Whether it be on the big or small screen, great horror is driven by great acting, first and foremost. All great stories are. Luckily, 2015 gave us a lot of that. In part, this was due to the impressive amount of larger budgeted, theatrical horror that we were—or at least I was—happily surprised with this year.
And of course, it’s also due to the insane amount of high caliber status quo of television that we have right now. It’s attracting so much talent and that just makes for better and better horror overall.
Between theatrical, VOD, DTV and TV, there’s so much good genre storytelling out there right now and that can make choosing favorites a little difficult.
Jessica Chastain in Crimson Peak
Crimson Peak had a hell of a cast, but it was Jessica Chastain who definitely stood out the most when all was said and done. Like any great character, it comes down to writing as well. This woman is intricately layered and in many ways embodies the plot; each twist and turn that’s revealed as we go through the movie is somehow tied to her. Chastain plays all of this effortlessly, making it all very natural, quietly sinister one moment and terrifying the next.
Durand is a great actor, but hasn’t gotten a lot of lead roles before. Even on The Strain, as important as his character is, he’s still there to be a physical presence and to comment on what’s going on around him. He always plays it well, but I’ve thought for some time that he has to have more in him, and with Dark Was the Night that proves to be true. In the film, he plays a sheriff in a small town where everyone looks up to him to lead. But he’s just lost his son and is barely coping. When a monster threatens their way of life, it’s an opportunity to find a way to keep going and seek a new sense of purpose in this surprisingly quiet and layered feature.
Barbara Crampton in We Are Still Here
Horror icon Barbara Crampton also gives one of the best performances of the year as a parent who has lost a child and claims she can still feel him inside of her home. It’s a lead role very different from the ones she did early in her career, but she does amazing work with it. Her character—as well as her performance—is the backbone of the movie, which is actually very different from standard haunted house fare.
Freddie Highmore in Bates Motel
Highmore’s performance as the young Norman Bates in Bates Motel just keeps getting better as the show progresses, and he started out pretty good. The character keeps evolving, keeps getting closer and closer to that Norman we know from the films, to the point where we actually saw him assume the mother identity a few times this past season. He handles all of it exceptionally well, remaining very true to the character while making the role his own at the same time.
Vera Farmiga in Bates Motel
Unlike Highmore, Farmiga really has a chance to make the role of Norma her own because we never really saw that character in Psycho. The only times we have any flashbacks to her at all are in Psycho IV: The Beginning. This removes all preconceived notions about who this character really is or what she might be like. And she is one of the most well written and well-acted characters on television right now. Her interactions with every single person on the show are fascinating and her violent codependent relationship with Norman is harrowing to watch in the best way possible.
Bruce Campbell in Ash vs. Evil Dead
Bruce dodged a lot of questions for years about whether or not he would ever return to play the fan-favorite character of Ash Williams. He made jokes about how old and out-of-shape Ash would be, how he wouldn’t have done anything with his life since the last movie… and those elements are exactly what this excellent show became. He slips back into this character like an old glove—or chainsaw hand. It’s been thirty years and Ash hasn’t changed a bit, because why would he? What lesson did he really learn, especially in Army of Darkness?
Leigh Whannell in Cooties
I think I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t see another performance this year like the one Leigh Whannell gives in Cooties. He takes roles in just about every film he writes and—to me, at least—has never really been bad in any of them. But I think the only person who could play this particular role would be the guy that wrote it, because so much of that intonation and stammering would simply get lost in translation. While I liked the film overall, this performance is certainly the thing I remember most from it.
James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe in Victor Frankenstein
I couldn’t possibly separate these two, even though they’re both great in their own way, because their performances in this movie are intrinsically tied to each other. It’s a buddy comedy, after all, and each plays off the other perfectly. As most—of the very few—viewers who have seen it by this point have probably figured out, neither is necessarily the “straight man” in this duo, but Radcliffe plays it very composed when sided with McAvoy’s dazzling, energetic insanity.