October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best horror movies starring Udo Kier is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Girls want one thing, and it’s an… “and Udo Kier” credit in their horror movies. I believe most film fans have an actor or two whose mere presence justifies watching whatever they happen to be in. For me, that person’s Udo Kier, the prolific German actor whose mere presence indicates that you’re in for a good, and (statistically speaking) disturbing, time.
I want all the Kier-heads out there to know that I made a concerted attempt to get Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom on this list. Regrettably, this project is run by an immovable tyrant who kept telling me “A miniseries is not a movie.” [Editor’s note: a miniseries is not a movie.] Whatever. Udo Kier did not Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls his way out of a human birth canal for you to not accept The Kingdom as cinema. Sorry Little Brother, I tried and failed.
Mercifully, Kier’s feature-length horror tenure spans over five decades. And even when the films he’s in are acquired tastes, you can count on this blue-eyed freak to deliver something precious, enigmatic, and memorable. Without further ado, let’s get down to the Udo. Here are ten of our favorite Udo Kier performances in horror movies, as ranked by Rob Hunter, Chris Coffel, Brad Gullickson, Jacob Trussell, and yours truly.
10. The Theatre Bizarre (2011)
While the rest of this 2011 horror omnibus is, uh… oh no! I’m being pulled off the stage by a comically oversized shepherd’s crook! Okay, I’m back.
The concept “Udo Kier hosts a horror anthology’s wraparound segments” is, admittedly, my sleeper cell activation phrase. And I fully accept that the monkey’s paw curled into a tight little fist here, and no, I won’t apologize. Where some horror hosts appear as dapper academics or ghoulish crypt keepers, here, Kier figures as a rusty, peeling, and thoroughly macabre Guignol; a mechanical puppet who leeches the humanity out of his audience as he regales them with macabre tales. Theatre Bizarre is stark proof that Kier can brighten up even the darkest lump of coal. He’s committed. He’s clearly having a blast. And he’s spinning gold out of straw. Remember: clockwork paper-mâché Udo Kier can’t hurt you, he’s not real… at least, not yet. (Meg Shields)
9. Blade (1998)
Udo Kier could play a high-class vampire in his sleep. But half-assing isn’t in Kier’s vocabulary. He’s a full-ass kind of actor. As Gitano Dragonetti — the pureblood leader of the House of Erebus — Kier is a bureaucratic boogeyman: a suave, deliciously on-the-nose hybrid of old-money corporate executive and shadow government figurehead. He’s the distinguished old guard; an elitist throwback to a time when vampires amassed land titles and erred on the side of old-world romanticism rather than blood raves. Dragonetti’s rule may be ash in the wind. But to Kier’s credit, the vampire lord stays classy and enigmatic right until the bitter end. Dragonetti probably didn’t give out Christmas bonuses. But because he’s played by Kier, he’s got more dignity and panache in his pinky than that tasteless hack Deacon Frost. (Meg Shields)
8. Mark of the Devil (1970)
Mark of the Devil is a mean little movie in which holy men torture and murder women who they allegedly believed to be practicing witchcraft. Of course, this murder is okay because it’s done in the name of God. The most feared of these witch hunters is the evil Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom), a nasty man with a real mean streak. Cumberland’s apprentice is Count Christian von Meruh (Udo Kier), and he’s the witch hunter with a heart of gold. Sure, Christian has killed his fair share of would-be witches. But he truly believes in his faith… whereas Cumberland kills because he’s angry that his man parts don’t work.
Mark of the Devil would get lost in the shuffle of 70s exploitation films if not for the presence of Kier. Movies have been around for nearly 130 years. No one before or since the release of Mark of the Devil has looked as pretty on film as Udo Kier does in this movie. Cutting through the nastiness are these piercing blue eyes that melt the heart. With just one look, Udo can have you praying to Jesus or worshiping the Devil. He’s calling the shots. It is, in a word, unreasonable. (Chris Coffel)
7. Feardotcom (2002)
While the rest of William Malone’s epilepsy-inducing internet-horror film is (at best) an early noughties curio, it does kick things off with a bang. Namely: a wildly memorable Udo Kier cameo. Mana from heaven for the discerning horror fan.
Rain pelts down as a haggard man descends into the subway. Fumbling with his glasses and clutching at a manuscript, he’s noticeably petrified of some unseen menace that could lurch out of the shadows at any moment. Then, when a ghostly white girl “falls” onto the tracks, the man hesitates before leaping off the platform to save her. She is, of course, an apparition. And you get the sense from Kier’s performance that deep down he knows this too. Kier’s haunting subway death is the best and most restrained part of FeardotCom by a country mile; a perfect use of an actor capable of economically conveying a three-dimensional character, only for said character to get pancaked by a subway car. (Meg Shields)
6. Suspiria (1977)
Udo Kier’s Dr. Frank Mandel is a minor character. Even by Udo Kier standards. However, as you’ll see throughout this list, Udo Kier can make a cake from crumbs. He arrives in Suspiria to dish out some exposition, once again establishing the witch lore in Suzy’s imagination. He then checks out in a grisly fashion, selling his death with gusto and glee. Kier is an essential Suspiria spice. His moments are brief. But when they arrive, they’re extremely tasty and you want a little more. It’s possible the film would benefit from some extra Udo Kier screen time. But it would certainly not be as memorable with any less. (Brad Gullickson)
5. The Painted Bird (2019)
If there’s any doubt that Václav Marhoul’s descent into human depravity is a horror film, you can take it up with my lawyers. (My lawyers are two muck-coated donkeys from an undisclosed location in Eastern Europe). No, really, anyone who provocatively calls Saw “torture porn” should be forced to watch this stomach-churning exploration of a small, discarded child having the ever-loving shit kicked out of him for nearly three hours.
