Top 51 Horror Movie Villains
It’s time to take a look at the onscreen villains who have disturbed our sleep for years. You know who I’m talking about: those characters that invade the mind’s corridors long after the credits roll; the ones who really deserve to be remembered and respected by fans.
One thing every reader should note before launching into this piece is that determining the best and worst of the bunch felt absolutely impossible, and though we've made a valiant attempt at listing these ghouls in respectable order, exact placement is certainly arguable. You’re preparing to read about a multitude of different kinds of villains, and sometimes drawing comparisons feels like apples to oranges. How do you really determine which is more frightening: Michael Myers or Jaws? That’s like comparing a Bentley and a Lamborghini: two completely different pieces of art, each worthy of massive appreciation, each appealing to a different (in most cases) consumer.
Hang on tight, and don’t hold it against us if your favorite villain didn’t claim the top spot. If he, she or it made it on this list, that alone says quite a bit.
51 Radford (Midnight Movie): Midnight Movie is one of the most far out slasher flicks I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing. Realistically, this movie doesn’t make a lick of sense, yet it’s a really fun flick that strays from the beaten path and attempts to provide audiences with something new to soak up. Radford is a nasty bastard with or without his awkward half skeletal mask, and that giant corkscrew contraption he uses to remove sizeable chunks of flesh from his victims is not only unique, it’s pretty damn cool. This strange meta flick serves as a throwback to yesteryear while cementing a pathway for the future. Why we haven’t seen Radford return since his introduction in 2008 is beyond me: I’d pay to check out another Midnight Movie without hesitation.
50 Chromeskull (Laid to Rest):The Laid to Rest films aren’t about story. If they leaned on intelligent thought and complex plot circuitry, well, they’d suck, outright. Fortunately for fans, Robert Hall is a self-aware filmmaker who didn’t set out to tell an amazing tale, he set out to create a wicked villain with one of the coolest facial accessories ever seen. He also aimed to give viewers some top notch, creative gore, and he certainly succeeded: both films offer some really wild graphic shots that outshine the majority of death scenes in similar works. I favor the initial Laid to Rest over the sequel, but realistically, you’re getting just about the same package from both productions.
49 Kurt Barlow/Richard Straker (Salem’s Lot):I’m calling this one a tie: Barlow obviously spends far less time onscreen than Straker, but both are equally disquieting. What makes this duo so magical is the fact that it isn’t outright brutality in which births their eerie personas, it’s just… them. Sometimes less is more, and Stephen King leans on that idea wonderfully. I enjoyed Mikael Salomon’s 2004 take on this tale (we get to see more awesome work from Rutger Hauer and Donald Sutherland is awesome as Straker), but for my money, Tobe Hooper’s initial adaptation is golden on every front. Don’t sleep on this evil pair: you may not wake human ever again!
48 Dr. Decker (Nightbreed): Ah, the first inclusion of a Clive Barker creation; I tell you this man is a genius. Dr. Decker is pretty much a master of deception: a doc who moonlights as a serial killer… yeah I’d say deception is certainly a key trick in Decker’s bag. His mask is severely overlooked (and I still stand by the fact that the Collector’s mask was influenced by the doc’s), as it’s not just chilling visually, it’s almost a piece of Decker’s personality. As a whole, Nightbreed isn’t the most faithful adaption of Barker’s work, but it’s a fun, outlandish tale drenched in a darkness that only Clive can manufacture.
47 Pumpkinhead: I think there’s a lesson to be learned from Pumpkinhead: don’t drive your dirt bike like a jack ass. We haven’t seen all too many genuinely good Pumpkinhead productions, but the first couple flicks are fun creepy affairs. The irony here comes in the fact that this massive, hulking creature that’s pushed as the pictures core of fright actually takes a backseat to the picture’s atmosphere. There are some absolutely great shots and set work in the original Pumpkinhead, and while I can’t deny that this monster is unquestionably frightening, it’s the tension that the build ups deliver that really pushes things over the edge. I just wish I could tell you the franchise as a whole kicked ass.
46 Angela (Sleepaway Camp):The Sleepaway Camp franchise was hurled at audiences in the early 1980’s, when slasher flicks were the way to win in Hollywood. The initial picture immediately gained a serious level of notoriety due its unforeseen and jarring final sequence (please watch it if you haven’t already), and I can completely understand the spectacle. Some things you see coming, and some you don’t. This one definitely offered forth a climax that caught viewers on the jaw and left them staggering. While the story as a whole doesn’t offer much in the way of greatness, it’s silly fun all the same, and if you dig backwoods/camper slashers, a la Friday the 13th, Sleepaway Camp makes for a rather entertaining experience. Don’t look into these films (the first two are far and away the best in my opinion) expecting something potentially legendary, just expect a good time and a fine villain.
