Child-eating clowns, demonic spirits with a taste for violence, and unsettling swamp creatures — Hollywood's iconic horror characters have been terrorizing audiences and haunting peoples' dreams for years. But underneath the remarkable masks and pain-staking makeup jobs are actors who — thankfully — look nothing like the gruesome monsters they're playing for the cameras. It's time to peel back the makeup and meet the men and women behind some of horror's most famous villians.
1. The Pale Man
Who: Doug Jones
What: Pan’s Labyrinth
Scare factor: 8/10 — those eyes stare into your very soul.
The 2006 Spanish-Mexican film Pan’s Labyrinth established contortionist Doug Jones as one of the hardest-working men in horror. Not only did he play the iconic Pale Man, but he also portrayed the Faun — both of which parts required five hours of makeup apiece. And Jones had to learn all of his lines in Spanish, too.
2. The Gill-man
Who: Ricou Browning
What: The Creature from the Black Lagoon
Scare factor: 3/10 — sorry, we can't see past the stiff plastic effect.
Lots of people have portrayed the Gill-man, a.k.a. the Creature from the Black Lagoon, originally from the famous 1954 movie of the same name. But the only actor to have played him more than once is underwater stuntman Ricou Browning, who donned the suit for all of the famous movie monster’s aquatic scenes.
Who: Gunnar Hansen
What: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Scare factor: 5/10 — plot aside, it's just a man inside what looks like a potato sack.
Really it’s a miracle that 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre didn’t end in real-life tragedy as well. Why? Because Gunnar Hansen’s Leatherface mask was hard to see out of, and that killer chainsaw was a real one. Hansen has mentioned in interviews that it was only thanks to good luck that no one was hurt… or killed.
4. The Xenomorph
Who: Bolaji Badejo
Scare factor: 6/10 — get those claws away from us!
The Xenomorph from 1979’s Alien looks so, well, alien that it’s hard to believe any human was inside it. But there was: Nigerian art student Bolaji Badejo. Badejo’s immense height made him ideal for the role, but sadly Alien was his only movie. He passed away in 1993, aged just 39.
Who: Doug Bradley
Scare factor: 8/10 — Pure nightmare fuel.
Doug Bradley is the man underneath one of the most unsettling makeup jobs in horror: that of Pinhead in 1987’s Hellraiser and its sequels. Interestingly, Bradley eventually learned to apply the Pinhead makeup himself, and thus he’s credited as an assistant makeup artist on some of the films. Now that’s dedication.
6. Michael Myers
Who: Nick Castle
Scare factor: 6/10 — *see Leatherface. Bonus point for the blank sockets.
Various people have donned the mask of Michael Myers over the years, but the first to do so was Nick Castle. Castle got the role thanks to his distinctive gait, though he was paid just $25 a day to play the character in — you guessed it — his classmate John Carpenter’s legendary 1978 movie Halloween.
Who: Gemma Ward
What: The Strangers
Scare factor: 6/10 — *see Leatherface and Michael Myers.
There aren’t an awful lot of female serial killers in horror movies. But Dollface from 2008’s The Strangers would still be one of the best even if there were plenty. She was played by model Gemma Ward, and although her real face is never seen, those cavernous black eye sockets are pretty terrifying.
8. The Creeper
Who: Jonathan Breck
What: Jeepers Creepers
Scare factor: 8/10 — a solid 'not sleeping for a week' face.
Jonathan Breck’s big break came when he was cast to play the Creeper in the 2001 horror hit Jeepers Creepers. It wasn’t easy work, however; no, the contact lenses he had to wear rendered him blind on set, for one. Plus, after the movie came out, his makeup had been so well done that, naturally, no one even recognized him on the street like he’d hoped for.
Who: Max Schreck
Scare factor: 9/10 — Go back to where you came from Nosferatu.
Arguably the first great horror film, 1922’s Nosferatu is a nightmarish creep-fest featuring Max Schreck as the titular character. And although Schreck — whose name is German for “terror” — actually looked nothing like the character he played, that didn’t stop the spread of a persistent legend holding that Schreck was actually a vampire in real life.
