Top Ten Tuesday: Creepy Character Actors
You just can’t keep a good serial killer down, especially when he only exists in our imaginations. Freddy Krueger returns once again this Friday, April 30, but this time without Robert Englund. Jackie Earle Haley slips into the scar makeup and knife-fingered glove this time around, hoping to give new life to an old favorite. Haley has already proven himself is short time to be one of this generation’s great character actors, with a knack for the dark and creepy side of the craft. In light of the new NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET film, We Are Movie Geeks has compiled our Top Ten List of the Best Creepy Character Actors.
Honorable Mention: RONDO HATTON
Of all the actors on this list, none has had a more tragic personal story as Rondo Hatton. As a young man Hatton was diagnosed with a rare pituitary disorder known as acromegalia (the studios claimed this was due to exposure to mustard gas in the first world war, but that was untrue), which resulted in the enlarging of his forehead, mouth, jaw, fingers, and feet. Casting directors exploited Hattonâ€™s brutish appearance and he was given silent bit parts as background goons in several films. His breakout role was that of the mute henchman in the 1944 Sherlock Holmes film THE PEARL OF DEATH. This lead to key villain roles in SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK and HOUSE OF HORRORS (both 1946). His final film THE BRUTE MAN (1946), about a handsome athlete accidentally scarred and turned into a monster, was almost the story of Hattonâ€™s life. The disease which had enlarged his features also enlarged his heart and Hatton died soon after filming. His career was brief, but his story has always attracted the interest of horror movie buffs and his cult following is legion (a villain in the 1989 Disney film THE ROCKETEER was visually based on Hatton). Michael Berryman, who starred in THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977 version) is another actor whose horror career was launched because of a health-related disfigurement.
10. GRAVE ZABRISKIE
Grace Zabriskie’s big bug eyes have become synonymous with creepiness and done their worst in scaring the ever-lovin’ crap out of me. The character actress has made the most out of all those juicy bit parts including her roles in CHILD’S PLAY 2, Gus Van Sant’s DRUGSTORE COWBOY, and THE GRUDGE. But it’s been David Lynch that’s cast her and those bulging eyes in many of his films. As the eerie psychic in David Lynch’s TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME, the crazy murderer Juana in WILD AT HEART (a role specifically written for her), and as the screwdriver brandishing woman in INLAND EMPIRE. Definitely check out the last film what she does with the tool will make your skin crawl. To date, the only role where Zabriskie wasn’t spooky was in Michael Bay’s ARMAGEDDON playing the spunky wife, Dottie, of an amateur astronomer who discovers the killer asteroid on a collision course with Earth. After being asked by to go fetch his military phone book, she zaps a look and yells “Excuse me? Am I wearing a sign that says Karl’s slave”? Yeah, not chilling, but even Zabriskie and her eyes deserve a break from the creep-fest once in a while.
09. PETER STORMARE
One of the best things Swedish actor Peter Stormare has going for him is that he has the look of a creepy, not quite sane psychopath. Combine this with his extraordinary talent as an actor and you’ve got a guy designed to fill roles meant to make your skin crawl. The Coen Bros gave America our first real taste of Stormare in their Oscar-winning opus FARGO, where Stormare played the silently menacing hitman with a penchant for pancakes and no qualms about committing bloody violence. Few performances have offered a character so creepy with so few words. He’d return to work under the Coen Bros in an equally creepy but comedic role as a Nihilist in THE BIG LEBOWSKI in 1998 and follow that as the only reason to consider seeing 8MM in 1999, playing the sleazy porno-directing creepozoid Dino Velvet. Amongst his lesser known roles to remember is his portrayal of the questionably sane, drug-addicted, drunken Santa-suit wearing Slovo in 13 MOONS. Stormare is probably best known for his tour-de-force performance as Satan, the fallen angel dressed in a white suit that torments Keanu Reeves in CONSTANTINE, urging him to cross over to the dark side. Stormare was perfect for this role and played it to perfection, offering what could possibly be considered the creepiest version of Lucifer ever captured on film.
