With such a vast array of characters in the horror genre, it's pretty hard to narrow a list of twelve down, but I did my best. You'll note I did not include Norman Bates, because there is no contest - he IS my favorite. For. Ever. The list also does not contain any of the three main characters from Jaws. Reason being that I could never really choose between them.
Other than that, I have a pretty eclectic group here, some of which are insanely obvious, and some may surprise. So here goes.
1) Ash (Bruce Campbell)
The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness
Ash is flat-out awesome. Campbell has brought so much to this role, between his physical comedy (which really can't be beat in any genre) and his devotion to the role, Ash would make a lot of 'favorites' lists.
I think Evil Dead II is my favorite of the "dead" films. The scene where his hand takes on a life of its own? Classic camp! The expressions on his face are priceless. How is it that he wasn't the next Jim Carrey? I'm actually glad he wasn't- and we get to keep that chin to ourselves!
This has to be one of the grittiest, most heroic roles in horror. Underrated by far, Wallace portrays the character of Donna with many layers.
At the beginning of the film, we don't really want to like her very much - she's cheating on her husband and isn't the best influence for her whiny son Tad.
But by the second act, where she's fighting for her and her son's life from the vicious attacks of a rabid Saint Bernard, she really is at her most impressive!
Sure, loads of other women could have played this role, but I'm so happy Wallace was chosen. She really made us have sympathy for the character at the end of the movie. The lengths she goes to, the exhaustion and helplessness she feels, and the true terror she endures: relatively unsurpassed in this genre.
Truly one of the most outstanding characters ever, most especially for a woman.
The Amityville Horror
Regardless of how you feel about this being a "true story", when this film is seen for the first time it really can't help but to induce some chills.
The chills I get are from James Brolin. He's insanely good looking, and when he goes off all wacky and psychotic it just proves he can be hot and act at the same time. (Whereas in the re-make, Ryan Reynolds just looks hot...)
Much as I dislike Margot Kidder (sorry, not a fan) as Kathy Lutz, my feelings for Brolin's George are the opposite. He morphs from family guy to certifiable looney within just ninety minutes or so!
Oh how I love Suzy's pluck. She isn't taking any shit from Madame Blanc and Miss Tanner; from the moment she arrives until the whacked-out ending of the film.
She constantly questions things she shouldn't, investigates the bizarre occurrences, and uncovers the conspiracy of witches at the German dance school where she has taken up residence. She's determined and undaunted in her pursuit of the truth and perseveres even when others try to thwart her search. My kind of gal.
Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, etc.
My only "monster" on the list. But one I couldn't leave out.
Karloff's perfection in the role without the use of any real dialogue shows how first-rate he is. Sure, any number of people could have been cast as the monster, but can you really imagine anyone but Boris here?
The scene with him and the little girl is one of a kind and is played with care and restraint, yet becomes one of the most horrifying moments in the movie. Chalk that up to a great acting job and a well written character.
There is serious depth of feeling by Henriksen in this B-grade monster film that has a major cult following among genre fans.
His Ed Harley just wants retribution for the senseless death of his son. And while the struggle he faces after letting loose the demon spawn to seek justice on those who wronged him messes with his head, I still think the best part of the film is his scenes with his son. Really poignant. And that's something you don't find in horror just any old day.
The Silence of the Lambs
Maybe I spoke too soon about Frankenstein being the only monster on this list.
This superb performance by Hopkins didn't just win him an Oscar, it won him a legion of fans and brought horror into the spotlight for the first time since 1973 when The Exorcist came out.
Lecter is so frightening, so utterly terrifying, that sleeping at night after witnessing his performance for the first time may not be the easiest task.
Perhaps a nice glass of Chianti would help...
Madsen is truly a wonderful actress, as is evident from her celebrated work in the award-winning Sideways.
But many years prior, I first saw her in Candyman, a film that scared the pants off me. Helen is working on her thesis on urban legends and folklore and goes a little too far when uncovering the legend of a local boogeyman. She ends up being arrested for murder but still manages to uncover the truth and in the end, get her own revenge. And she looks pretty good doing it.
Lady in White
A kid! On my list! Yes, it's true. While I am not fond of kids in film (that kid in Cujo made me really edgy and annoyed), I think Haas' performance here is so sweet, so authentic to the time period that you can't help but like it. Am I right?
He's so believable as young Frankie, determined to unearth the secret of the town legend, the Lady in White. Truly a nostalgic trip down memory lane, this 1988 mystery centers around Frankie and his family, and for a wholesome "family" film, it does have its truly spooky moments, but still manages to make you feel like a kid again. After all, we all knew (or were) a Frankie when we were kids.
In one of my most favorite films about ghosts, John Russell moves into an old estate which just happens to have its own ghostly resident who intends to wreak havoc until John can figure out the mystery.
Scott gives the character his usual rough around the edges exterior, but sneaks in some serious emotional turmoil trying to recover from the tragic death of his wife and daughter. Besides Scott's stellar performance here, the story itself is worthy of all the praise it receives.
Night of the Living Dead 1968
One of the great tragic horror heroes, Ben is always looking for the next way out, the best solution to his incessant zombie problem. It matters not to me the color of his skin, though I know that was a big deal back in 1968, I'm much more impressed with Ben taking charge and not backing down to anyone, dead or alive. Sadly, as much as he does to keep himself and his fellow shut-ins he ends up on the wrong end of a gun. Just when you think all will be fine. See, you can never count on anything in horror.
I love Donald Pleasence. He's been more than just a few horror films, but by far Halloween is his most popular as well as one of the most unrivaled characters in the genre.
His nervous doctor is so concerned about Haddonfield, so insanely worried that Michael is on his way "home" that he takes the entire situation into his own hands, attempting to not only sway the local police over to his side and join him in the search for Michael, but to quite literally stop Michael himself. He roams from one film to the next, always searching for the masked menace, ever ready to take him out. After all, 'this is not a man! He's purely and simply...evil.'