What these horror movie monsters look like in real life

While we might know the story of how young Jason Voorhees drowned in Crystal Lake before rising from the deep to slaughter generations of hormonal teens, or how the Xenomorph slithered off a derelict spacecraft, we don't know much about the actors who played these awesome roles. There's a lot more to being a cinematic monster than waving a prop machete at a fumbling babysitter. It's time we turn off the gore for a little bit and look at the people behind the masks of some of our favorite horror movie monsters.

Pinhead Cenobite played by Doug Bradley

Although writer Clive Barker didn't name the lead Cenobite "Pinhead" in his novel The Hellbound Heart, the character's distinctive appearance earned the nickname that stuck throughout the Hellraiser series. Since The Hellbound Heart was adapted into the first Hellraiser movie in 1987, English actor Doug Bradley has become synonymous with the soul-harvesting Pinhead. 

Bradley is part of a special group of horror actors who have played their haunting characters at least six times in a row, a list that includes Tobin Bell as Jigsaw, Warwick Davis as Leprechaun, Brad Dourif as Chucky, Christopher Lee as Dracula, and Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger—although he's also developed a somewhat complicated relationship with the franchise. Bradley opted not to return for 2011's Hellraiser: Revelations, and the saga seems to have moved on without him; 2018's Hellraiser: Judgment marked the second installment to feature a different actor under the makeup. Still, he'll always be Pinhead to us, and we have to think the majority of franchise fans agree.

Leatherface played by Gunnar Hansen

Tobe Hooper's kooky 1974 horror flick The Texas Chainsaw Massacre spawned all kinds of weird and bizarre sequels, but we particularly remember the original thanks to how it stood out compared to other genre entries from the era. Instead of the monster/killer infiltrating houses and chasing people down, the victims were led into Leatherface's lair. 

Heavily inspired by the horrific true story of Ed Gein, Leatherface wore a headpiece made of human skin. While plenty of people have picked up the chainsaw since, we'll always remember Gunnar Hansen for his original (and only) portrayal of the role. While other Leatherface actors have come and gone, Hansen set the standard for how to properly play a chainsaw-wielding maniac, utilizing mannerisms that have been repeated in the character's other movie appearances. Fans of the B movie Mosquito will also recognize Hansen as one of its main characters—who actually uses a chainsaw to fight off ginormous, blood-sucking bugs.

While he's best known for his horror résumé, Hansen wasn't interested in being a star in that or any other genre; he later quipped that he only got the Leatherface gig because he "filled the door" with his large frame when he showed up to audition, and he turned down a number of later opportunities to play terrifying bad guys, opting instead to focus on his passion for writing. Eventually, Hansen returned to Hollywood, accepting roles in horror outings like Hellblock 13 and Next Victim, and enjoying a busy second career that sadly ended in November of 2015, when he succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 68.

The Alien played by Bolaji Badejo

Ridley Scott's Alien revolutionized both the science fiction and horror movie genres in 1979. In the beginning, no one knew who was going to be cast as the film's titular monster. Eventually, Ridley Scott was introduced to Bolaji Badejo, a design student from Nigeria. Badejo's thin, lanky frame and near-seven-foot-tall height would help convince viewers that the film's monster couldn't just be some guy in a suit, which many monster movies made obvious over the years. 

Badejo only played the alien in the first film of the franchise, but still left a heavy impression, especially since James Cameron's Aliens had dozens of Xenomorphs all over the place and future sequels primarily used puppetry and CGI to render their aliens. Badejo's alien is just a bodysuit, but extremely threatening. He ended up doing an amazing job to help sell the illusion, and the Xenomorph would go on to become one of Hollywood's most unforgettable sci-fi monsters. Sadly, Badejo's Alien legacy would long outlive him—he was only 39 when he passed away in 1992 after being diagnosed with sickle cell disease.

