While we all recognize each specific monster from a horror movie, sometimes we don’t know who’s behind it. While we might know the story of how young Jason Voorhees drowned in Crystal Lake before rising from the deep to slaughter generations of hormonal teens, or how the Xenomorph slithered off a derelict spacecraft, we don’t know much about the actors who played these awesome roles.
There’s a lot more to being a cinematic monster than waving a prop machete at a fumbling babysitter. It’s time we turn off the gore for a little bit and look at the people behind the masks of some of our favorite horror movie monsters.
No offense to any of our white and red paint-wearing readers, but clowns creep us out. It’s a common fear, and for a generation of horror film fans, a lot of that can likely be attributed to the 1990 made-for-TV miniseries It. Based on Stephen King’s bestselling horror novel of the same name, It told the story of Derry, Maine, and its ongoing haunting by a supernatural being that manifests itself as the worst fears of anyone It encountered. Pennywise the Dancing Clown, played by Tim Curry, was a favored form taken by this nefarious spirit (its real form was later revealed as some kind of ginormous spider or something).
By this point in his career, Curry was known for playing the Lord of Darkness in Legend and Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. While ABC’s TV restrictions, overall bad acting, and skipping the book’s best parts resulted in It being a clunker, Curry’s captivating performance was the miniseries’ saving grace. Whatever they do with the upcoming remake, the next Pennywise actor has some rather large shoes to fill—and not just because he’s a clown.
We know, we know: lots of people have donned Jason’s mask. He wasn’t even the main killer in the first Friday the 13th movie, and he didn’t start wearing his iconic hockey mask until the third film, so we’ve seen the character go through some dramatic changes over the years. 10 actors have played the character so far, but we’re going to have to choose Kane Hodder as the definitive Jason Voorhees. While he didn’t even sign onto the series until Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, Hodder’s role helped bring Jason into a new age of slasher flicks and made him the hulking, unstoppable menace that we all love and remember.
Furthermore, he’s had the most experience playing Jason, as nearly every movie prior to Part VII had a different actor in the part. Donning the mask for four films (Part VII: The New Blood, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, and Jason X), Hodder remains a horror movie heavyweight champion in our books. He also played Leatherface once (kinda, as a stuntman and stunt coordinator for Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III).
We just had to include the man of your dreams on this list! As much as we liked Jackie Earle Haley in that Nightmare on Elm Street remake, only one actor’s name resonates with horror movie nightmares: Robert Englund. We’ve seen Englund wear the glove for nearly two decades, playing Freddy Krueger in eight films and even in the character’s own anthology horror series, Freddy’s Nightmares.
Sure, Freddy got a lot funnier and sillier as the years went by, but Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was a proper return to form for the supernatural slasher. We just hope one day Englund dons the fedora, sweater, and bladed glove one last time for a final trip down Elm Street. Below, enjoy the evolution of Freddy!
John Carpenter’s low-budget 1978 slasher classic Halloween helped pave the way for bad guys like Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Ghostface with the unforgettable appearance of the film’s lumbering silent psychotic villain—and future franchise star—Michael Myers. Carpenter added a heavy psychological aspect to the killer that we hadn’t seen since Norman Bates decades prior and envisioned the film’s location, fictional Haddonfield, Illinois, as a typically idyllic suburb that turned unspeakably creepy after the sunset on October 31.
Nick Castle may have only donned the mask in the first movie, but his awesome performance as Myers would be imitated for years by countless horror villains, including some of the actors on this very list. A cool fact about Castle: he co-wrote Carpenter’s dystopian action flick, Escape from New York, helped write the story for Steven Spielberg’s Hook, and has directed an assortment of movies that includes The Last Starfighter and The Boy Who Could Fly.
Although writer Clive Barker didn’t name the lead Cenobite “Pinhead” in his novel The Hellbound Heart, the character’s distinctive appearance earned the nickname that stuck throughout the Hellraiser series. Since The Hellbound Heart was adapted into the first Hellraiser movie in 1987, English actor Doug Bradley has become synonymous with the soul-harvesting Pinhead.
Bradley is part of a special group of horror actors who have played their haunting characters at least six times in a row, a list that includes Tobin Bell as Jigsaw, Warwick Davis as Leprechaun, Brad Dourif as Chucky, Christopher Lee as Dracula, and Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger—more on that last one later.
Tobe Hooper’s kooky 1974 horror flick The Texas Chainsaw Massacre spawned all kinds of weird and bizarre sequels, but we particularly remember the original thanks to how it stood out compared to other genre entries from the era. Instead of the monster/killer infiltrating houses and chasing people down, the victims were led into Leatherface’s lair. Heavily inspired by the horrific true story of Ed Gein, Leatherface wore a headpiece made of human skin.
While plenty of people have picked up the chainsaw since, we’ll always remember Gunnar Hansen for his original (and only) portrayal of the role. While other Leatherface actors have come and gone, Hansen set the standard for how to properly play a chainsaw-wielding maniac, utilizing mannerisms that have been repeated in the character’s other movie appearances. Fans of the B movie Mosquito will also recognize Hansen as one of its main characters—who actually uses a chainsaw to fight off ginormous, blood-sucking bugs.
Ridley Scott’s Alien revolutionized both the science fiction and horror movie genres in 1979. In the beginning, no one knew who was going to be cast as the film’s titular monster. Eventually, Ridley Scott was introduced to Bolaji Badejo, a design student from Nigeria. Badejo’s thin, lanky frame and near-seven-foot-tall height would help convince viewers that the film’s monster couldn’t just be some guy in a suit, which many monster movies made obvious over the years.
He only played the alien in the first film of the franchise, but still left a heavy impression, especially since James Cameron’s Aliens had dozens of Xenomorphs all over the place and future sequels primarily used puppetry and CGI to render their aliens. Badejo’s alien is just a bodysuit, but extremely threatening. He ended up doing an amazing job to help sell the illusion, and the Xenomorph would go on to become one of Hollywood’s most unforgettable sci-fi monsters.
Originally, Jean-Claude Van Damme was cast to play the Predator in the 1987 Arnold flick of the same name. Unfortunately, the bulked-out appearance of star Arnold Schwarzenegger and the rest of the cast made JCVD seem way too small for the role, despite how amazing it would have been if the Predator had kung fu skills. Fortunately, all of that was scrapped in favor of Kevin Peter Hall, who also starred as the towering title character in Harry and the Hendersons.
When you’ve got guys like Jesse “The Body” Ventura and Apollo Creed himself, Carl Weathers, walking around a jungle, you’re going to want to make your movie monster a behemoth, and not just the muscles from Brussels. Thankfully, Hall’s tall frame made for a perfect Predator in both the 1987 original and its 1990 sequel, Predator 2.
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