Some roles you can’t un-see. The faces of the characters in horror are real faces—like it or not—and when the actors who play them move on to other projects, sometimes it’s challenging to look past the chilling personas they once inhabited … other times, it’s nearly impossible. Here are my top ten—actors who, in my view, have simply become the ghoulish characters they’ve played …
10. Olivia Wilde (as Zoe in THE LAZARUS EFFECT )
Olivia Wilde is known most prominently for her recurring television roles on House and Vinyl. I haven’t seen either; I’ve only seen THE LAZARUS EFFECT. And whether you enjoyed THE LAZARUS EFFECT (like me) or loathed it (like virtually everyone else), there’s no denying that Wilde’s role is memorable, a chilling depiction of the zombie. For someone known for her beauty, this is one ugly role.
9. Megan Fox (as Jennifer in JENNIFER’S BODY )
I need you frightened … I need you hopeless.
There was a time when you couldn’t stop seeing Megan Fox—she was on every magazine cover, pinned to the inside of every teenage boy’s locker, and in theaters everywhere in the TRANSFORMERS films of the late ‘00s. Now, Fox is a mother and wife and has informed the press that her days as a sex object symbol are over—and that she and her brood have relocated from Hollywood to focus on family. Still, when the occasional photo of her surfaces, I can’t not see her with fangs, about to enact a punishment on boys that is more than appropriate for Fox in particular, in JENNIFER’S BODY.
8. Leighton Meester (as Rebecca in THE ROOMMATE )
It goes without saying that Leighton Meester was most famously Blair Waldorf on Gossip Girl from 2007 to 2012, but today, she is also known for a decidedly darker role: Rebecca, in the infamous horror flick which has effectively terrified college freshmen since its release in 2011, THE ROOMMATE. An updated incarnation of 1992’s SINGLE WHITE FEMALE, THE ROOMMATE is low-brow but sinister, and seeing Meester’s slow smile at work lulling innocuous Sara (Minka Kelly) into a false sense of security instead of charming Chuck Bass is a shock to the system that won’t soon be forgotten.
7. Bette Davis (as Baby Jane Hudson in WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? )
But you are, Blanche! You are in that chair!
Bette Davis has rarely been invited to play a role characterized by bashfulness or delicacy or even charm—traits typically assigned to Hollywood “ladies.” Generally, her brash tone and famously abrasive manner are used to the director’s advantage to portray women more complex than your typical female lead—an advantage in disguise for someone with Davis’ acting chops. Baby Jane Hudson may be among the most complicated characters in existence—traumatized, cruel, perhaps mentally ill or perhaps single-mindedly vengeful. WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? is one of Davis’ later hits, so her contemporaries knew her for much more … but horror fans who have screened this classic will remember Baby Jane’s maniacal gaze most vividly.
6. Neve Campbell (as Sidney Prescott in the SCREAM franchise [1996-2011])
There must be more to Neve Campbell than Sidney Prescott—in fact, I know there is, from temptresses Suzie Toller (WILD THINGS ) and Sarah Cassidy (PANIC ) to orphaned teen Julia Salinger (Party of Five [1994-2000]) to shy but powerful Bonnie (THE CRAFT ). And yet all of that is lost on me: when I see Campbell, I see Sidney Prescott, arguably the best Final Girl in existence (or, at least, tied with Laurie Strode). Sidney wins over audiences quickly—far from the guileless Final Girls of the ‘80s, she is intelligent and steely—though still wracked with human grief and fear. As a result, she has become an icon of women in horror: ‘90s “Girl Power” epitomized. Sidney Prescott’s hallowed status in the slasher genre immortalizes Campbell as well: so fully does she inhabit Sidney, it’s nearly impossible to extricate the two—her face forever bears the ghost of Sidney’s determined grimace or furrowed brow.
5. Anthony Hopkins (as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS )
A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. Hannibal Lecter may be the most infamous villain of the past 25 years. I can’t tell you how many times I heard this quote recited before I actually saw SILENCE OF THE LAMBS in 2011. How many more lines from the film are so haunting? Dozens. Dozens and dozens. My heart starts to pound in my chest every time chianti is so much as mentioned—and the image of the screaming lambs Hannibal Lecter evokes has never left me. Whether Anthony Hopkins knew it or not, his face became Hannibal Lecter’s face the moment the film began. It’s impossible now to see him any other way.
4. Justin Long (as Darry in JEEPERS CREEPERS )
I have seen Justin Long in ten different movies, easily. He’s not exactly obscure, a staple in rom-com and a handful of horror flicks alike. No matter how many times I see him as the cynical love interest or unattainable dreamboat, I can never un-see his body at the end of Victor Salva’s JEEPER’S CREEPERS: sloppily strung up, stitched crudely in places, and missing eyes which now grace the visage of the flesh-eating Creeper. Talk about a dreamboat.
3. Sissy Spacek (as Carrie White in CARRIE )
Stephen King fans will attest to the fact that Carrie has never been accurately portrayed in cinemas: in King’s debut novel, she is described as plump and pimple-ridden—quite a contrast with both Sissy Spacek and Chloë Grace Moretz (in the 2013 remake). And yet, in spite of such glaring inaccuracies, Spacek is legendary as Carrie White in the 1976 film. She may be thin and blonde, but she is far from ordinary, bringing an unsettling quality to the character that isn’t perceptible in the book, but makes for a rather spooky film interpretation. Her wide, pale eyes scarcely fit her small face and she is ghostly in her pale pink prom gown—downright monstrous drenched in pig’s blood.
2. Jack Nicholson (as Jack Torrance in THE SHINING )
Jack Nicholson is beyond famous; he’s an icon of American cinema. He’s Jake Gittes in CHINATOWN (1974), R. P. McMurphy in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975), Frank Chambers in THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1981), the Joker in BATMAN (1989) … but, after seeing THE SHINING, Jack is Jack (Torrance, that is) and his clenched, red face shoved through the splintered door toward his cowering wife is difficult to detach from Nicholson’s. It’s difficult to pick one of Nicholson’s roles as most influential, but anyone with even a passing interest in horror will inevitably agree that the impact of THE SHINING is difficult to overstate.
1. Mark Duplass (as Josef in CREEP )
Mark Duplass as Josef has never for one second stopped haunting me since I saw CREEP last summer. Josef, in my opinion, is among the most terrifying antagonists in horror to date. As the film progresses and the audience comes to slowly understand who he is, the events of the film begin to twist into the unimaginably horrifying. Unfortunately for me, one of many traumatized by Josef, Mark Duplass (or Josef, as I can’t stop seeing him or referring to him as) has a recurring role on one of my favorite sitcoms, The Mindy Project, and is a staple on the indie film circuit. He is ever-present, highly successful in the current moment of cinema … and represents a spine-chilling psychopath.
… and what about you, reader? What horror roles do you find impossible to extricate from their actors? What monsters can’t you un-see?