Here's Who Brought These Incredible Horror Villains To Life

Why do horror villains scare us so much? Why do characters like Freddy Krueger and Leatherface haunt our nightmares in addition to our movie screens? Experts have several different ideas about the answer, with the general consensus being that horror villains function as metaphors, specifically as ways for us to externalize all our fears about society. "The body that scares and appalls changes over time, as do the individual characteristics that add up to monstrosity, as do the preferred interpretations of that monstrosity," Jack Halberstam writes in "Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters." He continues, "Within the traits that make a body monstrous ... we may read the difference between an other and a self, a pervert and a normal person, a foreigner and a native."

In other words, horror villains come in all shapes and sizes, and on some metaphorical level their effectiveness depends on their ability to transform the body into something monstrous. That often means employing a team of makeup and special effects artists to create their frightening visages, but it also requires an actor to serve as the heart of a character, bringing the villain to life on screen. Despite their characters' popularity, these performers' faces are often obscured by costumes and prosthetics, making them some of the more anonymous stars in Hollywood. With that in mind, here's a look at who brought 14 incredible horror villains to life.

Daniel Malik as Black Phillip in The Witch

Robert Eggers' debut film "The Witch" featured a stunning performance from newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy, playing a young woman accused of witchcraft. One of the avatars of evil on the family farm is their irascible goat, who is named Black Phillip. In one of the film's most chilling and memorable sequences, the goat speaks. "Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?" it asks her, tempting her, beginning her descent into Satanism. While the goat in the film was played by a goat named Charlie, the voice came from a human actor named Daniel Malik. According to IMDb, he's also been on "The Handmaid's Tale," "The Expanse," and "What We Do In The Shadows," and he also models.

Malik seems to have had a great time bringing Black Phillip to life, and he even got to meet his physical counterpart on set. "There's a picture of me and Charlie out there somewhere," he told The A24 Project podcast [18:20] "I've heard these stories of Ralph [Ineson] absolutely hating this goat... It injured him! I don't personally remember anything that the goat did that was alarming... it was very nice! It was a goat. It was a cute little goat for me."

He was also happy to play a horror villain, telling HitFix, "I'm not necessarily scared of [horror] films, rather I'm more excited about who the villain is and what they have to offer." Malik, it's safe to say, offered a lot.

James Duval as Frank in Donnie Darko

Strictly speaking, Frank isn't exactly the villain of "Donnie Darko." That said, the character's terrifying design was certainly responsible for untold numbers of adolescent nightmares when the 2001 cult classic dropped, and he hasn't stopped scaring people since, so we're counting him. Behind the evil-looking rabbit's toothy grin and wide, blank eyes is the affable James Duval, star of "Independence Day" and Gregg Araki's "Teenage Apocalypse" trilogy.

Duval reflected on the experience of seeing "Donnie Darko" for the first time in an interview with Honeysuckle Mag, explaining that it's sometimes difficult to watch something he's in because his memories of making the movie are too distracting. "Donnie Darko," however, surprised him because of how frightening his character was. "It's interesting that it did end up being so creepy because I didn't play it that way," he said. "It didn't read that way to me. It read as kind of his dark guardian angel."

The "Doom Generation" star has an idea why "Donnie Darko" managed to find an audience, even though it struggled in theaters. "It wasn't your regular kind of horror," he told Horror Fuel. "It was this new kind of thing. It kind of stood out on its own as a psychological thriller, but it has horror elements, sci-fi elements, and this love story in there."

James Jude Courtney as the Shape in Halloween (2018)

Many actors have worn Michael Myers' iconic mask over the years, but in the most recent "Halloween" trilogy — "Halloween," "Halloween Kills," and "Halloween Ends" — the Shape is played primarily by James Jude Courtney. The actor was particularly excited to film "Halloween Kills," which saw Michael rampaging through Haddonfield and amassing a higher body count than in the vast majority of his massacres. "That's my wheelhouse, dude," he told DC Comics News. "That's what I live for. This is a character of a lifetime."

However, there's a twist: Michael is also played in the new trilogy by Nick Castle, who hunted Laurie Strode as Michael in the original 1978 film, and provided voice work for the modern version of the character. As Courtney told Halloween Daily News, "When I'm stalking and you hear the breathing in the mask, it's Nick Castle breathing, which I think again is very poetic, because Nick is the spirit of this character. It's Nick's spirit that I reached in and grabbed to manifest the 2018 character."

