It’s no big secret that Hollywood loves to make movies about Hollywood. There are so many good films about the obsession with fame and celebrity lifestyle, about the cold bureaucracy of the industry because the people behind these productions know exactly what they’re talking about. However fantastical they may get, pictures like this are almost always personal projects from the filmmakers that come from the heart and probably deal with some personal experiences, wrapped up into a fictional, over-the-top narrative.
The movies we’ll be looking at on this list all deal with fame in different ways. Some are about the cruelty of the business and the things people will do to reach the top. Others are about the dangers of being famous, being the target of obsession, whether out of love or hate.
However the movie chooses to deal with fame, these are the films that best represent the intenseness of achieving fame and being famous, and the darkness that come with it and tends to go unspoken.
Perhaps the best example in recent years, Starry Eyes is a very pointed and horrific take on the entertainment industry. It’s about an actress who will do anything in order to make it—and has to. She’s subjected to mental, physical and sexual abuse just for the sake of getting a part. It transforms her both mentally and physically into a creature barely recognizable as the person she was at the start of the film.
Drive director Nicholas Windig-Refn offered up a neon-bathed take on the same kind of subject matter with this year’s The Neon Demon. With the main character being a model, this one is very much about the curse of beauty and the things people will do to eliminate the competition. It’s saved from feeling like “Starry Eyes with a model” by an amazing cast including Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves, as well as gorgeous cinematography and an amazing score.
It can definitely be argued that The Phantom of the Opera story is the biggest example of the horror of celebrity, as it intertwines both the obsession and desperation/fear of success aspects. Dario Argento’s Opera totally updates and contemporizes this tale into an obsession-driven giallo about a killer who feels a kinship with his target, killing for her to gain success within the show, but also forcing her to watch each murder by taping needles under her eyelids.
Argento’s other movie about the dark side of being famous plays a little bit closer to Misery, although in a very Argento-esque way. This is about a successful horror author called in to track a killer who is taking direct inspiration from the author’s works. People are dying the exact same way they died in the books, with pages from the books stuffed into their mouths. It’s one of the most unsettling ideas any horror writer can think of, the notion that someone may take this kind of inspiration from your work.
Audition is an interesting one to include on this list because neither of the two main characters are much involved with the industry at all. All of the film stuff happens totally on the periphery. He doesn’t care about making a movie, he’s holding auditions to find a future wife. She’s looking to find an obsession—and she does. It spirals into a nightmare that the poor guy really should have seen coming. Even though the film is not the focus, it’s keenly centered on the dishonesty and illusion of the industry as a whole.
Shadow of the Vampire
What if there was an actual vampire on the set of Nosferatu. What if the director went and found an actual vampire so that his movie would be an authentic success? It’s a genius concept that’s perfectly acted by John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe, with several other big names rounding out the supporting cast. It’s a dark, unsettling portrayal of the industry in its earliest days.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane
Baby Jane may not be considered outright horror by some, but I think it’s a pure psychological horror story. From top to bottom, this is about the way the industry treats famous people, how stars are perceived once they’re no longer relevant and what they’ll do to hold onto that last shred of relevancy. The performances are stellar, made even better by the fact that the actresses hated each other.
There’s no better movie about celebrity obsession than Misery. As I have grown older, I have come to consider it the scariest thing Stephen King ever conceived. What if you got into a terrible car accident in the middle of nowhere and the only person who pulled you out and even knows you’re alive is your Number One Fan. Kathy Bates more than earned her Oscar for her unhinged, rage-fueled and disturbingly polite turn as Annie Wilkes.