Once again these come in no "order" of merit, for they are all essential viewing, and to me they highlight the importance of a convincing performance when dealing in the currency of terror. Here we go!
Cécile De France in Haute Tension
Haute Tension is probably still my favorite horror film made this century. Alexandre Aja's debut film was a flagship in the new trend of "high impact violence" in horror films, and was poorly emulated time and time again by Hollywood in the following years. It was spared a remake, but re-released in the USA under the awful title Switchblade Romance. Cécile De France's flawless performance in a truly multi-dimensional role as both victim and perpetrator shows us vulnerability, fear, strength and pure insanity.
Elizabeth Moody in Braindead (Dead Alive)
Peter Jackson's all time splatter comedy opus will never be topped, the gore sequences are the most inventive and brilliant use of traditional makeup and special effects on a limited budget. But if not for the fantastic performances, this is all we would ever remember. No one who has seen this film could ever deny that Vera is the embodiment of the mother from hell, and that's BEFORE she is infected with the rabid monkey-virus and transforms from the undead into a 20 foot tall monstrosity. Poor Lionel! Jackson also featured Elizabeth Moody in Heavenly Creatures and the first Lord of the Rings film.
Manuela Velasco in REC
First of all, I must say I am not a fan of the hand-held camera style shooting appearing more often in films, it is a fantastic concept but requires extreme skill to be pulled off successfully by both the cameraman and the actors, and of course in most cases (Blair Witch, Cloverfield, The Last Exorcism) it comes off hokey and noticeably takes away from the enjoyment of the film. To me REC is an exception to the rule, thanks in no small part to the lead role of Angela Vidal, the news reporter who is trapped in a building where an unknown contagion is sending the residents bonkers. Velasco's beautifully understated performance allowed me the very rare suspension of disbelief I don't usually experience these days.
Nanako Matsushima in Ringu and Ringu 2
The film that started the explosion of Asian horror films that would grab the Western film-goer by the throat; and provide Hollywood with endless poor remake fodder. It also set the iconic "evil little girl with long hair over eyes" as a standard for many other Asian films to emulate, in most cases poorly. It is a truly eerie, harrowing and inventive film, and the fate of the main character Reiko is what leaves the viewer in suspense with every scene, as she tries to uncover the mystery of Sadako's deadly video tape. I include both the original and the sequel, as in my mind they are equally good and should be watched as one story. Matsushima's terror, especially in the well sequences, is convincing enough to chill the blood of any viewer.