A few weeks ago, I was sitting with my girlfriend on a cold January night and as we scrolled through Netflix Canada’s offerings (side note: it’s always fascinating seeing what other countries have in their Netflix library) we decided to revisit Mike Flanagan’s 2013 supernatural horror film Oculus. I think the majority of us agree that the film is pretty damn stellar, so it’s no surprise that we thoroughly enjoyed returning to that film.
However, as we were deep in the film, I suddenly realized how spellbound I was by Katee Sackhoff’s performance as Marie Russell. Played with a wide array of emotions and a breathtaking physical intensity, I truly believe that Sackhoff stole the show from an already impressively well-performed feature.
And that got me thinking about all the roles we know and love throughout horror cinema that we constantly talk about to the point that it almost feels like we’re unable to bring up anyone else. Yes, we all know that Jack Nicholson is brilliant in The Shining. Mia Farrow is a goddamn delight in Rosemary’s Baby. Anthony Hopkins portrayal as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs deserved that Oscar. But can’t, and shouldn’t, we take the time to think of other performances that deserve acclaim and praise?
About a year and a half ago, I gather responses from several prominent horror writers, critics, and voices as they recommended various ways to survive a horror movie. Now, I’ve done the same thing but asked some of the same but many new people to weigh in with their favorite yet largely unsung horror performances over the years. From classics to modern titles, these selections highlight some incredible people (and a blob?) that are richly deserving of admiration.
Read on and let us know in the comments the performances that you adore that no one seems to talk about!
Stephen McHattie in Pontypool – Chris Vander Kaay
Stephen McHattie is always great in everything: A History of Violence, Orphan Black, The Strain. However, he’s never been better than as Grant Mazzy, the once-popular radio shock jock at the center of 2008’s Pontypool.
A live-wire channeling of Don Imus down to the cowboy hat, McHattie mesmerizes with his sandpaper growl of a voice, and director Bruce McDonald makes the most of it, starting the film with nothing but a black screen, bouncing audio levels, and McHattie’s monologue. He ends the film trying to save the world (and possibly succeeding) by passionately screaming gibberish words onto the otherwise silent airwaves as bombs fall around him with a gravitas that challenges you to take the absurdity of the story as seriously as he does.
I’ll never forget his gravelly whisper… “Sydney Briar is alive…”
Chris Vander Kaay is an author who has written three books about genre film– The Anatomy of Fear: Conversations with Cult Horror and Science Fiction Filmmakers, Horror Films by Subgenre: A Viewer’s Guide, and Indie Science Fiction Cinema Today: Conversations with 21st Century Filmmakers. He occasionally writes for Bloody Disgusting and creates content for the delightful streaming TV network Mascottv.net. He can be found dropping lukewarm takes on Twitter.
William Marshall in Blacula – Ben Monroe
The 1972 film Blacula is better than it ever gets any credit for, but most people will skip it because of the title. Which is a shame, because it’s a really great monster movie. The standout of the film is William Marshall’s titular performance. A classically-trained actor with tremendous range, he brought a gravitas and poise to a film that rarely gets the respect it should.
The film kicks off in the late 1700’s with Marshall as an African Prince bent on ending the slave trade. Within mere moments, he’s turned into a vampire by an extremely racist Count Dracula. The film progresses rapidly into Los Angeles in the 1970s, but you can’t really fault it for that.
Throughout, Marshall is clearly aware he’s paying tribute to an iconic monster, and delivers the scares along with the cheese. Somehow, he manages to bring a great monster performance into a film full of gay interior decorators, jive-stepping homeboys, and every other cliche of 70s B-movies. Everything “Mainstream White America” was afraid of at the time. The film itself is a great time capsule of AIP in the 70s, but Marshall’s performance is clearly the high point, and worth the price of admission.
Emmett J Scanlan in Lore – Damon Hall
Lore is a show on Amazon Prime Video which shows the real-life horror stories of the past. Lore covers a load of amazing and haunting stories like Robert the Doll and his story, as well as the real stories of the people who thought werewolves were living amongst them. This show has a new topic and new set of characters each episode, showing us the lore of places all over.
Emmett stands out in this performance more than anyone. We see what starts off as a normal man, who seems like an everyday bloke we would run into, become an emotionless murderer who only cares about one thing in this small world: making money without caring how he gets it. Throughout the episode, we see him turn into an animal who kills without a second’s thought as he is driven by greed without an ounce of shame.
Emmett’s performance really stands out to me as he is extremely believable in this role. His character takes pride in his work, delivering the bodies like he is delivering art. He seems to hold no empathy for those he has killed, even those he knows, and he acts like he has done nothing wrong. His performance is very adaptive. It is not like he is playing one emotion but rather multiple. We see him angry, sad, happy, confused, sickened, frustrated, embarrassed, shocked… But most importantly, we see him proud. Despite having all these emotions, he shows no empathy to his fellow man and woman, treating his kills like a work of art so that he doesn’t leave a mark on his victims…as that will affect his profit.
He really does deliver an Oscar-winning performance and it is a shame more don’t know of his performance. His character, despite being a graverobbing murderer, comes across somewhat charming in his performance. Even though I know he is a despicable person, I cannot help but like him!
For this reason, I feel more people should know of this performance as it is probably one of the best ones I have seen. He takes pride in a character that is both charming and terrifying!
Terry O’Quinn in The Stepfather – Paul Farrell
“Wait a minute, who am I here?”
The line, spoken toward the end of 1987’s The Stepfather, is the perfect summation of what amounts to one of the genre’s great performances. As Jerry Blake, Terry O’Quinn constructs a myriad of personalities, knitted together by the elusive threads which comprise his version of the American Dream. Each part of his self is carefully positioned and monitored, the various components of his personality and past so layered in their construction that one gets the feeling that the true man who lies beneath Jerry Blake never actually surfaces.
Terry O’Quinn builds a
“Who am I here?”
