I have had a long love/hate relationship with horror movies.
I have written on my previous site in some depth about my history with horror flicks, and I will be revisiting those articles from the archive soon enough (as in: HERE’S the first one). The abbreviated backstory is this: I was RAISED on awful 80’s slashers. When I was [single-digits] years old, my mom, dad, and step-dad had no qualms whatsoever with popping in a Jason Movie in front of me and letting me go to town. Apparently, at a very young age, I was both fascinated by AND terrified of the movie Poltergeist and Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. So they obviously assumed I was ready for Jason.
The thing is, I really and truly WAS entranced by that stuff. I loved it. It gave me nightmares, but I still always wanted to watch it. The most amazing ramification is that to this day–as I near my 40th birthday in a few days–I will still have a “Jason Is Trying To Get Me” dream once every several months. So… scars have been left. But I regret nothing.
Then the 2000’s started, and something happened. Horror had an absolute dog shit decade from about 2000 until 2010. Things stopped being about fright or iconic characters and started being about Torture Porn. I was never a fan. I get it: you can think up some really sick and disgusting things to do to characters, and effect technology has caught up to where it can look real. But I want to be amused and scared; not disgusted. Over the course of ten years, I went from LOVING horror flicks… to having no interest whatsoever.
Things ended up improving in the 2010’s when horror got a bit more creative and/or psychological and/or meta. It didn’t all land with me, but at least the genre was TRYING again. There was a lot more than “LOOK AT US PEELING THIS PERSON’S EYEBALL WOW AREN’T WE EXTREME?!”.
So yeah… Love. Hate.
With that dynamic in mind, I invited some other creators on board to work with me to share their Top Ten Horror Movie Monsters/Villains. I’ll be starting things off, and I’ll admit… I had criteria!
The first point I looked at was if the character appeared in multiple movies. Not that one-and-done characters can’t be great, but I wanted some longevity for this list. Characters that really branched out from a starring performance and into the cultural zeitgeist.
My second criteria was that I weighed inhuman characters more highly than humans. I 100% get and agree with the idea that realistic villains are scarier than those that can never actually exist, but ultimately, if I think I could have a good chance of thwarting a foe, they are less imposing. They might star in scarier MOVIES, but they aren’t as memorable of a character for me. Sorry, Josef from Creep and Captain Spaulding. You made the cut-down list, at least!
Ready for the list?
To be fair, I’ve seen very little of the Hellraiser franchise. I’ve seen part one in the last few years, and I saw part three as a kid. It took some research before ol’ Pinhead came to me for the cut-down list.
So how did he make the final list? It’s that aesthetic! He has an absolutely mesmerizing look. And as an effect, it’s brilliantly done. Add in the powerful performance of Doug Bradley who just projected such a presence with the character, and even though I don’t necessarily love the franchise, I appreciate this character.
These guys are such snazzy creations. I enjoy the Alien movies (well, the first two) enough, but I’m not a huge fan like so many others. Still, these bad boys are so wonderfully designed.
Their skittering movements and their marriage of human and insect features and their plain but striking black coloring. The setting (space, where I am told that no one will be able to hear you if you need to scream for any reason), helps a great bit, too, because an alien invasion on Earth? We have home field advantage! But in a cramped space ship? That is likely to be game over (, man).
I kind of love Tobias Q. Chickenfeet because we know some aspects of him, but they don’t always make sense. He’s tall… except when he’s child-sized. He’s obsessed with children… except when he just loses them for years at a time. He’s powerful and cruel… except when he just wants to lightly move your light fixtures for a few days.
And make no mistake: The Paranormal Activity movies ran themselves into the damn ground. I’ve seen them all because my wife irrationally loves this franchise, but any of them past part 4 is basically just a blur.
That said… the first three are all really good flicks with some solid acting and an interesting premise. The Franchise loses all of its steam in part 4 with its nonsense plot, then does an unremarkable side quest story in Marked Ones–because someone realized that five movies in they should introduce literally ANY minority characters–and then had the ENTIRELY FORGETTABLE last movie. Of which all I can remember is that, I think, Tobey wins and conquers the world at the end. Or whatever. I had been checked out for a while.
Still! Super popular franchise with at least SOME good movies? You’re in, Chickenfeet.
The only movie in my adult life that actually scared me was The Ring. I never saw any of its sequels. And on subsequent watchings, the movie lost its effect on me. But after seeing it in the theater at midnight the first time? That shit stuck with me. Seriously… that kid and his “You weren’t supposed to help her” delivery? Fuck right outta here, movie.
And so, Samara makes the cut despite my having only seen one movie with her. She was the pits. Crawling out of TVs and “seven days…” and whatever she did to that girl in the closet’s face. NO THANK YOU TO ANY OF IT. I don’t even like thinking about her. MOVING ON.
No horror trope is more played out than zombies, with the possible exception of demons. And yet… while I remain entirely bored of demon movies (especially since they are so often played as a reveal, like, “OH NO, This box has a demon attached to it and now it will never leave you and THAT’S why all these things have been happening”), I can still get behind a solid zombie flick.
