It's the time of year for pulling out those scream queen and gore-fest flicks, which left us asking as we reviewed our collection: Does anyone do big screen horror better than theater folks? Not really. Whenever there's a theater vet on screen, they're stealing the scene from everyone, including the guy with the chainsaw or knife. We rounded up ten of our all-time favorite horrifying Broadway-gets-scary performances, and suggest you download them all. Background on each show (and show-stopping performance) after the jump.
Bates High, the fictional setting of the film adaptation of Stephen King's Carrie, has nothing on your alma mater, but at least you made it out alive. Then again, you weren't mean or stupid enough to pick on Carrie (Sissy Spacek), the emo chick with telekinetic powers. The film doesn't include recent off-Broadway MCC Theater adaptation stars Molly Ranson and Marin Mazzie, but it still boasts a bloody mess of memorable female performances, from Tony-winner Betty Buckley (Sunset Boulevard), to a terrifying Piper Laurie (The Glass Menagerie), to the virginal Amy Irving (The Coast of Utopia). They're so good they even manage to outshine heartthrob William Katt's stunning ring of golden curls.
2. Stake Land
Here's the thing about Stake Land -- it's not just a really damned good post-apocalyptic vampire movie. It's a really damned good movie, period. The indie flick, about a world-ending epidemic which turns people into blood-thirsty vampire-zombie hybrids, won audiences with a surprise combination of gorgeous cinematography, vampires falling from the sky and dead babies. Midway through, behold Tony Award winner Michael Cerveris (Evita) putting the "freak" in "Jesus freak" as a menacing nun-raping religious zealot who's crazier than a box of squirrels. He doesn't sing, but he does make his Southern vampire contemporaries on HBO's True Blood look like made-up little chorus girls in comparison.
3. Death Becomes Her
Made at the height of Academy Award winner Meryl Streep's (The Public's Mother Courage and Her Children) rich bitch phase (see also: She-Devil), this Gothic comedy is perfect for a scary movie night with the girls. Streep stars as treacherous harlot and Broadway actress Madeline Ashton, nemesis-frenemy of Oscar-winner Goldie Hawn's melodramatic Helen Sharp. In a vain attempt to become the more beautiful of the two, both women employ the services of the vampiric Lisle von Rhoman (Isabella Rossellini), who possesses a potion that promises eternal youth at a price. Though the sight of Meryl Streep stalking around with her head on backwards is unnerving, the film's mostly hilarious, a Mean Girls for the boomer set with an added dose of morbidity. You might show up for the creepy premise, but you'll stay for the catty repartee.
4. Cabin in the Woods
If you like your seasonal doses of gore both high-concept and senseless, bunk with Cabin in the Woods for a night. One part violent bloodbath, one part bizarre backstage farce in the vein of Noises Off, this innovative redo of the classic "you will probably die if you go camping" genre features stage vets Fran Kranz (Death of a Salesman), Bradley Whitford (Boeing-Boeing), Tom Lenk (Rock of Ages), Jesse Williams (off-Broadway's The American Dream) and Academy Award nominee Richard Jenkins (former Trinity Rep Artistic Director) dismembering zombies, battling with gruesome mermen and making us uncomfortable about the future of theater if producer-wunderkind Joss Whedon ever makes the jump from Hollywood to Broadway.
5. American Horror Story
Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton and Taissa Farmiga are the headliners of creator Ryan Murphy's (Glee) hit television scare series, but it's the parade of marquee theater names that make the ADHD thriller/torture porn/camp spectacle a must-see. Where else could you catch Tony Award winner Denis O'Hare (Take Me Out) as a creepy arsonist with a murderous shovel, Tony Award nominee Lily Rabe (The Merchant of Venice) as a twitchy 1920s housewife with serious postpartum depression, Tony Award winner Jessica Lange (A Streetcar Named Desire) as a psychopathic Southern belle or Zachary Quinto (Angels in America) as a guy murdered by a guy in a rubber dominatrix outfit? Season two just kicked off, so now's the perfect time to tune in.