45 The Collector: I’m still baffled that critics and fans didn’t warm to The Collector upon initial release in 2009. The story, although riddled with a few holes, was awfully entertaining, and served as a darker approach to the Saw concept (the flick was actually written as a piece of the Saw storyline, but studio execs opted to travel a different route, thank the higher powers that be. Clever, quick and strangely sadistic, The Collector is a fantastic villain with a damn cool look (oh those eyes) and he’ll be returning in November to add more bodies to his “Collection”. I’d recommend you take the time to check that one out: if it’s even half as good as The Collector, we’re in for a fine treat. Besides, who didn’t love his counterpart, Arkin? That guy was just awesome!
44 The Gill Man (Creature from the Black Lagoon):Perhaps the most low-key monster of yesteryear to find a place on this list, there was always something about The Creature that creeped me out terribly. This hybrid river dweller/human… thing, just resonates on a strangely real level. Although this unique creature never gained the cult following of fellow Universal monsters, he’s still an awfully creative piece of cinematic history that I’ll always cherish. Do not miss Universal’s 1954 spin, and for that matter, look into Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing and, yet again Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad for some great appearances from this monster.
43 David (The Lost Boys):I know The Lost Boys is a stylish flick that some people deem too “flashy” to be considered a great piece of cinema. I am not one of those people: this is an outright awesome flick that entertains from minute one to final credits. A stellar cast, clever script and awesome special effects make this an endearing gem that stands as one of the finest vampire installments of the 1980’s. One of the major stars of the film is David (Kiefer Sutherland), the leader of a vampire biker gang and a monster looking to recruit new blood. I’ve got to say: David is an amazing character! This is one underrated vampire! You won’t spot David gracing many “best of” lists, but he’s more than worthy. Reefer Sutherland’s performance is pitch-perfect and it’s about time people acknowledged it.
42 Harry Warden/The Miner (My Bloody Valentine): You know, it really doesn’t matter who sports the mask of the Miner: be it Harry Warden, Tom Hanniger, or Billy Crystal: it’s all about the sense of inescapable dread that sinks to the bottom of the stomach the moment that mask earns screen time. Of all the legendary masks horror freaks discuss on a regular basis (Myers, Voorhees, Ghostface, etc., etc.), this one is certainly one of the more frightening to behold. The odd thing is I can’t even fully explain why that is. Perhaps it is better that I don’t over-analyze things and just respect the Miner and his mask for what they are: kick ass, top notch additions to the genre! Don’t bypass the 2009 remake simply because you’re a purist: it’s awfully entertaining and sports one of the most awkward (therefore must-see) nude scenes I’ve seen in 31 years!
41 Captain Spaulding (House of 1000 Corpses): I think it’s difficult to be both over the top and genuinely frightening in the same moment, yet Captain Spaulding manages such a feat with startling ease. I don’t think anyone alive could have done Spaulding justice quite like Sid Haig: the man was born to play this role. House of 1000 Corpses offers up a handful of villains to deal with, and some are quite memorable, but not anywhere near as memorable as the seemingly bipolar Captain Spaulding, who made a nice return to the screen in Rob Zombie’s sequel The Devil’s Rejects, which doesn’t work quite as well as a homage piece, but stands as (arguably) the superior film.
40 Sam (Trick ‘R Treat): Sam doesn’t really eat up a lot of screen time in Michael Dougherty’s amazing anthology Trick ‘R Treat (quite possibly my favorite anthology in existence by the way), but that doesn’t alter the fact that he redefines creepy. From his look, to his silent, ominous ways, this is a character to remember, and if you’re as twisted as me, hold close to your heart. Sam is wonderful, Trick ‘R Treat is wonderful, and the idea of a sequel has me salivating. Please, please, let it happen in this lifetime!
39 Jerry Dandrige (Fright Night): Villains aren’t traditionally as debonair as Jerry Dandrige, and that’s what sets him apart from the majority of vampires we see in film. Sure he works the sensual angle of the beast quite well, but he’s just a charming guy in general… even if he is a bit creepy. When the transformation occurs however, this is one mean SOB who sets goals and sees them through, unless that goal happens to be the demise of Charley Brewster, the world’s most resilient dork. Chris Sarandon brought amazing presence to this character in 1985, and somehow, Colin Farrell managed to do just the same in Craig Gillespie’s shaky sequel (which would have been pretty awesome had they enabled Evil Ed to breathe, and eliminated the overtly cartoonish CGI) that hit the market last year.
