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The 10 Most Overlooked Performances in Horror Films

17 April 2016 | Features, Other Lists | by Taylor Zimny

Jacobs-Ladder

Besides The Silence of the Lambs sweeping “The Big Five” in 1991, and The Exorcist earning itself a few nods, The Great and Powerful Academy has never been known to really recognize the horror genre.

Typically, the awards are quite fond of biopics and straight dramas. Sure, Daniel-Day Lewis can do an impression of Lincoln like it’s nobody’s business, but horror actors should also be awarded SOMETHING for the great lengths they go for a role. They play characters that often need to act in inhuman, psychotic situations that no one should ever have to experience.

The actors frequently deal with grueling work conditions, and sometimes portray characters are possessed, hacked to bits, and traumatized by spirits. Granted, many of the performances on this list would never even be CONSIDERED for an Oscar, but that’s not the point. The point is to give a little credit to a genre where it is due.

There are HUNDREDS of performances in the horror genre that are often overlooked. They are the performances that make you think, “Oh yeah, he/she WAS pretty good in that movie.” We all know that Anthony Hopkins, Jack Nicholson, and Sissy Spacek had legendary performances, but let’s take a look at a few of the great overlooked performances in horror…

 

10. Marilyn Burns as “Sally” – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Marilyn Burns as “Sally” – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Marilyn Burns was a different kind of “scream queen”. Most people think of Jamie Lee Curtis in “Halloween” as the first with that title. But if you want to go WAY back, Fay Wray in King Kong should really be considered the original. Really, her character was practically hired just for how good she could scream in front of a camera!…
This is getting off-topic.

Marilyn Burns wasn’t the ditzy, sexually promiscuous version of the “scream queen” we became familiar with in the 80’s. Oh no. Her screams in TCM were guttural and raw. A lot of her performance probably owes to the unbearable conditions during the film’s production.

They shot TCM in the oppressive Texas summer heat, and by the end, the film’s infamous house smelled of sweat and rotting flesh. It’s no wonder that her acting seemed so real. Sure, it’s not really an Academy Award winning role, but her scenes during the last 20 minutes of Texas Chainsaw deserve more attention.

She may just be screaming most the time, but those vocal noises left a lasting impression. Also, the final shot of her laughing maniacally in the back of the truck is an iconic horror moment.

Honorary Award for Best ORIGINAL Scream Queen.

 

9. Julian Beck as “Rev. Kane” – Poltergeist II

Julian Beck as “Rev. Kane” – Poltergeist II

Poltergeist II is inferior to the first film in almost every way, but Julian Beck’s character is a shining moment. Beck plays “Reverend Kane”, an evil undead preacher who is set on destroying the Freeling family. He is PERFECTLY cast as the “god-damned terrifying old man”, and steals every scene he is in.

The character oozes with a ghoulish presence, and if you saw him in public, you would probably utter the words “stranger danger” to yourself. He has the appearance of someone who just rose from the earth, put on a suit, and decided to go about the devils’ business.

Sadly, Beck was very sick with cancer (and ultimately died during filming), so some of his scary appearance likely came from poor health. Regardless, he was a hell of a villain, and partially traumatized many childhoods.

Honorary Award for Best Evil Geriatric.

 

8. Morjana Alaoui as “Anna” – Martyrs

MARTYRS, Morjana Alaoui, 2008. ©Weinstein Company

Martyrs was a very polarizing film upon release, but it seems like the majority of the horror community holds it in high regard. The plot revolves around young girls who are forced into extreme torture in order to be sacrificed as martyrs to learn the secrets of the afterlife. It’s every bit an exhausting and intense experience as it sounds.

There’s no question that Martyrs had to be a HELL of a film to make for its actors, and Morjana Alaoui gets her ass kicked for almost the entire time. Movie magic can only do so much.

It is an exercise in extreme violence, and really pushes the boundary of what is acceptable in a film. Martyrs is saved from being another example of “torture-porn” due to its philosophical nature, and also the heavy role of Morjana Alaoui.

Anyone who has seen Martyrs knows how much of an emotional gut-punch it is, but it’s highly recommended viewing for fans of extreme cinema. Alaoui gives crazy-committed performance that often needs to be watched through the cracks of your fingers. The whole ordeal is NOT for the squeamish.

Honorary Award for Best Handling of an Ass-Kicking

 

7. George C. Scott as “John Russell” – The Changeling

George C. Scott as “John Russell” – The Changeling

The Changeling is a sadly under-seen film from 1980 starring screen legend George C. Scott. Thankfully, the film is starting to get more recognition in recent years. It is a dark, humorless film filled with a constant sense of dread.

Scott plays a composer who, after suffering a tragic car accident with his family, decides to move to an eerie old house for some peace of mind. While he is there, he quickly finds that the home is full of dark, ghostly secrets. Scott plays his role with straight-faced conviction (like he always did), and it’s great seeing him play a role outside his usual comfort zone.

The Changeling is old-school horror. The scares are generated from spookiness rather than jumps, and it’s all aided from the quality of George C. Scott’s genuine performance.

Honorary Award for Best Performance From A Tough, Old S.O.B.

 

6. Randy Quaid as “Nick/Dad” – Parents

Randy Quaid as “Nick Dad” – Parents

Ahh good ol’ Randy Quaid. Before he went completely f*ckin’ bonkers, he was actually a pretty respected actor. He was even nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in The Last Detail in 1973. However, in this film he plays the role of a cannibalistic, suburban 50’s Dad who feeds his family with “meat” from a Human Testing Lab.

Obviously, this one is very bizarre. His performance is creepy, off-putting, and downright gross. It seems like he was made for this type of role, which really does say weird things about Randy Quaid.

If you thought he was a creeper in the Vacation movies, go and have a look at Parents. The film has a Lynch-ian, surreal quality to it that has to be seen to be understood. It’s not EXACTLY a horror film (or a great film), but it’s so strange it can’t really fit into any other category.

Honorary Award for Best Foreshadowing of Future Craziness

 

 

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  • Klaus Dannick

    Great idea for a list! The Devil’s Rejrcts is the first film that came to mind when I saw the title: the acting is uniformly great in that film, particularly that of Bill Moseley and William Forsythe. Ken Russell’s The Devils merits a mention also for outstanding performances from Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave (and the rest of the cast, for that matter).

    The film industry’s contempt for the horror genre is a hypocrisy. Horror is one of the most bankable genres as the films can be made relatively inexpensively and they almost always turn a profit. Horror films keep Hollywood solvent while often (but not always) mediocre films are showered with honors.

  • Klaus Dannick

    I’d add also Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward from the 1973 The Wicker Man.

  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    Meh for Martyrs, the lead performance has credible gusto and just about holds things together, but it isn’t that great and doesn’t elevate the film beyond the schlocky. And Mosely just does generic scary but fun nutjob in The Devils Rejects. Otherwise some fine picks here. I would personally add Stephen McHattie in Pontypool, Lilli Taylor in The Addiction and perhaps Mickey Rooney in The Manipulator.

  • Bobby Calloway

    Kate Hudson in The Skeleton Key. You’d be shocked at how good she is.

  • SupernaturalCat

    Re the late Julian Beck…

    The Living Theater
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Living_Theatre

  • Veronica Clarke

    Great list!

  • Vincenzo Politi

    Good and interesting list!

  • Paesito “Martin Paez” Paez

    I would say Drew Barrymore´s performance in Scream was and is very overlooked still today, she conveyed so many emotions and facial expressions in only 10 minutes.