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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Serial Killers and Chain-Smoking Exorcists: A Look at Keanu Reeves in Horror Cinema

Keanu Reeves. John Wick. The Baba Yaga of our hearts. Everyone knows him and by god, everyone loves him. He’s been everything from a surfer cop in Point Break to a tumbleweed in The SpongeBob Movie. He’s also left his mark on horror. Let’s take a look at the many roles he’s played in the genre, shall we? Excellent! *Air guitar solo* Reading this entire article in Keanu’s voice in your head will increase the entertainment value exponentially. I promise.

Though it may not be a horror film per se, the correct place to start is 1991 with Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. If being murdered by your future selves trying to steal your babes, going to literal hell and being forced to play the Grim Reaper in a series of childhood games isn’t horrific, what is? Okay fine, Keanu’s technical first foray into the genre began with 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. A performance that felt really strange in a movie that felt ultra strange. You know when you have a job interview and you don’t want to show too much of your own personality? So you try to act like you’re not a gigantic weirdo for a few minutes and it’s physically painful? That’s what this must have been like for Keanu at this point in his career being directed by Francis Ford Coppola opposite Gary Oldman. Who could blame him? This particular performance just didn’t have that “one of one” Keanu DNA to it.

My personal Keanu in horror favorite, The Devil’s Advocate came next in 1997 with Reeves as young superstar defense lawyer Kevin Lomax. Wall Street in Hell paired Reeves with Al Pacino at the peak of Pacino’s over the top, scene stealing capabilities (a compliment). A movie that if you were alive at the time you most certainly owned the cheap, plastic one sided-clip DVD case of. Yet, despite its popularity The Devil’s Advocate remains under appreciated on the quality aspect.

Not only was Advocate actually scary in spots – particularly when Kevin’s wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) was experiencing escalating mental breakdown episodes caused by Satan himself – it was also super entertaining. The beneficiary of a fiery performance by Reeves who seemed inspired by an even more batshit than usual Pacino. The Miltonian storytelling mixed with the over the top monologues and gnarly horror make The Devil’s Advocate feel like a collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Sam Raimi and I can’t think of anything cooler than that.

Keanu Reeves horror dracula

‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’

In 2000, Reeves played an extremely against type role in The Watcher as a sadistic serial killer. It’s not as fun as it sounds. The movie wasn’t all bad. It had that early 2000s dark, yet commercialized vibe. It was as if there was something special there but the film just wasn’t able to execute on it. Like if you took a fancy steakhouse steak dinner and nuked it in a microwave. The same can be said for Reeves’ performance (he received a Razzie nomination) but there was more than meets the eye happening at the time. It turns out Reeves was tricked into playing the lead by the director Joe Charbanic after offering to do a small role to help his “friend” secure financing. He was allegedly forced to do The Watcher for fear of being sued; then made to promise Universal he wouldn’t speak publicly about the ordeal until the film had been out for at least a year. I probably wouldn’t be out there trying to win an Oscar for those folks either.

Again in 2000, Keanu goes off type with a small role in a star studded cast as a wife beating, child threatening, trailer park redneck for Sam Raimi’s The Gift. It’s very easy to dismiss his performance as “I just can’t buy Ted Theodore Logan as a shitty human” but Reeves really goes for it and makes the character work. Let’s be honest, whoever came up with the name Donnie Barksdale deserves some credit too. That just sounds like a guy who’s gonna bust a beer bottle over your head all revved up on Toby Keith and cheap whiskey on a Saturday night.

