Anthony Hopkins as Silence of the Lambs' Hannibal Lecter.
With Halloween upon us and a new horror film, Saw II, cutting it up at the box office, we’ve got creepy on our minds.
And what better way to creep ourselves out than dipping into some of those memorable movie characters who’ve caused us to looked at our neighbors suspiciously or made us re-think leisurely activities like yachting or spending time with our sister. So, for all those cinematic nut jobs who’ve given us nightmares, we’ve recognized them with their own eerie list—in no particular order (we don’t want to anger of them). Read on and…screen psychos…please, leave us alone.
10. Anthony Hopkins (“Hannibal Lecter”), Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Scary vs. Creepy? I go with creepy with Sir Anthony. Mostly because he plays his serial killing, genius grand gourmet Hannibal Lecter at the level of Shakespeare. He’s no run of the mill murderer like say, Henry Lee Lucas, but instead one of those ever-so-brilliant masterminds whose talents range from a mean plate of fava beans to making fun of Jodie Foster’s “white trash” roots to busting out of the high security cell he’s confined to. The film’s use of extreme close-ups held straight on Hopkins mug during which his speeches are underscored by penetrating blue eyes are so effective, you’d swear he has x-ray vision. And that’s tres unsettling—not only can he dress down your shoes but he can see into your soul.
9. Anthony Perkins (“Norman Bates”), Psycho (1960)
Poor Norman Bates. If his mother isn’t tormenting him inside his head (she’s not alive silly—that’s him wearing her clothes), his attempts to discuss taxidermy with traveling guests at The Bates Motel isn’t really working out the way he planned. And Janet Leigh was pretty nice to him about it (she didn’t once roll her eyes or say “what a freak!” or anything a rude person might utter). But, alas, mother didn’t like her. And if mother disapproves well, then, shower time just got a little more challenging. I’m guessing you know the rest of the story. OK, OK, so Norman Bates isn’t exactly a typical sympathetic character but Anthony Perkins’ jumpy, uncomfortable-in-his-skin performance nailed the quintessential secretly crazy, shy introvert to a schizophrenic tee. Perfectly playing the kind of person acquaintances always say “he seemed a little off but kept to himself” after the grisly murders occur, Perkins made it quite possible that Bates could be your next door neighbor. Now that’s creepy.
8. Billy Zane (“Hughie Warriner”), Dead Calm (1989)
While regarded by critics as a great thriller, Dead Calm has been overlooked by much of the public. Which is a shame since the film boasts terrific performances, high tension and some breathtaking cinematography. A big standout is the performance of the incredibly underrated Billy Zane whose psychopathic character Hughie is highly unusual in the history of movie nutcases. For one, he’s not terribly bright. Rowing out to the boat of married couple Sam Neil and Nicole Kidman, he is adept in trapping young Nicole while her husband’s stuck on Hughie’s sinking, body strewn vessel but he underestimates how cool minded and professional the couple is. They know things like coordinates and Morse code and how to turn an engine off. And for two, in spite of how obnoxiously handsome Zane looks, his character is played like, for lack of a better term, a dork. He’s crazy, but he’s annoying and embarrassing and in no way smooth with the ladies. He’s someone you could meet in a bar. You probably have. Oh…scary.
7. Elijah Wood (“Kevin”), Sin City (2005)
Elijah Wood is the perfect Frodo. He’s so Frodo that there’s really no one else I can picture playing the beloved Lord of the Rings Hobbit any more successfully than him. But there’s the rub. Would Frodo become Elijah’s Fonzy? Thankfully no. After doing a stalker turn in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind he ventured into far weirder territory in this year’s Sin City with his deceptively normal named character of “Kevin.” A cannibalistic sprite who’s blood lust results in the death of Marv’s (Mickey Rourke) beloved, Wood’s stark raving mad yet wordless (which is even scarier) performance of boundless depravity is so freaky, even Rutger Hauer’s priest can’t conform the kid. Instead, Kevin converts Rutger Hauer. That’s some creepy power.
