As many of you are likely aware by now, on top of being a huge horror fanatic, I am also a rabid fan of a few old TV shows, specifically Married… With Children, The Simpsons and All in the Family. With so much nerdy fandom swishing around in my head (along with all of that discount booze), it was only a matter of time before I envisioned an article that linked these two obsessions together somehow.
That is why, a few months ago, we brought you a new, weird segment called Nightmares in TV Land. It was part trivia and part before-they-were stars fun. The idea was to take some of yesterday’s beloved comedy programs and reveal their stars’ horror genre roots, as well as its nods and cameos.
So now we’re back with a second installment, and this time we’ve picked a show that I not only loved, watched and rewatched growing up, but a show that also has much, unashamed love for the horror genre.
Behold the terrors of…
FUN FACT: Roseanne was the most watched television show in the United States from 1989 to 1990 and remained in the top four for six of its nine seasons, and in the top twenty for eight seasons.
Quite the controversial actor/comedian/producer/writer, Roseanne was nonetheless adored as the overweight, screeching, pink collar Mom of 1990s America.
But can we link her generous ass to the horror genre?
Well, the woman already dresses like this in real life.
So I’m guessing… yeah.
In 1898 Roseanne starred in the revenge comedy She-Devil, wherein she played the ultimate evil… an ex-wife. In it she vows vengeance on her cheating husband (eco-nut Ed Begley Jr.) and his novelist mistress (Meryl What-Am-I-Doing-in-this-Movie Streep).
She also popped up in John Water’s twisted movie about making movies, Cecil B. Demented, and recently she gave her vocal skills (though thankfully not singing) to the notorious monster Kraang Prime on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
But Roseanne’s true claim to horrorhound fame is all a matter of location, location, location. Back when she was married to Tom Arnold (patriarch of The Stupids), she and her hubby lived on horror’s most famous street.
That’s right, my little ghoulies. In Nightmare on Elm Street’s exhausted sixth installment – a 3D clusterfuck of cameos and corn called Freddy’s Dead – Roseanne and Tom briefly appear as terrified residents of Elm Street.
Now that’s what I call horror clout.
JACKIE HARRIS (LAURIE METCALF)
Huge talent Laurie Metcalf has a resume as long as the Oregon Trail, but she will always be most remembered as Roseanne’s neurotic, promiscuous, job-hopping sister, Jackie.
In 1990, Laurie played a lawyer trying to protect a young couple from a Batman-gone-all-Cape-Fear tenant in the dark thriller Pacific Heights. If you’ve ever wanted to see Michael Keaton rub an ice cube on the rockin’ tits of Ellen Griswold of the Vacation flicks (and who doesn’t?) then you should check it out.
But Metcalf’s big horror snag is due to yet another beloved Wes Craven franchise.
In Scream 2, she played Debbie Slat, the craziest horror movie Mom since Mrs. Voorhees. This was a good casting call for the film, not only because of her sheer talent, but also because she had grown to be so beloved as Jackie that audiences were thrown for a loop when she went all wackadoo.
DARLENE (SARA GILBERT)
Of all the characters on the show, we horror nerds all related the most to the anti-social, comic-book-reading, black-clad Darlene. Sara Gilbert was excellent at portraying the disillusioned Gen X-er adrift in the mediocre sea of suburbia.
Working primarily as a producer now, Gilbert’s only contribution to the genre was the 1992 bad girl flick Poison Ivy, wherein she played the plain-Jane counterpart to an extra sultry and satanic Drew Barrymore. In it, she must stop Barrymore who is out to ruin her family by stealing their riches and fucking her Dad.
This flick spawned a few sequels, each more soft core porny than the last. But that all lead to a pre-Earl nude Jaime Pressly, which we should all be extremely grateful for.
BECKY #1 (ALICIA GORANSON)
As the preppy and pretty Becky, Alicia Goranson was the perfect sibling rivalry for the goth Darlene. Always concerned with great grades and greater dresses, Becky was the “good one” until she brought home a rebel boyfriend who never left.
Goranson left the show for a while to pursue college, helping her avoid the common catastrophes most child stars meet later in the life when they start robbing 7-11s for meth money and free cheese. But while her acting resume is limited, she still managed to star in the dark drama Boys Don’t Cry, which includes some terrifying scenes that give extreme horror a run for its money.