Who: Tim Curry
Scare factor: 9/10 — who really likes clowns?
Clowns are terrifying no matter what, but Tim Curry’s Pennywise from the 1990 mini-series It is the daddy of them all. That said, Curry almost didn’t take the role at first, fearing how long the makeup would take. It ended up taking three hours a day, but everyone’s glad that Curry bit the bullet.
Who: Michael Reid MacKay
Scare factor: 8/10 — nothing will haunt your dreams quite like like a grotesque half-dead human.
Of all the victims in the 1995 crime-horror flick Seven, Michael Reid MacKay’s skeletal Sloth is probably the most horrifying. MacKay had to spend a whopping 14 hours in makeup every day, but it was worth it: the scene where the supposed murder victim wakes up and coughs is truly bone-chilling.
Who: Sherman Howard
What: Day of the Dead
Scare factor: 5/10 — He just needs a hot bath and some rest. We've looked worse ourselves.
When Sherman Howard auditioned for the role of sympathetic zombie Bub in 1985’s Day of the Dead, George A. Romero liked him so much that he expanded his role. Howard’s Bub makeup was created by legendary horror movie makeup artist Tom Savini, who picked up a Saturn Award for his work.
13. The Torn Prince
Who: Craig Olejnik
What: Thirteen Ghosts
Scare factor: 5/10 — it's giving us Carlisle Cullen from Twilight after an incident with some jam. Bonus point for gore.
The 2001 remake of Thirteen Ghosts was slated for pretty much everything except its makeup – which was rather impressive. In fact, we bet fans of the TV show The Listener wouldn’t even be able to tell at first glance that behind the Torn Prince’s makeup was that show’s lead, Craig Olejnik.
14. The Lipstick-Face Demon
Who: Joseph Bishara
Scare factor: 7/10 — take away the red light and you're left with an angry pensioner. Undoubtedly a creepy one, though.
No, that’s not Darth Maul; it’s the Lipstick-Faced Demon from 2010’s Insidious. And, surprisingly, he wasn’t played by a professional actor, but rather by the film’s composer, Joseph Bishara. Part of the reason Bishara was cast was because he was comfortable with the bloody horror movie makeup.
15. The Predator
Who: Kevin Peter Hall
Scare factor: 8/10 — everything apart from the chic string vest is a firm 'nope!'
The man beneath the alien in 1987’s Predator and its sequel was 7’2” actor Kevin Peter Hall, who sadly passed away in 1991. And Hall went through a lot to bring the famous monster to life; the suit, for example, was so suffocatingly hot that he was only able to wear it for two hours at a time.
16. Freddy Krueger
Who: Robert Englund
What: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Scare factor: 10/10 — Is there anything more terrifying than a fedora-wearing maniac coming at you in your dreams?
Robert Englund will forever be remembered as Freddy Krueger from the 1984 horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels, but he’s okay with that. And it seems that he’s nothing like his Krueger character, either. In fact, makeup artists who’ve worked with him have said that Englund remains friendly and chatty even throughout long makeup sessions.
Who: Lou David
What: The Burning
Scare factor: 6/10 — the makeup is almost a little too convincing.
Cropsy in 1981’s The Burning was another Tom Savini creation, but he was given just three days to put it together and was never entirely happy with the look. Even so, actor Lou David thought that the makeup — which rendered his face horrifically burned and melted — was incredibly impressive.
Who: Tom Woodruff Jr.
Scare factor: 7/10 — though the name may sound kind of cute, there's nothing sweet about that face.
To create the titular demon from 1988’s Pumpkinhead, poor actor Tom Woodruff Jr. was literally glued to the monster’s rubber skin. And he barely got a break from it, either: he had to remain inside the costume for as long as eight hours a day.
19. Frankenstein's Monster
Who: Boris Karloff
Scare factor: 3/10 — poor guy, he just needs a shoulder to cry on.