But Courtney brings his own gifts to the part, too. As Courtney told TMZ, he researched murderers for a previous role. "The first film I ever did, I stayed in a psych ward, a lockdown ward, with some paranoid schizophrenics who had committed murder," he said. He also used to live with a former hitman, who once gave him some pointers on how real-life murders go down. Naturally, both of these experiences came in quite handy when it came time to bring Michael to life.

David Howard Thornton as Art the Clown in Terrifier

Damien Leone's "Terrifier" is one of the more sadistic slasher movies in recent memory. Art the Clown is an inventive killer, steadfastly avoiding the usual weapons that other slashers take up. The maniacal clown will use absolutely anything to obliterate his victims, too — and we do mean anything. His kills are gory, brutal, and utterly merciless, and they work thanks mostly to David Howard Thornton's committed, unhinged performance.

Thornton's transformation into Art requires a significant amount of time in the makeup chair. "It takes about 3 hours to put on, so you get used to it," he told Hooked on Horror. "It's just annoying when the makeup starts falling apart due to my false teeth making me drool or my nose running due to the cold, but you deal as best as you can!"

Art returned in "Terrifier 2," which hit theaters in October 2022. Thornton teased the film to Scoop, saying, "I recently just filmed a really big kill scene, which I think is going to rival the hacksaw scene, just in sheer brutality. I think people are going to say, 'You're mean. You're very, very mean, Art.' Yes, I am."

Mia Goth as Pearl in X

In director Ti West's 2022 shocker "X," Mia Goth stars as a young ingenue named Maxine who heads to a farm with her boyfriend (Martin Henderson) to shoot a pornographic film. While there, she and her friends are slaughtered one by one by a creepy, sexually-frustrated old woman named Pearl who once dreamed of her own stardom. In a fun twist, Goth plays Pearl in addition to Maxine; she also reprises the character in the prequel that bears her name.

Makeup artist Sarah Rubano told Bloody Disgusting that Pearl was initially supposed to look different, but Goth's input changed the design. "I think that Mia wanted the audience to connect more with Pearl in a human way ... So, we scaled back the more monster attributes," Rubano said. She also noted that Goth wore prosthetics on her arms to make them look older, and that they added a considerable chunk to the "A Cure for Wellness" star's time in the makeup chair. "It was six-plus hours on some days, depending on if we were in the full arms," Rubano said. "It was very challenging."

Goth was responsible for bringing more than just Pearl's look to life, too; she also co-wrote the script for "Pearl" with West. The character, it seems, has helped Goth in return. "I was always quite chronically shy," she confessed to W Magazine. "I think 'Pearl' has given me a new sense of self."

Quinn Lord as Sam in Trick 'r Treat

Not all horror villains become icons, but Quinn Lord was eight years old when his character, Sam, did just that. Lord starred in "Trick 'r Treat," a cult-favorite anthology film, as a seemingly adorable costumed figure whose face is covered by a burlap mask. In the film's final act, the mask is finally removed, and Sam is revealed to be ... well, anything but adorable.

The character never says a word, and Lord told The Film Stage that this made his job simple. "It was very interesting yet ... pretty easy, because I was used to like, just doing the cocking the head to the side and not doing many facial expressions," he said. The youngster added that he wasn't freaked out by the spooky movie, bragging, "I'm not scared of anything. No horror movie can scare me. I went paragliding, so I'm not even scared of that."

Since appearing in "Trick 'r Treat" as a child, Lord has gone on to have a successful teen and adult career. He played Thomas Smith on several seasons of "The Man in the High Castle," and starred as Sean on the first season of Netflix's "Firefly Lane."

Bonnie Aarons as the Nun in The Conjuring

"The Conjuring" family tree is made up of a number of spinoffs that center on some of the specters introduced in the main series. One such branch is "The Nun," the Taissa Farmiga-led sub-franchise about a demon named Valak who appears in the form of a creepy-looking nun. The actor who brought the Nun to life is Bonnie Aarons, a star with a long career in Hollywood. She played Baroness Joy von Troken in both "Princess Diaries" films, teamed up with David O. Russell for "The Fighter" and "Silver Linings Playbook," and, perhaps most notably, was "the bum" in "Mulholland Drive."

Aarons revealed to Vulture that the makeup process she underwent to play the hobo lurking behind Winkie's Diner was extensive. "That is real moss on my face," she said. "That is oatmeal and dirt in my hair, and steel wool. They were gonna make a mask, but [Lynch] says, 'No! I don't want any of that. I want to see every bone structure, I want to see the green eyes.' So he had them put it on with a tweezer. It took over 12 hours."

