Another October, another horror-themed list from Middle of the Row’s biggest horror film fan. This year I decided to honor the best of the worst by sharing the most memorable, dastardly, and downright creepy antagonists to ever terrorize and slash their way across the silver screen. From the faces of legendary franchises to stars of the most obscure of one hit wonders, here are my favorite horror movie villains of all time, with a couple of thriller killers thrown in as well.
Andre Linoge (Stephen King’s Storm of the Century)
The goals and methods of the mysterious drifter, Andre Linoge are best left unknown until revealed in Stephen King’s Storm of the Century, so I won’t go into any real details here. What I will say is that his presence on Little Tall Island changes the lives of every single resident living there, and definitely not for the better. Brought to life by an extremely underrated (or at least underackowledged) performance from Colm Feore, Linoge is a cunning, cold, and cruel man that is willing to commit any number of horrifying atrocities to get what he wants.
Annie Wilkes (Misery)
Toxic members of a fanbase may be terrible – such as every single person who harassed Star Wars’ Kelly Marie Tran on social media – but it’s superfans like Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) that are the stuff of nightmares. Behind the seemingly simple, sweet as apple pie demeanor lies an unhinged, unpredictable obsessive who will do anything to anyone in order to protect a beloved fictional character from her favorite book series. All of that is exemplified perfectly in one particular sequence that is one most flinch-inducing and unforgettable moments I’ve seen in film. If you’ve seen Misery, there’s no way you don’t know which scene I’m talking about.
Also, go check out Lizzie Caplan’s portrayal of the character in season two of Castle Rock if you haven’t already.
Bad Ash (Army of Darkness)
While carving his way through the dead (and his own arm) Ash Williams cemented himself as one of horror’s greatest heroes and actor Bruce Campbell as an icon of the genre. The character’s blend of buffoonery and badassery made Ash a household horror name, and the only other person in the Evil Dead films that was able to match that mix of machismo and screwiness was… himself. Ash’s villainous clone is almost as funny and even weirder than his “ little goody two-shoes” counterpart, and serves as a darkly fun final foe in Army of Darkness. Bad Ash didn’t surpass his legendary predecessor, but he’s easily the most memorable villain from the Evil Dead films.
The Candyman (Candyman series)
The origin of the Candyman (Tony Todd) is a tragic one, as his unjust murder turned him into a monstrous spectre that haunts and kills anyone foolish to summon him or openly question his existence. His natural life’s end doesn’t forgive any of his sins, though. Candyman’s horrific actions, including “highlights” like slaughtering innocent civilians and kidnapping babies, along with his grotesque powers make him one of horror cinema’s best boogeymen. And while there are plenty of other entries on this list with higher body counts, let me ask you this: could any of them use their own body as a beehive? Well, the Candyman can, and that’s gotta count for something.
Chucky (Child’s Play series)
Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) was already a prolific serial killer before the events of the first Child’s Play, but what gets him on my list is what he does in the film’s opening scene. After being mortally wounded and with little choice left, Charles uses Haitian Vodou magic to transfer his soul into an ironically named “Good Guy” doll, becoming a staple of horror in the process. The pint-sized slasher has delivered both scares and laughs throughout the Child’s Play series, endured the passage of time, multiple “deaths,” a few terrible sequels, and he just keeps coming back for more. Even now there’s a Child’s Play TV series in the works.
Also, the 2019 version of Chucky, which is voiced by Mark Hamill and a rogue AI instead of a possessed doll, is equally entertaining and has a whole different set of toys to play with.
Dollface, Pin-up Girl, and the Man in the Mask (The Strangers series)
Sometimes the scariest things that go bump in the night aren’t supernatural entities, scientific monstrosities, or otherworldly threats, but just other human beings. Take this traumatizing trio of homicidal maniacs for example. Dollface, Pin-up Girl, and the Man in the Mask torture and kill at random just because they can, and the scenes where they toy with their unfathomably unlucky victims are some of the most genuinely terrifying I’ve seen in any horror flick. Even though it’s clear that they are only human, their spine-chillingly relaxed attitudes towards their actions and utter indifference to the pleas of the innocent make them seem anything but.
The Entity (It Follows)
The antagonist of It Follows is essentially a walking STD. If someone has “it,” they are followed by the Entity – which takes many different, usually disturbing forms – until it gets close enough to literally crush them. Some carriers are willing to loosen/abandon their morals and pass their fate on by sleeping with someone else, but that only delays the inevitable, as once it kills the latest infectee, the Entity will make its way to the next person up the chain, presumably until it kills patient zero. It Follows was one of the most memorable horror films of the past decade, and its equally bizarre and original villain was one of the biggest reasons why.
Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street series)
The concept of Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), an evil being that can kill you in your dreams is inherently terrifying, but the way that the burned, sweater-clad slasher kills with such creativity and often campy glee elevates him to something far more memorable. Above all the other murderers and creeps on my list, Freddy enjoys his “work” the most. The devious dream demon absolutely revels in the suffering of others, smiling as he plays with and tortures tons of innocent teenagers. And equally iconic is his signature weapon, the bladed glove, which is one of the most unique and recognizable instruments used in horror film history.
Also worth noting is the mega-meta, “real” version in New Nightmare that drops the humor, but keeps his grotesque, imaginative methods and ups the sinister factor to a much higher level.
Ghostface (Scream series)
The first entry in Wes Craven’s ultra meta horror franchise has one of the most impressive, shocking, and memorable movie openings in the past thirty years. Most of that is due to Craven masterfully subverting your expectations, but it’s also partly because it introduces one of the most iconic villains in cinematic history. Ghostface, no matter which film they’re in or who’s wearing the mask, serves as both a fearsome, frightening antagonist and a critique aimed at horror films and those who make them. Few franchises have skewered slashers, sequels, or teens as effectively as the Scream series and its instantly recognizable baddie.
Hannibal Lecter (Hannibal series)
In my opinion, Hannibal the Cannibal is basically a supervillain despite being just a man. He’s not the main villain in his most famous film, and has a shockingly small amount of screentime – barely 16 minutes – yet he’s the definite highlight. Even while locked up, Lecter is able to influence criminals, law officials, and events to almost always play out exactly as he plans. He’s a master manipulator, a seasoned killer, and according to his dinner guests, one Hell of a cook.
And just throwing this out there: Mads Mikkelsen somehow manages to outdo Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar-winning performance in the Hannibal TV series, my favorite show ever.
The Jigsaw Killer (Saw series)
Even though I gave up on the Saw franchise about halfway through the third movie – which was pure torture porn and featured absolutely zero substance or scares – I won’t deny that the series’ antagonist, the Jigsaw killer had a overwhelmingly terrifying first outing. The traps Jigsaw (who isn’t actually pictured above) sets for his enemies and the “games” he creates for his victims in Saw are elaborate, diabolical, and build palpable tension in those watching. He also has a knack for finding ways to force others to do awful things to themselves or others, therefore creating multiple accomplices. Plus, his big reveal in the first film, while admittedly kind of silly in retrospect, is still a jawdropper of the highest order.
Kayako (The Ju-On/The Grudge series’)
The main villain of Ju-On and it’s American spin-off films, Kayako (played by Takako Fuji until the second English-language film) acts as both a vengeful spirit and contagious disease. Anyone who enters her home, where she and her child were brutally murdered, will inevitably die by her hand, and might also unintentionally infect others with her curse, which means her power can basically reach anyone, no matter where they are. The ease of transmitting the affliction, her appearance – which takes viewers on a deep dive into the uncanny valley – and the terror she instills in her victims’ final moments are more than enough to earn Kayako a spot on this list.
There are a staggering number of Christmas Horror films out there today, and Krampus is my personal favorite because of its perfectly balanced blend of horror, humor, and its fantastic titular antagonist. The Anti-Claus punishes those who would besmirch the merriest of holidays by trapping them in snowstorms, sending his minions or murderous toys after them and their families, and if they’re really unlucky, adding them to his “collection.” Even though Krampus is kept just out of sight for most of the movie, he makes up for it when he finally shows himself, as he has quite the freaky visage to behold.
Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s trendsetting antagonist is the progenitor of the less-than-talkative, lumbering brute slasher archetype that is still being copied (but very rarely improved upon) to this day. Leatherface doesn’t even show up until almost halfway through the 1974 classic, but he makes up for lost time and then some with his unflinching savagery, and the constant fear his towering, intimidating presence creates. The mass murdering cannibal also earns points for his decorating skills; his home/slaughterhouse, which is littered with things like human bodies, animal corpses, and stray teeth is one of the most disgusting and scary settings in any horror film I’ve seen, and his masks are just as grotesque.
Leslie Vernon (Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon)
Behind the Mask is one of the most meta horror films ever I’ve seen, and an underrated genre gem that deserves far more love than it’s been given. The mockumentary follows the titular up and coming slasher, and takes place in a world where Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers are not only real, but serve as inspiration for Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel). That set-up offers an unusual, often comical look at many classic horror tropes, and also allows the film to expertly build up Leslie – who’s almost disarmingly charming, until he isn’t – as a unique, believable, and ultimately threatening villain who can and will use his knowledge of those tropes to his advantage in order to secure his bloody legacy.