38 John Ryder (The Hitcher): If looks alone could kill, Rutger Hauer’s depiction of John Ryder would have amassed one hell of a body count. The guy far surpasses creepy, and his on/off switch is that of a true sociopath’s. It’s unfortunate that the 2007 remake – handled by Dave Meyers – was so flat, because The Hitcher is the kind of story that sticks to your bones, weighing an entire frame down with dread, if it’s done right. The original captured that sensation without fault, the remake was as flat as an overcooked pancake. Knowing John makes the list after just one single star film only lends credence to how great of a villain he was.
37 Christine: Yes: I just added a car to my list! Christine is far more than a mass of metal: she’s a spiteful, jealous, cruel mechanism with murder on the mind… or, motor, for that matter. The visual beauty of this ’58 Plymouth Fury is intoxicating, as Arnie Cunningham learned for himself in what proved to be a fatal case of love at first sight. That’s what makes this automobile such an unsettling presence: most men would die for a car of this eminence, and in Christine’s case, you will die for such a gorgeous piece of material. The combination of Stephen King and John Carpenter makes for a collision of collective brilliance and it shines through in every frame of this production.
36 Jerry Blake (The Stepfather): Terry O’Quinn might just be the most underrated performer to be involved in any project on this list. As Jerry Blake – The Stepfather’s focal antagonist – he’s charming, intelligent, manipulative and almost unbearably sinister. Willing to alter his physical appearance and travel from family to family in his quest, murder just seems to be a single step in his process. If you’re a target of Blake, and he finds a fault in your tidy system, he simply kills you off, shaves his beard, tosses in some contact lenses and moves on to the next family, remorse not included. That’s a vile bastard who manifests a very real sense of doom. What’s great about Blake and the Stepfather series is the fact that we got more than a single quality film from the concept: both part one and two are top notch viewing experiences. The Stepfather makes for stellar psychological horror, and Blake (and O’Quinn) is the one deserving of thanks.
35 Victor Crowley (Hatchet): Victor Crowley is no doubt today’s equivalent to Jason Voorhees. He dwells deep in the rural regions of New Orleans, stalks any to trespass on his territory, absolutely mutilates their bodies, seems virtually unstoppable, and is even played by none other than Kane Hodder, the most famous man to ever sport Jason’s hockey mask. This is a franchise all about fun, and Crowley encompasses that for horror fans: the guy just doesn’t let down in any way shape or form. This disfigured freak of nature is a perfect Saturday night watch and as the Hatchet series continues to march forward, Crowley continues to gain popularity. If there’s any killer stalking today’s screen that we’ll be discussing twenty years from now, it’s Adam Green’s morbid creation known as Victor Crowley.
34 Asami Yamazaki (Audition): The idea of screening for your spouse is pretty damn cool, you’ve got to admit. Who wouldn’t aim to go back in time and find the absolute perfect partner? I’m happy where I’m at, but I’d be a liar if I said that wasn’t an alluring concept. Unfortunately for Shigeharu Aoyama, he too thought the concept cool, and what he got was Asami Yamazaki: one outrageously sick, sadistic woman who favors torture over romance. I tend to liken the vibe of this film to The Exorcist in that it builds to a jaw dropping conclusion, but takes its sweet time in doing so. That said, much like The Exorcist, the payoff is worth the wait. Audition offers one of the most unsettling finales in recent history.
33 Jigsaw (Saw): What’s remarkable about Jigsaw is the fact that he murdered with legit moral as motive. In fact, if you really want to be technical about it, Jigsaw didn’t actually kill: he offered a terrifying ultimatum that typically led to death. You’re talking about some pretty rare ideology and I personally think that increases the quality of the man’s horror value. Saying that, you should know that I’m not a huge fan of the Saw series, I simply respect it for what it is: a particularly witty approach to sadism. The later series installments dove into a pretty noticeable downward spiral, but I’ll stand by the first four films: they’re well assembled pictures that really capitalize on true continuity and cohesiveness. There’s some pretty gnarly gore to be seen too… I still can’t get the image of that poor bastard stuck in the bone breaking torture rack out of my head… that was just stomach turning stuff.