Her skill and patience doubtless helped with "The Nun," another film with a lengthy makeup application process. "There are no prosthetics, and my face was hand-painted by the incredible Eleanor Sabaduquia," Aarons told We Got This Covered. "She hand-painted my face every single time."

Marina Mazepa as Gabriel in Malignant

In James Wan's delightfully gonzo "Malignant," Annabelle Wallis plays a woman named Madison who begins seeing visions of a mysterious, murderous entity. That would be Gabriel, who, in a shocking twist, turns out to be Madison's twin, who was half-absorbed in utero. As a result, he can take over her body; Gabriel's face even grows out of the back of Madison's skull when he's feeling particularly vicious. This leads to some incredible action sequences in which Madison, under Gabriel's control, appears to be walking, running, fighting, and crawling backwards. 

It's a purely practical effect. Marina Mazepa is the contortionist who brought Gabriel to life, taking over from Wallis just as Gabriel takes over Madison. Mazepa, who's known for her performances on "America's Got Talent," was the key to making Gabriel's transformation work, according to Wan. "Marina was an incredible find," he told CinemaBlend, explaining that he initially planned to shoot Mazepa's big action scene forwards, and then reverse the footage. "What was amazing about Marina is just how quick of a study she is as a sort of physical body performer/dancer, that she was able to learn the choreography, and she literally did all the fighting backwards blindly."

For her part, Mazepa seemed to enjoy the challenge. "I remember James Wan telling me at one point that I probably would never end up doing anything weirder in my life than I would be doing on 'Malignant,' which is probably true," Mazepa told Fangoria, laughing.

Nicholas King as Bughuul in Sinister

After what felt like a decade spent on remakes, "Sinister" was a welcome change of pace. Instead of revisiting old favorites, it spun out an original mythology around a demon named Bughuul, a sinister (sorry) presence who consumes children's souls. Interestingly, the film was released at the height of the found-footage frenzy; while "Sinister" itself isn't a found-footage film, it is about a demon who lurks in old home movies. It all adds up to an especially scary experience — according to science, the single most-frightening you'll find at the movies, in fact.

The actor hiding behind Bughuul's triangular makeup is Nicholas King, a stuntman who worked on films like "Paranormal Activity 3" and "The Green Hornet." For King, stunts are a family business — according to Love Horror, King's father was the stunt coordinator on "Sinister," and pushed his son to audition for the role. 

While Bughuul only appears briefly in the first film, King has a more sizable role in the sequel, "Sinister 2." Still, the pool scene from the original remains one of his most "Sinister" moments. "I was underwater for about three hours. They fed a breathing hose into the pool for me to stay underwater," he said. "Just before filming they would take it out and we stuffed a little one gallon in my sleeve so I could take a few last breaths before the shot started."

Derek Mears as Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th (2009)

Platinum Dunes' 2009 remake of "Friday the 13th" is good, actually! Longtime fans of the franchise (or "Scream" viewers) will remember that the first film wasn't actually about Jason Voorhees, and that when he does appear, he doesn't don his trademark hockey mask right away (that doesn't happen until "Friday the 13th Part III"). The reboot, though, combines the first three films into one action-packed and brutal thrill ride. It's a ton of fun to witness. 

Numerous actors have brought Jason to life over the years, including Kane Hodder and Ari Lehman. In the 2009 film, however, the man behind the mask is none other than horror legend Derek Mears. Mears is the imposing presence responsible for many frightening horror creatures over the years, including the Predator in "Predators" and the titular Swamp Thing on the 2019 TV series of the same name.

Mears was particularly excited to step into the role of the machete-wielding killer. "Jason [was] my favorite horror character before [I] got hired to play him. I wanted to do him justice," he told Thrill & Kill. "I always say I'm a fan representing the fans, so it was important for me to keep the balance of keeping the mythos of the character accurate with a mix of taking a risk of bringing something new to him."

Matthew Patrick Davis as the big surprise in Barbarian

2022 has been a great year for horror, adding several instantly-classic horror villains to the canon. One such surprise came in "Barbarian," a film that, at first, seems to be about a young woman (Georgina Campbell) who finds herself having double-booked an Airbnb with a stranger (Bill Skarsgård). As the movie's twisted plot unfurls, it becomes clear that there's something lurking in the basement of the house. We'll stop there so we don't spoil the surprises "Barbarian" has in store.