But her horror high note is her appearance in the seldom seen Death 4 Told, the horror anthology which co-stars genre heavyweights Tom Savini and Margot Kidder. While nearly unwatchable, this fright film still gives her terror clout nonetheless.
FUN FACT: The two Beckys both appear in season 8.
BECKY # 2 (SARAH CHALKE)
Before she became the eye candy on the painfully unfunny Scrubs with painfully unfunny hipster Zach Braff, the painfully gorgeous Chalke took over as Becky Conner when Alicia Goranson left the show.
In the early nineties she had roles in home-sick-with-nothing-else-to-watch TV movie thrillers such as Relentless: Mind of a Killer and Stand Against Fear. Chalke primarily plays the hot girl in soft comedies for girls. She never delves much into darker material – the most noteworthy effort possibly being a guest spot on Robot Chicken.
But she looks like this, so who cares.
DJ (MICHAEL FISHMAN)
Adorable little rascal of the family, DJ, was well played by Michael Fishman. In the show’s yearly Halloween specials (more on those gems later in this article), DJ always had the best costumes (remember the Alfalfanator?)
Fishman became a producer of the show when he got older, but his screen credits are limited. Regardless, he has a brief scene in the sci-fi epic A.I. and he played a runt chasing a midget sasquatch in Little Bigfoot 2.
So there’s that.
BEVERLY HARRIS (ESTELLE PARSONS)
Known to my generation as Roseanne’s manipulative, mega-bitch mother, Beverly, the fine actress Estelle Parsons has achieved a great deal. She was The Today Show’s first female editor, she starred as a reoccurring character on All in the Family, and she won an Academy Award for her role in Bonnie and Clyde in 1967.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. What about horror?
Well, Parsons was terrorized by sadistic young punks in Terror on the Beach and she dealt with alien abduction in The UFO Incident, co-starring with Darth Vadar himself, James Earl Jones.
She also is a surviving star of 1990’s abysmal Dick Tracy. There are few things scarier than being sat down to watch that.
MARK HEALY (GLENN QUINN)
The Connor family was never the same after those Healy boys came ‘round for their daughters. First was the Johnny Depp-ish troubled teen, Mark, who lured Becky out of her bedroom window with punk-a-billy hair and his chain-smoking mug. He was well portrayed by the late Glenn Quinn.
Quinn has some serious horror clout, despite the notable handicap of having died prematurely, limiting his resume. He was a regular on the vampire show Angel, and he appeared in the Scream-esque R.S.V.P. (alongside fellow on-screen stoner, Jason Mewes).
But for we horror nerds, he will always be remembered as one of the terrified “patients” of the abominable Dr. Giggles.
This ridiculous campfest is a cult treasure – more than decorative on any shelf of DVDs – solidifying Quinn’s place in horror movie history.
DAVID HEALY (JOHNNY GALECKI)
Mark’s artsy, wimpy brother David started dating Darlene, and even moved in with the Connors to escape his abusive mother (a “very special episode”, but actually a great one).
Played by Johnny Galecki – beloved star of The Big Bang Theory – a show I have never seen – David was as much like his brother as Darlene was like her sister. He also gave all of us young, misunderstood artists an additional character on the show to relate to.
On top of playing Rusty in Christmas Vacation (that’s right, another shout out for the Vacation movies, what of it?) Galecki starred in the dark thrillers Vanilla Sky and Suicide Kings. He also starred in the obscure, true crime film Murder Ordained alongside horror goddess Kathy Bates.
But Galecki’s biggest horror contribution is an obvious one… although it is, in my opinion, a forgettable one.
He was in this genre turd. What a steaming pile.
But as far as the cast of Roseanne goes, the trophy for most horror movie muscle goes to the guy who you’ve been wondering why I haven’t mentioned yet.
I saved the best for last.
DAN CONNER (JOHN GOODMAN)
Goodman was perfect as Roseanne’s big, plaid, contractor hubby. He was a solid reflection of working class america during that time (and remains so even now). Goodman is a spectacular actor who gave life to such memorable characters as Walter Sobchak and King Ralph (yeah, I went there).
Goodman also has the most horror clout of the bunch. No question.
Before he was anybody, he had a bit role in C.H.U.D.
See that? C.H.U.D, bitches! How’s THAT for a horror checkpoint!