Boris Karloff, the man behind the most famous monster of all time, would undergo five hours of makeup a day during the filming of Frankenstein and its sequels. And in those days, actors really suffered for their art. In fact, the process used to attach the famous Frankenstein bolts left the actor literally scarred for life.
20. Pyramid Head
Who: Roberto Campanella
What: Silent Hill
Scare factor: 3/10 — Nothing scary about a giant beak + minus points for the silly name.
To recreate the famous video game villain Pyramid Head in live action, the producers of 2006’s Silent Hill turned to choreographer/actor Roberto Campanella. Campanella spent three hours every day getting into the prosthetics and makeup needed to play the monstrous being — and then he did it all again for Silent Hill: Revelation.
Who: Bonnie Aarons
What: The Conjuring
Scare factor: 10/10 — nuns are a little unsettling even when they aren't demons.
If you've seen The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2, or Annabelle: Creation, then you're familiar with the character of "The Nun," who is one of the personas taken on by the demon Valak in the franchise. Actress Bonnie Aarons might be a beauty in real life, but her onscreen portrayal was so scary that she got her very own spin-off, appropriately titled The Nun.
Who: Daveigh Chase
What: The Ring
Scare factor: 9/10 — truly horrifying. Take the tape and burn it with fire.
When this horror movie came out in 2002, it had even die-hard fans of the genre scared to go to bed at night. Samara is an evil little girl whose spirit wanted vengeance and so trapped herself inside a cursed videotape. The woman behind the greasy black locks is Daveigh Chase. And thankfully, she's far less terrifying in real life. In fact, Chase seems to spend most of her time uploading pictures of her cat to social media!
23. Kayako Saeki
Who: Takako Fuji
What: The Grudge
Scare factor: 7/10 — quite manageable until she starts doing the backwards walking thing.
Off-screen, actress Takako Fuji is bright, bubbly, and extremely social... meaning she's the exact opposite of her onscreen counterpart, the rage-filled and obsessive ghost Kayako. As for the makeup, it seems pretty straightforward — simply go overboard on powder and eyeliner, and you, too, could look like an evil spirit.
Who: Yuya Ozeki
Scare factor: 5/10 — Kind of cute, no?
In the film that inspired the American adaptation The Grudge, Toshio is the ghost of a young boy who was cut down in the midst of a murderous rampage. In the movie, he's haunting as heck — but in reality, Yuya Ozeki, the actor who plays him, is just darling.
26. The Bride in Black
Who: Tom Fitzpatrick
Scare factor: 9/10 — we haven't been about to look at a black veil the same way since.
They don't make them much creepier than Parker Crane, a.k.a. the Bride in Black: a vengeful ghost of a man who dressed as an old lady to lure unsuspecting women to their deaths. However, Tom Fitzpatrick, who personifies the role, is as normal as can be!
25. Regan MacNeil
Who: Linda Blair
What: The Exorcist
Scare factor: 10/10 — where to start? The eyes, the teeth, the open wounds...
Released in 1973, many people still believe that this movie is one of the scariest films of all time. And the makeup was surely a part of that. In fact, it changed the playing field entirely when it came to horror, “the Exorcist was a real landmark for makeup effects,” states Rick Baker, a renowned makeup and special effects artist. The makeup may have been groundbreaking, but the role itself came close to breaking more than one member of the cast.
The Exorcist (1973)
Sometimes, the incidents surrounding the making of a horror movie are scarier than the movie itself. At just 13 years old, Linda Blair was hounded by both religious organizations and the press for her views on The Exorcist’s weighty themes. Faith, possession, and Christianity were just a few of the subjects she was quizzed on at the height of The Exorcist’s success. And it was this intrusion that unsettled her far more than any demonic makeup. Blair's experiences were only the tip of the iceberg, though...
The Exorcist (1973)
Ellen Burstyn, who played mother Chris McNeil in The Exorcist, suffered years of chronic back pain following an on-set accident. The actress was injured in the scene that required a stuntman to yank her back by a wire tied around her waist. Burstyn specifically asked director William Friedkin to ensure she wasn’t pulled so hard. But, as she told The Huffington Post in 2017, “Billy is one of those directors that is so dedicated to getting the shot right that I think some other considerations sort of fall by the wayside sometimes.”