Despite what his wife answers in the film and Terry O’Quinn’s agreeable response, the answer, I’m afraid, is not Jerry Blake. The truth is a secret to everyone in the film, including Terry O’Quinn, which, in my estimation, is precisely why we’re so lucky to have this performance in the first place.
Paul Farrell loves everything and anything genre— and he has the late-night tweets to prove it. He is a co-host on the Dead Ringers Podcast and has contributed to their website, HorrorHound Magazine and The ScreamCast. He also writes a bi-weekly column for scriptophobic.ca called ‘Written in Blood’, providing script-to-screen analysis for famous practical effects sequences in genre cinema. Follow along with his horror movie Twitter ramblings @paulisgreat2000.
Jeffrey Combs in Re-Animator – Alisha Grauso
“Herbert West brought a lot of dead people back to life,” intoned the original voiceover trailer for Re-Animator, “and not one of them showed any appreciation.”
With that, the darkly comedic tone of the cult horror movie was set. But bringing that vision to life required a special actor, one able to lean all the way into the over-the-top gorefest while still maintaining the dry humor that anchored the film. Enter Jeffrey Combs.
Even by horror movie standards, Re-Animator pushed the boundaries of blood and gore, nudity and the grotesque, but Combs held the entire film together. If the world ever goes to shit, I’m picking Herbert West as my zombie apocalypse partner. Immediately.
Alisha Grauso is an entertainment journalist and editor living (or surviving, your call) in Los Angeles. She’s currently the editorial lead for Atom Tickets and former editor-at-large for Movie Pilot. She also occasionally freelances for a number of outlets. When she’s not writing, you can find her alternately yelling at people and making self-deprecating jokes on Twitter @alishagrauso.
Roddy McDowall in The Legend of Hell House – Meg Shields
Perfection exists, and it’s Roddy McDowall yelling at everyone about how stupid they are. Ben Fischer is one of two mediums summoned to the infamously degenerate Belasco manor—but this isn’t his first ghost rodeo. Twenty years ago, Fischer survived a catastrophic expedition to Hell House when he was only fifteen. And he’ll be damned if he isn’t going to survive this one too. McDowall is a ball of nerves wrapped in a wool turtleneck and a bowl cut. He’s the sassiest mental wreck this side of the astral plane. His magnified eyes flit as wildly as his admonishing tongue: coming here was a mistake. He just has to keep his gigantic glasses down, get paid, and get out.
As the team descends into degeneracy, the meek medium’s reluctance pivots into surprising and exquisitely campy heroism. If you’ve ever wanted to see a McDowall let loose and roast a wind machine (sorry…a ghost), have I got the movie for you. McDowall is one of the most endearing performers to grace the screen, and his turn in Hell House is no exception. Ben Fischer is acrid and antsy in all the right places; like a traumatized Velma always two martinis deep.
Meg Shields is a Toronto-based archivist and freelance writer who loves bad nuns and badder puns. When she’s not busy ghost-proofing her apartment, Meg writes words at Film School Rejects and does her does her dark bidding on Twitter at @TheWorstNun.
Blob in Blob – Luke Barnett
Often, when we think of an actor transforming for a role, we think of Christian Bale gaining and losing 50-100lbs for a film. But tell me, when has an actor transformed themselves from under a pound to the size of a city in ONE FILM. Blob, star of 1958’s The Blob might just be the only one.
The Blob is one of the most under-appreciated characters in horror film history. Equal parts disgusting and intriguing, The Blob was one of those characters that really stuck with me as a kid. While terrifying, Blob was also hilarious, consuming a movie theater of horror lovers (Blob was meta well before Scream). Blob was also sensitive, showcasing his fear of cold perfectly by retreating quietly under the door of a freezer in such a slow, delicate way we all felt for Blob. Lastly, Blob came back THIRTY YEARS LATER to play the title role in the remake. Not only did Blob age gracefully,
Blob played The Blob
Luke Barnett is a writer, producer, and co-founder of Lone Suspect, a boutique production company dedicated to the development, packaging, and production of film, television, and new media projects. Some credits include Fear, Inc. (Abigail Breslin, Tribeca), Loitering with Intent (Sam Rockwell, Marisa Tomei), and upcoming Painkillers (Adam Huss, Madeline Zima) and Anderson Falls (Gary Cole, Shawn Ashmore). Follow him on Twitter @LukeBarnett.
Stephen McHattie in Pontypool – Brock Wilbur
If I’m the only one to toss this entry in for the list, I’m disappointed in all of us. Who would have thought that Elaine’s manipulative psychiatrist boyfriend from Seinfeld would wind up being the dude to deliver my favorite horror performance of The Aughts?
Stephen McHattie takes a small Canadian story of isolation, fake news, and linguist horror and manages to grab you by the collar for 95 minutes through sheer presence. His relatable brokenness from the outset transforms perfectly into one of the most realistic portrayals of Normal Dude Have A Hard Time With The Apocalypse. Even the twisty-turns of mental stability never lean on special effects so much as McHattie’s ability to rant over a thousand-yard stare. His gravitas takes a bottle horror film that could have come off like a high school play and elevates it to modern classic.
Brock Wilbur is a comedian and journalist that you can find @brockwilbur or by searching iTunes for his (numerous) podcasts.
Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers – R.F. Blackstone
Mention David Cronenberg and most people go straight to The Fly or Videodrome. But, for some inexplicable reason they always miss this underrated classic. Inspired by a true story, Dead Ringers follows twin gynecologists (both played Mister Irons) who fall into a vicious cycle of co-dependency mixed with alcohol and drugs that ends…well, it ends in such a way that you’ll be wanting a very hot shower to wash way that superb creepy feeling you will undoubtedly be left with.
Not only is this one of the greatest slow burn horror movies to come out of the ’80s, but Jeremy Irons gives a career best performance as the twins, Beverly and Elliot Mantle. Naturally as these stories goes one is the extrovert and the other an introvert and it is here that Mister Irons gives one of the most underrated performances in a horror movie.
