Actors play a crucial role in horror. In any movie, obviously, but horror fans really latch onto the faces on the screen. Everyone has their favorite horror actors, from the classics like Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee down to Robert Englund, Doug Bradley, Tony Todd and so many others. But almost every actor gets their start in horror. It makes sense, too. There’s more horror produced than anything else and, bad or good, people will always watch it. That’s good for young actors looking to get recognized. Most of your favorite A-list actors did horror early in their careers. Some of them were very good at it, some probably never even wanted those productions to be seen. Either way, it wasn’t really a conscious decision. Whether they liked the work or didn’t, they were just starting out and happy to have a job.
But some of them were good enough in their respective horror roles to really catch our interest. They make us wonder what things would have been like if they had chosen to do more genre work in their careers.
Sure, she did the TV series Medium, but the A-list actress hasn’t done a ton of outright horror work aside from her very early career. But when she does, her performances are excellent. Whether it’s being a sincere and truly likable lead in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, a troubled and abused farm hand in Tales from the Crypt or her excellent counter-culture crisis of faith in Stigmata, this is a woman who’s just underrated in general, even with her recent Oscar win.
Jennifer Connelly is another actress who has a great intensity that she brings to every role. Even looking at her work as a child, I see Phenomena as essentially the dark side of Labyrinth. As an adult, she maintains a sense of integrity and grace that is excellent to watch. She would be the kind of protagonist that would refuse to be victimized, which is always excellent to see in horror. At the same time, she has all the makings of playing a great villain as well.
A-List actor Christian Bale gave an excellent and monstrous performance in American Psycho. Even this one portrayal of a psychopath showed a career’s worth of range. It was a tour de force and while I would never want him to just replicate that, I think it would have been excellent to see him do more work inside the genre. It doesn’t seem likely to happen as his career grows and grows, but one can dream.
Maybe this one will happen again, because McConaughey really seems to be doing just about whatever he wants at this point. He’s made it. He has his pick of material. This one might seem like a weird choice, because his only real horror film is also by far the worst of his career and the worst of its franchise—that, of course, being Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. But whatever he’s doing in that movie, he’s owning it. He is 100% giving it his all. I can’t pretend I wouldn’t be fascinated to see what else he could do in the genre if given a shot.
Bacon has had a few horror roles, some of them more prominent than others. His best known horror works are definitely Friday the 13th and Tremors. Once he got Footloose he rocketed to stardom and his returns to horror have been sporadic. But when he comes back to the genre, I always enjoy what he does. Stir of Echoes is one of the most underrated horrors of the last twenty years and his performance in that is just as layered if not more so than Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense.
I’ll be honest, Oldman is my favorite actor. The sheer range of the guy is absolutely astounding. Yet I was stunned to realize that his only real horror movie is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He may have been horrific in León: The Professional, but it wasn’t a horror film. There is so much range that he could play anything in any genre, so I’d love to see him do another, whether it’s a quiet haunted house thriller or a supernatural epic.
Johnny Depp has never turned his back on the weird and creepy, of course, and his work with Tim Burton always skirts around the genre. But he hasn’t done a ton of actual horror work. There was A Nightmare on Elm Street and of course things like Sleepy Hollow and The Ninth Gate, but not much outside that. He’s already as big a star as he is ever going to be, but a lot of viewers have stopped taking him seriously. Tusk may not have helped with that, but it was at least a weird indie horror comedy where he got to do his own thing. Believe it or not, his own thing and Burton’s thing can be very different. I think more horror work could only lead to a more diverse assortment of roles.