32 Billy (Black Christmas): “Billy” is actually a nameless character in Bob Clark’s overwhelmingly influential slasher, Black Christmas. Truth be told, he really doesn’t have any tangible screen time, which makes the fact that he’s more than worthy of a spot on this list nothing short of incredible. Clark created a monster utilizing little more than a nice POV and a multitude of spine tingling voices. Sure Billy kills, but we as viewers don’t get an outside look at the mayhem, we see his rampage unfold through his own eyes, and that’s a cool approach that usually works far better for video games than film. Just the same, Clark made it work, and he made it a highly successful experiment in fright to boot. While the 2006 remake lacks the charm and depth of the original, it’s still an aesthetically pleasing treat that brings the essence of Christmas to the forefront in incredibly effective fashion.
31 Dr. Phibes (The Abominable Dr. Phibes): Dr. Anton Phibes is one passionate character out for sweet revenge. See, the doc, a disfigured gent, is without wife, and he blames that on the work of what he perceives as incompetent physicians. So, what’s a lonely man to do? How about devise gnarly ways in which he can off those he blames for his wife’s death? Sounds like good fun to me, and believe me: the idea translates to film perfectly. There’s a dark humor floating about both The Abominable Dr. Phibes and its sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again that works to counter the extremely grim premise of the film. It’s a fine balance, that when coupled with the amazing set pieces from each film make for true cult classics. Vincent Price is an undeniable legend, and this role definitely helped establish his cinematic status. If you’ve never had the pleasure of watching either film, I suggest you seek them both out immediately. They hold up surprisingly well in today’s horror landscape.
30 Krug (Last House on the Left): Vile. That’s really all that needs to be said about this menace to society. Watch the original film (I’m not suggesting you steer clear of the remake as it’s actually a solid flick), hang on tight, prepare to be repulsed and just let Krug do the rest.
29 Pennywise (IT): I can’t float. Therefore, I have no desire to hang out with Pennywise the clown, an alien creature who dons a face full of clean clown makeup and a mouth full of razor sharp teeth. Pennywise is a manipulative bastard that oozes fear from every makeup clogged (how does it escape with such ease I wonder) pore. Did I mention his penchant for the meat of the young? Ultimately Pennywise is only a tool in the story of IT, but he is, was and always will be the centerpiece to a tale that invokes constant squirms. To this day I can’t look at a balloon without seeing that deceptive mug, and I’ll certainly never encourage my daughter to craft a paper boat… especially not if she intends to see it set sail in rain soaked gutters. I’m still hoping we see a grand cinematic rendition of this film, as the original 1990 television miniseries is quite the dated production. Amazing that a film that just feels completely… behind (for lack of a better term) still siphons legit scares.
28 Mummy: The Mummy is probably one of the most underappreciated villains in history. Don’t get me wrong, this bundle of age old cloth wraps has a fine reputation, and he’s appeared in more than his fair share of films, he just seems to be neglected in today’s horror landscape. And no, I don’t even consider the Stephen Sommers reboot and subsequent sequels true Mummy movies. Those are watered down action flicks that place emphasis on cheesy CGI rather than a potentially horrific presence. That said, Karloff’s work is fantastic, and if you’re out for a really good time, check out Michael Reid MacKay’s work in The Monster Squad.
27 The Creeper (Jeepers Creepers): Victor Salva – love him or hate him – created one of the coolest villains to grace the screen in decades. The Creeper is one frightening mass of bone, muscle, wing, tissue and teeth. Thank the heavens this freak only feeds every two decades or so, because when he shows up, he leaves with a piece of his victims, quite literally, and quite often a piece detrimental to survival. A third Jeepers Creepers film has been in the works for a few years now, and while I can’t wait for the return, I’m completely content recycling the first two films: they’re both pretty damn incredible, although the inaugural installment certainly outshines its immediate predecessor.
26 Death (Final Destination): I don’t love every installment of the Final Destination franchise, but the majority of these films (sans the third and fourth entries) are really rather enjoyable. The first flick introduced us to a concept that probably should have been explored long, long ago, but wasn’t, and the immediate follow-up is highly enjoyable. The true franchise shocker however is the fifth flick to tote the moniker Final Destination. Eric Heisserer wrote a mind bending script that offers one thing that’s been absent since the first film: a legitimately gratifying twist. I won’t spill any details in case you haven’t seen the film yet (I avoided it for quite some time before succumbing to recommendation and having my head blown apart by shards of surprise shrapnel), but trust me when I say that part five (I’m still stunned I can honestly say this) packs the strongest final act of the entire franchise.