The Shining (1980)
There were plenty of scary goings-on behind the cameras of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. But life imitated art when it came to filming the scenes in the infamous hedge maze. The conditions were so hellish that crew members repeatedly got lost in the maze, and Kubrick himself got stuck at one point. He had to be led out by others before filming could continue.
The Shining (1980)
Kubrick made poor Shelley Duvall enact The Shining’s exhausting bat-swinging scene no fewer than 127 times. Duvall was also often required to spend half of her entire day simply yelling at the top of her voice. The actress admits that these tactics helped to coax an unforgettable performance from her, but she also labeled the experience of playing Wendy Torrance “almost unbearable.”
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in January 2018, Bill Skarsgård admitted that the character of Pennywise in It haunted his dreams. He said, “Every night, he came and visited. It was in the shape of either me dealing with him, sort of Pennywise as a separate entity of me, and then also me as Pennywise in circumstances that I didn’t appreciate. Like, I’m Pennywise, and I’m really upset that I’m out in public, and people are looking at me."
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre also put its leading lady through the wringer, too. In the famous dinner scene, Marilyn Burns had to endure constant blows to the skull with a fake yet weighty sledgehammer. She was also required to shriek for hours and hours on end. She later revealed to the website Terror Trap, “Afterwards, I was just so grateful it was over. I probably was the happiest girl alive.”
“I don’t think you can go through something like this and not have some sort of PTSD afterwards.” That’s how Alex Wolff described working on the psychological horror film Hereditary. Wolff told Vice, “When I started talking about it, all these flashes with all this [stuff] I went through sorta came back in a flood. It kept me up at night. To where I got into a habit of emotional masochism at that point of just trying to take in every negative feeling I could draw from.”
Kyle Richards was scarred for the rest of her childhood after seeing Halloween unfold at the film’s premiere when she was just nine years old. In an interview with the website Halloween Daily News in 2013, Richards revealed, "I had no idea what I was in for. Seeing it for the first time all pieced together was a very, very different movie. It was just really scary, and I really did sleep with my mom until I was 15 years old after that. I was terrified."
The Conjuring (2013)
When Vera Farmiga researched her role in The Conjuring, “digital claw marks” inexplicably appeared on her computer screen. But for Farmiga, things were to get a little more twisted. One morning, the actor woke up and noticed that a bruise was on her thigh — accompanied by three mysterious scratches. Director James Wan also recalled how his dog growled at an unexplained presence on set.
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
Patrick Wilson wasn’t a particular believer in the supernatural before starring as paranormal investigator Ed Warren in the haunted house franchise The Conjuring. But that all changed after filming its sequel. The actor revealed to The Independent that there’s since been some potential paranormal activity in the New Jersey home he shares with his family. He said, “I’ve heard people on two different occasions say they’ve heard kids’ laughter in the middle of the night, in my house. And that used to freak my wife out.”
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
The crew of The Conjuring 2 were reportedly terrorized by an inanimate object. “It was a huge curtain that went from the floor to the ceiling, which was just sort of waving violently, and there was no door open or no fan on; no nothing,” Patrick Wilson later told entertainment wire WENN. “That was a very, very odd occurrence because nothing else was moving around it and nothing else was blowing. It was pretty trippy.”
Poltergeist is rumored to have been cursed because a series of tragic events befell many of its cast members after filming. But JoBeth Williams, who played Diane Freeling, suffered while actually filming the 1982 horror. During one particularly gruesome scene, Williams was forced to swim in a pool full of real skeletons. "It was a real nightmare," the actor told VH1 in 2002.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Due to The Blair Witch Project’s then-innovative found-footage style, Heather Donahue had the unusual experience of seeing her own obituary. And the hyper-realism of the film meant that some people really thought Donahue had died! The actor later told The Guardian, “It’s a complicated thing to be dead when you’re still very much alive and eager to make a name for yourself.” Donahue later abandoned life in front of the lens in favor of working as a screenwriter and author.
