21 celebrities who made their careers playing terrifying characters

IMDb/Columbia PicturesThese characters played some iconic horror stars.

It’s difficult to define, but when an actor so fully embodies a role that you can’t imagine anyone else playing that part, you always know that you’re watching something special.

Here are some actors who have terrified their way into our hearts with their scary good acting – and the creep-tastic roles that made us love them.


Evan Peters has been an integral part of “American Horror Story” since the beginning — and it’s hard to imagine the show without him.

FXPeters has always been part of ‘American Horror Story’.

From Tate Langdon to Mr. Gallant, Evan Peters’ characters in each season of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s anthology horror series have never failed to captivate.

Although some are undoubtedly creepier than others, Peters has an amazing ability to make you feel empathy – even at their worst, his characters have depth and are refreshingly multidimensional. In real life, he swears he’s actually not that intense, according to GQ.


Sir Christopher Lee’s career spanned decades and left behind a legacy of deliciously terrifying movie characters.

Bray StudiosLee has done his fair share of horror films.

His career included genre-defining roles as the Creature and especially as Dracula in the Hammer horror films that spanned the ’50s through the ’70s to Saruman the White in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Sir Christopher Lee was one of the UK’s greatest gifts to cinema. Lucky for us, he left us plenty to remember him by.


It’s practically impossible to have a good Halloween without hearing Vincent Price’s distinctive voice at least once.

Warner Bros.Price has become synonymous with scary.

From the original House of Wax to the cinematic adaptation of several Edgar Allan Poe classics – and continuing through to the Tim Burton short “Vincent” and his final screen performance in Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, millions of people have been chilled by Price’s voice alone.

But of course, for some fans of all things spooky, the Halloween season simply isn’t complete without Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. That iconic song just wouldn’t be the same without Vincent Price – and the accompanying music video that brought together Jackson, Price, special effects legend Rick Baker, and the inimitable film director John Landis still ranks as one of the most groundbreaking music videos of all time.


Sir Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter is easily one of the most terrifying screen villains ever.

Onion PicturesAnthony Hopkins just makes people think of ‘Silence of the Lambs.’

He may have a long and storied career and a broad range of acting skills – but for many people, if you say the name “Anthony Hopkins,” Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs” is the first thing that comes to mind.


Ian McShane is amazing in just about anything — but nothing comes close to his career-defining role as Al Swearengen in HBO’s “Deadwood.”

HBOIan McShane is most iconic in Deadwood.

He’s had great and villainous roles before and since, but this is perhaps the most iconic.

Many fans lamented that the three-season run of the show never received a proper ending – but now, show creator David Milch has the opportunity to make things right with a Deadwood film due in early 2019.


Even if you’ve never seen “A Nightmare On Elm Street,” to many, Robert Englund’s turn as Freddy Krueger is nothing short of terrifying.

IMDB/New Line CinemaFreddy Keuger’s face is scary and infamous.

Unlike some slasher film villains, Freddy Krueger’s face isn’t hidden behind a mask – instead, the horrifyingly burnt shell of a man is on painful, raw display for everyone to see.


Sissy Spacek went on to a long and varied career — but the character of Carrie White in the seminal horror film “Carrie” put her on the map.

United ArtistsSissy Spacek got on the map because of ‘Carrie’.

Carrie White isn’t a traditional villain – she’s a young girl with powers and a terrifying mum, and she’s just trying to make the best out of her situation. That’s what makes her so relatable – and also, perhaps, what makes her so terrifying when she finally has her revenge on everyone who has treated her so badly throughout the film.

That could be why so many connected with Sissy Spacek’s iconic portrayal of the character that put her on the map in Hollywood.


Before Danai Gurira was warrior Okoye in “Black Panther,” she was the compelling, captivating, and complex katana-wielding Michonne in “The Walking Dead.”

AMCGurira was Michonne before she was Okoye.

When viewers first met Michonne, she was travelling with two chained walkers – zombies whose jaws she’d removed to prevent them from feeding, effectively rendering them fairly harmless. She remained mysterious for a good long while – all the other characters and we as viewers knew about her is that she was incredibly skilled with her katana.

Ultimately, Michonne is an incredibly skilled warrior – perhaps made all the scarier because she’s one of the most relatable characters in the series, which is a testament to Gurira’s skills.


No one expected a prequel to “Psycho” to be good or scary — but Freddie Highmore has brought deliriously horrific new depths to the character of Norman Bates.

A&EFreddie Highmore jumped from ‘Bates Motel’ to ABC’s ‘The Good Doctor.’

TV shows can explore character growth over time in ways that films usually can’t – simply because a story is being told over a much longer span of time.

Following Highmore’s version of Bates’ descent into madness has been an exhilarating ride. Horror fans always knew what would happen with his mother from having seen “Psycho,” but we still didn’t know the exact way the train was going to run off the tracks. That’s where the delight in his performance lies – it’s a long-form, powerfully disturbing character study told over several seasons.


Vera Farmiga has made scary characters her home for some time now — whether she’s on TV as Norma Bates or in “The Conjuring” films as Lorraine Warren.

New Line CinemaFarmiga was unforgettable in ‘The Conjuring’.