25 Samara (The Ring): The Ring is one of those surprising cases that call for a thorough comparison and analysis to the Japanese source, Ringu. It is in my personal opinion one of the strongest remakes of J-Horror to ever hit the market, and there’s a fair case that it’s superior to the original. What impresses me about the film is the subtlety of the production as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few elaborate scenes to swallow, but as a whole, it’s a fairly tame film that lacks grandiose visuals. And, that’s precisely what makes it so frightening: it almost feels as though you yourself could fall into the grasp of the sinister Samara. While the sequel was a bit of a letdown, it still makes for a solid single watch.
24 Damien (The Omen): Kids are hard to deal with. They’re a lot of fun, make no mistake, but raising a child is one colossal challenge. I can’t begin to imagine attempting to raise the Antichrist. Damien is an evil little bastard, and knowing exactly what he is, it comes as no surprise that he’s more than happy to ensure bodies pile in his wake. But how do you just up and off a youngster? With the help of the church and a whole lot of prayer I suppose! This is one of those franchises that doesn’t really do much for me personally, but I can’t deny the fact that it’s an awfully chilling premise to work with, and I’d be a liar if I said the original Omen didn’t make way for a decent sequel or two.
23 Predator: Stuck somewhere between science fiction and horror, the Predator has taken on iconic status and for good reason: it’s one of the coolest renditions of an alien to ever rip out a spinal column. Both of the original Predator films kick ass, despite the dramatic setting shift, the first Alien vs. Predator flick proved to be a lot of fun that hearkened back to old Universal crossover pictures and even the Robert Rodriguez produced reboot, Predators proved to be a stunningly bad ass production. This is one beast that turns heads, and in the grand scheme of contemporary monsters the Predator definitely joins the rank of the greatest to be seen. Put a Predator film out, I’m in line to see it. And given the still dedicated legion of fans, I’m not only hoping, but betting on the release of a few more franchise films somewhere down the line.
22 Pamela Voorhees (Friday the 13th 1): Before Jason Voorhees lumbered through the campgrounds of Crystal Lake, his bad ass mom handled all disposing of the living. Her target was of course careless camp counselors, but she didn’t have a problem mixing it up and hacking her way through anyone threatening to impede on her mission for vengeance. What helped to make the original Friday the 13th so special was the mystery that still lived within the film: who was killing all the kids with reckless abandon, and why? Obviously, we now have our answers, but the intrigue of the original was without question a special thing. Pam (that’s Betsy Palmer by the way) popped up in a few flashback sequences as the franchise progressed, but her true time as top dog killer was confined to the series’ inaugural entry.
21 Max Cady (Cape Fear): Revenge… what a bitch! Here’s the deal, if you’re a lawyer, you don’t sidestep legal boundaries to put away a cold blooded SOB. Whether that monstrosity happens to be a rapist, murderer, thief, chronic batterer… you just don’t do it. Stick to the rules established and cemented in law and you may avoid a confrontation with a man like Max Cady, uber bad ass villain of both Cape Fear flicks. Perhaps the most terrifying attribute possessed by Cady is his sublime intellect. He’s had years in prison with little to do other than read, study and work out: when vengeance is on the mind that’s an absolutely crippling combination… especially if your name happens to be Sam Bowden. I implore you to take your exploration of Max Cady one step further and seek out John D. MacDonald’s source material, The Executioners: it’s a wildly scintillating novel.
20 Annie Wilkes (Misery): Bat-shit crazy is just that: Bat-shit crazy. The term is also synonymous with the name Annie Wilkes, Misery’s obsessed villainess. This Stephen King story is frightening for all the right reasons and the bulk of those scares are delivered by the not-quite-right-upstairs Wilkes. I think anyone who’s working to create something positive to offer the masses wants fans, hell, we need fans, but fans of this nature are a completely different story. Annie’s out of her mind enough to kidnap, torture (love the hobbling) and die for her object of fixation. You know… I think that might truly make her a legit “number one fan”. Thank you Stephen King and thank you Rob Reiner: without you two the world would have been deprived of one of the most captivating personalities to ever crawl into the realm of pop culture.
19 Ghostface (Scream): At a time when the slasher subgenre was thought to have seen its final nail hammered into the coffin, Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson ripped the casket open and revived the animal. Scream is a clever film that never shies away from poking a bit of fun at itself, and the franchise’s focal hazard, Ghostface is a frightening creation tailor made to appeal to a younger breed of horror hounds. The phone calls provide a personality, and the contorted visage makes for a dreaded memory. This already iconic killer has taken center stage in four films, and while the third is a steaming pile of feces, the other three installments make for damn good fun. Nothing will ever quite compare to the original Scream, but the immediate sequel certainly made a valiant attempt at surfacing as the series’ star.