08. CRISPIN GLOVER
Crispin Glover started his creepy resume like any normal kid… a pilot that never got picked up and a small role on THE FACTS OF LIFE. He gained some serious creepy, weird cred when he landed the role of George McFly in a little trilogy known as BACK TO THE FUTURE, maybe you’ve heard of it? His roles in such films as WILD AT HEART, THE DOORS as Andy Warhol, WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE, THE WIZARD OF GORE, and CHARLIE’S ANGELS have really helped out his creepy screen persona. Glover’s slim, pale appearance adds to the appeal of his body language, which screams stay away from me I’m a weirdo! These characteristics of Crispin Glover are most clearly defined in the remake of WILLARD, in which Glover plays an odd loner who can communicate with a hoard of rats, exacting revenge on those who have done him wrong. Having a connection with rats is more than enough for you to earn a disturbed status. Crispin Glover has also lent his uniquely disturbing voice to a animated films, such as the monstrous Grendel in BEOWULF. Recently, he took on the roles of The Knave of Hearts in Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND and Phil in HOT TUB TIME MACHINE. I honestly cannot picture a more delightfully creepy actor that I would prefer in a villainous role!
07. PAUL NASCHY
Paul Naschy (born Jacinto Molina) was the undisputed king of Spanish horror cinema and throughout his 40-year career played Dracula, the Mummy, Mr. Hyde, Fu Manchu, and the Hunchback. But to his legions of fans worldwide, Naschy is best known as El Hombre Lobo aka Waldemar Daninsky, the werewolf character he played twelve times between 1968 and 2004 (though these were not connected to each other plot-wise. Each was a free-standing story with different origins for his lycanthropy). The Hombre Lobo films were low-budget, cliched, and poorly-dubbed, but for the dedicated horror fan they are immensely entertaining especially the first, FRANKENSTEIN’S BLOODY TERROR (and no, theres no Frankenstein in it!). Paul Naschy died this past November but will be remembered as one of the most prolific and dedicated actors in horror history.
06. BARBARA STEELE
Exotic British actress Barbara Steele, with her large sinister eyes and unusual beauty, would have made this list even if she had appeared in nothing but her first starring role; Italian director Mario Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY in 1960. Steele was an international sensation as a seductress from beyond the grave and had a face that could embody both innocence and evil at the same time (even with spike-punctures in it!). Barbara Steele was lured to Hollywood where she was perfectly cast as Vincent Price’s vengeful wife in Roger Corman’s THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961), but she did not enjoy making films in the U.S. Ms Steele fled the set of the Elvis Presley vehicle FLAMING STAR (she was replaced with Barbara Eden) and went back to Europe where she starred in a string of wonderful Gothic horror films such as THE GHOST (1963), CASTLE OF BLOOD (1964), NIGHTMARE CASTLE (1965), and THE SHE BEAST (1966). Directors Frederico Fellini, Louis Malle, Jonathan Demme, and David Cronenberg have all attempted to tap Steele’s strange allure by casting her in their movies but BLACK SUNDAY remains her showcase.
05. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN
While its true that Mr. Walken is clearly a reoccurring favorite of the Movie Geeks, what would a collection of the best “creepy” actors be without him? Christopher Walken’s middle name might as well be “creepy” as he’s practically built his career on his uncanny ability to play characters of the darker, spine-chillingly frightful nature. He’s played the dangerously volatile mob boss Vincenzo Ciccotti (TRUE ROMANCE), always delivering the fear factor that keeps people in line. He’s played a disgruntled war vet in PULP FICTION, a alien abductee in COMMUNION, a troubled dude that sees the future in THE DEAD ZONE, the bitter archangel Gabriel (THE PROPHECY), and even a vampire who believes he’s beaten his craving for blood in THE ADDICTION. The number and types of roles Walken has played are countless, but one thing is almost always certain… with a few equally commendable exceptions, Walken always adds in his own unique style of creepiness into every role that crosses his path.