Elliot Mantle is the face of Mantile Inc. Sophisticated, charming and a master manipulator. Beverly Mantle is the brains. Hard working, studious and terrible with women. Mister Irons plays both men completely different, for example: Elliot is erect, loose and free with his movements whereas Beverly is hunched, stiff and overshadowed by Elliot in every way. As one character says, “Beverly is the sweet one and Elliot is the shit!” And it is obvious who is who until the film takes its inevitable dark turn. From this point on it becomes increasingly harder to tell which is which.
This movie is creepy and unnerving with a heartbreaking powerhouse performance from Jeremy Irons. If you haven’t seen Dead Ringers, do yourself a
Born in the slightly off town of Newcastle on the coast of Australia, R.F. Blackstone learned how to survive life in the land Down Under where everything can kill you. The son of a stage actor/magician and teacher, R.F. had an interesting upbringing learning to see the world in a different way. Which he gladly took and applied to his writing. You can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter. You can also get all of his books on Amazon.
Mark Duplass in Creep – Rafael Motamayor
There are dozens of serial killers in horror films, but few are as charismatic and likable as the enigmatic Josef, played by Mark Duplass in the Creep franchise. Duplass easily makes you afraid of him, while also pulling you into his strange world with instant likeability to the point where you start asking yourself why you feel the sudden urge to befriend this man who obviously means you harm. Duplass expertly manipulates our expectations and lures us to keep watching. Honestly, with that man bun from the sequel, who wouldn’t want to stick by this creepy serial killer?
Rafael Motamayor (@GeekWithAnAfro) was once lured by the promise of free movie tickets into the exciting life of a movie critic, and now can’t seem to avoid staying up till 2 am writing reviews about weird genre films no one will ever see. His writing can be found at GameSpot, Bloody Disgusting, Collider, Polygon, Dread Central, and more.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring – Chelsea Rebecca
A wonderful team performance that gets overlooked is Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring movies. I think film in general is lacking in portrayals of loving, healthy marriages, and I totally buy that these two are best friends who have been in love for decades.
Immediately upon meeting them in the first film, we understand that Ed and Lorraine Warren aren’t a fairytale couple, but a deeply committed team with years of work between them. Farmiga and Wilson’s chemistry is the backbone to this series. I truly can’t think of another film franchise centered around a couple where the relationship itself isn’t in question. Watch Ed Warren perform “Can’t Help Falling in Love” in The Conjuring 2 and tell me Lorraine Warren’s not the luckiest paranormal investigator around.
Peter Stormare in Constantine – Becky Sayers
Many mortals have attempted to take the form of the Dark Lord and only one such fleshbag fell far enough from Heaven to assume the title of “Best Performance as Satan.” I’ll give props to the too-good-looking-to-give-a-flying-fuck Gabriel Byrne in End of Days. I’ll also toss shout outs to Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate and Robert DeNiro in Angel Heart, because I guess I like a devil in a suit. And I know someone is gonna’ lose their shit if I don’t mention Tim Curry in Legend, but honestly, I’m only name-dropping to prevent a scene.
Of all the actors to make John Milton proud, my favorite depiction of Lucifer is Peter Stormare in Constantine. Holy Shotgun aside, the standout of this mid-aughts comic adaptation is Stormare’s unsettlingly slimy Satan. Stormare walks barefoot, soles dripping with sticky tar, frame wrapped in a white-on-white suit, and eyes sunken into deep red sockets of strained skin that reek of agony. His pursed lips take on a reptilian quality, as every line of dialogue slithers from his mouth with the venom of uncoiled sin. Stormare’s Prince of Darkness may don formal wear, but he does not carry the suaveness of Byrne or Pacino. Instead, he plays it more like a junkie, desperate for depravity and salivating at the thought of humans falling to temptation. No one else could play sleazy, time-to-shoot-up Satan and make the sordidness look so naturally repugnant. This honor belongs exclusively to Peter Stormare. God bless him. Hail Satan.
Becky Sayers hates writing bios, but she loves genre films. She celebrates every Friday the 13th, cherishes her Jason Statham necklace, makes her own films on occasion…and that’s all we really know. You can follow her on Twitter if you like.
Richard Jenkins in Bone Tomahawk – Kelly McNeely
So, Richard Jenkins destroyed me in this movie.
Bone Tomahawk is a gnarly-as-hell horror-western that lulls you in with a false sense of normalcy before completely wrecking your shit. It goes above and beyond to create some gorgeous, gruesome violence, but there is a lighthouse of hope planted in the middle to help guide us home. Chicory – played by Richard Jenkins – is that constant, wholesome, flickering light.
Chicory is so sweet and endearing; he’s simultaneously heartwarming, tragic, and comedic in equal measure. Though the character is a supporting role, Jenkins steals every scene he’s in. I never thought I’d have a strong emotional response to a monologue about a flea circus, but, here we are.
Throughout my first (and every subsequent) viewing, I physically clutched my chest any time he said… anything, really. I didn’t even realize I was doing it, but my heart just couldn’t handle how much I wanted to protect this sweet man from all the evils of the world.
As a whole, Bone Tomahawk is seriously impressive. It was nominated for a healthy number of awards (and won several), but the fact that Richard Jenkins didn’t win anything for best-supporting actor is a travesty, and I will not have it.
Kelly McNeely is a tea drinking, craft making, machete-wielding screen junkie. She lives in Canada with her large, poofy dog and a collection of horror movies, which she’s a little obsessed with. You can find Kelly on Twitter & Instagram, and you can read more from her over at iHorror.com.
Selma Blair in Mom and Dad – Lindsay Traves
There is no shortage of hype for Nicolas Cage’s cagiest performance as Brent in Mom and Dad. Beside him ‘til death, as the other wheel-spinning suburban parent, is Selma Blair as Kendal.
