Acting is an art, and a mysterious one at that. When you look at it in its simplest form, many would say it’s really simply a bunch of grown people dressing in costumes and pretending as if they were other people, getting paid millions of dollars for it. But it’s not just that at all. Actors do what they do so that us cinephiles can indulge in our love for the cinema and escape from the harsh realities of the world. However, what happens when a performance in a film becomes too real and too scary? Well, naturally, it disturbs its viewers.
These are 10 of the most frightening acting performances of all time. Actors and actresses who willingly slipped into the deep, dark corners of the universe to portray a film’s antagonist, and may have gone a little too far…
10. Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight
Many credit this role as one of the attributing reasons for Ledger’s alleged suicide, saying he slipped too deep into the role. Even if the role did have something to do with his death, though, he still pulled off a fantastic job, and definitely deserved the Oscar he was awarded post-mortem. He’s the film’s crown jewel and without him Christopher Nolan’s second Batman film wouldn’t have been nearly as great.
9. Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes in Misery
Misery, inspired by the Stephen King novel of the same name, was the film that launched the unknown Ms. Bates into stardom through her brutally disturbing portrayal as a woman with some serious dominance issues who’s transfixed on her favorite author. The infamous “ankle” scene is one for the ages, and still makes even the most hardcore horror film-lover squirm.
8. Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie in Django Unchained
It truly is a shame that DiCaprio didn’t even receive a nomination for his role in Tarantino’s blaxploitation-western, but it’s the price he had to pay for portraying such an evil racist, especially in the midst of today’s Hollywood, who apparently sees no issue in holding a film that’s set during the Civil War against today’s “politically correct” standards.
With slight undertones of a possible incestual relationship with his sister, and several incidents of gruesome Mandingo Fighting violence, it all builds up to his big “Phrenology” speech, where he delivers one of the most intense and frightening monolgues given in cinematic history.
7. Robert Mitchum as Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter
Mitchum gives a terrific performance here as a religious fanatic hellbent on deceiving his way into a family in order to find $10,000 he knows is stored somewhere on the family’s farm. We see a dark landscape as the figure of Reverand Powell appears on the horizon, inching his way closer and closer to the children as he coos the innocent “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” in some of the eeriest singing you’ve ever heard.
6. Matthew McConaughey as Joe Cooper in Killer Joe
Prior to this film, McConaughey had starred in primarily the cheap, goofy rom-coms he’s mainly known for, but his turn in the film “Lincoln Lawyer” in 2010 was quite a surprise to audiences, and showed us that he could actually play a serious role.
The next year he came out in this deeply disturbing film, directed by the great William Friedkin. As he torments a family for the money they owe him — well, I won’t give away too much. Let’s just say that after watching the film you’ll never look at a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken the same way again…