THEN: I remember catching a really strange British flick years back that creeped me out quite a bit. It wasn’t that it was terribly scary, but the story made for a perfect midnight movie, one that featured a couple of especially disturbed images. GOTHIC tells the tale of Mary Shelley and what inspired her to write “Frankenstein.” The Ken Russell directed feature is a surreal interpretation of the night a legend was born. It also happened to have a fantastic cast that helped bring this dark period piece to life. The late Natasha Richardson was perfect as Mary Shelley, and Gabriel Byrne was wildly wicked as Lord Byron. And then there was Julian Sands as Shelley. The blonde-haired, English born gent was perfectly cast in this intoxicatingly awesome and fantastical horror story.
What is interesting about Julian Sands is that he has always been more than just a genre actor. In fact, he appeared in a number of well regarded works early on in his career - actually, you could say this about his entire career. The actor was featured in THE KILLING FIELDS and the much lighter OXFORD BLUES in 1984. And in 1985, he dabbled in THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS, a dark drama starring Timothy Dalton and Jonathan Pryce. That same year, he had a starring role in AFTER DARKNESS, and then, he romanced Helena Bonham Carter in the critically acclaimed Merchant Ivory classic, A ROOM WITH A VIEW. There was something incredibly intriguing about the actor, especially considering he entertained in the obscure as often as he did.
After the hauntingly bizarre GOTHIC in 1986, Sands once again took a strange trip in the 1987 thriller SIESTA. Once again, he appeared opposite Gabriel Byrne along with an impressive cast that included Isabella Rosselini, Martin Sheen, Grace Jones, Jodie Foster and Ellen Barkin in the lead role. The Mary Lambert directed feature was even more curious than GOTHIC, if a little less creepy. This sexually charged drama was yet another intriguing turn for the actor, and thankfully, he continued to take on roles that weren’t quite your typical leading man characters. In 1988, the actor did get a little serious in WHEREVER YOU ARE… but he also went for some humor in the Cyndi Lauper and Jeff Goldblum psychic flick called VIBES.
After an already substantial career, he was given the starring role in one of the goofiest horror franchises ever. It was 1989 and slasher flicks weren’t in favor for audiences anymore. Luckily, we had WARLOCK. In this fantasy horror flick, Sands portrays an evil warlock, one who is pursued by a desperate witch hunter. Along with Sands, the film featured Lori Singer, Richard E. Grant and horror icon Mary Waronov. Steve Miner (FRIDAY THE 13th PART 2 and HALLOWEEN H2O) entertained in the humor of this supernatural shocker. And while I would never consider this a good film necessarily, Julian appeared to be having a blast playing a murderous warlock.
In the midst of more serious minded projects, the talented actor never seemed to fully tire of terror. In 1990 he appeared in the terrific Stephen Spielberg produced, killer spider flick ARACHNOPHOBIA along with John Goodman and Jeff Daniels. He then continued with some seriously f*cked up cinema with one of my personal favorites, David Cronenberg’s NAKED LUNCH. This 1991 flick is uncomfortably odd in the best of ways. If you are looking for a great mindf*ck, this is it. After doing a number of films including IMPROMPTU (1991), THE TURN OF THE SCREW (1992) and TALE OF A VAMPIRE (1992), 1993 brought the actor back to a brand new level of strange. BOXING HELENA, directed by David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer Chambers Lynch, is beyond words in weirdness, especially his creepily obsessed performance as a man keeping a limbless Sherilyn Fenn captive.
That same year, Sands once again played the title character in the incredibly silly WARLOCK: THE ARMAGEDDON. While this is not a good movie, it is one that I find to be terribly entertaining. A big part of that is Sands who still appeared to enjoy playing this mayhem loving warlock. Perhaps he was tired of portraying the same role in an increasingly bad series, but the actor did not return for the next direct-to-video installment in 1999 called WARLOCK III: THE END OF INNOCENCE. After that, Julian took on a number of other roles that aren’t a part of the genre. He appeared in THE BROWNING VERSION in 1994, LEAVING LAS VEGAS in 1995 and ONE NIGHT STAND in 1997. Yet he returned to horror to play The Phantom in Dario Argento’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in 1998.
Since then, the actor continued to work steadily. Some of his many credits include TIMECODE (2000), THE MILLION DOLLAR HOTEL (2000) THE SCOUNDREL’S WIFE (2002) - that same year he appeared in the TV mini-series Rose Red written by Stephen King. Other notable genre offerings include THE HAUNTED AIRMAN in 2006, Stargate: The Ark of Truth (2008) and the David Fincher remake of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO in 2011. The actor was also featured in a number of television shows including 24 for eleven episodes in 2006, Ghost Whisperer in 2007, Smallville in 2009 - 2010, Person of Interest in 2012 and Dexter in 2013.
NOW: While it has been a long time since WARLOCK, Mr. Sands continues to work as a damn good character actor. In 2014 he starred in CESAR CHAVEZ, and in 2015 he appeared in a couple of episodes of Gotham as Gerald Crane. Judging from his IMDB page, it would appear that he is enjoying a more serious minded career. You can find him working with the lovely Laura Harring in the crime thriller THE LONER and the drama THE CHOSEN. One fascinating project appears to be BORLEY RECTORY, an animated documentary about ‘The most haunted house in England.’ Animated documentary? Well, I’m intrigued.
Julian Sands is a rare breed. He is an accomplished actor, one who is incredibly under-appreciated, yet he helped create an semi-iconic horror villain. And while he continues to do respectable features, he has certainly given a handful of memorable genre performances. Honestly, as silly as the WARLOCK movies are, they are still a ton of fun to watch if I happen to catch them on television. And the reason why they work? It is Julian. While it is always great to see the actor take on a dramatic piece, it would be fantastic to see him take on another scare infused feature. In my humble opinion, Julian Sands is a fantastic actor, one that doesn't get as much praise as he should. So if you haven’t embraced the campy WARLOCK or dabbled in the deranged with GOTHIC, SIESTA or NAKED LUNCH, I highly recommend you spend some quality time with the incredibly talented Mr. Sands.