The award for best hysterics goes to...

I was watching The Shining on DVD the other night and it occurred to me that one of the reasons the film worked was because it didn’t spend all of its time trying to scare me (in the audience), but rather it showed a completely hysterical Shelley Duvall. She was sobbing, crying, screaming, hyperventilating–the whole nine yards. And I think it was contagious. When you see someone that freaked-out it’s hard to stay calm yourself, even if you’re just watching a movie.

But you don’t see a lot of actors or actresses who go all out into total uncontrollable crying jags too often. It’s not surprising, I suppose. It’s got to be hard on the actor or actress and, let’s face it, what Hollywood star wants to be seen with running mascara, a red nose, and tears and snot all over her face?

So my nominations for best hysterics are:
Shelley Duvall

I swear, I thought she was about to hyperventilate and pass out when she was waving that bat at Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
Veronica Cartwright

A veteran character actress with a knack for really turning on the waterworks. Watching Alien, you knew things were bad when you saw her character have a breakdown. She’s been crying her eyes out in all sorts of movies and television before and since. A real trouper.
Any other nominations?

Halle Berry?

Sally Field has a nice freak-out on E.R.. I was impressed that the whole thing was one take.

Best comedy freak-out belongs to Bruce Campbell when confronted with the man-eating book in Army of Darkness, among other moments in the film

Marylin Burns, Texas Chainsaw Massare.

Unparalleled freakout.

Ray Liotta in Goodfellas: the scene where Henry finds out Karen flushed all the cocaine. I think it had to be a closed set.

Check out her performance in Steel Magnolias. She goes from zero to 60 emotions in about 30 seconds.

Chloe Webb as Nancy Spungen in Sid and Nancy. Pretty much the entire performance was spent in hysterics, but the scene where she is calling her parents (“I’m not of drugs!”) asking for money (“I’M NOT ON F***ING DRUGS!”) so that they can buy drugs is a classic.

Honorable Mention to Jeremy Irons in Dungeons and Dragons. His performance DEFINES “scenery chewing”. He is constantly potted up to 11 throughout the whole thing, and the result is hilarious.

Best bit is one of the deleted scenes, which was unfinished. It shows Jeremy going through his usual histrionics, and then the director yells “Cut!” and Jeremy just stalks off the set without a word. I like to think that’s how every scene went. “Cut!” and Jeremy heads off to his trailer for another shot of scotch and another round of kicking his agent, who’s tied up on the floor of his trailer.

So THAT was the secret to Shelly Duvall’s performance! For 99.99% of the movie she was as wooden as a cigar store Indian and now I know the reason…she had to go into hysterics. Talk about conservation of energy…

Billie Burke’s great “The Ferncliffes aren’t coming to DINNER!” aria in “Dinner at Eight.” She rises to such a peak of hysteria she actually got applause at a revival house I saw it at once.

Oz has had many standout examples of full-on freakout, most notably Tobias Beecher strung out on PCP in the 1st season.

Ellen Burstyn had a phenomenal meltdown scene, full of incoherent screaming and wailing, in Requiem For A Dream.

Yeah but the second she got off the phone was Hysterical (in a different sense)

NANCY: “She won’t give us Money… SHE SAID WE’D SPEND IT ON DRUGS!”


Damn that was funny.

Oh and best hysterical scene… Marylin Burns for Chainsaw. It was one of those moments were the screaming chick coming unglued made perfect sense.

[Hijack] This was on TCM a couple of days ago. One of my favourite scenes in all cinema is Marie Dressler’s reaction when Jean Harlow says she’s been reading a book.[/Hijack]

For those who haven’t seen the movie, this is what Jabba’s referring to:

Jean Harlow: I was reading a book the other day.
Marie Dressler (doing a majestic double take): Reading a book?
JH: Yes, the nuttiest kind of a book—the guy said that machinery is going to take the place of every profession!
MD (giving Jean the once-over): Oh, my DEAR, that is something you need never worry about.

Another reason the film works is the score. That music grabs you from the outset and just squeezes tighter and tighter. Whether you realized it or not, the score was messing with your head, and definitely trying to scare you, throughout.

My nomination is Leo DiCaprio in The Basketball Diaries. Damn I wanted that scene to be over long before it ended. His mother’s reaction shot made it all the more harrowing. Marky Mark has a drug-fueled paranoia freakout in that film, too. The mom was played by Lorraine Bracco, who also had a protracted hissy fit in Goodfellas.

Parker Posey in Best in Show. The way she loses it in the pet store when the poor clerk can’t get her a “Busy Bee” is priceless!

Dylan McDermott… Every time he gets angry on The Practice .

And here’s one for the worst: Harvey Keitel. Every time he does his “I’m crying/in pain face” and lets out that whine, it totally takes me out of the movie. I just plain am not sold.
[li]Reservoir Dogs when he’s got the gun to the head of Tim Roth at the end[/li][li]Bad Lieutenant - he does it a couple times - once right at the end.[/li][/ul]

How about that Heather chick from The Blair Witch Project. Her character covered the entire spectrum from overbearing, bossy bitch to snivelling, panicy bitch.

I remember that Michael Caine did a scene where someone was holding a gun to his head and he was bawling and pleading and begging for his life. Can’t remember the title of the movie, though.