In one of the film’s earlier chapters, a domineering miller played by Udo Kier rescues the boy. This is both a blessing and a curse. Growling threats and spitting acid, the miller is a capricious savior. The boy gets a roof over his head, sure. But he also has to live alongside a man who beats his wife like it’s an Olympic sport… and who plucks the eyes out of anyone who dares look at her. We’ll say this much, forcing two cats to fuck as a way to j’accuse your wife of imagined infidelity is definitely something only Udo Kier could pull off. (Meg Shields)
4. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981)
You have not experienced cinema until you’ve seen Udo Kier’s Dr. Jekyll get into a bathtub. If you know, you know. Portrayed with criminal amounts of writhing eroticism, Kier endows the not-so-good doctor with a perversion only latent (or, perhaps, edited out) in Robert Louis Stevenson’s original text. Through Fanny Osborne’s eyes, we recognize the liberating, and horrifying truth: that the superficially decent man she aims to marry has an undeniable darkness in him. And, furthermore, that his mere presence is enough to dredge similar depravities out of anyone in the vicinity. Of all the entries on this list, I cannot think of a better use of Kier’s talents: a sensitive gentleman, compelled, against his own interests, to accept and embrace perversity. (Meg Shields)
3. Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)
As this list shows, Udo Kier has been living and breathing genre films for over half a century, and while a lot of them are, err, not good, several of them are absolute bangers. Flesh for Frankenstein belongs in the latter camp with its wonderfully lurid take on Mary Shelley’s classic creation. Kier stars as the doctor with a peculiar mix of intellectual curiosity and non-existent morals, and he’s not just content creating life. He wants to create sexy life.
Body parts, sexual shenanigans, hot monsters, and Kier sitting at the center of it all with his icy blue eyes zeroing in on everyone’s saucy bits — for science, obviously. Paul Morrissey‘s film takes more than a few liberties with the original text, but the good doctor’s fate remains the same as he flies too close to the sun and pays the bloody price. Kier’s performance is built on piercing stares, a love for science, and a clear disdain for anything or anyone that gets in his way, but he also conveys a strangely appealing sincerity that makes it all a bit more affecting than you’re expecting from such guttural and wet antics. (Rob Hunter)
2. Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
In 1974, Udo Kier portrayed a quasi-comic version of Bram Stoker’s famous Count in Andy Warhol’s Dracula. Twenty-six years later, he would return to the world inspired by Stoker in this satirical twist on the making of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. But rather than playing the titular blood-sucker — those reigns are handily carried by Willem Dafoe — he plays Albin Grau, the producer who championed bringing this story to the screen despite legal pushback from Florence Balcombe, Stoker’s widow who refused to allow Grau and his team to produce the now-classic film. While Kier is relegated mostly to a supporting role, as one of the few native Germans in a cast of German characters, his mere presence helps ground the film a bit more in reality, which only helps the audience ask the important question: “Wait, did they actually hire a real vampire for Nosferatu?” (Jacob Trussell)
1. Blood for Dracula (1974)
Apocryphally marketed as Andy Warhol’s Dracula, the crown jewel of Paul Morrissey’s 1970s genre run is, and I mean this as a compliment, one of the greatest horror comedies ever made. A profoundly malnourished Udo Kier stars as the sassiest version of the Count ever put to screen: a childish, whiny, vegetarian incapable of navigating the world without the help of his bossy bottom secretary, Anton (Arno Juerging).
Near death from lack of blood, a day-walking Dracula travels to Italy in search of wirgin — sorry, virgins — only come up empty-handed thanks to a profound lack of Italian chastity. Like I said: this is a horror comedy. Kier put everything into this role: my boy pouts, convulses, and blood orgasms with the enthusiasm of an Oscar-hungry ingénue. His “ze blood of zeese hoors iz keeeeeeling me” walked so Jennifer Coolidge in White Lotus could run, is all I’m saying. All told, Blood for Dracula unequivocally proves that Udo Kier is one of our best vomit actors. We simply don’t deserve him. (Meg Shields)
That’s it for the top ten horror movies starring Udo Kier. Before you say auf Wiedersehen, have a cheeky peek at the rest of our 31 Days of Horror Lists.