Halloween is almost upon us, so for this week I wanted to truly celebrate the holiday by giving credit where credit is due. We wouldn't have solid horror films or even a scary Halloween season without one thing. No, it's not the most gory scene one could create or the most horrifying ghost story ever told. The truth is, without a solid villain you don't have the most important aspect of what makes Halloween scary.
It's easy to walk around dressed up in a silly costume or reach your hand into a bowl of peeled grapes for shock value, but what we remember most about the horror genre as a whole is the terrifying villains it contains. These iconic characters are what make us nervous to walk in the dark or sleep with a doll staring right at us.
For this list we will focus on the 11 best horror villains with the criteria being their overall nature. How terrifying are they? What impact did they leave on society? How often are they referenced in pop culture? These are all things I took into consideration when compiling this list. Also bear in mind that this is a list for film only and will not contain characters who solely exist in television or books.
11. Ghostface - Scream
Ghostface made his debut in Wes Craven's 1996 film, Scream, and has risen to become a modern cultural staple. Along with being spoofed by Scary Movie in 2000, Ghostface has appeared in 4 Scream films as well as the 2015 MTV series, Scream: The TV Series. To this day you can still find Ghostface costumes in Halloween stores and the mask is one of the most recognizable within the modern horror genre. Well done, Mr. Craven.
10. Jack Torrence - The Shining
Along with one of the most recognizable quotes in film history, Jack Torrence made a mark on the genre and on audiences in a chilling way. It wasn't the typical slasher route, either. The Shining as a whole is more psychological and the madness that we see develop within the troubled writer is scary on its own. This villain is terrifying because madness can strike anyone and it makes you wonder, what if the next time you go on vacation your dad grabs an axe and chases you around?
9. Chucky (aka, Charles Lee Ray) - Child's Play
No doubt responsible for why many people hate dolls, Chucky is a horror icon for a reason. Starting out as an escaped convict who uses voodoo magic to transport his soul into a talking doll, the character evolved into something more evil as each film went on. While most say the Child's Play franchise became more of a joke after Bride of Chucky was released in 1999, that doesn't make Chucky less terrifying as a whole. I know I would be scared if one of my dolls picked up a knife and started chasing me around with it.
8. Norman Bates - Psycho
As an early addition to the horror genre, Norman Bates definitely set the standard for the term "mama's boy." This knife wielding motel owner is a blend of creepy and crazy that has never been matched by any other character. Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho is a horror classic on its own, but the villain role Norman Bates fulfills has left a huge impact on pop culture and film as a whole.
7. John Kramer (aka, Jigsaw) - Saw
Jigsaw stormed onto the scene with the 2004 independent film, Saw, and rose to cultural and genre popularity very quickly. The overall brutal nature of Jigsaw traps and games resonated with audiences and the fact that we had seven straight years of Saw films didn't allow us to stray away from the gore. Saw was also unique in the sense that the Billy puppet doll wasn't the real villain. The doll acted more as a disguise for the real Jigsaw killer, John Kramer.
6. Leatherface - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
I've always thought that Leatherface was so terrifying because The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was based off of a true story. However, the hype of the reality doesn't make him less terrifying as a character. Six Texas Chainsaw movies later, the idea of someone hacking people to bits with a chainsaw and wearing their faces as a mask is still extremely disturbing to think about.
5. Hannibal Lecter - The Silence of the Lambs
Hannibal Lecter is one of those characters that is iconic and scary in a different way. Anthony Hopkins' first appearance as the villain in The Silence of the Lambs shocked audiences and earned him an Oscar. Lecter quickly became a cultural icon for his mind games, his terrifying nature, and his overall distaste for human life. In 2003, he was voted the #1 movie villain by the American Film Institute.
4. Pinhead - Hellraiser
Talk about terrifying. Pinhead is one of those characters that you know could never truly exist, but that doesn't make the concept of him more comfortable to think about. Serving as an alien who comes to Earth to harvest human souls, the way he can enter into our realm repeatedly can be enough to make you never want to even blink. It also makes you wonder what aliens might look like if they are out in space somewhere.
3. Jason Voorhees - Friday the 13th
What many don't seem to remember is that Jason wasn't the true villain at the start of the Friday the 13th franchise, but he definitely rose to the challenge of carrying the rest of the films. It's hard to find anyone familiar with film at all who doesn't recognize the hockey mask or the machete. Some people know Jason without even having seen a Friday the 13th film. A total of 12 Friday the 13th movies have helped Jason through the ranks of the most iconic horror villains of all time.
2. Freddy Krueger - A Nightmare on Elm Street
Barely edged out by another villain, Freddy Krueger is a horror staple that will most likely never been forgotten. Similar to Chucky, some say Freddy has been turned into more of a parody of himself in later adaptations, such as Freddy vs. Jason, but the origins of the character were truly terrifying and will make you never want to sleep. The idea of being killed in your dreams when you're at your most vulnerable is horrifying.
1. Michael Myers - Halloween
Appearing before both Freddy and Jason, Michael Myers burst into nightmares with the 1978 John Carpenter classic, Halloween. The escaped mental patient who returns to his hometown to stalk and kill his sister was quite menacing and the portrayal of Myers as essentially a human devil was even more scary. The concept of a "man" who was able to withstand gunfire, stabbings, and being burned alive is unsettling.
Similar to other horror franchises, one can argue that Halloween has gone too far but Michael Myers still remains the top horror villain of the genre, even after 10 films and a semi-successful reboot. (Well, nine films seeing that Myers was absent for Halloween III: Season of the Witch)
Source: Hannibal Lecter