Selma didn’t get a lot of love for her portrayal as the yoga doing, iced coffee drinking, minivan driving mom who had “career dreams and relationship dreams” and “doesn’t want to be the one to piss all over your family room,” who goes off the rails with an insatiable desire to murder her own offspring. Selma perfectly balances scares, drama and comedy in every scene, particularly in the third act. She so perfectly manages to stay the suburban mom who fights with her husband about handguns and midlife crises while not turning off the psycho killer for one second. She balances the elements flawlessly to deliver maximum comedy from using words like “hashtag,” and “facebooking” to crying in her car while wearing sunglasses. Her throwing the hose over her shoulder to casually wave to the neighbours on her way to gas her own kids and line delivery of, “we should hear them coughing,” makes her worthy of any horror role, and I feel obligated to campaign for her.
Some of my
I’m a writer, blogger and columnist based in the Big Smoke. After submitting my Bachelor’s thesis, “The Metaphysics of Schwarzenegger Movies,” I decided to focus on writing about my passions; sci-fi, horror, sports and graphic novels. I’m probably talking about Scream right now or convincing a stranger to watch The Guest, or even more likely drawing a detailed timeline for the Alien franchise. You can find my horror film reviews and interviews at Nightmarish Conjurings, my takes on the horror genre in Grim Magazine, and my thoughts on comics universes at CBR. You can sometimes find me recommending often missed great movies to fill your watch list at www.thesmashlist.com and my running internal monologue @smashtraves.
Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day – Ryan Larson
When it comes to slashers, you usually have two roles that really stand out. The killer, of course, and how effective the kills and scares are but then the bulk of the movie is usually carried on the shoulders of your final guys and girls. When a performance works, you know, because their names standout in history: Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott, Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams. Fast forward a bit, in fact as recently as 2017, and here we are with Jessica Rothe as Tree Gelbman in Happy Death Day.
Rothe turned the role of what could have been your run-of-the-mill final girl into one of the most stand out performances in a slasher film, perhaps ever. It’s rare that we have ever had such a complete character arc with one character across the duration of just one film in this realm of horror. Because of Jessica Rothe, Tree is able to believably transform herself from the cliche “mean girl” and ultimately becomes a bold, daring lead that we end up rooting for whole heartedly. It’s her ability to play every role as determinedly as the last, whether it’s the stuck up sorority sister, the vulnerable victim, the hunted become hunter, or the fed up with it comedien. Rothe has a knack for comedic timing, one hell of a scream, and evolves into one of the most likable badasses in the great annals of final girls. Make my words, her name will be mentioned alongside the Langenkamps and Curtises.
At a young age, Ryan Larson read an issue of X-Men where the merry mutants fought Dracula himself, thus launching into a lifelong obsession with horror and comic books. Now, whether it’s cereal mascots or Nicktoons, Disney or television shows that lasted a season, Ryan is obsessed with pop culture in all its shapes and sizes. When he’s not nose deep in an issue of Spider-Man, he’s usually just trying to get his wife and dog to watch weird movies from the eighties with him. Having written for Blumhouse, Shock Til You Drop and Diabolique, you can find his writing at Ghastly Grinning, his own horror site he launched in 2018, and can hear him dissect horror movies as a co-host on the Keep Screaming podcast.
Jarred Blancard in IT (1990) – Mike Snoonian
Every discussion surrounding the 1990 miniseries IT focuses on Tim Curry’s iconic turn as Pennywise. While Curry’s performance brought a level of menace that was the stuff of nightmares, Jarred Blancard gives a terrifying performance as the young bully Henry Bowers. As the scourge pitted against the Loser’s Club, Blancard’s Henry bristles the kind of real world that’s kept kids up with fear for countless nights.
Yes, kid eating, shape shifting clowns that make Happy Meals out of children are scary, but they’re the fun kind of scary. As Bowers, Blancard embodies every snot-nosed bully that comes out black eyes and broken arms to smaller kids because of their weight, or their religion or skin color. His Bowers is the all-too-human terror that leaves kids holding their breaths walking through school hallways or on the playground.
Blancard deserves credit for his performance in no small part for the way he descends from a bully to a full blown psychopath. There’s never a doubt early in that he’ll carve his name into Ben’s gut without a second thought, and by the time he chases the Loser’s into the sewers there’s no doubt he’d slit the throats of each and everyone of those kids. That very real human threat is scarier to me than any cosmic clown.
Mike Snoonian founded All Things Horror, now Film Thrills, in 2009. He has been a cohost of the Telluride Horror Show since 2013 and is working on his first book on horror and mental health.
Vinnie Jones in The Midnight Meat Train – Zena Dixon
Can we take a moment to thank Clive Barker and Ryuhei Kitamura for The Midnight Meat Train? This dark yet pulsating movie resembles a classic Italian horror, magnificent in its malicious uses of kitchen utensils, much like the killing blades in Dario Argento’s Deep Red or Joe D’Amato’s Beyond the Darkness. But while The Midnight Meat Train’s meat tenderizer leveled up to Thor’s Hammer for us horror fans, its wielder was also not long-forgotten.
English-born, ex-football player Vinnie Jones played Mahogany, the secretive, stoic, silent butcher with a sinister secret. From the beginning, we understand his message: if you’re on this train after midnight, the next stop is death; and your ticket: a meat tenderizer to your skull. And you better believe the strike won’t be delicate. No. Mahogany wields the metal with a butcher’s conviction, flawless as gushes of your blood jet up to his impeccable black suit over a crisp white shirt and necktie. Oh, what wicked wonder we witness! And with that, I must double dare you: watch this movie, go to your kitchen, tenderize some meat…and act like you don’t feel the floor of a train switching rails beneath your feet.
In addition to contributing to Dread Central, Zena Dixon has been writing about all things creepy and horrific for over six years at RealQueenofHorror.com. She has always loved horror films and will soon be known directing her own feature-length horror. Feel free to follow her on Twitter.
