FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jan 7, 2016

Masterpiece Theatre...of, Like, Blood and Whatever

So listen, to be honest with you guys I have not watched a lot of horror lately. The things I am anxious to see have not made their way to my orbit yet (hey The Witch will you hurry up and get in my face, please please??) and everything that is currently in my orbit seems dull. Thus, I have been indulging hardcore in my other lifelong cinematic obsession, actresses acting the shit out of stuff. I could talk about these movies here–you know, write a million words about every frame and moment of Carol, or maybe a piece praising Marion Cotillard's posture throughout Two Days, One Night–but horror is Final Girl's wheelhouse and so I simply bother everyone around me with these other thoughts. The world is either richer or poorer for it, I am sure.

Anyway, this all got me thinking–what are some of the great performances in horror? What actors and actresses fucking kill it and make you grateful that cinema exists? It doesn't have to be a lead character, or any performer you've ever heard of. It can just be a single, small moment that rings perfectly true and leaves you breathless. Some of my favorites:

- Sissy Spacek in Carrie, obviously, heartbreaking even when she's terrifying
- Donald Sutherland wailing as he holds the lifeless body of his young daughter in Don't Look Now
- Essie Davis in The Babadook, a performance which would have been nominated for an Academy Award if the world were just. The movie isn't "the scariest thing you've ever seen" as the marketing promised, but it is an astonishingly honest depiction of depression and grief with some horror thrown in.


- Veronica Cartwright losing her shit in Alien
- All of Martyrs, of course, but the moment where Lucie stands on the bed and fires her shotgun at the daughter hiding underneath...it's such a fleeting moment, but Juliette Gosselin's reaction is pure, unadulterated fear–something that horror calls for so often and is so hard for actors to truly deliver.

I have some more in mind but I want to hear from you! What and who are your faves? And don't everybody say Lynda Day George in Pieces, we all know that flawless performance can't be touched.


43 comments:

Sean Belcher said...

Off the top of my head, Marilyn Burns' performance in TCM. I don't think I've ever seen an actor or actress convey pure terror as convincingly as she does in that flick. By the time you get to that last shot of her in the back of that truck, you feel just as broken and hysterical as her character.

Shelley Duvall is the Shining is a very close runner up. though. The way she was treated onset was awful, but I'd say her performance is right up there with, if not better than, Jack's in that flick.

Alex Essoe's performance makes Starry Eyes.

The ensemble acting in The Thing, particularly during the blood test scene. That sequence is so, so good.

Stacie Ponder said...

You, sir, are so SO right on every count! I was definitely going to include Burns and Duvall (in particular the scene on the staircase, with the bat) (Ugh Nicholson gets all the praise for that film and it drives me nuts) but stopped myself.

I need to watch The Thing again. It's been a while and now that there's finally snow on the ground here, it just seems right.

AE said...

I gotta give love to Phyllis in "Last House on the Left," beginning with that moment when the apartment door slams behind the girls and Phyllis whirls around: "Shit!" Mari's just blinkered but Phyllis knows exactly what's going on and tries to protect Mari from the worst of it. She lifts it from being a dark fairy tale - Mari the victim, Krug the big bad - she grounds the whole thing in reality and in doing so she brings the trauma home. Save Phyllis!

Mayhem Film Festival said...

Susan Backlinie as Chrissie in JAWS - her death is one of the most desperate and painful I have ever seen thanks to her amazing performance and ability to tread water!

Caroline Williams as Stretch in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 putting on her friend and co-worker L.G.'s skinned face to survive... amazing.

Marc P. said...

Sheryl Lee in John Carpenter's VAMPIRES. She gives it her all and it's amazing.

Stacie Ponder said...

You've made me realize that I've never seen that movie...in fact, I'd completely forgotten its existence. And I had no idea she was in it! *THE MORE YOU KNOW*

magla345 said...

hmmm, i have to think awhile...i don't really think so much about the actors and actresses when i'm watching a movie unless they are abnormally bad or strikingly good. so the ones i would comment on are the broad great performances that everyone knows:

naomi watts in mulholland drive. most especially in the last quarter of the movie, when betty is gone and dianne comes forth. it's one of the most devastating things i've seen in a movie, though i don't know if it affects everyone the way it does me.

mia farrow in rosemary's baby. in the latter part of the story, when she's figured out that everything's not right and all these people are not her friends, from this time on until the end, she has a certain way she sets her jaw. then she goes tottering around NYC on her tiny legs with a big suitcase and her belly so big she looks like she's going to give birth to a litter of buffalo calves.

gwyneth paltrow in the talented mr ripley. but not just her, everybody in that movie is great! but i've read some critical stuff, sarcastic crap from some writers about paltrow's performance. i think she played her part perfectly and was perfectly believable. when she truly realizes that tom has done something to dickie, she is awesome in her portrayal of that helplessness.

