Thoughts from the Ledge: The dark intensity of Sam Neill

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Welcome to my series where I pay homage to those unsung heroes of the horror genre. This installment, I am going to discuss the dark intensity of Sam Neill.

“I’m not insane!” – John J. Trent

A Serious Thespian

Sam Neill has been around since the 1970s as an actor. Theater trained, he worked with the New Zealand Players and many may not know this little tidbit but he was a director, editor and scriptwriter for six years with the New Zealand National Film Unit.

Veteran thespian, James Mason of A Star is Born and North by Northwest fame saw Neill in a theatrical production in the ’70s and immediately became his mentor. Mason helped him get a role in the movie, Ivanhoe where Sam played, Brian de Bois-Guilbert.

Consistently throughout the years, Neill has worked with such luminaries as Meryl Streep, Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Anthony Hopkins and Cate Blanchett. His film catalogue is vast and varied. However, some probably don’t know he also has roots in the horror community.

Let’s take a look at some of his best performances in the genre starting with his turn as the spawn of Satan, Damien Thorne in the 1981 film, The Final Conflict or Omen III.

The Final Conflict (1981)

Thoughts from the Ledge – Sam Neill – Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Who better to play the adult Damien Thorne than dark haired light eyed, Sam Neill? Satan’s son is handsome and all grown up. Fully realizing his powers and eager to assume his position as heir to the kingdom, Thorne is on the rampage trying to find the new Messiah.

However, a contingency of monks will rally together to protect the savior at any cost including their lives. This isn’t a bad sequel to The Omen. The acting is serviceable and Neill is more than believable as Damien. You could imagine him seducing men and women to get what he needs.

Possession (1981)

Thoughts from the Ledge – Sam Neill – Possession – Courtesy of Marianne Productions

In this film effort, Sam stars as the husband to the incomparably beautiful Isabelle Adjani. One day, Anna (Adjani) asks her husband Mark (Neill) for a divorce. He suspects infidelity but it isn’t that simple to determine.

While Anna is growing increasingly unstable, Mark fears for their son, Bob. Through the course of Mark’s obsession with why his wife wants to leave him, he finds she has taken a lover, Heinrich.  A chance meeting with Bob’s teacher, Helen (also played by Adjani) who looks exactly like his estranged wife, stirs passion in Mark’s soul.

The result is a deeply disturbing horror film where the outcome for Adjani’s character is somewhat gruesome. Once again, Neill delivers. There’s something about his calm nature and steely blue gaze.

He appears to have it together but inwardly you can see a fire is building and that’s his appeal as an actor. You never know if he will quite lose his s**t or not.

Dead Calm (1989)

Thoughts from the Ledge – Sam Neill – Dead Calm – Courtesy of Kennedy Miller Productions

One of my favorite go-to horror thrillers featuring Nicole Kidman as Sam Neill’s younger wife. After a tragic car accident kills their son, Kidman and Neill take a sabbatical and sail the seven seas looking for some sort of closure and serenity. They are in desperate need of solitude for a chance to heal.

Although Kidman is like a newborn babe in this picture, you can just see the actress she will grow to become in her performance. Struggling with a potential addiction to pills, she is literally fighting for her sanity in trying to manage her grief.

As her husband, Neill is stoic and loving. He wants to help his wife and is doing his best. However, their peaceful attempts at reconciliation are going to be thwarted when they rescue a panicked Billy Zane from a sinking ship.

When Neill has doubts to the veracity of Zane’s account of how the ship started failing, he decides to investigate leaving his vulnerable wife behind. Unbeknownst to the couple, Zane has plans for both of them. Let’s just say they are pretty close to being insane.

As it turns out, Sam has to battle the other ship sinking and trying to save her while Kidman is literally fighting for her life with Zane. This is a taught thriller that will leave you on the edge of your seat. Terrific performances from Neill, Kidman and Zane. You end up rooting for Nicole to kick Zane’s butt.