Actor John Wayne is known for his Western movies, but he also starred in a horror movie. It was an early performance for the iconic Hollywood star, but die-hard fans should also be aware of the young roles in his career. Nevertheless, Wayne’s horror movie got swept under the rug for good reason, as critics at the time said that it bored them to tears.
Wayne’s only horror movie, Haunted Gold, played on the silver screen in 1932. That’s only two years after his first leading role in Raoul Walsh’s The Big Trail. However, the movie bombed at the box office, which initially tanked the chances of Wayne growing as a movie star. He still tried his best to push through some projects that he wasn’t particularly proud of.
Haunted Gold follows John Mason (Wayne) after he receives an ominous unsigned letter. He decides to head to a mine with his horse, Duke, where he meets Janet Carter (Sheila Terry), who is the daughter of a betrayed miner. They must work together to discover why they were lured there, but they’re soon hunted by a frontier outlaw named Joe Ryan (Harry Woods) and his gang. To make matters worse, a terrifying ghost haunts the mineshaft.
Wayne wasn’t a box office draw yet when the horror movie hit theaters, but Haunted Gold didn’t click for most of those who did see it. A review in Variety tipped its hat to the comedy buried in the movie, but they slammed its lack of thrills and chills. They also called Wayne’s performance “tepid” and pointed out Terry as “giving little assistance.” They called it boring to the average moviegoer with a story that’s three or four years out of date for its time.
Meanwhile, Harrison’s Reports was a tad more favorable, but not by much. They called it “good for children,” although they aren’t alone in pointing out the film’s use of a racial stereotype in Clarence (Blue Washington) as comedic relief. The outdated characterization received a lot of screentime, often standing in the forefront in an offensive role.
Wayne only starred in one horror movie over the course of his career, but it certainly also operated within the Western genre. Other major Hollywood stars would also star in a scary flick before moving onto other projects, and in some cases, that’s how they got their start.
Oscar-winning actor starred in 2012’s House at the End of the Street, which was a critical failure. Moviegoers may also remember Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey, who co-starred in 1994’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. Meanwhile, Kevin Bacon met his gruesome demise in 1980’s Friday the 13th.
A couple of the biggest horror career starters were Johnny Depp in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street and Leonardo DiCaprio in Critters 3.