Man, I hate celebrity obituaries. They seem overly superficial and obligatory, summarizing a man’s life with a hit-and-run of his Wikipedia entry. So there’s nothing I can contribute of any depth in mourning the passing of Leslie Nielsen except to explain what he meant personally to me, and his entertaining romp in a retro slasher.
He may have invented his own brand of absent-minded slapstick in The Naked Gun flicks and others, but I’ve always remembered him as the guy that classed up Prom Night (1980), a film I’ve always felt lost substantial pace by the inclusion of investigation procedural. But Nielsen, as the father of Jamie Lee Curtis’ character, Mr. Hammond, makes it watchable. He was definitely wasted in that role – for his close connection to characters and events in the movie, his scenes have a very dislocated feel to them prior to the climax.
Creepshow (1982) was a higher platform to showcase Nielsen’s chops, with a mix of straight-shooting menace and macabre humor in the role of Richard, the wealthy prick that buries Ted Danson up to his neck in sand – as high tide slowly approaches. Watching that as a kid, I imagined that to be truly one of the worst ways to go, and as an adult it hasn’t moved too far down the list. Nielsen as the cold and calculating Richard totally sold it, and the resulting sweaty, hysterical, frozen-with-fear laughter toward the conclusion of his segment is pure acting gold.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some disco dancing to groove to like it was prom night circa nineteen-eighty. Refer to embedded video. Strangely it seems the right thing to do.