Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp did their darndest to imbue the character of Willy Wonka with a macabre element. The problem was that it had already done. If Gene Wilder’s incarnation of Willy Wonka does not qualify as one of the most creepily macabre characters to ever have escaped from some horror movie and into a musical comedy, then I don’t know who does. What Burton failed to understand, apparently, is that Wonka’s barely repressed drive that seeks to lead him down a much darker path is all the more effective when surrounded by the much lighter tone that makes up the rest of the movie than when surrounded by the studiously crafted outlandishness of the remake.
Crispin Glover as Layne
In the MST3K version of “The Leech Woman” a chap with a clipped accent warns a woman while on safari to find a cure for old lady disease to stay away from the river’s edge to which Tom Servo’s adds the classic riff: “That Crispin Glover is creepy.” Glover does have a reputation for on-screen creepiness and is not far from Willy Wonka territory as himself off-screen. The on-screen reputation was made manifest by his classic, brilliant and criminally overlooked performance as Layne in “River’s Edge.” The movie skirts around some narrative choices and themes that could easily have been exploited for transformation into a horror movie, but it’s not. Layne would fit right at home in any number of horror movies, however.
Charles Fleischer as Bob Vaughn
“Zodiac” is, above all, else a newspaper movie. Yes, it’s a story about reporters helping to track down a serial killer, but unlike some other famous serial killer movies, nothing about it dips into the horror movie genre. Except, perhaps, for one of the creepiest minor characters to appear in a mainstream non-horror film in the first decade of the 21st century. David Fincher directs the scene where Jake Gyllenhaal nearly craps his pants from fear that he may be in the presence of the Zodiac killer just right. The entire interplay between Gyllenhaal and Fleischer is unnerving enough to be removed from “Zodiac” and studied as a self-contained masterful example of how to create tension that is the superior of most scenes in gory American horror movies that designed to accomplish the same effect, but fail miserably by comparison.
Robert Helpmann as the Childcatcher
What sick freak sets up a movie as a glorious fantasy comedy for an hour and a half and then introduces a character as insistently disturbing, creepy, macabre and nightmarish as the Childcatcher? You’re watching “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and you’re enjoying the pleasantly awful British accent of Dick Van Dyke, a car that flies and various other fascinatingly odd inventions and then, boom!, the ratty little catcher of children appears with the guarantee that he will haunt you in your dreams later that night. Sick! “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” was based on a novel written by the same guy that invented James Bond, but the Childcatcher does appear in that book. He was the invention of one of the screenwriters. Guy named Roald Dahl. Creator of, you guess it, Willy Wonka.