Tom Noonan in Monster Squad – Alex DiVincenzo
From Boris Karloff to Christopher Lee to Robert De Niro, many talented actors have portrayed Frankenstein’s monster on screen, each one bringing something different to the iconic role. The character, as originally written 201 years ago by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, is an inherently sympathetic one. As in many classic horror tales, man is the real monster in Frankenstein; the creature is merely a victim of circumstance.
The role requires more than just an imposing figure; a successful portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster must tap into the tragedy. Few actors have been able to do so as effectively as Tom Noonan in Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad. The 1987 cult classic is near and dear to my heart for many reasons, Noonan’s pivotal performance chief among them.
A year removed from playing serial killer Francis Dollarhyde in Manhunter, Noonan stepped into the larger-than-life role. The makeup, re-imagined by special effects legend Stan Winston, is instantly recognizable as the classic monster, but it allows Noonan’s expressive face to convey the entire spectrum of emotions.
The method actor reportedly stayed in character on set. Although he only has a handful of lines, Dekker and Shane Black’s snappy script offered Noonan plenty to sink his teeth into. He seamlessly shifts between understated and intense as needed, but the highlight of his performance – and the movie as a whole – comes during the character’s tear-jerking final moments.
Alex DiVincenzo runs BrokeHorrorFan.com and makes indie movies in New England. In his spare time, he can be found watching horror movies, defending pop punk, petting dogs, and eating pizza. You can follow him on Twitter (@alexislegend and @brokehorrorfan) and Instagram (@brokehorrorfan).
Angela Bettis in May – Matt Konopka
You say you want to know about an underrated horror performance that deserves our attention? It’s about damn time we recognize Angela Bettis for her role in Lucky McKee’s May as the title character. It’s a travesty that this horror treasure doesn’t have lines of fans worshipping at her feet for her raw, stunning portrayal of an awkward girl with a lazy eye who is all of us at our most vulnerable…minus the body harvesting.
May has never had a friend, unable to stop screwing up every bit of human contact she has, and Bettis nails the frightened, misguided sort of person that might result from that. Sweet yet dangerous, quiet yet explosive as a banshee screaming in a church made of glass, there is a power to Bettis unlike any other. You never know if she’s about to break your heart or rip it out, but she can do both just as easily as it is for you to rent this movie right now and behold one of the most tragic horror performances ever put on screen. Bettis as May just wants our love. It’s time to give it to her, or she might just take whatever parts of us she can get.
Sold my soul to the horror genre when I was three. Starving artist writing scary movies. Owner of KillerHorrorCritic.com, featuring reviews on all things creepy. Contributor at Cinedump.com. I ran the podcast Killer Horrorcast, and have a new one coming soon. Werewolf wannabe. Follow me on Twitter for news and rambling thoughts on the genre.
Chowdury in I Drink Your Blood – Jon Cohorn
“Let it be known, sons and daughters, that Satan was an acidhead…”
These words serve as Horace Bones’s preamble to a blood sacrifice, setting off the chain of events involving sex, drugs, and rabies-tainted meat pies that denizens of the drive-in and veterans of the video store know as I Drink Your Blood. Horace Bones was played by Bhaskar Roy Chowdury, here top-billed as Bhaskar. And while I Drink Your Blood has gained some measure of relative esteem over the years, Bhaskar’s portrayal of Horace Bones is often overlooked when discussing great performances in horror films.
Yes, this is a movie about hippies turned into ghouls by rabies-spiked baked goods. And there are moments where Bhaskar’s portrayal of Bones veers close to Tommy Wiseau territory. But to dismiss his performance without looking deeper would be inexcusable. Bhaskar commits fully to the performance, whether the moment calls for mirth or menace. He also brings a striking physicality to the role which belies his experiences as both a dancer and as a boxer. The latter portions of the film, as the rabid mania fully consumes Horace and his band of hippie cultists, sees Bhaskar’s full commitment to the part – eyes wild and haunted, sweat pouring from his body, and froth dripping from his mouth.
Aside from a specific type of cinematic deviant (among whose number I proudly count myself), there are few who would claim that I Drink Your Blood is a great film. But for those with a taste for the bizarre, it’s a cinematic blast made all the more potent by Bhaskar’s performance. In the wrong hands, Horace Bones could have been a laughable caricature – but Bhaskar folds those elements into a portrayal both immediately physical and deftly nuanced, resulting in a performance that is worthy of revisiting. I guarantee it will stick with you long after the credits have rolled.
“Drink from his cup. Pledge yourselves. And together, we’ll all freak out…”
Jon Cohorn is a rabid film fanatic from Austin, Texas, where he spent years as a 35mm projectionist and later a video store clerk. He was the co-creator and co-host of “Absinthe and Cigarettes,” an underground radio show which ran for over a decade on KAOS Radio. These days, most Tuesday nights he can be found watching horror films at the Alamo Drafthouse. When he’s not busy watching or writing about scary movies, Jon can be found howling into the abyss of Twitter.
Annabella Sciorra in The Addiction – Dolores Quintana
I choose Annabella Sciorra as Casanova in Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction. The film itself is not very well known in Ferrara’s filmography, but in two short scenes and a wordless walkthrough of the big party scene, Sciorra creates a vivid and frightening vampire who, while never raising her voice, is mesmerizingly sexual, violent, and utterly inhuman.
The big mistake actors make as vampires is that they forget they are playing creatures in human form who are not human and look at us as dinner. They fall into all the traps and tropes, hissing and trying so hard to be scary. Sciorra, who is not really known for horror, falls into none of them. She doesn’t try to be scary, she is scary. Casanova is a negative space waiting for the moment when she gets to kill you.
She is playing a game with Lili Taylor in the first scene; a game that is rigged for her to win and one that she enjoys. Tormenting and drinking from her victims is fun for her, but there is a kind of loathing within her for everyone involved. In the end, however, there is only the thirst that she is going to satisfy, in a very sexual way, even though she seemingly offers her victim a way out.
