Tom Atkins: Halloween Hero

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Halloween is the best time of year (sorry Santa, but my tastes have evolved and it’s been a while since you dropped by) and it’s not too long til the big night is here and the Silver Shamrock ads are playing. For horror movie fans, it’s a treat as the TV channels will soon be rolling out some late-night screenings and various venues of good repute will be having all-night-horror-thons.

In 80’s horror and sci-fi there are a few names that stand tall and get the admiration and fanboy fawning they deserve; Carpenter, Craven, Campbell, Romero… these individuals stand tall and their contribution to everyone’s favourite season is much recognised, as it should be. However, it’s occurred to me that there’s often a contributor who I say has given as much as your Combs or Englund, and that’s Tom Atkins. Tom Atkins is “that guy who was in that thing, and then he was in that other thing as well…arghh, what’s his NAME?!” Here is Tom Atkins…

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Tom Atkins was the put-upon everyman who more often than not, ended up scrambling around to try and save the day. He was a likeable beer-from-a-can-having fella, sometime moustachioed, sometimes not  and he turned up in enough movies and worked with enough horror maestros to at least earn him an honourable mention in a horror hall of fame.

Naturally, Tom spent some time in the US Navy, establishing his masculine credentials early on. Shortly after leaving the navy (presumably it didn’t present enough manly challenges), he decided to pursue acting as a profession and he took his swag to the stage, his first gig was a Broadway play no less, a piece called Keep it in the Family, putting him alongside one Patrick Macnee, who horror dorks will recognise as Dr. George Waggner from The Howling – a sign of the direction his career would turn. Atkins’ profile went next level after John carpenter cast him as Nick Castle in The Fog (1980) and from there his association with Carpenter continued with roles in Escape From New York (1981) and Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982). Atkins also worked with George Romero, another horror icon, in Creepshow (1982). Originally Atkins wanted to play Jordy Verrill, the hick that gets consumed by green alien weeds. The part was promised to Stephen King so Atkins had to settle for the beer-drinkin’, kid-beatin’ father who happens to think horror comics are trash.

It was in 1986 that Atkins appeared in Fred Dekker’s Night of the Creeps, a role and a film that’s remembered fondly amongst many horror fans. The movie is great fun and crafted by people with a clear affection for the genre, especially Fred Dekker, who went on to direct the pure awesome The Monster Squad (1987). As a sidenote, The Monster Squad was written by Shane Black who, according to Atkins himself, wanted him for the role of Martin Riggs in his freshly penned draft of Lethal Weapon…interesting. He did go on to appear in Lethal Weapon as Michael Hunsaker, not as the character Mel Gibson made his own.

Atkins then appeared in 1988’s Maniac Cop (you could say that he went from one maniac cop to another) appearing with yet another horror icon, Bruce Campbell.

He continues to work to this day, according to IMDB his latest gig The Wicked Hollows, scheduled for release in 2016. The movie is a horror, fittingly. How lovely is that?

For me, he will always be Dr. Dan Challis from Halloween III. I first saw that movie when I was young and (there are spoilers here for those who haven’t seen it) the part that freaked me out the most was when all the bugs and critters and snakes came from inside the boy’s Halloween mask. The other knockout part is actually what I’d like to sign off with, what I believe is Tom’s finest hour. Aware of the horrific plan to murder millions of children through a demonic TV broadcast, Dr. Challis frantically phones around the television networks, pleading with them to cut the broadcast of the Silver Shamrock ad. A bleak ending, the way a good horror movie should be.

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