They give faces to our nightmares. They give personalities to those shapeless abominations that live in our minds and under our beds.They are like puppeteers who use themselves as their puppets. Even in knowing they will not get the attention they deserve, they put on their prosthetic and makeup and deliver us mind-blowing performances as those things to go bump in the night. I was hoping we could take a moment to show some real gratitude towards that oft under-appreciated facet of film. Creature actors. Those thespians that deliver us haunting, scary, and all around unforgettable performances, even though we often never get to see their face. All you have to do is think back to the golden age of Hollywood to realize just how important an aspect of film creature actors are.
Through their body language, they tell us stories. Through their quirky mannerisms, we never forget them. Some lumbering and scary, and some kind and light of foot, yet all of them, amazing and wholly believable because of the people who portray them. For some reason, we rarely stop to give these great actors the accolades they truly deserve. That is the reason I wanted to make this list. That, and the idea that if I can make these six souls anymore well known to even one person, it is worth it. Here are six stunningly convincing creature actors, all of whom I greatly admire. Note the list will be in a sort of chronological order based on when they affected pop culture.
This man is one of my heroes, without a doubt.
Make no mistakes about it, the modern monsters you see on film owe a great debt to Ray Harryhausen. This man did it first, and this man did it (many don’t know this) pretty much 100% by himself. Yes, literally. So when you see movies like his Sinbad movies, and Clash of the Titans, those creatures you see, moving so much like you would imagine them doing in real life, that is all Harryhausen. He did every frame himself. From creatures with tentacles to giant dinosaurs and living skeletons, nothing this man did was not impressive. But understand, that was all him. That was Harryhausen acting those creatures out, even if he was only doing it with his hands. To begin this list with anyone else would be losing the point of this list.
Though some of you may think it an odd choice , he set the tone for most of the fantastic monster portrayals you will see on this list, and was a huge inspiration to many when to came to how we learned to look at creatures and monsters in film. Heck, ask ANY of the actors I am about to name (even the dead ones!) and they will tell you just how much Harryhausen inspired and influenced them. The real tragedy here is how long it took me to mention this genius.
May not be a creature by modern film standards, but that is exactly what it is.
It would be foolhardy of me to go on and not mention these two greats from the Golden Age of Hollywood. I know everyone is waiting for me to get to Doug Bradley, but you know what? That man would not be doing what he is doing (and doing so well) were it not for these two geniuses, showing us how a man can become a monster, and doing it in such a believable way, you oft could not recognize the actual actor underneath.
I mention Lon Chaney for The Wolfman and The Phantom. Those two characters set the tone for so many similar that followed, and helped give birth to the genre we all love so much. Ofcourse, Frankenstein might have been his most impressive work. Still breathtaking to watch today.
As for Bela Lugosi, well, offcourse, Dracula. Sexy and scary, all at once, and in the 1930’s? Hogwash! But he was the man that somehow pulled it off, and helped create the Dracula all other cinematic vampires wish they could be.
Now you know the face behind the, well, face.
All I should have to say is Predator and Harry and the Hendersons, and you all should swoon. This gentle giant was a huge part of why many of us fell in love with film in the 80.s. Sadly, Kevin passed away in 1991, but left behind an amazing legacy that will continue to awe film goers until the very end of time. If Heaven is real, I sure hope it has high ceilings.
Think about it for a minute, flashback and remember these two movies with me. At no point when you were watching Harry and the Hendersons as a kid did you stop and think that was a guy in a suit. No, that was Harry. Big, goofy, lovable Harry. We all fell in love with this giant Bigfoot (oddest thing I have ever typed) and we owe that to Kevin Peter Hall.
Also, I still think the Predators are real, and I blame him for that, too. Oh, and he was in Mazes and Monsters. You know, that movie where Tom Hanks goes insane while playing Dungeons and Dragons? WHAT!! You’ve never seen it? Oh, well early Merry Christmas from Remy to you.
Get ready to have your face melted off by sheer 80’s WTF’ery.
By the way, this really happened in the early nineties. Like, really.
Say what you want about slasher films, I grew up in the 80’s, and I friggin’ loved them. Cheesy, gory, and over-the-top, they were also mindless and fun. Horror may be a bit too serious now, but this was not the case in the 80’s. Even if you don’t love the slasher sub-genre of horror films, I still hope you can appreciate all that Kane Hodder has done for horror films in the last thirty years.
I know, I could call out Robert Englund just as much (if not moreso for giving Freddy more life) but what you need to understand is, Kane has played MANY other slashers and monsters. The most recent one you probably all have seen is Victor Crowley from the Hatchet films. Like it or not, for a long time, this was film’s definition of what a monster was. In that sense, NO ONE could do it better than Kane Hodder.
Hell, the guy is STILL killing it. Pun intended.
I can’t believe you people thought I would leave him out.
Ah, Warwick Davis. This wonderful man has been a part of my life for as long as I have. Seems all the films I loved as a child, Warwick was a part of, in some way or another. For as much as he gets to be on-screen as himself, though, Davis does a remarkable job at playing and conveying some creatures that may be slightly smaller in size, but are just as memorable as any of the big ones.
From Harry Potter to The Hitchhikers Guide to Chronicles of Narnia and Leprechaun, Warwick Davis has been helping make us believe creatures are real for almost thee decades now. The best part is, he shows NO signs of slowing down now.
Drum roll, please….
You are looking at the truest definition of a performance art. Luckily for us, film is his art.
Honestly, do I even need to say anything right now? From Hellboy to the Rec(‘s crappy American remake, Quarantine), the man has played amazing creatures in more movies than I can even mention. From Silver Surfer to The Pale Man. From Pan to playing death itself, Doug Jones really is the a remarkable talent, leading you to completely believe whatever insane creature he is selling you, from one movie to the next.
Seriously, this guy is amazing. Nothing else to say about that.
Honorable Mentions (that turns into a Coming Soon)
Henry Selick: Nothing gets me more angry than when people say that Tim Burton directed a Nightmare Before Christmas. Nope, he didn’t. It was Henry Selick, and he is a modern day, stop motion genius.
Jim Henson. I know he was not a creature actor in normal terms, but that is very much what he did, and what he did exceptionally well. He will get his own creature list soon enough, rest assured.
Dude loves to pretend he is monsters.
Andy Serkis: Again, sort of deserves his own list. Far too talented for a “honorable mention” nod. Big piece about his best creature portrayals coming soon as well.
Camden Toy: Breathed life in to many of our favorite creatures from the Buffy TV run, so he deserves some props.
Brian Steele: Another go-to guy when Del Toro needs a monster or beastie for one of his films.
Terry Notary: If you got a list that told you only two names of modern day motion capture actors who are the best at what they do, this guy’s name would be right next to Serkis’.
Okay, who did I miss? Take to the comments and let me know. Oh, and please, go throw a like over here for me? Feel free to hit me up while you’re there. Say hi, recommend an article idea, or just tell me how deceptively handsome I am. totally up to you.