04. CHRISTOPHER LEE
That baritone voice of his tends to cause a pronounced trail of goosebumps running down one’s arm and a sound that many a movie geek would recognize anywhere. While Christopher Lee may be Count Dooku of STAR WARS and Saruman of THE LORD OF THE RINGS to today’s generation of young film goers, once upon a time he was Count Dracula in DRACULA (1958) of the classic Hammer Horror Films and Bond assassin Scaramanga in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974). The sexual seductiveness of these two roles went hand in hand with how macabre these violent characters really were. Lee was equally villainous as Count de Rochfort in THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974) and director Tim Burton embraced Lee’s creepiness five times with parts in SLEEPY HOLLOW, CORPSE BRIDE, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, SWEENEY TODD, and as the recently as ALICE IN WONDERLAND in the brief Jabberwocky role. Lee was never more ghoulish as when he played Lord Summerisle in the 1973 British horror film, THE WICKER MAN, a role and film that’s always made the skin crawl and has developed a cult following. A British produced sequel, THE WICKER TREE, is set to be released late this year. Sir Christopher Lee is one of those classic thespians who effortlessly transitions between leading man parts and traditional character actor roles. It’s in those secondary, scarier roles that Lee will be remembered most.
03. BRAD DOURIF
Most notable for his voice than his intense stare and chameleon-like creepiness, Brad Dourif, the only person on this list to have been nominated for an Academy Award, broke onto the scene in 1975’s ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, the movie for which he god the nod. 35 years and over 100 films later, Dourif is mostly known for the man who gave the voice to the serial killer in a Good Guy doll, Chucky, his voice. Four sequels to CHILD’S PLAY later, and Dourif’s voice is as iconic to the Chucky character as Robert Englund is to Freddy Krueger or even, dare I say, Boris Karloff is to Frankenstein’s Monster. Dourif has never allowed himself a moment’s break, turning in fine performances in films like THE EXORCIST III, BODY PARTS, and ALIEN: RESURRECTION. He even found time in his career for the small screen with an ongoing role on HBO’s “Deadwood.” Even with stunning performance as Grima Wormtongue in THE LORD OF THE RINGS: TWO TOWERS and RETURN OF THE KING, Dourif has always gone back to dance with the genre that brought him, and gave a tremendous performance in both of Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN films. As engaging and unforgettable an actor as Dourif is, though, it will always be Chucky’s voice fans hear whenever he speaks. So much so, in fact, that no one could possibly step in should a remake ever be put together.
02. BORIS KARLOFF
This list would not be close to complete without including the original Frankenstein! Karloff was born William Henry Pratt (now we know why Spencer from THE HILLS is so frightening… they share a last name!), but changed it into the name he made famous, Boris Karloff. He played is famous Frankenstein in FRANKENSTEIN, THE BRIDE OF KRANKENSTEIN and SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. Karloff is still widely known as one of the original masters of horror, playing Imhotep in THE MUMMY, Dr. Neimann in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, a mad scientist in FRANKENSTEIN 1970, and Gaffney in the 1932 film SCARFACE where he was gunned down in an alley. Even without the makeup, Karloff could be quite creepy, such as his roles in THE BODY SNATCHER and CORRIDORS OF BLOOD. Karloff was all over the horror scale throughout his life, until his death in 1969. He was so innovative that he actually earned 2 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for his work in film, and the other for his work in television.
01. VINCENT PRICE
King of the Grand Guignol. Merchant of Menace. The True Master of Horror. Whatever the unofficial title, there is no denying the force Vincent Price is in the world of horror. Should the film Gods ever deem a Mount Rushmore of horror icons ever created, there is no way it could possibly be put together without Price’s face firmly chiseled, probably right alongside our #2 on this list, Boris Karloff. With nearly 200 films to his credit between 1938 and 1993, Price quickly became the go-to man for menacing roles and roles of deranged men out for vengeance on those who had wronged him. Films like HOUSE OF USHER (along with 10, other films based on works by Edgar Allen Poe), WITCHFINDER GENERAL, and THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES would have surely come and gone without much notation in film history were it not for the eerie yet ominous visage of the leading man in each of them. With a voice just as memorable as his appearance, it became quite clear when Michael Jackson came to record his song “Thriller” Price had to deliver the rap midway through. Vincent Price’s legacy on the horror genre as well as the industry as a whole is irrefutable, and there are few who question who was truly the master of horror.