6. Robert Mitchum (“Harry Powell”), The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Mitchum was so talented as an actor that he could run the spectrum of gorgeous leading man, light comedian, war hero, flawed noir anti hero and psychopath with nary a trace of effort. But nowhere did he prove his scary power more poetically than in Charles Laughton’s expressionistic masterpiece Night of the Hunter. Mitchum’s electrifying, dangerously handsome, hymn singing “Preacher” who seduces vulnerable women only to take their money (as well as their lives) is such an iconic vision of nightmare, that the entire picture is filmed like a children’s haunting dream. Hunting down the two kids of poor Shelley Winters, he’s all big talk, questioning threats (“where’d you hide the money Pearl?”) and finally just plain mean. You’ll never forget his speech about love and hate (famously tattooed on his knuckles) or the frightfully beautiful way he sings “Leaning on the everlasting arms” like a sham-preacher-turned-snake-charmer. Wonderfully demented.
5. Robert Blake (”Mystery Man”), Lost Highway (1997) tied with Dennis Hopper (“Frank Booth”), Blue Velvet (1986)
David Lynch knows creepy better than Martha Stewart knows a good souflee so finding his creepiest character is no easy task. As a result, I’ve had to split nut duty for two of his characters—Robert Blake’s unwelcome party guest in Lost Highway and Dennis Hopper’s nitrous sniffing weirdo Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. Blake’s last role (and I’m wondering if he’ll do any more pictures in the future) stuck in my noggin days after viewing, notably for his white makeup and way with a phrase—specifically “We’ve met before…at your house…I’m there right now.” And Hopper’s Booth, well, Pabst Blue Ribbon has never been the same since.
4. Mercedes McCambridge (“Voice of Regan’s Demon”) The Exorcist (1973)
It’s about time the longstanding character actress and strong, strong screen presences (watch Johnny Guitar) Mercedes McCambrige got her Exorcist due. For certain, Linda Blair’s possessed Regan spews up pea soup, pushes a priest out of a window and turns her head all the way around, but McCambrige provided the horrifying demon voice we had to hear while covering our eyes. And honestly, it was the voice that stuck in my mind longer than any of Blair’s flailing making The Exorcist one of the scariest films of all time. When you have to hide your eyes and your ears—a film is definitely freaking you the H-E-double hockey sticks out.
3. Sid Haig (“Captain Spaulding”), The Devils Rejects (2005)
Haig has made a nice career out of being weird, most notably in one of my cult faves, Spider Baby. But as the sinister, yet family loving character of Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s funny/scary/over-the-top gory and controversial The Devil’s Rejects he took demented clown to new heights. Gross, mean, laughing and more than depraved (is that possible?) he’ll erase any nice memories you had of the Circus coming to town.
2. Daveigh Chase (“Samara Morgan”), The Ring (2002)
I want to get this out of the way first. Though my namesake might alert you differently, I am in no way related to any member of the crazed Morgan family characters presented in The Ring pictures. So there’s no conflict of interest going on when I say that little Daveigh Chase’s “Samara Morgan” is one of the freakiest chicks ever to emerge from your TV set. Because having an undead child with long stringy black hair crawling out of well, into your plasma screen and plopping her self onto your living room floor only to slowly crawl towards you with the intent of, quite literally, scaring you to death is something I worry about when renting any film featuring creepy little children. Seriously.
1. Bette Davis (“Baby Jane Hudson”), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Baby Jane is the Citizen Kane of crazy old lady movies and Bette Davis, well, she’s the queen. As the aging child star Baby Jane Hudson caring for her ex movie star, wheelchair bound sister (played memorably—for both of the actresses— by Joan Crawford), she’s the picture of creepy—spackled white makeup, overdrawn mouth, baby doll ringlets and when she gets back into performance mode, baby doll clothes. She’s so odd she’s almost lovable until she cackles and serves her sister a pet bird for lunch and then a rat. Grand dame Grand Guignol, Bette is Divine Madness.
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