The Predator played by Kevin Peter Hall

Originally, Jean-Claude Van Damme was cast to play the Predator in the 1987 Arnold flick of the same name. Unfortunately, the bulked-out appearance of star Arnold Schwarzenegger and the rest of the cast made JCVD seem way too small for the role, despite how amazing it would have been if the Predator had kung fu skills. Fortunately, all of that was scrapped in favor of Kevin Peter Hall, who also starred as the towering title character in Harry and the Hendersons. When you've got guys like Jesse "The Body" Ventura and Apollo Creed himself, Carl Weathers, walking around a jungle, you're going to want to make your movie monster a behemoth, and not just the muscles from Brussels. Thankfully, Hall's tall frame made for a perfect Predator in both the 1987 original and its 1990 sequel, Predator 2. The year after that film's release, Hall passed away at the tragically young age of 35, his life and career cut short by AIDS-related pneumonia.

Michael Myers played by Nick Castle

John Carpenter's low-budget 1978 slasher classic Halloween helped pave the way for bad guys like Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Ghostface with the unforgettable appearance of the film's lumbering silent psychotic villain—and future franchise star—Michael Myers. Carpenter added a heavy psychological aspect to the killer that we hadn't seen since Norman Bates decades prior, and envisioned the film's location, fictional Haddonfield, Illinois, as a typically idyllic suburb that turned unspeakably creepy after the sun set on October 31. 

After donning the mask in the first movie, Castle would be imitated for years by countless horror villains, including some of the actors on this very list. He went on to enjoy a varied career, too—he co-wrote Carpenter's dystopian action flick Escape from New York, helped write the story for Steven Spielberg's Hook, and has directed an assortment of movies that includes The Last Starfighter and The Boy Who Could Fly. And 40 years after making horror history, Castle came full circle, agreeing to reprise his role as Michael Myers in the 2018 Halloween sequel.

Pennywise played by Tim Curry

No offense to any of our white and red paint-wearing readers, but clowns creep us out. It's a common fear, and for a generation of horror film fans, a lot of that can likely be attributed to the 1990 made-for-TV miniseries It

Based on Stephen King's bestselling horror novel of the same name, It told the story of Derry, Maine, and its ongoing haunting by a supernatural being that manifests itself as its prey's worst fears. Pennywise the Dancing Clown, played by Tim Curry, was a favored form taken by this nefarious being (its real form was later revealed as some kind of ginormous spider or something). By this point in his career, Curry was known for playing the Lord of Darkness in Legend and Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. While ABC's TV restrictions, overall bad acting, and skipping the book's best parts resulted in It being a clunker, Curry's captivating performance was the miniseries' saving grace. Bill Skarsgård was definitely horrifying in his own right in the 2017 big-screen adaptation of It, but we're paying tribute to the original here.

Jason Voorhees played by Kane Hodder

We know, we know: lots of people have played Jason Voorhees. He wasn't even the main killer in the first Friday the 13th movie, and he didn't start wearing his iconic hockey mask until the third film, so we've seen the character go through some dramatic changes over the years. Ten actors have played the character so far, in fact, but we're going to have to choose Kane Hodder as the definitive Jason. 

While he didn't even sign onto the series until Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, Hodder's role helped bring Jason into a new age of slasher flicks and made him the hulking, unstoppable menace that we all love and remember. Furthermore, he's had the most experience playing Jason, as nearly every movie prior to Part VII had a different actor in the part. Donning the mask for four films (Part VII: The New Blood, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, and Jason X), Hodder remains a horror movie heavyweight champion in our books. 

In fact, Hodder's left an impact far beyond the Friday the 13th movies. He played Leatherface once (kinda, as a stuntman and stunt coordinator for Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III), played Michael Myers (in a parody video showing the durable psycho learning how to drive), and even inspired his own documentary, To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story, which he used as a forum for sharing his painful past with childhood bullying. And he isn't done with Jason yet: Hodder did motion capture work for Friday the 13th: The Game, offering fans a chance to be part of the action for a whole new series of slasher thrills.

Freddy Krueger played by Robert Englund

We just had to include the man of your dreams on this list! As much as we liked Jackie Earle Haley in that Nightmare on Elm Street remake, only one actor's name resonates with horror movie nightmares: Robert Englund. Horror fans got to watch Englund wear the glove for nearly two decades, playing Freddy Krueger in eight films and even in the character's own anthology horror series, Freddy's Nightmares. Sure, Freddy got a lot funnier and sillier as the years went by, but Wes Craven's New Nightmare was a proper return to form for the supernatural slasher. We just hope one day Englund dons the fedora, sweater, and bladed glove one last time for a final trip down Elm Street.

