The 10 Most Overlooked Performances in Horror Films

5. Fred Gwynne as “Judd Crandall” – Pet Sematary

Fred Gwynne as “Judd Crandall” – Pet Sematary

Herman Munster absolutely stole the show in Pet Sematary. Gwynne plays the role of Judd, the elderly neighbor of the tragedy-stricken Creed family. Anyone who grew up in a rural, small-town environment knows someone like Judd. He’s the friendly old neighbor that has lived in town his whole life…and has also seen some serious shit in his day.

Just based on his height and voice alone, it’s obvious that he is a man of strange wisdom. No one could’ve been cast better. Even if his motivations are rather questionable, nobody would mind having a few beers with him on his front porch. It’s a role that’s as memorable as the film itself.

Honorary Award for Best Kindly Geriatric


4. Lance Henriksen as “Ed Harley”– Pumpkinhead

Lance Henriksen as “Ed Harley”– Pumpkinhead

Lance Henriksen gives what is possibly his finest performance as “Ed Harley”, a man who summons a demon to enact revenge on those responsible for his son’s wrongful death. The film is soaked with a grim atmosphere, and his character invokes a very real, human pain.

Henriksen is a generally under-appreciated actor, having acted in over 200 films in an array of genres. He really went all-in for his role in Pumpkinhead. His transition from simple, happy hillbilly to a hateful creature is horror-character gold. It’s the mark of a great performance when we can almost justify the great and evil lengths a person will go for vengeance.

Pumpkinhead seems to have gained a greater cult-status in recent years, and much of that is thanks to Henriksen’s character and his status as a face of the horror genre.

Honorary Award for Best Angry Dad


3. Bill Moseley as “Otis Driftwood” – The Devil’s Rejects

Bill Moseley as “Otis Driftwood” – The Devil’s Rejects

Bill Moseley had already established himself as a horror icon at this point, but his role in The Devil’s Rejects really pushed him to new places. He was great as “Choptop” in Texas Chainsaw Massacre II, but he was really able to channel something sinister in Devils Rejects.

Unlike his earlier role in House of 1000 Corpses, there is nothing “wacky” about his personality here. He is a remorseless, sadistic lunatic. He will beat you mercilessly with a bag of apples…just so he can have your apple. As sick as he is, he’s perfect in his role, and is certainly someone you would never wish to encounter.

When this film came out, there was actually an independent campaign started to get him a Best Supporting Actor nomination. It was a long shot, but not unreasonable. The role really had Moseley create a very nasty, but strangely “likable” character. Many people seem to have gripes with Rob Zombies directorial talents, but no one can argue he gets great performances out of his actors.

Honorary Award for Best…oh god please don’t kill me.


2. Jason Miller as “Father Damien Karras” – The Exorcist

Jason Miller as “Father Damien Karras” – The Exorcist

More than enough has been said about Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, and Max Von Sydow’s performances over the years. Where’s all the love for Jason Miller? It’s likely because his role is (for most the film) very quiet and subdued compared to everyone else. Miller plays the role of “Damien Karras”, a priest and psychologist who is suffering from a possible loss of faith.

As an actor, Miller was (and still is) a relative unknown, making his place in horror-history all the more puzzling. In The Exorcist, he is great as a seemingly “normal-guy” facing some very real issues of faith and family. His performance is mostly somber, but he ultimately ends up being the most important character in the film. It’s when he has to face the real-life demons alone that he truly gets to shine…

Granted, he WAS nominated for Best Supporting Actor for The Exorcist. But he all but vanished after his biggest film, and is certainly not a household name. It’s too bad, because he was clearly a talented actor who could handle a complex role.

Honorary Award for Best Use as a Vessel For a Demon


1. Tim Robbins as “Jacob” – Jacob’s Ladder


Jacob’s Ladder is a hugely under-appreciated film featuring many great performances. The plot revolves around Jacob (Robbins), a Vietnam veteran who starts witnessing strange, disturbing occurrences, and ultimately starts to question his reality. He begins seeing demonic entities, horrifying Vietnam flashbacks, and has “dreams” involving his deceased son (an uncredited Macauley Culkin).

Like many of the films on this list, this one is entirely humorless and can be an emotional ordeal to sit through. Despite this, Robbins’ performance as the title character is simple, dramatic perfection. He is an every-man, and has the look and attitude of someone who could be “your friends Dad” (if that makes sense). Having to watch Jacob become deeply troubled without any understanding of the cause is, at the least, agonizing.

I challenge anyone not to get teary-eyed during the last 10 minutes of this film, hugely due to the emotional investment you have for his tragic character. If any other film (besides The Exorcist) should’ve garnered an Oscar nomination on this list, it’s Jacob’s Ladder.

Honorary Award for Best Total Mind-F*ck Performance

So, there you have it. It’s a performance list containing a 1950’s cannibalistic father-figure, a ghoulish priest, a demon-conjuring hillbilly, and more. To horror fans, I’m sure that sounds a hell of a lot more interesting than any of the Academy Award winners. Maybe someday they will view these types of performances more objectively from the films themselves. I’m not getting my hopes up.

But really, who cares? Let Hollywood have their little statues. Horror can forever remain Hollywood’s ambitious, underachieving, blood-soaked little cousin. It’s the fans who know what’s good anyway.

Can you think of any other performances that deserve a little more attention? I can think of a few “honorary mentions” myself. Let us know in the comments below!

Author Bio: Taylor is a freelance horror blogger and general film fanatic. He’s a fan of David Lynch, werewolves, and he also has strong opinions of what the perfect cheeseburger should be. When he’s not writing about film, he’s a part-time musician/full-time weirdo.