CashBailey said...

Not horror, but my one of my favourite performances of recent times was just last year, with Eva Green in the turgid 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE.

She launches a scorched earth policy in that movie that leaves you feeling sorry for the male performers, who flex and grimace with everything they have but had to have known they were completely dominated in every scene by the glorious Ms. Green.

Actually, Green also gave my favourite TV performance last year in a horror series called PENNY DREADFUL. It's not a show that would normally win awards but she deserves major kudos for carrying that show on her exquisite French shoulders.

Stacie Ponder said...

YES! I haven't seen the 300 sequel, but I mentioned PENNY DREADFUL on Facebook because she's *brilliant* on it. I'm glad she's up for a Golden Globe for it this year, but I have a feeling it'll end up being an "always a bridesmaid..." situation for the show's run. Here's hoping!

CashBailey said...

Also, I have to throw major props to Alex Essoe in STARRY EYES.

It's a phenomenal performance in a wonderful movie. I really hope she can transcend genre films and establish herself as a great dramatic actress.

Mikey Sarago said...

Samantha Eggar in The Brood and Meg Tilly in Body Snatchers <3

Marvin the Macabre said...

Jobeth Williams in Poltergeist always makes me tear up a little. Loved Amy Seimitz in A Horrible Way to Die, and both Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton in Byzantium.

Diandra said...

yes to the Martyrs ensemble and Essie Davis. Also, Naomie Harris in 28 Days Later is another of my favorite horror performances. Eva Green in Penny Dreadful! The ensemble of The Innocents and Psycho. Jocelin Donahue in House of the Devil. Edith Scob acting without a face in Eyes Without a Face. The kids in Let the Right One In.
The girl in Christopher Lee's segment of The House That Dripped Blood. Whenever Boris Karloff, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Conrad Veidt, and Peter Lorre were able to play somewhat developed characters. I think Vincent Price gave his best controlled performance in the the uneven but interesting Witchfinder General (The Conqueror Worm).
Ingrid Bolsø Berdal in Cold Prey (Fritt Vilt) 1 and 2. Beatrice Dalle is fierce in anything, really. Ingrid Pitt displayed a range of emotions within the camp of The Vampire Lovers. The two girls in A Tale of Two Sisters as well as Ginger Snaps. Gemma Arterton in Byzantium. Shima Iwashita in Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees. Michael Rooker in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Belén Rueda in The Orphanage. Whomever played The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Doug Jones for his many physical acting roles! Kristoffer Joner in Naboer (Next Door). Caleb Landry Jones in Antiviral. Shauna McDonald in The Descent. Michael Redgrave in Dead of Night. Marlene Clark in Ganja and Hess. Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion. Miriam Yeung in Dumplings (short version). Stephen McHattie in Pontypool. Zohra Lampert in Let's Scare Jessica to Death.

Ok I'll stop there. I think it takes a lot of skill and presence to play an iconic horror villain or hero, especially since the horror genre requires a lot of suspension of disbelief. Sometimes tone can carry a movie over bad performances, but it's great when a character can stand out not just during, but after the heightened experience of the film. Hey, Vincent Price said it better: “We, exponents of horror, do much better than those method actors. We make the unbelievable believable. More often than not, they make the believable unbelievable.”

Stacie Ponder said...

Glad to see folks mentioning BYZANTIUM...I like Saoirse Ronan and Neil Jordan a lot, but it's ben lingering in my Netflix queue. Must give it a go!

Kensington said...

I'm a big fan of Sam Neill losing his shit by the end of "In the Mouth of Madness," and Bruce Campbell is positively harrowing at the end of "Evil Dead II."

A lot of people laugh at the end, but I find it very upsetting based on Campbell's response to his situation.

Paul Hurh said...

Katherine Hepburn giving that ominous, dread-filled monologue in "Suddenly, Last Summer."