18 Chucky (Child’s Play): There’s just something remarkably unsettling about a toy that kills people, often in ultraviolent fashion: especially one with bright red hair. Possessed by the soul of the satanic Charles Lee Ray, this is one doll with death on his mind… err… in his… empty plastic noggin… you know what I’m saying! Chucky has always had a joke to deliver, and while his size alone seems to be a bit of a joke in itself, this killer’s successful spree is one to take note. Often creative, often temperamental, you just never know exactly what to expect from this little bastard. You can expect quality viewings from Child’s Play, Child’s Play 2 and Seed of Chucky (which is at times, pure comedy gold), that’s for damn sure.
17 Jack Torrance (The Shining): The Jack Torrance that Stephen King introduced us to in 1977 would certainly qualify as a top five villain. The Jack Torrance that Stanley Kubrick and Jack Nicholson introduced us to in 1980 doesn’t quite deserve that level of recognition. Don’t get me wrong, I think Jack is particularly petrifying in the final act of the film, and he’s memorable for a whole lot of reasons, but the truth is this: the moment you see Nicholson on screen, you already know that son-of-a-bitch is as loony as they come. The slow descent into madness that King illustrates in his novel isn’t present in the film, it’s just… inevitable. We know this guy is going to fly off the hinges, and judging by that eerie spaced-out stare and quirky smirk on his face showcased in the opening portions of the film, one can only ponder: how long until the killing begins? I love The Shining, and Torrance is a personal favorite of mine, but I’m still not convinced Nicholson (as awesome as he is) was the right casting call. I believe Jack Torrance could have been twice as frightening had the proper feet filled the shoes. I think that says a lot given how disturbing the character is with Nicholson in the driver’s seat.
16 Pinhead (Hellraiser): Another Barker creation makes the list, and for good reason: Pinhead is a scary, scary dude. I’m not big on the sadomasochism idea, but boy does Barker know how to make it work, like a cursed charm. Pandora’s Box holds many a mystery, and apparently extreme mutilation and torture is a part of that mystery. Grotesque, robotic, unbelievably intelligent: Pinhead is the last kind of villain you want to run into. His awesome facial piercings have also helped to make him quite the iconic piece of imagery as well. For my money, I stick to the first three installments of the Hellraiser franchise. They’re all fairly well crafted films, they all introduce new Cenobites, and they all proffer a wealth of nauseatingly graphic violence.
15 Regan MacNeil (The Exorcist): I almost feel guilty including Regan in this list, because the truth is, she’s not a villain. That damned demon inside her is! Just the same, it’s hard to shake the image of a 12 year old girl’s head rotating 360 degrees on its bony axis, and that awful pea-green puke she emits is the thing of horror legend. Regan’s become iconic for good reason: when possessed, she’s a nightmare child more than fit to rival Damian. Linda Blair’s charming innocence traveled great lengths in amplifying the shock delivered by a possessed individual, and while I still feel The Exorcist isn’t quite the piece of perfection most make it out to be (don’t lie to yourself, the first two acts aren’t exactly brimming with excitement), it’s a damn fine film with an antagonist to keep stored in the memory bank.
14 Leatherface (Texas Chainsaw Massacre): This is one no-nonsense dude. You won’t catch much in the way of dialogue from Leatherface, just a butchers desire to plow through flesh, with which he’ll eventually don in a grotesque mock-mask. What’s always made Leatherface so damn frightening is the simple fact that this is a man, capable of being killed, yet obviously far more adept at doing the killing. When this giant SOB staggers in frame, he commands attention, and that’s all there is to it! I’m not a huge fan of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, but I’d be a liar if I said the first two installments weren’t terrific. The 2003 reboot didn’t offer anything new, but it still provided a bit of fun… and a bit of Jessica Biel, which is of course a reason to be happy.
13 Frankenstein’s Monster: Like the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster is a monster that actually commands as much sympathy as fear. He doesn’t want to be a monster as he’s not a born-to-be cold blooded murderer: he’s simply the focus of a madman’s notion to reanimate long dead tissue in the quest to create something of a “perfect” being. The fact that he’s been assembled from bits and pieces from a slew of cadavers definitely goes a long way in making his appearance all the more unnerving. Like Dracula Frank’s beast has popped up in too many films to count, but if you want to experience quality performers portraying the role, look into Boris Karloff’s work as well as Robert De Niro’s portrayal.
