Great Performances In Not-So-Great Horror Movies

List Rules
Vote up the actors who gave 110%, even when the movies were a big, fat zero.

Horror movies often get the bad rap of being filled with nothing more than blood, guts, and bad actors, but that couldn't be further from the truth. When an incredible actor shows up for a genre movie, it doesn't just raise the film's status - it makes the film even better.

Whether it's a horror film made for children or the sequel to a slasher movie filled with Irish robot witches, each and every one of these horror movies is anchored by an actor who gives an incredible performance. Some of these stars, such as Geoffrey Rush and Octavia Spencer, are critically acclaimed actors who are known for their beautiful performances. But there are even more cult-status actors who turn out unexpected and magnetic performances in their bad horror movies.


  • For many horror fans who grew up in the '90s, Matthew Lillard is an honest-to-goodness genre touchstone. He steals pretty much every scene in Scream, and he's the most memorable actor in Thirteen Ghosts, a remake of William Castle's 1960 horror classic.

    In this plucky little PG-13 haunted house film, Lillard plays Dennis Rafkin, a psychic working for the evil ghost hunter Cyrus Kritikos. When Kritikos perishes during the capture of the much-heralded 13th ghost, Rafkin makes his way into the house/giant ghost machine constructed by his old boss to seek out the money Kritikos owed him.

    All of that sounds pretty by-the-numbers, but Lillard chews every piece of scenery he can find. Even when he's dishing out mind-numbing exposition, he finds joy and excitement in each syllable. The other main characters in the film are more-than-capable actors (think F. Murray Abraham and Tony Shaloub), but it's Lillard who knows exactly what kind of movie he's in, and it's this singular performance that lifts up Thirteen Ghosts from just another remake to camp glory.

    Rotten Tomatoes Score: 17%

  • Hannibal sees Gary Oldman turn in a performance that's far above the pulpy source material. It's not like he was just given a different script than the rest of the cast; it's like he was given a different director. Honestly, he's in an entirely different movie, despite the fact that he's easily the most over-the-top character in the entire Hannibal franchise.

    Maybe it's because Oldman is acting through layers of super-gross skin-graft makeup, or maybe it's because he's just another caliber of actor. Whatever the case, it's an incredibly real performance, even though he's playing a pedophile who feeds people to his personal stall of pigs.

    Rotten Tomatoes Score: 39%

  • If anyone needs proof that Anton Yelchin was one of the best actors of his generation, look no further than Odd Thomas, a hellishly off-balance horror-comedy Dean Koontz adaptation. In the film, Yelchin plays a psychic short-order cook who tries to hold the forces of darkness at bay.

    Odd Thomas doesn't really work, but the moments that shine are all thanks to Yelchin. If you want to see just how hard Yelchin tries to make some downright rough screenwriting sound like magic, watch the first 20 minutes of this movie - it's a master class in squeezing blood from a stone.

    Rotten Tomatoes Score: 38%

  • Sam Neill isn't known for giving broad performances. Before the '90s, he was more known for being a subdued character actor, but that all changed with Event Horizon. In this horror movie, a crew of astronauts sets off to find the lost ship Event Horizon that's mysteriously disappeared and reappeared seemingly out of thin air. When the crew arrives on the ship, things get real crazy real fast.

    Neill is tasked with two performances here. Neill plays the somber designer of the Event Horizon like someone who's lost in a dream while everyone else is in a sci-fi-horror movie. When Neill's character finally kicks into gear after he's possessed by interdimensional evil, it's like a new actor shows up. Neill struts and screams as an eyeless, skinless version of himself. It's an amazing performance worth watching again.

    Rotten Tomatoes Score: 31%

  • It's not easy to fill the shoes of Vincent Price, one of the most beloved horror actors to ever grace the screen. Somehow, in the absolutely bananas remake of House on Haunted Hill, Geoffrey Rush does it. In this 1999 remake of the William Castle classic, Rush plays Steven H. Price, an amusement park mogul who really wants to kill his wife. To make that life dream come true, Price locks everyone in a haunted psychiatric hospital, and that's when the ghosts pop off. 

    Rush doesn't shy away from the over-the-top nature of the film. Instead, it's like he's trying to top every other actor with how big and broad of a performance he can give. He doesn't just do a Vincent Price impression - he takes on the qualities of Price while creating an all-new character. It's really fascinating to watch, but it's also fun because Rush clearly knows that there's no point in overthinking House on Haunted Hill.

    Rotten Tomatoes Score: 31%

  • Bette Midler reaches some kind of horror-comedy altered state in Hocus Pocus, a Disney movie that has no right to be as good as it is. Written by Mick Garris (The Stand miniseries) and directed by Kenny Ortega (High School Musical), the film is a very Disney children's horror movie that is raised out of kiddie territory by its performances.

    Nine-year-old Thora Birch rocks as kid sister Dani, and the three witches at the heart of this movie are all playing to the cheap seats with performances worthy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but it's Bette Midler who leads the charge. Midler channels her early days of performing in bathhouses into a character that's gone on to inspire drag queens and theater kids for the last two decades. Without Midler in this movie, there's no way it would be the Halloween classic it is today. 

    Rotten Tomatoes Score: 39%