He also popped up in Arachnophobia as a crazed exterminator, played horror movie nut Lawrence Moolsey in Matinee, starred alongside Pacino in the edgy thriller Sea of Love, played a head thug in the ultra-violent though senseless Death Sentence, and had a big part in Kevin Smith’s so-called “horror” movie mess Red State. Plus, most recently, he reprised his role as the loveable monster Sullivan in the new Monsters, Inc. sequel.
These are just a few horror highlights in his lustrous career.
Ok, one more for the true gore hounds….
Early in his career, Goodman had a part in the genuine grindhouse flick Jailbait Babysitter!
If ever there was a trailer you needed to see, it’s this one. This is what 42nd Street was all about.
But the championing moment in Goodman’s horror contributions has to go to him for his chilling portrayal of the bloodthirsty lunatic Madman Muntz in the Coen brother’s moody depiction of Hell, Barton Fink.
I will show you the life of the mind!
I have highlighted the main cast of the show above, but there were many other fine actors who drifted on and off of the show throughout its long arch. But a few of the series’ regulars are considerably noteworthy to the foaming mouths of the fans of the horror genre.
Scream Queen Danielle Harris (Halloween 4 & 5, Hatchet 2 & 3) stands out as one of the show’s side characters who has contributed a whole hell of a lot to horror. She was the Conner’s not-so-nice girl next door, much to Darlene’s chagrin, in seven episodes.
Anyone who knows anything about scary movies will gladly wait in line to get an autograph from this scream queen. After all, she is Michael Myers’ niece.
Michael-fucking-Myers. ‘Nuff said.
Pennywise himself appeared on the show as Dan’s sneaky business partner Roger. He did not dress in drag or sing, causing great disappointment. But Tim is always entertaining even when he isn’t over the top.
Tales From the Crypt veteran William Sadler played one of Dan’s goofy buddies early on in the series’ first season.
Jim “Ernest” Varney appeared on the show as a prince who courted Jackie. From that description, I guess it goes without saying that by that point the show had not only jumped the shark but lost its mind — with the Conners being lottery millionaires and Roseanne gallivanting with those annoying limeys from Absolutely Fabulous. Jim did the best he could with the drivel he was given.
Oh, and Ernest Scared Stupid counts as a horror film in my book. Deal with it.
Other notable horror genre stars that appeared on the show include George Clooney, Traci Lords, Bruce Willis, Stephen Dorff, Sharon Stone, James Brolin and Alyson Hannigan.
I certainly can’t do a horror-themed tribute to Roseanne without mentioning that the series’ created some truly incredible Halloween episodes during its long course. I think only The Simpsons had better Halloween episodes, and that is really saying something.
But unlike The Simpsons’ ever-zany Treehouse of Horror episodes, the Halloween specials on Roseanne primarily dealt with the Conners enjoying the holiday in “real life” rather than casting them in bizarre, alternate worlds of horror-movie parody.
The show also really emphasized the importance of the holiday as a yearly family celebration that unites communities – casting Halloween in the warm, nostalgic glow it really deserves. Many of the episodes even deal with the struggle to retain the Halloween spirit as one gets older, particularly the great episode Halloween IV, which plays out like A Christmas Carol, with Roseanne being visited by the three ghosts of Halloween (in a dream).
The Conners also rigorously engaged in sick Halloween pranks, worked hard on making their home a haunted house, and prided themselves and having the most creative costumes in town.
One of the most clever of these episodes has Roseanne dressed as a man for Halloween, only to have her and Jackie have their car breakdown on their way back from the costume party, giving Roseanne an opportunity to pretend she’s a dude at the local bar.
These classic six episodes (plus a seventh that reaaalllly tries your patience and the completely abysmal eighth one) are a perfect snapshot of Halloween in the late 80’s and early 90s, and yet they remain timeless and are just as relevant now as they were then, much like It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. These could be revisited every year, and with particular ease now that they are all available on one simple DVD collection.
So if you’re ready to start celebrating the Halloween season a little early, do what I did and grab some Octoberfests (already in stock at most stores) and pop on this lil’ marathon to celebrate Halloweens past and prepare for the glorious holiday which lurks just around the corner like a shuddering mummy.
Now that you’ve read this article, I think you can better understand why the Conners are always welcome in the Tavern.