Casanova is exacting some weird type of punishment on her victim for being who they are and for being there. She is a self aware monster and this is a performance of low key and unqualified brilliance. You are frightened of her, but you kind of wonder what it would be like to be in that alleyway. It is a role reversal of the legend of Casanova, the cruel seducer who uses you and throws you away. No scenery chewing is necessary.
Dolores Quintana is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles. She has written for blogs as diverse as Buddyhead, Pocho.com, The Theatre @ Boston Court, and currently writes reviews, interviews, and covers events for Nightmarish Conjurings.
Kate Siegel in Hush – MontiLee Stormer
Lots of badass women come to mind when I think about performances that barely get a nod, but one that stands out is Maddie as played by Kate Siegel in Mike Flanagan’s Hush (2016). She’s a deaf writer living in isolation in the woods, menaced by a masked killer who wants her absolutely terrified.
I’m a big fan of horror movies, but I hate jump scares. They’re cheap mood breakers doing double-duty as filler while the film stretches out an already thin plot. It’s not an issue with Hush because, from Maddie’s deaf POV, there is no sound. It’s eerie, it makes your spine tingle, and you’re locked in. The Man’s (John Gallagher, Jr) methodical menacing and the slow build of tension surrounding Maddie’s survival, everything about this movie clicks.
Hush‘s success depends solely on the strong acting of Siegal and Gallagher. Being a Final Girl is more than screaming and running and breathing hard and hoping to be saved. It’s about surviving, and Maddie sells it. Her clever communications and improvised weapons keep the film on a knife’s edge and that’s why Hush remains at the top of my go-to recommend list.
MontiLee Stormer is an avid reader and horror writer. When not killing imaginary people with words, her free time is spent in front of an available monitor, knitting and watching horror movies. Her love of cinematic horror began with the 80’s Detroit Area staple – The Saturday Thriller Double Feature. Her first theatrical horror movie experience was 1982’s Poltergeist, and she will cheerfully discuss the conspiracy theory of Spielberg’s direction vs Hooper’s name check. If you think Kubrick’s The Shining is one of the greatest horror movies of all time, she will also fight you. She can be followed on Facebook, engaged on Twitter and her reviews can be dissected on FilmObsession.com.
Lance Henriksen in Pumpkinhead – Johnny Donaldson
In the pantheon of all-time great horror movie performances, how come so few bring up Lance Henriksen’s in Pumpkinhead? Henriksen isn’t just a figure of vengeance, seeking to punish the irresponsible city kids whose motorbike shenanigans led to the death of his beloved only son. His performance is a raging howl of grief and how that can ultimately consume a person.
Ed Hartley isn’t the stereotyped rural shitkicker that most small-town movie hicks are portrayed as, but a fully realized human, a decent man who loves his son, helps his community and, once he realizes the true weight of the Faustian bargain he’s struck with the wooded witch Haggis, is horrified by the unstoppable beast his bloodthirst wrought. Henriksen has always been regarded as a fine actor, lending his weary gravitas to a slew of genre projects, but it’s in Stan Winston’s Southern Gothic monster movie that he delivers not only his personal best but one deserving of being hailed as part of the genre pantheon.
Johnny Donaldson is a senior contributor to Daily Grindhouse and an occasional actor and producer (Killing Brooke, 2015, Wild Eye Releasing.) You can follow him on Twitter.
Michael Moriarty in The Stuff – Adrian Torres
There’s an old acting adage that states “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Playing dumb, by
David “Mo” Rutherford is a former FBI Agent turned corporate saboteur. Equal parts “aw, shucks” good ole boy charm and cunning trickster, Moriarty creates an unlikely hero in a film filled with colorful characters. Saddled with ridiculous dialogue (“Everybody has to eat shaving cream once in a while”), it’d be easy to assume Moriarty overplays the part, but instead he hits all the right notes. Occasionally the mask slips for a moment, showing a man who knows how to get his job done, while pocketing some extra money along the way. After all, as he states himself, “No one is a dumb as I look.”
Though it may not be the showiest role out there, it doesn’t need to be. What others do with a scream or a sneer, Moriarty does through wonderfully deadpan delivery and a gleefully boyish smile. A good actor can make you laugh. A great one makes you appreciate the craft that went into making you do so.
Adrian Torres finds pleasure in watching the worst movies imaginable (like you do). When not partaking in masochistic acts of the cinematic variety, you can find him writing tirelessly over at Boom Howdy or recording the podcast, Horrorversary. He encourages you to follow him (& send bad movie suggestions) on Twitter. He’s still not entirely sure how he ended up on this list.
Courteney Cox in Scream – Joe Lipsett
When I think of unheralded performances in horror, I think of an unconventional choice: Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers in the Scream franchise. As the tough-as-nails,
As played by Cox, Gale is a capital ‘B’ Brash Ballsy Bitch who never hesitates to pursue her agenda, to chastise a portly/hesitant cameraman or to stick her nose where it doesn’t belong, even when it might get her killed. Cox’s performance is all the more impressive given that at the time she was playing a G-rated goody-two-shoes American sweetheart on TV’s biggest sitcom. The verve and passion with which she tears into the role of an R-rated ambulance chaser is startling; you can see how much pleasure Cox takes in shedding her Monica persona to play Gale.
Don’t believe me? Just consider how Cox manages to transform dialogue like “Move your fat tub-of-lard ass, now!” into an endearingly acerbic barb; in the hands of another actress such a statement would come across as caustic. Or consider the plethora of “unlikeable” jerk/bitch characters that tend to populate slasher films and how distinct Gale is in comparison. The character may not embody the characteristics of traditional “classic” horror performances, but without Gale, the Scream franchise would be significantly less enjoyable and without Cox, the role simply wouldn’t work.
So here’s to you, Gale: long may your Bitch flag fly.