Director John R. Leonetti recounted to The Hollywood Reporter a freaky discovery that was made while filming Annabelle. “We went into the apartment where we were shooting, and in the transient window above the living room window. It was a full moon, and there were three fingers drawn through the dust along the window, and our demon has three fingers and three talons,” Leonetti recalled. “[The markings] were being backlit by the moon. I have a picture! It was sick.”
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Events surrounding Rosemary’s Baby producer William Castle are just downright eerie. As legend has it, Castle received an anonymous note, days after production started, that claimed that he would “slowly rot during a long and painful illness.” And soon after, Castle fell ill and required surgery on a medical complaint that troubled him for quite a while afterward. Now that’s just weird.
Crew members on Insidious were struck down with illness in unison in one incident that occurred in the basement of the Linda Vista Hospital, where the film was made. The crew was moving old patient records when all involved began to feel sick and heavy, needing to take a break as a result. After that, crew members formed groups to go into certain parts of the hospital. Chilling.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
During the filming of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, star Jennifer Carpenter reported her radio switching itself on at random moments. According to Carpenter, her co-star Laura Linney also reported having a TV that acted up during filming. Linney apparently said her TV would just inexplicably turn itself on and off — a fact that no doubt gave her the chills.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
While filming one particular scene of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, star Jennifer Carpenter ended up fainting. After taking an antihistamine to combat her hay allergy during the barn-shot finale, Carpenter began to feel her heart race. And combined with a full day of constant screaming, the actress eventually passed out, scaring the rest of the cast and crew in the process.
In a bid to elicit “raw animal fear,” Alien director Ridley Scott refused to warn his actors about the terrifying moment an alien would burst out of John Hurt’s chest. And Veronica Cartwright actually fainted the moment she was splattered by fake blood. She later told The Guardian, “You see this thing start to come out, so we all get sucked in, we lean forward to check it out… all of a sudden it comes out. I tell you, none of us expected it.”
After playing the ill-fated Marion Crane in Psycho, Janet Leigh revealed in a 1984 interview that she stopped taking showers. And even when she had a bath, she said, she always kept the shower curtain pulled back. She also had to make sure she had a clear view of the door — and that every potential way into the room was secured.
Dakota Johnson confessed that she had to undergo therapy after being severely traumatized by the filming of the 2018 version of Suspiria. She told Elle, “We were in an abandoned hotel on top of a mountain. It had 30 telephone poles on the roof, so there was electricity pulsating through the building, and everyone was shocking each other. It was cold... and so dry. The only thing that helped was dousing myself with oil every night.”
The Last House on the Left (1972)
Sandra Peabody did not enjoy making The Last House on the Left. "One of the [actors, David Hess] was a method actor, so he was trying to live his part... he'd come after us with a knife at night, trying to freak us out," she later said. "It was like, 'Lock your doors and windows at night, you don't want him to come get you!' I was scared. I thought this guy had been a killer at some point in his past!"
The Birds (1963)
Tippi Hedren suffered for her art while filming the Hitchcock classic. In order to make the climactic bedroom scene as authentic as possible, the director enlisted the help of actual birds. Ravens, gulls, and crows were allegedly thrown at her across five days of filming by several far more protected prop men. "It was brutal and ugly and relentless," Hedren later wrote in her memoir.
Isabelle Adjani won the first of her five César Awards for her performance in Possession. And it's a good job because she had to undergo therapy after playing Anna in the cult 1981 horror flick. The director reportedly even put his actors in a trance to film certain scenes. Adjani later declared she never wanted to play a character like that ever again.
Lawrence spoke about filming Mother! on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. “I had to do this one scene, I had never gone that dark before, so I started getting scared of myself a couple days beforehand and I was like… I need a tent, away from the extras, just because I didn’t know what I would do,” Lawrence revealed. “So in there I just had a computer playing the Kardashians,” the star added. Whatever it takes, Jen.
