The Innocents (1961): Horror is an eternally disreputable genre that, if containing great (or at least legitimate) actors at all, comes early in the thespians’ career. (Think Jamie Lee Curtis, or Michelle Williams in another Halloween picture opposite Curtis.) There are exceptions—say, if the source is Henry James. The Turn of the Screw becomes this tony yet intensely creepy little number directed in B&W Cinemascope by the underrated Jack Clayton (Room at the Top, The Pumpkin Eater). To add to the overall prestige of the production, the role of the unraveling governess looking after precocious children in a possibly haunted manse is no less than Deborah Kerr.
The Night Walker (1964): A great actress giving a great performance in a great horror film in the ‘60s, like Kerr, is a rarity. The decade, in fact, saw a trend toward aging legends reborn as scream queens. Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Oliva de Havilland and Agnes Moorehead all logged time in trash, some of it more knowing than others (e.g., Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, which kicked off the craze). Barbara Stanwyck briefly joined them. Her last film, before subsisting till death on television, is a William Castle production, albeit one lacking his usual theater gimmicks.
The Hunger (1983): Fresh off her first Oscar nomination for Atlantic City, Susan Sarandon wound up in Tony Scott’s flashy vampire debut, getting it on and sucking blood alongside another respected actress, Catherine Deneuve.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991): After winning her first Oscar for The Accused, Jodie Foster’s proper follow-up involved a cannibal, a serial killer who made clothes out of his victims and some poor guy’s face used as a mask. And it won every single Oscar.
Gothika (2003): Halle Berry didn’t fare as well as Foster: A still-shiny Oscar took her to this inane ghost story set in a mental institution, in which she delivers the first of several performances bad enough to retroactively cancel her big win.
Mama (2013): Jessica Chastain is presently winning her first major acting awards, which makes her appearance in January horror schlock fairly amusing—except she chose wisely (mostly). Executive produced by Guillermo del Toro, her film has a mood and creature design worthy of release any time of year.