Actors cast in a horror film can usually go one of two ways, serious and believable or done as camp. These actors and military veterans played the roles with gravitas, method and professionalism, which make them memorable. Even more so, many of the actors and veterans had encountered serious life experiences, sometimes in war, which may have added to the depth of their portrayals and art.
- Christopher Lee as Dracula.
Christopher Lee had an amazing career as an actor from his roles in great British films to franchises such as Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. He is known around the world for his acting prowess and on-screen presence. His acting abilities have no more been on display than in his ten-time appearance on-screen as Count Dracula. The man embodied evil, suaveness and class in his portrayal, which covered nearly two decades of his career. He honed his ability to play a villain which would later be on display in Star Wars Episodes II and III.
Lee served in the Finnish Army, the British Home Guard and the Royal Air Force, mostly during World War II. He was involved in many intense operations as the Allies took back Europe from the Nazis.
2. Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in The Shining.
Nicholson has had a prolific career spanning decades and roles, some of which are villains, although none takes the cake like his performance as Jack Torrance in The Shining. The film comes from a great novel of the same name by the master of horror literature Stephen King and is then directed by the one and only Stanley Kubrick. Nicholson’s delivery is so spot on and memorable that the film ranks in the top 75 greatest films of all time and is protected in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, not to mention its 8.4/10 IMDB rating and 85% Rotten Tomatoes score with a 93% Audience score as well. Nicholson has so many quotable lines and historic scenes, this is a hard one to top.
Nicholson served in the California Air National Guard from the late 1950s to the early 1960s.
3. Lance Henriksen as Bishop in Aliens.
Lance Henriksen is another staple of great horror film acting with his performance in the science fiction horror film, Aliens. Cameron takes the storyline to new heights after Ridley Scott’s initial Alien film. Henriksen’s role of Bishop sheds light on how AI could function in synchronism with humans and the likely benefits of AI in supporting mankind. He plays the character with depth, ease and humanity, which is a rare combination. He continued his role as Bishop, in one form or another, in some of the sequels to Aliens.
Henriksen served in the US Navy from 1955 to 1958 attaining the rank of petty officer third class.
4. Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis in the Halloween franchise.
Pleasance turns into strong performances, albeit with a declining script and production quality as the series progressed, throughout the initial Halloween franchise’s run from the late 70s to the mid-90s. He plays Dr. Loomis with conviction and depth, which add much to each of the series’s installments. He is a mainstay and truly spells out the horror that will ensue because of Michael Myers’s escape from his incarceration. Pleasance can be seen in other classics such as The Great Escape and as the Bond villain, Blofeld in You Only Live Twice.
Pleasance served in the Royal Air Force during World War II. He was shot down during the war, captured by the Germans and spent time in a POW camp. He put on plays for his fellow prisoners at the camp, which may have been some of his inspiration for acting in The Great Escape.
5. Dark Horse Nominee: Tom Savini as “Sex Machine” in From Dusk Til Dawn.
Tom Savini has made a career out of make-up, special effects and acting for horror films. He has worked on some of the best of all time including Dawn of the Dead, Creepshow and Friday the 13th I and IV. He played a fun and memorable role in From Dusk Til Dawn as Sex Machine, which was based on his Dawn of the Dead character, Blades. Although his character valiantly fights the vampires in From Dusk Til Dawn, he eventually is bitten by one and turns into a bloodsucker that Clooney and company must deal with.
Savini served in the US Army during the Vietnam War as a photographer. He utilized his experiences with war and death in his gory makeup effects. To quote his 2002 interview with the Pittsburgh Post, “When I was in Vietnam I was a combat photographer. My job was to shoot images of damage to machines and to people. Through my lens, I saw some hideous [stuff]. To cope with it, I guess I tried to think of it as special effects. Now, as an artist, I just think of creating the effect within the limitations we have to deal with.”