The Innkeepers (2011)
Director Ti West filmed The Innkeepers at The Yankee Pedlar Inn in Connecticut, and he started to experience weird goings-on. “Lights have turned off and on by themselves in my room. My phone rang and no one was on the line, which the hotel staff says happens all the time,” West told Interview. “There are nights when I wake up in my room, and it feels like somebody is in there,” he added.
The Possession (2012)
Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Natasha Calis — who starred in The Possession — told Gizmodo that they would stay well clear of the dybbuk box that is said to have been the inspiration behind the movie. “There were some weird goings-on on set,” Morgan reported. “Lots of lightbulbs exploding. Just overall kind of creepiness… ‘Don’t mock the box,’ was sort of the mantra that we lived by while we were filming this,” the actor added.
Ghost of Goodnight Lane (2012)
Every now and again you get a case of art imitating life, and that certainly seemed to be true in the making of Ghost of Goodnight Lane. The story was loosely based on events surrounding film sets that were supposedly haunted in real life. And director Alin Bijan made the decision to film his production on a set that had seen five deaths throughout its history. Unsurprisingly, that fact created a negative vibe among the cast and crew, who were probably freaked out of their minds when there were unexplained electrical problems and falling fixtures. Star Billy Zane was also not the only set member who claimed to have heard their name being called by unidentified voices, either.
Actor Tony Todd literally had a mouthful of bees while shooting the infamous “bee scene” from Candyman. But Todd was smart enough to negotiate a $1,000 payout for each sting — and so earned a nice little $23,000 bonus. “All Tony had was a dental dam to prevent them going down his throat. He was very courageous – it’s such an unsettling and stunning image when the bees emerge from his mouth,” director Bernard Rose told The Guardian.
“She really kind of spooked me out a little bit,” co-star Shahadi Wright Joseph told Buzzfeed News about Lupita Nyong’o’s performance in Us. Nyong’o decided not to drop her character between scenes so she could keep up the intensity and feeling of the role. “She would really get into character and wouldn’t talk. It was kind of creepy,” added Wright Joseph.
Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)
Many supernatural events happened behind the scenes of Brian Gibson’s Poltergeist II: The Other Side. It certainly wasn’t helpful when actor Will Sampson, who played Taylor the Medicine Man in the film, decided to perform an on-set exorcism to rid the vicinity of “alien spirits.” Far from just immersing himself in his character, Sampson was a real-life shaman.
The Amityville Horror (1979)
The Amityville Horror is a story based on real-life events that have inspired multiple films and documentaries. But the two most prominent ones — from 1979 and 2005 — both experienced behind-the-scenes quirks. Actor James Brolin is said to have accepted a part in the 1979 version only after a pair of his pants inexplicably dropped from a hanger just as he reached a scary section of the script. And that is nothing compared to what went on in the 2005 remake.
The Amityville Horror (2005)
Not long before the start of filming, a dead body washed up on shore right on set. Star Ryan Reynolds and other actors and crew members also found themselves regularly waking at 3:15 a.m. That, in itself, would be strange, but it just so turned out that 3:15 a.m. was a special time. The movie is based on a series of murders that happened at exactly that time.
The Omen (1976)
The Omen must have had one of the most eventful productions ever. Star Gregory Peck’s plane was struck by lightning, as was that of the executive producer Mace Neufeld. But most terrifying of all was a car accident involving John Richardson, the movie’s special effects designer. Passenger Liz Moore was decapitated in an event chillingly reminiscent of a scene from the movie itself. Plus, the accident happened on Friday, August 13, 1976 — Friday the 13th.
Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
Some events behind movie productions are so notorious that they fundamentally change the industry. And so it was with Twilight Zone: The Movie. It was during the filming of director John Landis’s segment that a terrible helicopter crash occurred, killing actor Vic Morrow and child actors Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen. The accident led to years of litigation and an overhaul of safety procedures on film sets. Director Landis and the helicopter pilot, Dorcey Wingo, were cleared on involuntary manslaughter charges.