12 The Thing (The Thing from Another World,The Thing): There’s a massive difference between the creature that Christian Nyby introduced us to in 1951 and the horrific monster that John Carpenter brought to life in 1982. That said, they share a fairly similar background, and they’re both as paralyzing as can possibly be imagined. Nyby’s original worked with what technology offered back then, so we didn’t really get to see the shape-shifting freak from Carpenter’s take, which is actually much more faithful to John W. Campbell Jr.’s original story, but it leaned on the same ideas, with a few minor adjustments. Remakes don’t typically surpass the quality of their predecessors, but Carpenter defied the odds and created one of the greatest motion pictures ever released. Rob Bottin’s practical special effects are a thing of beauty that still looks far more impressive than any CGI I’ve ever laid eyes on, and make even good practical work look tame and uninspired. Carpenter had the courage to showcase an all-male ensemble, and that daring maneuver really helps push this one into flawless territory. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s prequel, which changes the character dynamics by tossing in a few ladies, and defiles the genius of Carpenter’s work by incorporating a heavy dose of awful computer generated imagery.
11 Xenomorph (Alien): Alien ranks amongst the most horrifying pieces of cinematic art to ever be created. What’s even more amazing is that the sleek beasts to terrorize the Nostromo make a return in what could easily be considered the finest sequel ever to grace the world of horror, Aliens. The earlier films in this still thriving franchise relied on mood as much as aesthetics, and though an installment or two have worked to counter the perfection of the first two, it’s tough to label any single picture as “bad”. From the elongated head, to the twisted tale and fatal plasma, this is a mind numbing freak from the outer regions who’s earned a rightful place on this list. The recent prequel, Prometheus doesn’t boast any Xenomorphs as we’ve come to know them, but it does bring a few surprises to the table.
10 Candyman: When it comes to pure, unadulterated fear, Clive Barker’s Candyman may just tote the strongest case for number one positioning. Remember the Bloody Mary urban myth? Yeah, the one we discussed just a week or so ago right here on the site: the one where you chant a name into a mirror a few times, the lights go out and poof – you’re a corpse. Well, Clive Barker and Bernard Rose bring that urban legend to the screen (note that Barker’s source work differs drastically from what is seen on film) in fashion unrivaled. There’re no laughs to be issued from Candyman: his one-liners are grim, poetic declarations that sink into the soul and slowly rot. While I’m not insane about the majority of the sequels (Farewell to the Flesh is an enjoyable watch for what it is), I am insane for this villain. He’s everything one could ask for from the macabre and the imprint his presence leaves is uncanny on an extreme level.
09 Norman Bates (Psycho): What’s more frightening than a frail, reclusive psychopath with a bad case of split personality syndrome? How about one that has no qualms spying on women before slaughtering them with a nice sharp steak knife? Norman Bates always seemed a quirky fellow, but he also seemed about as harmless as they come, and that’s exactly what made him so damn terrifying. Alfred Hitchcock brought a very unorthodox villain to the screen in 1960 and over 50 years later, that villain is still considered one of the most outlandish and memorable antagonists to ever be introduced to the masses. His legacy will live on long after I’m gone, and in this business, longevity is a rare trait. I don’t need to tell you what pictures to track down in order to see the best of Bates, but I will give you a heads up: Norman will be returning next year when A&E kicks off a new series titled, Bates Motel: a prequel to the original Psycho.
08 Wolfman: The whole werewolf idea has been explored about as much as Dracula has, but unlike the cunning Dracula, the Wolfman was originally a very afflicted persona. In fact, the Wolfman was a truly heart breaking character, and Lon Chaney Jr.’s portrayal is and perhaps, may always be the best delivery bestowed the character. That said there have been too many killer werewolf films to list here, although I’d recommend Fred F. Sears’ The Werewolf, John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London and Daniel Attias’ Silver Bullet: all of which offer different takes on the mythology. All of which are fantastic efforts.
07 Zombies: Yes, I generalized zombies: how the hell do you select one single zombie? They’re essentially brainless beasts with no clearly defining traits. That said, zombies are more popular than ever in modern pop culture, and for good reason: there are a wealth of top notch flicks centered on the attack of the undead seeing release these days. Hey, we’re not even forced to take a trip to the theater to catch great zombie fare: The Walking Dead is an exhibit of perfection and if you’re capable of subscribing to AMC, you can catch this carefully crafted survival horror tale on a weekly basis (in season of course). If you’re looking for some other quality zombie flicks check out Zombieland, Dance of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Rammbock: Berlin Undead, Deadgirl and Pontypool (yes I’m truncating this list in order to save time).