Joe Lipsett is a freelance film journalist based in Toronto, Canada. His work has appeared on Bloody Disgusting, Anatomy of a Scream, Grim Magazine, That Shelf, Alcohollywood and his own site, Queer.Horror.Movies. He is the co-host of two podcasts: Hazel & Katniss & Harry & Starr – about young adult literature and their
Duane Jones in Ganja & Hess – Phil Nobile Jr.
Duane Jones’ iconic, historic turn as the protagonist of Night of the Living Dead ensured him a place in horror – really, in cinema – history. But it’s not his only significant contribution to the genre. In 1973’s Ganja & Hess, Jones once again smashes stereotypes, but this time in a stealthy, low-key way that audiences didn’t notice for decades.
As the central figure of writer/director Bill Gunn’s nearly lost vampire allegory, Jones’ Dr. Hess Green is wealthy and cultured and – even in the throes of his addiction to blood – never anything less than the smartest man in the room. Cinema was rife with black heroes at the time, but they were without exception men of violence and/or street smarts, none coming close to Jones’ thoughtful, measured portrayal of a brilliant doctor and historian afflicted with a terrible curse while falling in love with a woman (Marlene Clark) every bit his equal. In a film like no other, Jones gives a performance to match.
Phil is the Editor-in-chief and Creative Director of FANGORIA.
Vincent Price in Theater of Blood – Matthew Monagle
It sounds like something out of Tales From the Crypt: a disgraced Shakespearean actor returns from the dead to murder his way through the theater critics who denied him his greatest prize. So unfolds Theater of Blood, a madcap blend of iambic pentameter, ’70s fashion, and elaborate death scenes.
Vincent Price plays Edward Lionheart, a swing-for-the-fences performer whose roles were often overlooked in favor of more understated actors; like a wayward Batman villain, Lionheart uses his knowledge of the Bard to theme each murder to the plot of Shakespearean dramas. It’s no surprise that Price’s legendary style of elocution lends itself particularly well to Shakespearean prose, but what really makes the performance shine — and gives Price a self-reflective role worthy of his long career — is they space they carve out for his soliloquies.
Theater of Blood is as much an appreciation of Price as a gifted performer as it is a clever runaround on the entertainment industry.
Mads Mikkelsen in Hannibal – Juliet Bennett Rylah
A lot of people think Hannibal Lecter, they think Anthony Hopkins, who received the Best Actor Oscar for 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs. Mads Mikkelsen, who took on the cannibal mantle for Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal, made no attempt to copy the performance, saying “Anthony played Hannibal to perfection.” Rather, he made the character his own.
Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is a luxuriously smooth and suave villain, who appears in finely tailored suits that somehow make mashing a bunch of patterns together work. He is effortlessly precise, carefully piecing together people-meals shot so beautifully and with such rich cinematography that they might make you hungry. He speaks meticulously in near-riddles, disguising his dark truth in omissions and elaborate manipulations that would make even Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish’s devious head spin. There is a sensuality to him that not even FBI profiler Will Graham can ignore, and much of the series revolves around the complicated relationship the two men share (they’re definitely in love). When he flips casually through his list of recipe cards in tandem with his Rolodex of people who’ve been “rude” to him, one can’t help but wonder: would that person be better as an osso buco?
Make no mistake: Hannibal Lecter is, at all times, a manipulative villain who eats people—including many who just plain don’t deserve it. He belongs in jail. Yet he also reads as more than a man. While previous Hannibals were pretentious and cruel in a way that felt almost unfair or petty, Mikkelsen’s reads as though he’s just nonchalant about good and evil. Mikkelsen has described Lecter, “…as close as you can come to the devil, to Satan. He’s the fallen angel.” And in Paradise Lost, Lucifer is similarly convincing at times. If Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter suggested you eat a forbidden apple, you might just eat it. Only it probably wouldn’t be an apple; it’d be a
Hannibal ended on a literal cliffhanger on August 29, 2015, canceled by NBC after three seasons. Netflix recently swept up season 4 of Lucifer, another series about a charming, suit-wearing, devil played by a handsome European man. Netflix, I’m just saying.
Juliet Bennett Rylah is a Los Angeles-based writer with bylines including The Hollywood Reporter, LAist, High Times, Playboy, and We Like L.A. Favorite beats include immersive entertainment, VR, history, and art. You can follow her on Twitter.
Clancy Brown in Pet Sematary 2 – Emily von Seele
Some movies just aren’t that great. We all know it. 1992’s Pet Sematary 2 is one of them. Mary Lambert was unable to deliver the same level of terror and emotion brought by her earlier film and the sequel is just a pale shadow of its predecessor. But sometimes the right performance can turn a not very good movie into a fun viewing experience. Pet Semetary 2 may not be great, but the performance that genre great Clancy Brown turns in as the town’s douchebag sheriff/eventual evil zombie makes it not only watchable but downright entertaining. Once he dies (the first time) and is buried in the sour earth, he goes from being an uptight, borderline abusive stepfather to a deliciously evil monster.
The scene at the dinner table illustrates this perfectly. After he has been resurrected, Gus (Brown) resumes his place as the head of the family. His stepson Drew (Jason McGuire) and his friend Jeff (Edward Furlong) look on as he shovels heaping spoonfuls of food onto his plate and into his mouth. His movements are jerky and unsure and his temperament is completely unpredictable. One moment he is belching out massive waves of laughter as he pushes a pile of mashed potatoes back out of his mouth, and the next he is slamming his fists on the table in a movement that brings stunned silence from his audience.
Brown gives a performance that is both hilarious and tense due to its unpredictability. Gus is alive, but, like everything that returns from the burial ground, he isn’t himself. Brown chooses to play up the physical changes as well as the changes to Gus’ personality, moving in a rough, jarring manner that is uncoordinated, yet still feels threatening. It’s a great performance and Brown is able to do a lot with a character that was written to be very one-dimensional.