Adrienne Barbeau stealing all the "Creepshow"

Heather Donahue just going all-in during the "Blair Witch" confession scene. Such a risky monologue (who acts with half their face? Batman, I guess. And Zorro. But still.), and she captures that rare feeling of total, abject terror.

Sean Belcher said...

Kensington - you know, that is an excellent point about Campbell. He's terrific fun in the new Ash series, but his work in Evil Dead II is really just Next Level. I think we tend to focus on the physical comedy in that movie over the other stuff he brings to the table. Is he over the top in ED2? Oh sure, but the whole movie is over the top, and he is in perfect sync with the tone Raimi is going for. It is, no question, one of the most iconic horror performances in film history.

Diandra - Oh, Price is brilliant in Witchfinder General! It's my third favorite Vincent Price role, right behind the Raven and the Comedy of Terrors, which get my love just because its obvious everyone is having such fun in both those movies (Karloff and Rathbone's performances in the Comedy of Terrors are so delightful). Heck, he's great in so many things - Last Man on Earth, House on Haunted Hill, The Masque of the Red Death, Michael Jackson's Thriller...

Maxwell said...

My all time favorite horror actor has to be Jeffrey Combs. I always loved his over the top performances in Reanimator The Frighteners, and From Beyond. He's even better when he's subtle. He played Edgar Allen Poe brilliantly in a Masters of Horror episode called The Black Cat, which was sort of melange of the short story and the actual life of Poe. It brought actual tears to my eyes, no exaggeration.

Stacie Ponder said...

I was fortunate enough to catch Combs-as-Poe in a performance of NEVERMORE and it was incredible. Really, really terrific. What an actor!

CashBailey said...

Diandra mentioned Ingrid Bolso Berdal in COLD PREY and I couldn't agree more. I became an instant fan of hers from those movies.

In fact, I even sat through Ratner's boring-ass HERCULES movie just for her. I can't wait to see her in this new WESTWORLD.

Stacie Ponder said...

WESTWORLD is shaping up to be...well, something with a lot of potential and I'm looking forward to it. Of course, I probably won't see it until 2025, but still.

Madamoiselle Macabre said...

How about...

Zoe Tamerlis in MS. 45: She goes from a shy, anxious young woman to post-traumatic dissociation to vampy, misanthropic avenging angel without a single word.

Isabelle Adjani in POSSESSION: I can never forget her breakdown scene in the subway.

Helene Udy and Taylor Dooley in KATIEBIRD: CERTIFIABLE CRAZY PERSON: Brave, emotionally raw performances by both women as a tortured, masochistic, hammer-wielding serial killer.

Virginia Madsen in CANDYMAN: She shows some serious emotional range in this role and Helen Lyle is a great, complex heroine.

And though it's not usually categorized as horror, the actresses in THE BEGUILED all really bring it.

Stacie Ponder said...

HOLY CRAP ADJANI YES YES YESSSS

Ron Prescott said...

Judith O'Dea, people!

magla345 said...

hey, and let us not forget Beverly Dangelo's performance in "the sentinel". quite touching.

leftylimbo said...

Wow. I was going to contribute but blanked out at the last moment. However, after seeing the all-caps response to Isabelle Adjani I just had to look that up (I'd never heard of Possession). Vimeo had that subway scene excerpt, and yes, it was absolutely nuts. I couldn't help but get reminded of the brutal rape scene in IRRÉVERSIBLE (2002), in which Monica Bellucci doesn't necessarily "lose her shit," but she definitely had to endure an immensely powerful scene (easily deserving its spot in complex.com's "The 50 Most Hard-To-Watch Scenes in Movie History," imo).

Nevertheless, thanks for the enlightenment, folks. POSSESSION is only one of the many titles I've discovered just reading through these comments alone. Time to dig!

Stacie Ponder said...

Oh awesome! Yeah, one of my favorite things about having a comments section is how many good–or at least interesting–movies I've discovered thanks to the gang around here. POSSESSION is...insane. In a compelling, fantastic way. And Adjani just *goes for it* in ways you don't often see. I love it! Haven't had the willpower/stomach/whatever for IRREVERSIBLE yet, although I probably "should" see it at some point.

leftylimbo said...

