Truly Deeply Mad: Top 5 Iconic Psychotic Performances in Film

by Eric Melin on March 5, 2013

in Top 10s

Today we have another list from chief blogger and critic at FilmCrave Chris Kavan, who enjoys going a little mad sometimes – but just a little … which is why we’re allowing his list to be a Top 5 instead of a Top 10. Because we’re scared of him. who else would you add to this list? Comment below! If you have a Top 10 you want to contribute, email me at eric@scene-stealers.com. Here’s Chris:

The ability of an actor to transform for a role is one of the most important aspects in making a film not just good – but memorable. What really impresses me is when they take on a role that I wouldn’t consider just challenging – but maybe a bit frightening. These are the kind of roles you don’t want to lose yourself in – because it would be dangerous. Watching some of the best dramatic movies unfold, you wonder how these affect their daily lives. Sure, you can tell yourself it’s just a movie – but you have to wonder how much more it became for these actors.

5. Michael Rooker in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Although many now know him as Merle, the racist, sexist one-handed mean zombie killing machine on The Walking Dead, this was his first movie role and what a way to make your debut. This low-budget film was based on the life of real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. While the film took liberties with his story, the one thing you can’t argue is that Rooker plays Henry with a scary precision. Never has such an emotionless role carried such power. He has a cold almost robotic demeanor – whether he’s killing or searching for his next victim. It remains for me one of the most realistic and chilling depictions of a serial killer on film.

4. Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Where Henry has a raw, almost documentary-like feel, Jonathan Demme and Hopkins combine to turn their monster Hannibal Lecter, into a nearly sympathetic character. This despite the fact we know he is a cannibal and a calculating murdered. Hopkins does this by presenting Lecter as incredibly intelligent and with just enough hint of humanity that you forget just how twisted and evil the man truly is. Just like Henry, killing means little for him – he does it for fun or personal satisfaction – nothing more. The mask has shown up everywhere from The Simpsons to the Oscars that it became a running joke – but let’s remember where is showed up first and that you can hide true evil behind a mask – at least not for long.

3. Christian Bale in American Psycho (2000)

Not based on anyone in particular – what makes Patrick Bateman so iconic is how seemingly typical he seems – a yuppie trapped in 80s consumerist culture who works on Wall Street and compares business cards, goes out clubbing (with plenty of booze and drugs) and lives an upper-class lifestyle. Oh, he also murders lots of women (and tries to stuff a cat in an ATM) – sometimes with a chainsaw. He out-crazies actual real-life crazy people and the amazing thing is how well he pulls off both the corporate yuppie and the nail-gun wielding madman. Sure, he’s now Batman – but I think Bale’s truly memorable role will always be Bateman.

2. Anthony Perkins in Psycho (1960)

It turns out that once again reality trumps fiction – as Norman Bates was based partially on serial killer Ed Gein (as was Leatherface for that matter) but Alfred Hitchcock turns it into something much deeper. The scary part is, once again, how perfectly normal Norman seems. A quiet young man who seems to be completely under the thumb of his “mother”. I just cannot see anyone other than Perkins in this role (don’t even mention Vince Vaughn to me) – and it’s hard for me to think of him playing any other role and he was often typecast because of it. What’s interesting is how Perkins’ own mother echoed some of the same sentiments as Bates’  mother – a bit domineering and controlling. You have to wonder how much he channeled into his role – but the impact is undeniable.

1. Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)

Even if the specter of Ledger‘s death didn’t hover over The Dark Knight, I would still consider this a lock for the top spot. It’s impossible to think of The Joker in any medium without picturing Ledger’s slashed red smile, his mannerisms, his voice – this is comic book super hero villain – but it’s truly a terrifying vision of what madness can become. Part of it is the look, yes, but Ledger creates his own vision (whether or not it’s based partly on Tom Waits is up for interpretation) but you cannot deny that this is his legacy and what amounts to a big-budge summer blockbuster, he manages to upstage Christian Bale’s Batman as the most memorable aspect of the film. It’s truly madness incarnate and Ledger gave himself over to it – maybe a bit too much – and that is dedication to the point of madness.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers and regular critic for KCTV5. He’s a member of the BFCA, VP of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also the current 2013 Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Matt June 12, 2013 at 9:01 am

Gary Oldman the Professional and Kathy Bates for Misery

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