06 Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs): Hannibal Lecter is probably the most frightening cannibal to see creation. He’s highly intelligent, profoundly intuitive and he’s – believe it or not – insanely charming. There’s also a sense of humanity about the man that burrows in the bones as one gets the feeling that the good Doc doesn’t simply take all flesh for good fun (and munchies), but selects, and, typically selects those who probably aren’t quite fit to function in society anyway (with a few exceptions). Sir Anthony Hopkins brought a sense of dread to this character that very, very few could have matched and if you (somehow) haven’t seen The Silence of the Lambs, you’re missing a true five-star film. Even Hannibal, the immediate follow-up served as a chilling and entertaining production.
05 The Shark (Jaws): The ocean is a dangerous place: even without the threat of man eating great white sharks. Think about those massive swells as the weather spins out of control… the absolute desolation of miles of nothing but water. It’s not the kind of place that you’d ever want to find yourself stranded, that’s for sure. Toss a solid 25 foot freak of nature with a set of chompers capable of snapping a femur like a toothpick in the mix and you’ve got a very tangible nightmare on your hands. Steven Spielberg’s 1975 shocker changed the way people view water some 37 years ago, and the dread heaped upon the public back then still looms. A monster with menacing motives is one thing to mull over in the mind, a monster who aims to kill you simply to claim a meal is a completely different issue that still frightens me. I know Jaws 2 doesn’t boast the finest reputation, but it’s a surprisingly entertaining franchise effort that sees Roy Scheider return (due to some contractual issues, not by sheer desire) and gives us a look at Keith Gordon pre-Arnie Cunningham.
04 Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th): I think if you polled diehard fans, and threw out Fred, Mike and Jay as the primary options for “Favorite Villain”, Voorhees likely walks away with the title. People seem to love the hockey mask donning hulk, and the machete has become synonymous with nightmarish treks through the woods. This guy is always frightening (even on overtly goofy platforms like Freddy vs. Jason), and the refusal to make any shifts to his personality (at this point) has really helped to establish a reliable villain. When you throw a Friday the 13th film in the disc player, you pretty much know exactly what you’re going to get. It’s become a bit repetitive, but I love it all the same: this freak is horrifying! Check out Friday the 13th Part 2, 4, 6, the aforementioned FVJ and the supremely underrated 2009 reboot for quality camper killing.
03 Dracula: Count Dracula has probably appeared in about 7,345,666 films. Amazingly, the character just doesn’t get old, and if you’re going to credit any character with making vampires “cool”, it’s got to be good old Drac. Suave, sensual, sinister and shape shifting, Dracula is one bad ass bloodsucker. Bela Lugosi made a major impact when he initially portrayed this monster way back in 1931, but a few others have brought a startling appeal to the character created by Bram Stoker. Of the many to don the name and persona on screen, I must admit, Gary Oldman’s depiction of the Count in the 1992 feature, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one of the extremely few to truly rival Bela’s run as the legendary villain.
02 Freddy Krueger (Nightmare on Elm Street): Who needs pure menace when you can infuse a bit of comedy and pull a laugh from the petrifying? Although Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street was played straight, with the one-liners nearly non-existent, subsequent Nightmare efforts really leaned on the quips. While I feel that decision aided in making Freddy more endearing than frightening, it’s unquestionably left him a legend of cinema. Fred’s one of those rare villains that viewers tend to favor over potential victims, and that’s a pretty wild feat. The original Nightmare stands as the best of the franchise, but A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and Freddy vs. Jason are all highly enjoyable offerings.
01 Michael Myers (Halloween): Michael’s silent, smooth skulking of the shadows has terrified viewers for nearly 35 years. The faceless mask has surpassed iconic status at this point, and for good reason: Myers launched a trend that’s still going strong today. While Bob Clark’s Black Christmas predates John Carpenter’s Halloween, and is certainly every bit as terrifying, it was Halloween that truly breathed life into the slasher subgenre. Nothing has been the same since the night he came home. Halloween, Halloween 2, Halloween 4 and Halloween H20 stand amongst the finer Halloween efforts to feature the masked murderer, although Rob Zombie’s first crack at Mike is worth a look if you’re interested in examining the monster’s past.