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25th Anniversary: George Clooney's Big Screen Debut

Twenty five years ago one of the world's few bonafide movie stars and one of this year's Best Actor frontrunners made his silver screen debut. Internet sources disagree on the exact date -- probably due to the film being a no-budget indie with an erratic release schedule -- but the earliest is January 9th. The point is this: We've now reached a quarter century of Clooney on the big screen!

If you investigate a trail of blood in a horror movie, you deserve to die.

Like many stars before and after him, George Clooney's first movie role was in a cheapo horror flick. His was named Return to Horror High (1987). Though Clooney is dispatched in the first fifteen minutes (first victim is an honor in horror casts, yes?) he was a big enough "name" in a field of (mostly) nobodies to get second billing.

He'd already had two short-lived series regular gigs on television, most famously a recurring role on The Facts of Life. In 1984 he starred in a sitcom called E/R which is hilarious in retrospect (the gig not the show) since it was about emergency room doctors in Chicago. Ten years later with ER, a very different show about the exact same thing, he'd become a major star. It'd be nice to state something triumphant like 'Return to Horror High was the first and last time he'd ever have to accept second billing!' but it wouldn't be true. In between there was lots of flailing around... in roles and screens big and small.

A prophetic moment after the jump.

Clooney's rise to the top was not rocket-fueled but he did it with one small step up at a time. That should be a source of inspiration to struggling actors everywhere. Judy Greer, an earlier co-star in Three Kings (1999) and current co-star in The Descendants (2011), said it well in our recent interview when talking about her own survival on screens big and small.

It's so hard to be an actor in Hollywood, obviously, and in a lot of ways George Clooney knows it as well as anyone else. He tried for years to be an actor before he become George Clooney if you know what I mean. I was excited to see him. I kind of wanted to be 'Dude, I fucking did it. Look, I'm still here. I'm hanging on. I'm still acting. Remember all those years ago? I'm still plugging away!' 

Though Return to Horror High is a straight up terrible movie, it's interesting for being Clooney's debut and an early example of horror movies incessantly commenting on themselves. The set up is that a movie crew is shooting a movie about a bloody rampage in the school where the original killings took place. A cop (Brendan Hughes) who investigated the original crime is called in as a technical advertiser and stumbles onto the shooting of a scene which is where we meet Clooney as "Oliver" who is playing a cop in the movie.

Clooney's first shot / first line in a movie

Seconds later Oliver (Clooney) receives a phone call from his agent and promptly quits the movie for a starring role in a TV series (heh). The cop replaces him as leading man.

As Oliver exits the set he also leaves all traces of his intelligence behind -- a common horror movie malady -- and follows spooky sounds down dark hallways where he investigates a trail of blood even though he's only an actor and not a real cop.

The funniest thing about the scene is him shouting to the killer for directions.

Can you tell me how to get out of here? I thought this was the way to the parking lot."

He climbed up stairs to get here. Uh... how many high schools have parking garages on their second floors?

 He continues wandering down the dimly lit empty hallways and finds a trail of blood which he investigates (OF COURSE) and is then attacked (OF COURSE) which happens with a very confusing edit until he is discreetly killed behind a door out of our view to save on the movie's non-existent budget. You know it's happening because his face gets shoved against the door's window so you can register his confusion and the death blow. ACTING! If Clooney's "I'm dying!" eye-acting isn't strong enough for you we get a pool of red syrupy blood pooling under the door as proof. 

Goodbye George Clooney's first movie character!

The most wonderful bit in retrospect, though, is Clooney's initial exit from the set (right before the death scene). He's all cocky about his future stardom but stops to wish his actress co-star well. She sarcastically mocks his career dreams which is, in retrospect, as stupid as investigating mysterious trails of blood in slasher movies.

To quote another seemingly small star of the 1980s whose legend has only ever grown:

Do or do not. There is no try.

George Clooney did.



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Reader Comments (6)

Yes it was really great and it really makes sense that you made such a great post.

As much as I admire him for all of his perseverance at the beginning of his career, it's still funny to think of George Clooney trying for anything. He makes everything seem so damn effortless. Even looking at caps from Return To Horror High of all things, I'm in danger of having my pants charmed right off. How does he do that?

January 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTB

TB -- thanks for commenting. I get all sniffly when i love a post and no one else does. ;) It's true that he has an effortless about him. I wouldn't say it was always as strong as it is now though. But people who are comfortable in their own skin... well, that reads.

January 9, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I loved this post! If it's part of a new series I'm all for it. And if this season is about Clooney vs. Pitt I'm on team Clooney.

January 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

I've always thought it interesting that in some ways he and La Kidman had similar career trajectories (albeit Clooney didn't marry an already-famous star and people assumed that that alone gave her the leg up, but never mind that.)

What I mean is that for at least a decade or more, Hollywood had no idea what to do with either of them. (I think of them in tandem in part because they starred together in the Peacemaker, which is a very good example of what I'm talking about, trying to fit themselves into Hollywood cookie cutter types based chiefly on their looks.) When they both struck out for smaller, more intelligent films with very talented directors, they both soared. (Perhaps Clooney more than Kidman? He's directed, he has a solid string of films behind him as a producer, he's more willing to be politically active - as he's much better liked, I think, in general. That shouldn't matter in terms of performances but it definitely does in terms of what makes a "star".)

January 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

Janice -- very true. the thing that makes stars STARS is usually their resistance to shoving them into a certain pre-existing spaces; they make their own shapes.

January 9, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R
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