ARKTOBER ARTICLE - SUNSHINE's Top 20 Horror Movie Performances

Horror movies rarely get the awards or recognition, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find some killer performances in the unappreciated genre. It’s time that we give credit where credit is due. Here are my Top 20 Performances in the Horror Genre!


20. Ashley Bell -
The Last Exorcism (2010)

Bell’s performance as the fearful farmer’s daughter, Nell, was engaging and heartbreaking. You feel every bit of fear and terror that she goes through and she elevates to film out of mediocrity.

19. Drew Barrymore - Scream (1996)

I already know that you are rolling your eyes as you read this, but give me a chance to make my case. Barrymore’s performance here is subtle and realistic. The opening scene from this hyper-aware, genre-changing film is iconic, mainly due to what Drew brings to the table.

18. John Cusack - 1408 (2007)

1408; the story of a ghost-hunter author trying to solve the mysteries of a deadly room, was met with mixed responses, but one thing that most can agree on is that Cusack pulls out all of the stops in his portrayal of the tortured writer, Mike Enslin. He takes his well-known, smart-ass vibe and adds a dose of terror and fear that supports this movie from start to finish.

17. Bill Moseley - The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

Bill Mosely’s plays Otis B Driftfood with a weird balance of composure, sanity, and sadism. When it comes to crafting sheer terror and discomfort, Bill Moseley has a gift. Whether “gift” is the right word or not, the audience is left with nothing but a tremedous feeling of unease. Otis B Driftwood is terrifying and might be one of the most underrated villains in cinema history.

16. Kurt Russell - Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Kurt Russell is a powerhouse as he leads a stellar team of performers in this western horror flick. Russell perfectly crafts a hero we can get behind in Sherriff Hunt and subtly maneuvers through this ominous work with a masterclass performance that is dark and gritty.

15. Jamie Lee Curtis - Halloween (1978)

Halloween by itself is violent and terrifying but it wouldn’t be the classic horror film that it is without the performance of it’s leading lady. JLC plays the babysitter with a stalker at such a high level, pulling every ounce of fear from each tension-filled scene.

14. William Forsythe - The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

And here we have our 2nd performance from Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects. Forsythe plays Sheriff Wydell, the cop on a revenge spree against the sadistic killers that took the life of his brother and he nails it. The performance is over the top and dark played with such raw emotion as we watch this character’s descent into madness.

13. Robin McLeavy - The Loved Ones (2009)

Demented and horrifying. McLeavy stars as the nerdy high schooler with a dark secret and she plays it to perfection. McLeavy takes a soft and sweet approach which is quickly thrown in a blender with batshit craziness and the outcome is a performance that you can’t take your eyes off of.

12. Garance Marillier - Raw (2016)

Marillier makes our stomachs churn with her performance of the vegetarian vet student who starts to have a taste for humans. As Marillier takes us through this demented, coming-of-age story, she grounds us in a setting that feels incredibly real. You feel her vulnerability, fear, and shame and you never question the world that she takes us to.

11. Ellen Burstyn - The Exorcist (1973)

Ellen Burstyn earned an Oscar Nomination for her performance as an actress, mom desperate for priests to save her daughter from demonic possession. Burstyn takes a role that could be easily overacted and grounds it in reality that gives the audience an opportunity to connect with all of her fears and anxieties.

10. Essie Davis - The Babadook (2014)

From one mother to the next, Essie Davis plays a widow dealing with the violent death of her husband. Though The Babadook is a terrifying monster, the real fear comes from a less fantastical place. Davis’s performance is intense and emotional as we see her character’s struggles in dealing with trauma, depression, and rage.

9. Michael Parks - Red State (2011)

One of the most terrifying things in this world can be extremism. We get a massive dosage of that in Kevin Smith’s horror movie, Red State. Michael Parks plays a pastor of an extremist church that kidnaps heathens and cleanses them of their wickedness. Parks is charismatic, thoughtful, and unwavering in his performance and delivers us a villain straight from hell.

8. Kathy Bates - Misery (1990)

This one may be a little on the nose but we’d be wrong for not having it on the list. Bates gives the performance of a lifetime as the dangerously obsessed super fan, blurring reality and fantasy. Her performance is downright chilling and earned her an Oscar… and then there’s the hobbling.

7. Kang-ho Song - Thirst (2009)

Kang-ho Song is open and raw in his performance as a priest infected with vampirism in this beautifully shot film from Chan-wook Park. Song’s performance draws you in and never lets you go.

6. Lina Leandersson - Let the Right One In (2008)

Lina Leandersson gives a subtle and powerful performance in a vampire tale unlike any other. She blends a playful innocence with ominous stoicism and the result is haunting.  

5. Mia Farrow - Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Having a baby can’t be easy, especially if the baby belongs Satan. I would then argue that portraying that would aslo be incredibly difficult, but Farrow pulls it off and in spectacular fashion in this role that launched her into stardom.

4. Daniel Kaluuya - Get Out (2017)

Get Out, arguably the best movie of 2017 (The 2010’s?), addresses racism in American culture while paying homage to horror classics of the past. Kaluuya plays our hero and leads us through this nightmarish version of The Stepford Wives as he shows us a vulnerability that is rarely tapped into.

3. Piper Laurie - Carrie

There are a lot of scary things in Carrie, but nothing quite as terrifying as Margaret White, Carries mother. Religous extremism is always scary but when it’s delivered by Piper Laurie, it’s down right horrific.

2. Jack Nicholson - The Shining (1980)

Jack Nicholson horrifies us as the writer who turns into a murderous father in a haunted hotel. Nicholson perfectly shows us the evolution of evil as it infects the character over the course of the film and the end result is truly frightening.

1. Toni Collette - Hereditary (2018)

This psychological horror flick divided audience members at the end with a left turn that you either buy into or not, but what is less polarizing is the phenomenal acting performance from Toni Collette as the mother with a haunting past. Collette delivers the stuff of nightmares that is guaranteed to leave a lasting impression, securing her place as My Favorite Horror Performance of All Time.

Hereditary [Blu-ray]
Starring Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff

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