To even have a hope of making a “Psycho” prequel TV series work, casting Norman and Norma Bates – the two key characters at the heart of the story – had to be perfect. Enter Vera Farmiga – who is so good, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in that role.

On the silver screen as Lorraine Warren in the “Conjuring” films, she’s no less amazing – and the fact that both of the characters are completely different women says magnitudes about Farmiga’s acting skills.


Mads Mikkelsen took another impossible task and made it his own when he brought a completely different kind of bespoke menace to the role of Hannibal Lecter on the small screen.

Brooke Palmer/NBCMikkelsen brought Hannibal Lector to the small screen.

Hailed jokingly by fans as “the best cooking show on TV,” “Hannibal” was Bryan Fuller’s sumptuous fever dream of a visual feast on NBC for three seasons – and Mads Mikkelsen completely made the role of one of the most famous fictional serial killers in history his own.


There are several horrific bright spots in Lance Henriksen’s long and storied career — but none stands out with utter delight in his complete evil like Jesse Hooker in “Near Dark.”

Wikimedia‘Near Dark’ might be the best vampire film ever made.

Veteran actor Lance Henriksen first entered major public consciousness as Bishop in Aliens – but went on to dominate the horror genre with key roles in everything from “Pumpkinhead” to “Near Dark” – which was, incidentally, Kathryn Bigelow’s directorial debut.


Anya Taylor-Joy isn’t content to only play scary characters — but her breakout starring role as Thomasin in “The Witch” catapulted her to fame.

A24Joy’s performance was great in ‘The Witch’

Even though her grandmother reportedly doesn’t love horror roles like Taylor-Joy’s in “Split,” one of the biggest revelations of Robert Eggers’ directorial debut “The Witch” was Taylor-Joy’s slow-burning and ultimately incredibly disturbing performance.


Kathy Bates first terrified audiences as psychotic super-fan Annie Wilkes in “Misery.”

IMDb/Columbia PicturesBates surprised fans with her intense character in ‘Misery’.

Watching seemingly regular people slowly become unhinged over the course of a movie or TV show can sometimes make for the most disturbing characters – and Annie Wilkes is proof that it can be totally genius.

Later in her career, Kathy Bates would go on to join the “American Horror Story” repertory team and play such over-the-top terrifying villains as the infamous Madame Delphine LaLaurie, or the quietly desperate and deeply self-loathing AHS: Hotel concierge Iris.

Without tapping those initial terrifying depths in Misery, who knows if those “American Horror Story” characters would have materialised in quite the same way?


Linda Blair’s performance as possessed child Regan MacNeil in “The Exorcist” is still so terrifying, it sees regular theatrical releases every year around Halloween.

The ExorcistBlair’s performance continues to terrify audiences.

She’s the only child actor on this list – and for good reason.


Michael C. Hall was a serial killer — of other killers and terrible human beings — as the title character on “Dexter.”

ShowtimeHall shocked audiences as a serial killer.

HBO fans knew Hall’s high-quality acting skills from “Six Feet Under” – but once you got to know him as Dexter Morgan, the life he breathed into that character made him the first Hall role that came to mind.


Zachary Quinto has had a varied career — but once you’ve seen them, it’s hard to get his roles as consummate arch-villain Sylar on “Heroes” and the deeply disturbing Dr. Oliver Thredson on “American Horror Story: Asylum” out of your head.

FXQuinto plays a deeply disturbing Dr. Oliver Thredson.

The TV series “Heroes” burned brightly for a short period of time – and in the beginning, the truly terrifying nature of Sylar was one of the biggest reasons why it was so great.

It’s no surprise that he brought that same level of menace to his portrayal of the seemingly sympathetic Dr. Oliver Thredson – until, of course, that character also revealed his true nature and seemed to exist only to torture Lana Winters (played by Sarah Paulson).


Brad Dourif literally brought Chucky to life for the entirety of the “Child’s Play” franchise — which is still running.

Universal PicturesDourif unmistakably voices Chucky.

You may never see him on screen in the “Child’s Play” series – but the voice of Chucky is completely unmistakable. He even brought his daughter Fiona in on the twisted fun, starting with 2013’s “Curse of Chucky.”


As John Kramer/Jigsaw himself, Tobin Bell is the reason the entire “Saw” franchise exists.

YouTube/LionsgateVODBell voices Jigsaw and Savitar.

There are currently eight movies in the “Saw” franchise – and Tobin Bell is the heart of all of them. When he provided the voice of the villainous Savitar in “The Flash” TV series, more than one person probably asked themselves if Savitar was Jigsaw because his voice is that distinctive.


Tony Todd has acted in many roles across genres — but to this day, perhaps the one that fans remember best is the Candyman from the series of the same name.

Propoganda PicturesCandyman is Todd’s most iconic role.

Say his name five times in a mirror and the Candyman will appear – at least, that’s how it works in the movies. There was no one better than Tony Todd to play such an iconic role.


Anthony Perkins first introduced audiences to the great mental struggles of Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s original “Psycho.”

Paramount/UniversalPerkins starred in sequels starting 23 years after it first came out.

The original film – and the highly original character of Norman Bates – was so successful that three sequels were made starting 23 years after the first film, and Perkins starred in all of them.

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