Emily von Seele hails from Seattle, where it rains a lot, which gives her plenty of excuses to stay inside and watch movies. She has written for Bloody Disgusting, Daily Dead, the Women in Horror Annual and Grim Magazine, and is co-host of the Dead Ringers podcast. You can usually catch Emily on Twitter, where she has been known to gab excessively about movies and tweet adorable pics of her two cats – seriously, they are the cutest ever.
Richard Jenkins in Bone Tomahawk – Sarah Jane
One of my favorite performances in horror over the last few years was Richard Jenkins in S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk. Jenkins plays Deputy “Chicory” Kory, the backup deputy to Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) for the town of Bright Hope.
Everyone remembers that scene at the end of the movie but we don’t much talk about the performances, especially that of Jenkins. The genius of his work here is just how subtle it is. His scenes with Russell are some of the highlights in the film for me. They seem so out of place. Chicory just starts talking about a flea circus as they’re being held captive in a cave… the fuck? Honestly, I would watch an entire movie of Chicory shooting the shit with Hunt. And come on, how long did it take you to even realize that was Jenkins in the film? When the credits rolled? Thought so.
Yeah, I know, Jenkins was nominated for an award or two. He deserved an Academy Award. Watch Bone Tomahawk again, you’ll see… Jenkins work is sublime.
Sarah Jane is a contributing writer at TalkFilmSociety.com where she writes the Overlooked & Underseen column. She can be heard on the Splathouse podcast where she gives film recommendations. She can be found at Letterboxd.com/fookthis. You can also find her on Twitter where she waxes poetic on everything from Edwige Fenech to Godzilla. She lives in Austin, TX.
Peter Mullan in Session 9 – Scott Wampler
Since 2004 or so, I have had but one mission in life: to spread the gospel about Brad Anderson’s Session 9, one of the creepiest, most confidently directed horror films of the past 20 years. Here’s a movie that’s virtually exploding with quality – the excellent dialogue, the pitch-perfect pacing, the jaw-dropping location (which, by the way, has long since been bulldozed over and turned into condos) – but it’d all be for naught were it not for the cast, every member of which turns in a full-blown mic-drop of a performance.
David Caruso is generally singled out as this crew’s MVP (a status I suspect has at least something to do with his wildly
“Scott Wampler is the News Editor at BirthMoviesDeath.com, the co-host of the Trying Times podcast, and a man of constant sorrow living in Austin, TX. He can (and should) be followed (but never @-ed) on Twitter.”
Donna Locke in Neon Maniacs – Stephanie Crawford
A young, starry-eyed monster-loving kid who dreams of becoming a filmmaker is nothing new to horror movies, but that kid is rarely a plucky girl in a rad USCSS Nostromo baseball cap who eats C3PO’s cereal for breakfast. In Neon Maniacs, Paula (played by Donna Locke in her sole acting credit) is surrounded by uniquely gimmicky mutated monsters running amuck in San Francisco, and she still manages to stand out. She’s the only one smart enough to try to capture the insanity on film, but instead of being mercenary, her empathy continuously shines through as she tries to help figure out what the hell is actually going on and how to stop the titular gooey guys from killing every high schooler in their path. She’s also a crackerjack lookout, which is an undervalued skill in any 80’s horror flick.
Paula looks like a young Joyce Hyser/Natalie Portman hybrid but dresses and acts like a savvier Frog Brother, and she lives in that Billy from Gremlins purgatory where you can’t really pinpoint her exact age, and it all comes together to make a relatable, charming, adorable but capable character who’s absolutely essential in a movie as insane yet sincere as Neon Maniacs. She’s also a hero for sassing cops with oinks and lines like, “Oh, sure, yeah, that’s my hobby: I collect dead pigeons and press them between the pages of a book!” She showed up to save everybody, but Paula is a true champion for horror-crazed girls who rarely ever saw themselves on screen in genre movies.
Stephanie Crawford has a bimonthly column called Exhuming Tales From The Crypt right here on Dread Central. Between co-hosting The Screamcast and guesting on numerous other podcasts, she’s writing about film and annoying people on Twitter.
Elijah Wood in Maniac – Matt Donato
2012’s Maniac remake remains one of the most unsettling gutter-sludge nightmares of our rapidly closing decade. Why? Elijah Wood’s performance as “Frank,” the deranged heavy-breathing mannequin restoration loner who preys on vulnerable women. A meek serial killer whose stature doesn’t scream trenchcoat night stalker, but that unassuming lure is what Wood brings to Frank versus Joe Spinell’s 1980s original portrayal which is schlubbier, more “vagrant grotesque,” and criminally inclined on first perceptions.
Maxime Alexandre’s first-person POV hides Wood behind the camera unless mirrors reflect, as the actor’s whimpering dialogue and whining psychosis softly threaten before hard-cutting gore mutilates Frank’s victims. Women scalped, asphyxiated, and slaughtered as we observe through Frank’s eyes; Wood’s humanization of a reluctant and mournful murderer infinitely more horrifying than your garden variety “Most Wanted” bounty. Wood gets lost in Frank’s abused mind (Frank’s parent no “Mother Of The Year”), converses with himself on a disturbing level, and commits crimes heinous enough to make us feel scummier than any piece of cinema should. Frank this guiding hand towards the gates of Hell as he whispers sweet snuff songs with disquieting intent.
Disturbingly tragic, gut-suck traumatizing, psychologically complex, and many other character elements hoist “Frank” as Elijah Woods’ most accomplished role to date in my opinion.
Matt Donato is an internet scribe who spends his post-work hours geeking about cinema instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). You can find his work on SlashFilm, Dread Central, Bloody Disgusting, Flickering Myth, We Got This Covered, or just follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).
And there you have it, my dear readers. A collection of some of the best yet under-recognized performances in the horror genre as decided by several writers, podcasters, critics, journalists, bloggers, and more.
Now, it’s time for your voices to be heard. Let us know in the comments who is an actor/actress that you feel did an amazing job in their horror role but that we don’t talk about enough.
Shout your choice from the rooftop and let the world know who you support!