Why Do Horror Movies Love Punishing Justin Long?
This article contains SPOILERS for Barbarian and House of Darkness.
While he somehow has yet to be stunt-cast in a movie co-starring Martin Short, Justin Long sure has played a lot of widely-varied roles throughout his career; from a romantic comedy leading man, to a gross-out comedy sidekick, to some guy who follows John McClane around as he performs increasingly implausible stunts. But more recently, Long has been getting attention for his role in Barbarian, the celebrated horror movie about the world’s worst (but also, on the plus side, most spacious) Airbnb.
Long plays a dum dum Hollywood actor accused of sexual assault (which he ultimately, meekly confesses to) who, through a convoluted series of events we won’t fully go into, ends up being violently blinded and killed by a large, deformed nude woman in the streets of a Detroit suburb.
Long’s villainous turn in this graphic, often uncomfortable horror movie was even used as a key part of the film’s marketing; 20th Century Studios released a bait-and-switch teaser trailer on YouTube for “Justin Long’s New Movie,” which initially presents itself as a quirky indie dramedy from the producer of The Lego Movie, and “the studio that brought you Alvin and the Chipmunks” – the latter, of course, featured the voice of Long as Alvin.
This is a sly bit of clever advertising, but while Justin Long may be known in some circles for his clean-cut mainstream successes, he’s also become a go-to narrative punching bag for horror filmmakers; the perfect foil to be subjected to various grisly acts of unspeakable cruelty.
Barbarian isn’t even the only horror movie this year in which Long plays a misogynist who ends up dying at the hands of a vengeful female “monster.” In House of Darkness, a revisionist take on Dracula, Long’s character attempts to hook up with two sisters who turn out to be vampires, and things go predictably south for the cocky d-bag.
Also, just last year, Long showed up in a terrific episode of Creepshow (penned by the great Dana Gould) in which he, again, dies because of a wronged female character. Long’s presence in all these movies, in which he plays problematic male characters who receive horrific comeuppance, seems to be making the same point; often, it’s the clean-cut “nice guys” who turn out to be toxic pieces of crap.
Earlier still, in the pre-MeToo days of 2014, we got Tusk, the Kevin Smith film about a podcaster who is abducted by an eccentric old man and surgically transformed into a walrus – only to be rescued by Johnny Depp who is playing a Quebecois P.I. with a fake mustache and heavy make-up, because this is a dirty ether-soaked rag of a movie.
Before that, Justin Long saw his cursed fiancée swallowed into a fiery underworld in Drag Me to Hell, but the trend seemingly started with Jeepers Creepers, a movie that, understandably, doesn’t get talked much about these days due to the abhorrent crimes of its director – but it memorably features an ending that reeeaaally doesn’t work out so well for Long’s character.
While one could argue that many of these doomed horror roles subvert Long’s affable public persona, Jeepers Creepers came out in 2001, years before America even had a chance to be annoyed by those damn “I’m an Apple” commercials. It seems, instead, as if there’s something more deeply rooted in the screen presence of Justin Long that makes him the perfect candidate for repeatedly pretending to have his eyes gouged out on screen.
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Thumbnail: 20th Century Studios