Max (The Babysitter series)
The Babysitter’s usually-shirtless psychopath is the least scary entry on this list, but he’s also the funniest. Robbie Amell flexes his comedic (and literal) muscles as Max, bringing a weird chaotic charm to the crazed killer. Helping him stand out even more is that unlike his cohorts who aim to sacrifice the lives of others to have their wishes granted, Max’s only desire is to create carnage. He’s also strangely supportive of the film’s protagonist Cole, despite needing to silence him. The way Max urges the youngster to stand up for himself is completely contradictory to his own goals, and makes him one of the 2010’s most quirky and memorable horror movie antagonists.
Michael Myers (Halloween series)
Michael Myers (originally portrayed by Nick Castle) is one of the most iconic baddies in the history of film, horror or otherwise, and my favorite slasher villain of all time. He’s nothing but a mute, murdering machine, but in my opinion, that’s exactly what makes him such a terrifying and memorable antagonist. There’s no explanation or discernable reason for Myers’ actions – according to the current canon – and that lack of understanding taps into our natural fear of the unknown. Instead of an antagonist that’s seeking vengeance, fame, or fun, the Halloween franchise gives us a man that appears to be nothing more than a seemingly unstoppable force of nature. Silent, violent, knife-wielding nature.
Shutter is one of the very, very small number of horror flicks that I was unable to complete in one evening. It was during one of Natre’s (Achita Sikamana) earliest appearances in the film where I said “NOPE,” stopped the movie, and watched an hour or so of Rick & Morty before trying to sleep through the night… With little success. The film’s superb camerawork and tension building elevated Natre to one of the scariest ghosts in film for me early on, and then the final act turned everything up to eleven, leaving me stunned, angry, and horrified all at once. Seriously, Natre ain’t messing around.
Oogie Boogie (The Nightmare Before Christmas)
There was a lot of stuff that scared the shit out of me when I first watched Henry Selick’s stop-motion classic, and above everything else was… Well, that kid getting a shrunken head as a present (BECAUSE HOW IS THAT IN A KIDS MOVIE?) but Oogie was definitely the most frightening character of them all. After all, even werewolves, vampires, and witches are afraid of him. Plus, his entire being is just a collection of super gross bugs held together by an ugly, glow-in-the-dark sack. I already didn’t like creepy crawlers, so watching him slowly fall apart in the film’s finale while screaming “my bugs” over and over was borderline traumatizing.
Patrick Bateman (American Psycho)
Christian Bale is one of the greatest actors of all time, with a wide range of roles and amazing, powerhouse performances. My favorite of those performances so far is the one he gave portraying the engrossing, bizarre, demented lead character of American Psycho. The film is viewed through Patrick Bateman’s (named in homage to Psycho’s Norman Bates) sociopathic perspective, and walks us through a few days in his almost definitely super expensive shoes. The way he views human beings other than himself is disturbing to say the least, but he’s oddly entrancing to watch, and somehow just as funny as he is scary.
Pazuzu (The Exorcist)
Despite having a fairly silly name – Futurama kind of ruined for me – the demon Pazuzu is undoubtedly one of the most memorable and iconic villains in the history of cinema. The way he corrupts the innocent Reagan, both spiritually and physically, is exceptionally horrifying, and has left mental images ingrained in the minds of countless moviegoers. No other possession film that I’ve seen – aside from The Exorcism of Emily Rose – has come anywhere close to matching the quality of The Exorcist, which is a testament to the directorial ability of William Friedkin, the acting talent of star Linda Blair, and the paralysing power of Pazuzu.
Pennywise the Dancing Clown (IT)
Similar to Freddy Krueger, the general idea of Pennywise, a monster that can only be seen by those who believe in It and has ability to turn itself into whatever you fear most is scary by concept alone. Making matters even worse/better, the two actors to portray Pennywise – Tim Curry in the 1990 IT miniseries and Bill Skarsgård in the 2017 and 2019 films – both delivered extremely memorable performances that helped seared the carnivorous clown into the minds of their audiences. Curry’s execution may seem a little cheesy by today’s standards, but that didn’t stop him from being the foundation of my coulrophobia back in the day, and I find Skarsgård’s more sinister turn as Pennywise to be legitimately terrifying.