Pennywise (2017) played by Bill Skarsgard

Taking up the role of an already iconic horror movie monster can be a daunting task, one that even the best actors aren't always up to. Given how excellent Tim Curry is in the 1990 TV movie original, whoever stepped in as Pennywise for the big-screen 2017 version of It was going to have some even larger than usual big red clown shoes to fill. Thankfully, Bill Skarsgård was up to the task. His performance differs greatly from Curry's — smart, since it's probably best to make something your own rather than imitate the original. He's uniquely terrifying as Pennywise, more overtly sinister and inhuman than Curry's frightening but undeniably carnival barker-esque turn.

Skarsgård comes from a family of Swedish actors (his father Stellan and brother Alexander are also well known). After appearing in a number of Swedish films, he found his break into the American market as Roman Godfrey on the Netflix original program Hemlock Grove for three seasons. Since the show wrapped in 2015, he's also made appearances in Divergent: Allegiant, Atomic Blonde, and Assassination Nation. He'll be returning as Pennywise in the upcoming It: Chapter Two as well as taking on a yet-to-be-revealed role in the Hulu original series Castle Rock. The show will, appropriately, take place in the contained fictional world of Stephen King's writing.

The Pale Man played by Doug Jones

A number of tremendously frightening, unique monsters appear in Guillermo del Toro's masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth, but they all (pardon the pun) pale in comparison to the Pale Man, who stands as the film's most memorable image, his spindly limbs and eyes embedded into the palms of his hands making for a truly striking, haunting visage. The man underneath the makeup, as it turns out, is someone moviegoers are likely very familiar with — even if they don't realize it.

The days of career creature actors seem to have passed with Lon Chaney Jr., Boris Karloff, and Bela Lugosi. However, nobody seems to have informed Doug Jones. He's the most prominent creature actor in Hollywood, having donned heavy prosthetics to portray a vast array of monsters, mutants, and everything in between. He's a frequent collaborator of Pan's Labyrinth director del Toro, even sometimes playing multiple roles (he's also the Faun in Pan's Labyrinth). He's also made appearances in John Dies at the End, Hocus Pocus, and Ouija: Origin of Evil, and scored a regular TV role as Lieutenant Saru on Star Trek: Discovery. Nobody brings aliens, ghouls, and mythic creatures to life quite like Jones. It's always a pleasure to see him pop up in a movie — even if we don't recognize him in the moment.

The Babadook played by Tim Purcell

Despite only appearing clearly in the film for a fraction of its runtime, the titular malevolent spirit is the most haunting image in the acclaimed 2014 horror film The Babadook. With his sickly pale skin, stained teeth, and unsettling outfit, it's no surprise the character has become a modern horror icon. It lends to the character's credibility as a horrifying menace that the man under the Babadook makeup isn't one viewers are likely to recognize.

The film was produced on a very low budget of just $2 million. As such, no big-name actor was hired to play the creature. Instead Tim Purcell, an art department assistant and prop maker on the film, donned the makeup and costume for the role. Purcell has not been credited as an actor since, with The Babadook apparently the only film he's worked on at all. While it'd be great to see him bring the menace he instills in the character to other roles, there's definitely a certain merit in taking on one perfect role and then riding off into the sunset.

Pumpkinhead played by Tom Woodruff, Jr.

He might not rank as an elite movie monster like Freddy and Jason, but the titular creature from Pumpkinhead isn't anything to scoff at in terms of scare factor. The brainchild of special effects artist Stan Winston, Pumpkinhead, a demonic corpse animated by witches, starred in Winston's original film as well as a series of sequels and comic books. Resembling a sort of cross between the Xenomorph and a goblin, he's a uniquely terrifying creature performed exceptionally by Tom Woodruff, Jr. It makes sense that Woodruff excels in the role, too. Acting under all of those prosthetics requires a deep understanding of how they work, and Woodruff certainly knows that, given his stellar résumé as an effects artist.

While he's appeared in a number of television shows, short films, and full-length movies (often under prosthetics in an unnamed/uncredited role), Woodruff's real claim to fame comes in his work in special effects. Having studied under Winston, he founded Amalgamated Dynamics with his peer Alec Ginnis. Amalgamated Dynamics has gone on to provide effects for everything from later installments in the Alien franchise to tentpole superhero movies, including Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy and X-Men: First Class.