6. The Exorcist
It's been 40 years since we first met Regan, the possessed 12-year-old at the center of The Exorcist, and there's still no more terrifying kid on record. Voiced by Linda Blair, who shook up Broadway in the 1994 revival of Grease, Regan screams, vomits, curses like Al Pacino (Glengarry Glen Ross) in a David Mamet play and viciously attacks her actress mother's (Tony and Academy Award winner Ellen Burstyn) face--her face! And that's before getting sacrilegious with those poor priests, played by screen favorite Max von Sydow and actor-writer Jason Miller, who penned the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway drama That Championship Season. Another forty years from now "Honey Boo Boo" will be a distant (still terrifying) memory, while Regan will still be scaring generations out of buying Georgian townhouses.
7. Twilight Zone: the Movie
When an anxious everyman boards an airplane without his Xanax, the result is this high-camp masterpiece from Tony Award winner John Lithgow (Sweet Smell of Success). The 1983 sci-fi/horror flick inspired by the classic 1960s TV series of the same name costars folks like Vic Morrow, Scatman Crothers and Kathleen Quinlan (Taken in Marriage), but it's Lithgow who steals the show with his unbelievably over the top performance. His eyes bulge. He screams at the top of his lungs. He sweats, frets and eventually starts brandishing a gun…at a puppet. To consider this is the same guy from the stately All My Sons is to consider Lithgow's greatness as a performer.
Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts' (currently of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) creepy thriller makes a smooth stage-to-screen transition with a film noir 2006 adaptation directed by The Exorcist helmer William Friedkin. Michael Shannon (currently of Grace) reprises the central role of disturbed conspiracy theorist Peter, which he originated in the show's off-Broadway bow. He's particularly harrowing in a pivotal scene involving a tooth, a pair of pliers, and a whole lot of blood. However, the real terrors are delivered by the rest of the cast, including a paranoid Ashley Judd (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) an abusive Harry Connick Jr. (The Pajama Game), Lynn Collins (The Women) and Tony Award-winner Brian F. O'Byrne (currently of If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet).
9. Hocus Pocus
Broadway concert queen Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker (Once Upon a Mattress) and Kathy Najimy (Dirty Blonde) are a trio of lowbrow brilliant witches in this 1993 Halloween classic from Disney. When Salem-dwelling protagonists Max and Dani (Thora Birch) accidentally resurrect our trio of headliners, all Hell breaks loose in town and…does it really matter? No. Just know that Parker flounces around in Kohl eye-liner like a mentally diminished Marilyn Manson groupie, Najimy—all but knuckle dragging as an even dumber witch—flies on a vacuum cleaner, and Bette? Dear Bette belts out a hypnotic (literally) rendition of Screaming Jay Hawkins' famed "I Put a Spell on You" that pretty much defined millions of tots' late October childhoods. Why? It doesn't matter why. All that matters is that you watch it.
10. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
If cross-dressing aliens belting up-tempo show tunes are your thing, this is the flick for you. The (non)plot revolves around Brad and Janet, Broadway's Barry Bostwick (Grease) and Susan Sarandon (Exit the King), a newlywed couple stranded in a creepy gothic mansion inhabited by libertine extraterrestrials, including "sweet transvestite" Dr. Frank-N-Further (Spamalot's Mr. Tim Curry). The movie's got a lot of singing and dancing about genitalia and moral relativism—then everyone has sex. You get the feeling the whole thing's a fantasia on the swinging subculture pretty quickly. It's not so much scary as it is unsettling, like the feeling you get when you think about your parents having sex.
The film is also a famed piece of live theater when played on the big screen, with audience members dressing in drag and shouting out commentary in a manner that's one part Catholic mass and two parts Mystery Science Theater 3000. You can certainly watch it alone on DVD, but it's not the same. Find a showing near you by clicking here.