Whether played for laughs (as in Shaun of the Dead or ZombieLand) or deadly serious (either Dawn of the Dead, Train to Busan), zombies just have a delightful staying power because they give you a sense of perpetual imminent danger. But also allow the film to be dedicated to the protagonists because, you know, zombies themselves aren’t interesting. So you can do the “Human Nature Is The Real Enemy” story or you can focus on inter-personal dynamics or you can build everything around allegories to McCarthyism or Consumerism… all in the tasty shell of a mindless horror flick.
5. The Invisible Man
Sure, I guess.
The Invisible Man is the reason the question “Would you rather fly or be invisible” exists. It’s not for fun discussion; it’s to find out which of your friends are inherently evil. Being invisible is a villainous power (Sue Richards aside, but come on… her real power is forcefields because Lee and Kirby realized early on that only villains and cowards should rely on invisibility).
The Invisible Man also has a substantially higher body count that you might figure since he killed something like a hundred people in one fell swoop in the original Universal classic. That’s more than most horror foes’ sum total!
He’s creepy, too, because to be effective he has to be naked, and that just adds a whole dimension of lewdness to the character.
4. Freddy Kreuger
There was a clearly defined Top Four to this list, and then there was everyone else. But starting with Freddy here, the rest of this list was never in question.
Everything about Freddy is meant to be iconic. The hat. The striped sweater. The burned face. The glove! This is a master’s class in character design here, because almost everyone can immediately and fully picture Freddy in their heads (which is the last place you want him! Quit thinking about him; what are you doing?!).
And then all they did was go ahead and put the extremely charismatic Robert Englund in the role, to make sure this visually stunning character also had an equally resonating voice and personality. What a perfect marriage!
Oh, and his power set? That basically makes him unbeatable? Hell, that’s just icing on the cake.
All that keeps Freddy from being even higher is his lack of great flicks. The original Nightmare is quite good, and Dream Warriors is glorious. But aside from those two? There are a lot of weak entries. But that isn’t Kreuger’s fault.
Okay, so Dracula is technically the villain of a novel who was then adapted for [many] films. Okay, that’s fine.
Because a lot more people alive today have seen multiple versions of the Count on a screen than have read his book (even though it is good; you should read it).
When you think of classic horror monsters, you think of Frankenstein[‘s monster] and the Wolfman, sure. But you think of Dracula first. He is the lord of evil; the rest are just foot soldiers and beasts.
Look at who all has played him! Bela Lugosi! Gary Oldman! Christopher Lee! Jack Palance! What fantastic talents have brought this fearsome master of the undead to life. And you know more are still to come. You can no more keep Dracula stories down than you can the Count himself.
2. Michael Myers / The Shape
Halloween (1978) is the best pure horror film of all time. You could argue that, but it would be wrong and I would feel bad for you. It holds up to this day. It should be the first horror movie every person watches so that they can appreciate what it did for the genre.
Like give us Michael Myers, who has appeared in ten movies, with at least two more coming down the pike to finish up the most current Halloween trilogy (quadogy? Since they still rely on the 1978 original as their starting point?).
Obviously with ten movies under his belt, The Shape has some stinkers. But there are also quite a few good ones, as well as a handful that inspire passionate debate. But the unique mask. The stalking approach. The precision kills. Mikey has left an indelible mark on pop culture.
1. Jason Voorhees
DID SOMEONE SAY UNIQUE MASK, PRECISION KILLS, AND STALKING APPROACH?
Does Jason owe pretty much his entire existence to Michael Myers? Yeah, obviously. They have so much in common. And no Jason Movie is anywhere near as good as Halloween 1978. Hell, it’s arguable that no single Jason Movie is as good as Halloween 4.
But as a franchise? It’s just so much fun. It blends goofiness with terror in a way in which Halloween would never be successful (Sorry, Halloween 5! I personally love you, but you know what you did). And while Michael is scary and frightening, Jason is terrifying and imposing. If I saw Michael Myers in the real world without having seen his movies, I would think “Shit, that’s creepy”. If I saw Jason, I’d empty my bowels.
Also, Jason gives me my OBJECTIVELY CORRECT “Jason isn’t Jason (And Sometimes Jason Isn’t Even The Jason Who Also Isn’t Jason)” Theory:
I know you are trying to prove my Jason theory wrong, but don’t worry; you can’t. It’s airtight. I also have a theory about how Ginny from Part 2 is super secretly pregnant but never tells anyone, and wait where are you going?!
I’ll drop it! I’ll drop it. (But I’m right)
The point is, I’ve spent way more time obsessing over Jason than anyone else on this list.
Anyway, that’s my list of the best murderous horror movie icons. But what about you? Who makes your Top Ten? Let me know in the comments who you think I missed. And what is your relationship with horror? Love? Hate? Love/Hate?
Until next time… take care!