The Creeper played by Jonathan Breck

Jeepers Creepers introduced horror fans to The Creeper, a horror movie monster with a unique story: every 23 years it wakes from hibernation for exactly 23 days. During those 23 days it eats human body parts. The parts it eats go on to form its body. Who's hungry? As frightening as that premise is, it'd be worth nothing if not performed by a talented actor. Fortunately, the Creeper has Jonathan Breck in its corner.

Breck appears as the Creeper in all three Jeepers Creepers films. It's by far his most famous role, as he's not done much recognizable work outside the franchise. He's appeared in films ranging from Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World to Parkland, though never in a role as prominent as the one he plays in the Jeepers Creepers franchise, which reached its third installment in 2018; director Victor Salva already has plans for the fourth. Breck may not be a household name, but we'll always be happy — well, terrified might be a more appropriate word — to see him suit up as the Creeper.

Samara played by Daveigh Chase

You might not recognize Daveigh Chase if you saw her in your local coffee shop, but you almost certainly know her voice. As a child actress, Chase provided voiceover work as Lilo in the Disney animated film Lilo & Stitch, as well as its sequels and TV series. She also provided the English voice acting for main character Chihiro in Hiyao Miyazaki's masterpiece Spirited Away. While she may be best known for her work in animation, Chase had one other prominent role in the early aughts — though you still likely wouldn't know her face, because she played Samara in the 2002 horror hit The Ring.

Chase hadn't even turned 13 when she took on the role as the terrifying vengeful spirit who antagonizes the characters in director Gore Verbinski's remake of the Japanese horror classic Ringu. Nevertheless, she performs the role like a seasoned pro, bringing a sinister supernatural presence to Samara. Chase didn't return for the film's sequels, Ring 2 and Rings, but she soon returned to screens in a regular role on the long-running HBO show Big Love. Since that wrapped, she's appeared steadily in indie horrors and thrillers. It's been 15 years since her turn as Samara, so a return is nigh impossible, but we'll always be curious to see Chase's latest work.

The Nun played by Bonnie Aarons

Director James Wan's The Conjuring has gone on to spawn an entire cinematic universe full of uniquely frightening villains. For our money, the scariest character in the franchise is the Nun, also known as the demon Valak. Between its horrific visage and frightening connection to series protagonist Lorraine Warren, Valak is a perfect modern horror monster. As much as the concept alone can sell this one (a demon nun is going to be pretty horrific by default) we'd be remiss to not give credit to the incredible character actress behind the role, Bonnie Aarons.

Aarons has, over the course of her career, had a habit of showing up for bit parts in movies and stealing the show. Her range is just as impressive. She's funny in The Princess Diaries and its sequel as a snooty baroness, and terrifying in her brief appearance in David Lynch's surreal Mulholland Drive. A role like Valak is perfectly suited to her talents, and she made enough of an impression in the role in The Conjuring 2 to warrant a sequel centered around the character. Due out in 2018, The Nun will see Aarons return to her role as Valak once more.

Sam played by Quinn Lord

Trick 'r Treat proves that good things come in small packages. While the film is full of killer performances, it's the little trick-or-treater Sam, played by Quinn Lord, that proves most memorable. Clad in an orange onesie and a mask that seems to be made of a burlap sack, Sam appears throughout the film as a sort of background character, with a subtle, inexplicable menace to his every move. By the end of the film it becomes clear that Sam is no ordinary trick-or-treater, and that he's tied far more directly to the spirit of Halloween than anyone could have guessed. 

It'd be selling Lord short to say that his work as a horror movie monster was done for him by Sam's costume. His body language is very deliberate, lending to Sam's mystique and menace in a big way. Lord had been acting for a few years before landing the role of Sam, appearing on shows like Supernatural and Smallville. But Trick 'r Treat ended up being his most high-profile role; he's since appeared in guest roles on a number of TV shows, and worked on short films and features as well. As an adult, Lord has appeared in the recurring role of Thomas Smith on Amazon's The Man in the High Castle. While he's far too old now to play Sam in the Trick 'r Treat sequel in development, we can't wait to see where this talented young actor shows up next.