something to miss altogether. Hell, I would even prefer to watch the remake of Nightmare On Elm Street over this, which says a lot.
In 2011, Brad returned to television for an episode of Psych and Fringe, as well as movies Blood Shot, Fading Of The Cries and the TV movie Miami Magma.
In 2012, with rumours circling that there's another Chucky film in the works, there's no doubt that Brad Dourif will return as the psychotic doll we've all come to know and love. In the meantime, this talented actor has more pressing engagements to contend with, including an appearance in the film Gingerclown, which has been mentioned several times here on Truly Disturbing.
Brad Dourif. His name conjurers images of crazed characters, with wild eyes and a feral tempers. There's no doubt in my mind that he is one of the best, and probably one of the most underrated, character actors in Hollywood. His talent is second to none and the way he can make an audience believe that what they're watching is real, is truly unbelievable. He can play my leading man any day of the week.