One of Keanu’s most well known horror forays came in 2005’s Constantine where he played a chain smoking exorcist dealing with the battle between Heaven and Hell on Earth. Constantine comes right off the heels of Keanu’s insane success with The Matrix movies and landed with a pretty weird reception. The kind of film many couldn’t appreciate as a blockbuster but are much kinder to years down the road once expectations lower. Against the backdrop of a not-all-that accessible, fantastical superhero horror story and some very dated CGI, Reeves’ performance still manages to come across as badass and fun. He stomps his way through the flick with a solid “Who gives a fuck? (cigarette drag) I guess I do.” attitude. Understandable for a character who’s just been told he has terminal lung cancer and knows for a fact he’ll be spending eternity burning in Hell. If anybody can be punk rock in a suit it’s Keanu Reeves giving Satan the finger in slow motion.

constantine 2 keanu


After the massive success of the first John Wick film, 2015’s Knock Knock teamed Reeves with household horror name Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) in a role that surprisingly showcases Everything Keanu. His character Evan is seduced by two attractive women played by Ana de Armas and Lorena Izzo while his wife and kids are away. By seduced I mean he found himself stuck in a sexy version of one of Jigsaw’s impossible to escape Saw traps. As Evan ends up saying about his entrapment in what may be my favorite Keanu quote of all time: “It was free pizza! Free fuckin’ pizza!”

Once the girls successfully entrap him in infidelity, they instantly flip, refuse to leave and begin to systematically destroy his life. Ultimately this ends in a little bit of actual torture and the threats to kill him by dawn for cheating on his wife and hurting his family. A remake of the ’70s movie Death Game, it’s very much Funny Games if the home invaders were supermodels using sex as their way inside rather than political correctness. The best part about this underrated film, apart from the questions it makes the viewers ask themselves, is watching Reeves chew the scenery. From being the kind of chill, eclectic guy who you’d totally have a beer with to completely off the rails in a “crazy Cage”-esque monologue bordering on camp that you rarely get to see Keanu cut loose for.

A year later Keanu returns to horror with 2016’s The Neon Demon directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives). In a theme you’ll see throughout his career he has a surprisingly small role in the film. You come away with the idea that Reeves just loves to work with interesting people and take on interesting roles, regardless of where his name appears on the poster. His character here, Hank, is who I imagine his character in The Gift would be were he born in Hollywood instead of the holler.

Keanu Reeves horror knock knock

‘Knock Knock’

Hank runs a seedy motel in Los Angeles that Hollywood hopeful Jesse (Elle Fanning) is staying in out of necessity while she climbs the social ladder. She comes home one night to an actual MOUNTAIN LION on her bed (just go with it, it’s a Winding-Refn film. We’re lucky the animal wasn’t doing cocaine with hookers in a Turkish bathhouse with Moby blaring in the background). Hank immediately blames the sixteen year old girl for leaving the door open and intimidates her by shoving her and demanding payment for her mistake. Later on we’ll find out that not only does he dress like a pimp from Grand Theft Auto but in a sense he’s actually a sort of video game boss; something that forces our lead to grow into the person she’s going to be. It’s exactly the opposite of the person you see Keanu Reeves playing and that brings a whole new level to a character that could have easily been formulaic and forgettable.

Finally, we have 2016’s The Bad Batch featuring Keanu in yet another role you would never read the script for and come away saying “That sounds like a role for Keanu Reeves.” Which again makes his character one of the most (if not the most) interesting parts of the movie. In a cannibalistic post-apocalyptic world Keanu plays “The Dream,” who is basically Immortan Joe from Mad Max: Fury Road only much handsomer, well spoken and nicer (if you can overlook the whole sex cult thing he has going on). In this future those deemed unsavory are cast out to this sandy hellscape where cannibals run amok. “The Dream,” who I can only describe as Keanu Reeves literally playing Pablo Escobar, gives them running water (or as he puts it “something to take their shit away”) but also provides drugs and parties. It’s strange. It’s fascinating.

It’s Keanu Reeves doing cool shit. And isn’t that just the best?

Keanu Reeves horror movies

‘The Devil’s Advocate’

The post Serial Killers and Chain-Smoking Exorcists: A Look at Keanu Reeves in Horror Cinema appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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Got any friends who might like this scary horror stuff? GO AHEAD AND SHARE, SHARE!

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