The cool thing is that you actually have quite a large following too, so that's great. =)

I'll definitely put POSSESSION on my list. It's funny that I was wondering what STARRY EYES was, then I realized that I actually saw it myself, lol.

I think with your thorough knowledge and love for the horror genre, you've got to see IRREVERSIBLE, just to be able to say that you have. Dun-dun-duuuunnn ;)

Stacie Ponder said...

I really do need to see it, I know! It's just so easy to put off...not sure if I should wait until I'm in a really, really great mood or in the depths of despair...

Christine Hadden said...

Some of my favorite performances include:
Angela Bettis in May.....Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist....John Amplas in Martin.....Mickey Rourke in Angelheart.....Fairuza Balk in The Craft (not serious horror but she owned that role).....Dee Wallace Stone in Cujo.....Kevin Bacon in Stir of Echoes.....Jodie Foster in The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane.....And on a more recent note, I thought Jill Larson kicked ass in The Taking of Deborah Logan.
Oh, and I love Donald Sutherland in pretty much everything. :)

Stacie Ponder said...

Love the shoutout to Fairuza! She definitely went for it and without her that movie would not be nearly as much fun. And yeah, DEBORAH LOGAN is surprisingly not bad. Love seeing Anne Ramsay in something again, too–it'd been a while and she's always reliable.

leftylimbo said...

Now that you've mentioned it, I'm kinda willing to give DEBORAH LOGAN a second chance. There were definitely some creepy moments in that film, but I wasn't really into it overall.

Sally Kirkland in The Haunted (1991) doesn't really lose her shit, but the look of despair on her face at the end is classic, especially as they zoom in on it.



Stacie Ponder said...

There were times during DEBORAH LOGAN where I felt a little...strange, or at least wondering if I *should* feel strange, like if it was some weird exploitation going on. And it definitely devolved into your standard POV horror (people run around in the dark and scream) but overall I dug it.

Never heard of THE HAUNTED, but you had me at Sally Kirkland!

MinDC said...

Ohh, all of these are great! IRREVERSABLE is a fantastic movie that I will only see once. It's brilliant film making with great performances that made me feel sick and cry while watching it.
I just watched Lovely Molly and thought Gretchen Lodge was terrific! She went for it!

Rob K. said...

I really love Virginia Madsen in Candyman. She's absolutely terrific in it. Zohra Lampert in Let's Scare Jessica To Death is otherworldly, a classic performance.

Rob K. said...

Oh yeah, and ALex Essoe in Starry Eyes. She needs to become a better known, like, pronto. By no small measure she makes that movie as good as it is!

Stacie Ponder said...

God, I am SO on board with all of these choices. CANDYMAN especially never gets the love it deserves as far as I'm concerned!

Sean Belcher said...

Holy smoke, sooo many great choices! Looking at everybody's suggestions, I am kind of floored by how many truly amazing performances this genre has seen over the years. The Exorcist alone is just a masterclass in acting from everyone. There really needs to be a Final Girl Hall of Fame for these.

Thinking it over the past few days, I'd also like to add Tim Robbins in Jacob's Ladder, Lance Hendrikson in both Near Dark and Pumpkinhead, and, I know this one is probably just me, but I think Adrienne Barbeau is just brilliant in Creepshow.

Stacie Ponder said...

She's so amazing in CREEPSHOW. My heart is not big enough to hold all the love I have for that performance!

Francisco Estrada said...

Don't know if you would consider it horror, but Natalie Portman in Black Swan definitely.

Also Nicole Kidman in The Others gives an all time best.

Gregory Clarke said...

I'd also throw Sam Neil from Possession onto that list. I think his performance is a little bit overlooked because Adjani's is SO nuts, but the places he goes in that movie are really out there and really all over the place. That performance in any other movie would be the most remarkable thing about it.

mulholland said...

Aside from Adrienne Barbeau's fantastic comedic performance I also thought that Viveca Lindors was brilliant in Creepshow. Her performance as Aunt Bedelia in the opening "Father's Day" story was so perfect. And her acting was definitely at a level high above what most would expect in a horror film.

That monologue she delivers at her father's grave right before her death scene was like something out of a different movie...but in a good way. I believe she improvised it as well. She is a big reason why that story is my favorite in Creepshow.

Emily said...

Maika Monroe was wonderful in "It Follows." Julie Harris and Claire Bloom in "The Haunting." Kathy Bates in "Misery."