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Top 10 Horror Movie Performances That Messed Up Actors

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Victoria Toltesi

When life imitates art, it can get a little scary. For this list, we’ll be looking at horror films and the roles that took a physical, emotional and psychological toll on their actors. Our list includes performances from “Hereditary” (2018), “The Exorcist” (1973), “The Blair Witch Project” (1999), “Psycho” (1960), “Halloween” (1978), and more! Join WatchMojo as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Horror Movie Performances That Messed up Actors.

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Script written by Victoria Toltesi

Top 10 Horror Movie Performances That Messed up Actors


When life imitates art, it can get a little scary. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’ll be counting down our picks for Top 10 Horror Movie Performances That Messed up Actors.



For this list, we’ll be looking at horror films and the roles that took a physical, emotional and psychological toll on their actors.



#10: Entire Cast


“The Blair Witch Project” (1999)



Method acting is usually a decision made by the actor, but in the case of “The Blair Witch Project,” the entire cast was forced into it. For 8 days of filming, the actors were cold and hungry, camping in the woods of Maryland and working 24/7. At night, directors Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick would shake their tents and play eerie recordings of children and babies. The most traumatic thing the actors experienced was that the public actually thought they were dead, as part of a genius marketing ploy. People thought it was a real documentary, and Heather Donahue’s mother even received condolence cards!







#9: Entire Cast


“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974)



Leatherface is the chainsaw-wielding serial killer in “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” and the mask he wears is the thing of nightmares. The look of the mask was kept a secret from the actors so the first time they came face-to-face with Leatherface was when the cameras were rolling. It added a real level of terror because it made actor Gunnar Hansen unpredictable to his co-stars; they were actually afraid of the gentle giant. The cast agrees that the worst scene to film was the dreaded dinner scene which took 26 hours to film and was psychologically taxing.





#8: Janet Leigh


“Psycho” (1960)



Just watching “Psycho” will scare you away from showers for at least a week, but for Janet Leigh the horror was very real. For one thing, the scene took seven days to shoot, and seven days of showering might set anyone on edge. The real terror only set in when Leigh watched the movie. After seeing herself get repeatedly stabbed on the big screen Leigh was understandably terrified of showers. For the rest of her life, she only felt comfortable taking baths; and if a tub wasn’t available she would lock up the house and never take her eyes off the bathroom door.





#7: Kyle Richards


“Halloween” (1978)



Most teenagers want to be independent, especially from their parents, but after “Halloween” it was the last thing Kyle Richards wanted. She was only 10 when she starred in the slasher film, but it wasn’t until she watched the movie that the terror set in. Seeing herself being stalked by Michael Meyers freaked her out. For the next five years she couldn’t sleep alone and slept with her mom until she was 15! Luckily, she outgrew her paranoia, but she’s making her own kids wait to watch the movie, just to be safe.





#6: Alex Wolff


“Hereditary” (2018)



Disturbed, overwhelmed, and horrified. These are a few emotions you may experience while watching “Hereditary.” The star of the movie, Alex Wolff, has experienced those emotions and so much more. Wolff claims that being in the movie has given him PTSD, a mental disorder brought on by intense psychological or physical trauma. He’s experienced flashbacks and even memory loss, which is a big deal. Wolff also dislocated his jaw while filming the classroom scene when he slams his head onto what he thought would be a foam desk. No one can say Wolff wasn’t 100% committed to this role.





#5: Linda Blair


“The Exorcist” (1973)



Being part of the legendary horror film, “The Exorcist,” may have launched Linda Blair’s career, but it came at a cost. Blair was just a teenager when the film was released and too young to answer the spiritual questions the film provoked, yet the press hounded her on questions about faith and the devil. Besides this psychological aspect, Blair suffered the most physically. To achieve those demonic movements, they attached Blair to a mechanism, but during filming the straps loosened, causing spinal injury. The screams of pain you hear in that scene are very real and chilling. To this day, Blair still experiences chronic pain and suffers from scoliosis.





#4: Tippi Hedren


“The Birds” (1963)



Ornithophobia is an irrational fear of birds, but for Tippi Hedren we’d say it’s completely justified. For an entire day she was pecked, scratched, and flapped at. The attacks didn’t stop until Hedren had a complete collapse and she had to be carried off the set. The birds were supposed to be mechanical, but when she walked into the attic there were boxes full of “ravens, gulls and pigeons.” It wasn’t just the birds that were attacking Hedren, but Alfred Hitchcock himself. She claims that he put her in a “mental prison” as a result of his obsession with her and that the use of live birds was a malicious choice.



#3: JoBeth Williams


“Poltergeist” (1982)



Part of the premise of “Poltergeist” is that the house is built on a cemetery which awakes a very angry ghost. Clearly Steven Spielberg didn’t take this message into consideration when he used real human skeletons in the scene where JoBeth Williams is swimming with them. Some say that this invoked the Poltergeist curse and explains the mysterious death of cast members over the years. Williams didn’t know they were real until after spending quality time with them, and she was understandably horrified when she found out. Apparently, it’s cheaper to get real human remains than fake ones. Do with that information what you will… we’ll just continue to be thoroughly creeped out.







#2: Veronica Cartwright


“Alien” (1979)



One of the most iconic scenes from this 1979 classic is the dreaded chestburster scene, where a freaky alien spawn launches out of a man’s chest, with all the gore that goes with it. To make sure the actors had genuine reactions, director Ridley Scott kept the details a secret. Some of the cast had seen the alien, but didn’t know about the volcano of blood that would be following it. The actors had a variety of reactions; even Sigourney Weaver found it freaky, and Veronica Cartwright ended up with her feet in the air. Many say she fainted, but she insists that she tripped when a jet of blood hit her face.






Before we reveal our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.



Jodie Foster

“The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)





Amanda Wyss

“A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)








Sandra Peabody

“The Last House on the Left” (1972)





#1: Shelley Duvall


“The Shining” (1980)



In “The Shining,” Shelley Duvall’s character Wendy is in a constant state of hysteria as she is hunted by her crazed husband. Maintaining that level of emotion is no easy task and pushed Shelley Duvall to her absolute limits. She cried so much that she was constantly dehydrated and they had to keep water all around the set to help keep her river of tears flowing. After a day of filming, Duvall would be completely exhausted; and the stress led to her hair falling out. Director Stanley Kubrick has been accused of bullying Duvall in order to get her into a vulnerable emotional state, which definitely added to her stress and poor health.
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