In researching this list, I made two realizations: most horror films don't bother with supporting casts; the supporters are often ghosts and monsters and supernatural forces (the other humans tend not to listen). And also, there are more great performances by women in horror films. Consider just the list of women who were nominated for -- or won -- Oscars for horror films: Patty McCormack, Janet Leigh, Ruth Gordon, Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Sigourney Weaver, Kathy Bates, Jodie Foster, Juliette Lewis, Toni Collette, etc. Perhaps women are more intuitively in touch with the supernatural. Either way, I think I came up with a pretty good list:
1. Maria Ouspenskaya in The Wolf Man (1941)
Her name's a mouthful, but once you learn to say it, you'll never forget it. She was born in 1876, which put her at about 65 when The Wolf Man was made. She was a theater actor, before the movies were invented, she became an acting teacher and she received two Oscar nominations prior to this role. She plays Maleva (what a great name!), the old gypsy woman, and mother to Bela (Bela Lugosi), who possesses the knowledge of all things werewolf. With eyes like obsidian, her line readings are quiet, mysterious, intelligent, and though she's practically half the size of star Lon Chaney Jr., she towers over him.
2. Christina Ricci in Addams Family Values (1993)
Every once in a while the movie gods smile down and create something wonderful, like the moment that young Ricci walked into the "Addams Family" auditions, hoping for the role of Wednesday. The resulting movie, released in 1991, wasn't very good, but the sequel was much improved and Ricci was so good in both that she clearly announced the beginning of a fascinating career full of brave, unusual choices. With her round, pale face, huge eyes and tiny mouth shaped like a talon, she was scary and funny and just a little bit odd, and when she grew older, she took on a dangerous kind of sexiness. She could be the direct genre descendant of Elsa Lanchester or Barbara Steele.