Surprisingly, the actor behind the malevolent entity known as the Mother is Matthew Patrick Davis, who has had small roles on shows like "Jane the Virgin," "Community," and "Greek." Crafting a brand-new horror villain was a new challenge for Davis, who told Variety that the part required him to bare bits of himself that he wasn't used to showing on camera. "They did experiment with making a cast of my butt during one of the makeup tests," he recalled. It didn't look great, though, so he filmed the sequences wearing a thong instead.

On Instagram, Davis paid tribute to the makeup artists who brought the grotesque character to life. "What an honor to sit in the chair and watch your beautiful artistry every day," he wrote. "It truly would not have worked without your amazing talents, so thank you thank you and a million times thank you."

Jamie Clayton as Pinhead in Hellraiser

In Hulu's reboot of Clive Barker's "Hellraiser," the series ditches the previous incarnation of its villain, Pinhead, and reimagines the character. Star Jamie Clayton, who plays the revamped Hell Priest, has a lot to do with that. Clayton is best known for her role on "Sense8," where she played a hacker named Nomi, and had parts on both "Designated Survivor" and "The L-Word: Generation Q." She also appeared in Netflix's documentary "Disclosure," speaking about her experience as a trans woman in the entertainment industry.

Clayton told Entertainment Weekly that she had never seen the original "Hellraiser" before she was cast in the reboot, because horror villains like Pinhead frightened her too much. "When I was a teenager, oh my God, I was a big scaredy-cat," she confessed. "I was running around my room in my house listening to Cindy Lauper and Janet Jackson and Stacey Q. I wasn't popping in VHS tapes of horror films." However, she got into the genre later when she was working as a makeup artist, and wanted to learn what goes into creating creatures like Pinhead. 

She certainly got to know horror makeup intimately in "Hellraiser," reportedly sitting in the chair for up to six hours every time she had to transform. "I had to be incredibly patient," she told Bloody Disgusting. "I had to find a thing in myself that I didn't know existed. I had to just learn to sort of meditate and relax and let this incredible team of people practice their craft on me every day."

Kane Hodder as Victor Crowley in Hatchet

Kane Hodder is no stranger to playing incredible horror villains. He's starred in numerous "Friday the 13th" films, including "Jason X" and "Jason Takes Manhattan," and he's been a stuntman in projects as varied as "Se7en" and "The Secret World of Alex Mack." He's also responsible for the cult-favorite villain, Victor Crowley, in Adam Green's "Hatchet" franchise.

In a worrisome case of life imitating art, Hodder told PopMatters that it's not much of a stretch for him to play horror monsters. "I've always said that my personality unfortunately is not that far off from the violent characters that I've played," he admitted. "I'm not trying to sound like 'Mr. Tough Guy' but it never takes me long to get into character."

While Hodder's transformation into Crowley may not involve much mental preparation, there is a big physical component to the character. "The makeup application and removal process was the worst I ever had," he told PopOptiq, and after "Hatchet II" he begged for a change. "It was the longest and the most difficult. I said we have to do something." For subsequent sequels, the character's look was tweaked to make it easier on the actor. However, he made sure to shout out the artistry used to bring Crowley's grotesque design to life. "I'm more of a fan of the practical effects because I know how hard makeup effects and special effects people work," he said.

Dane DiLegro as the Predator in Prey

Dan Trachtenberg's "Predator" prequel "Prey" received rave reviews from critics, with an impressive 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This time, the Predator looks different than he has before. He's a bit more primal, and that required a new actor to bring the hunter to life: Dane DiLiegro. The 6-foot-8-inch former basketball player appeared as an alien in Doja Cat's "Get Into It (Yuh)" and starred on several episodes of Ryan Murphy's "American Horror Stories," but the Predator is undoubtedly his biggest role to date.

DiLiegro told Men's Health that he was well aware of the pressure that comes with taking on a beloved villain like the Predator. "There's a lot of accountability that comes to playing this character," he admitted. "At the same point, very similar to pro sports, you cannot let things get you too hyped up." However, DiLiegro is very interested in a bit of franchise hopping, explaining that he would love to play a Xenomorph in an "Alien" movie, and would be eager to don Jason Voorhees' hockey mask, should another "Friday the 13th" film ever get off the ground. He's curious about showing his face on camera, too. "If I could not have to sit through so much makeup and just wear a t-shirt, that would be a very nice breath of fresh air," he said.