Christopher Walken
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Greatest creeps in movies

By Deborah Netburn and Patrick Day, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

All hail the creepy character actor -- he (or she) who can show up in even the most innocuous movie and turn it into an exercise in unease. It’s a tradition whose forefathers, including Peter Lorre and Bela Lugosi, have become film icons, standing alongside -- or maybe just behind and a little too close to -- cinema greats such as Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe. United by their uncomfortable presence, weird physical characteristics, specific ways of moving, or a combination of all three, these actors are perhaps the last holdouts in the never-ending cinematic onslaught of toned bodies and perfect features.

Here are 10 of our favorite go-to creepy actors working today. (
Zelda Rubinstein: Grandma Creepy

That high-pitched voice, those thick legs, the unexpectedly short stature, the fact that they always seem to put her in too much makeup. She might seem sweet on the outside, but if you cut her open and found a coal-black heart you wouldn’t feel surprised, would you?

Seminal creepy character: Tangina in the 1982 film “Poltergeist” (Dean Williams / MGM)
Christopher Walken: Lifetime Achievement Creepy

Christopher Walken doesn’t always play creepy characters, but he always brings a bit of creep to whatever character he plays. That role in “Annie Hall,” where he talks about how sometimes late at night he feels like driving into oncoming traffic, somehow sums up exactly how we imagine he’d be in person. Weird.

Seminal creepy character: Johnny Smith in the 1983 film “The Dead Zone” (Jim Cooper / Associated Press)
Crispin Glover: Not-Quite-Human Creepy

What makes Glover’s brand of creepiness so extra-special terrifying is that he moves (on screen, at least) like a wild animal. Unpredictable. Irrational. Possibly rabid. Even during his rare still moments you can feel his mind-twitching movements, like a feral cat, waiting to pounce.

Seminal creepy character: Willard Styles (rat communicator) in “Willard” (Pierre Vinet / New Line Cinema)
James Woods: Smarmy Creepy

These days, Woods excels at playing creepy like a senator who has some weird sex secret or a colleague that you suspect regularly goes to see a dominatrix after work. There’s a weird dignity to this brand of creepiness, and the sense that he’ll get away with whatever it is he’s doing. It’s not-really-your-business creepy, and you don’t think he’d hurt you or anything, but you’d rather not be around him if possible.

Seminal creepy character: There have been many, but we’re going with the pimp Lester Diamond in Scorsese’s “Casino” (Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Cillian Murphy: Creepy Creepy

Eek! Those enormous eyes. That way-too-calm demeanor. Those fake-looking cheekbones. If we sat next to Cillian Murphy on an airplane, we’d feel a cold shiver of dread run down our back, even if we had never heard of a movie called “Red Eye.”

Seminal creepy character: Jack Rippner in Wes Craven’s “Red Eye” (Gemma La Mana / DreamWorks)
Wes Bentley: Friend’s-New-Boyfriend Creepy

The girls may have been swooning over him when “American Beauty” was in theatres, but like the new boyfriend who none of the friends likes, he’s slowly revealed his true colors. Those eyes -- cold blue and dead inside -- were just one of the early warning signs. He’s also demonstrated a fondness for full facial hair -- not charming on anyone but guys who look like Kenny Rogers.

Seminal creepy character: Thomas in “P2" (2007) (Steve Wilkie)
Ron Silver: Boss Creepy

Maybe it’s his clipped diction or his “I could squash you” attitude, but this actor-turned-political activist seems summoned straight from the fiery bowels of cubicle hell. Pity the poor man who looks comfortable in a tailored suit. He may be as civic-minded as they come, but we’ll always think of him as a boardroom ghoul.

Seminal creepy character: He’s made better movies, but his work as the creepy senator in “Timecop” (1994) sums his vibe up nicely. (Damon Winter / Los Angeles Times)
Clancy Brown: Thug Creepy

It’s all in the eyes. Whether he’s playing a man of God in “Carnivale” or a tough prison guard in “The Shawshank Redemption,” his eyes always betray him as someone who, all things considered, would probably be happier caving in your skull and smoking a cigarette afterward than talking to you for another minute.

Seminal creepy character: The Kurgan in “Highlander” (1986) (Richard J. Cartwright / HBO)
Tony Todd: Thoughtfully Creepy

Some actors go their entire careers without getting to utter a single quotable, memorable line. Tony Todd, thanks in part to his husky, basement-register voice, sold “Be my victim” so well in “Candyman” that it always floats up to the top of the subconscious every time he’s on screen.

Seminal creepy character: Candyman in “Candyman” (1992) (John Johnson / La Jolla Playhouse)
Amanda Plummer: Unstable Landlady Creepy

She projects an intensity only achieved by those who live their whole lives alienated from humanity and seething about it. Like a female Gollum, she chews over words and spits them out slowly in a way that makes you pray she gets her way. No matter what else she does with her career, she’ll always have the distinction of appearing in “Pulp Fiction” before the credits ever rolled.

Seminal creepy character: Rose Michaels in “So I Married an Axe Murderer” (1993) ()