Predators (Predator & Alien vs. Predator series’)
I still vividly remember seeing the first Predator movie at my brother’s friend’s house when I was way too young to be watching it, and how amazed I was by the human hunting alien. I thought his kills were scary and his tech – which included camouflage that made him invisible, a shoulder-mounted blaster, a voice modulator, and a pair ultra badass retractable wrist blades – was just the coolest. Predator was also the first movie where I saw anyone or anything beat the everloving crap out the action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’ve enjoyed every Predator film since as well (to varying degrees, of course) loved learning more about them, and the ugly motherf*****s have been my favorite movie aliens since my first encounter with them.
Jordan Peele’s Us features one of horror’s greatest protagonists, Adelaide Wilson, who fights smart and hard against the Tethered, evil doppelgangers that look just like the members of her family. Leading the Tethered is the unforgettably unsettling Red, a traumatizing figure from Adelaide’s past that looks a whole lot like her. Lupita Nyong’o plays both characters, but her brilliant dual performance easily separates Adelaide from her scratchy-voiced, scissor-wielding counterpart. While Adelaide can pass as a “normal” person, Red is practically the personification of nightmare fuel, and makes my blood run cold everytime I see her on screen.
Sam (Trick ‘r Treat)
Although it isn’t explicitly stated in Trick ‘r Treat, the film somewhat implies that the burlap masked Sam is the embodiment and enforcer of the Halloween spirit. He observes all sorts of spooky happenings throughout the anthology feature, and punishes those who would disrespect his holiday’s tradition as well. If a person takes down their decorations early, Sam turns them into a new, more macabre Halloween ornament. If someone refuses to give out treats, Sam shows up with a few nasty tricks in tow. Think of him as the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future for Halloween rolled into one, fun-sized package.
Seth Brundle (The Fly )
Seth Brundle (portrayed by the human meme, Jeff Goldblum) is one of the most sympathetic characters on this list, but he is certainly the villain by the end of the 1986 remake of The Fly. Director David Cronenberg is a master at creating body horror, and he uses his talents to expertly show the audience Brundle’s grotesque and devastating transformation from a brilliant scientist to the disgusting monstrosity known as “the Brundlefly.” Over the course of The Fly, Seth slowly loses his mind, his humanity, and eventually tries to force his fate upon others who are undoubtedly unwilling. He’s a victim of his own hubris, and tragically, a monster of his own making.
The T-800 and the T-1000 (The Terminator & Terminator 2: Judgement Day)
The Terminator series is technically an action/science fiction franchise, but I’d say that the titular villainous cyborgs in the first two films are among the scariest, most memorable robo-baddies of all time. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 was an unfeeling killer that seemed impossible to stop, and slaughtered everyone between it and the mother of humanity’s future savior. Then, in one of the greatest change-ups in film, a second T-800 ends up protecting the teenage savior from Robert Patrick’s even more advanced and deadly synthetic assassin that can shapeshift and turn its limbs into bladed weapons at a moment’s notice. As far as murderous machines go, these two are still cutting edge tech.
The Thing (The Thing)
John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic, The Thing is an exercise in paranoia and fear that very few films have come anywhere close to matching in quality or legacy. The movie’s alien invader is the perfect antagonist for a small, isolated group of individuals as it murders its way through them while perfectly disguising itself as its victims, and whenever the creature is discovered, it transforms itself into grotesque abominations of flesh and bone, delivering body horror on par with the psychological terror. Plus, the ease of how it could spread in a populated area is enough to keep you thinking about it long after the movie ends.
Toby (Paranormal Activity series)
The first Paranormal Activity is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. The film makes even the smallest noises or movements panic-inducing and forces you to keep your eyes glued to the screen – maybe with your hands occasionally in between – because you have no idea where the invisible entity, eventually given the moniker “Toby,” will come from next. You may never see him in Paranormal Activity, but you definitely feel his presence. He starts small, with actions like slowly opening a door or pulling on a blanket while the protagonists are asleep, but the bolder Toby gets, the more obvious and fearsome his deeds become.
The Woman (Under the Skin)
Under the Skin’s main character, an alien visitor that “eats” humans isn’t the only villain in the story, but it’s certainly the most memorable. Scarlett Johanssen’s career best performance allows the Woman to switch back and forth between a seductive siren and cold, emotionless monster instantaneously. Watching the Woman as she slowly learns about human beings and their humanity makes the movie a mesmerizing watch, but the way she lures her hapless, unsuspecting victims to their deaths is completely unnerving. Both Under the Skin and the Woman are wholly unique and beautifully bleak in equal measure.
HEADS UP: The following entries contain spoilers! Stop here unless you’ve already seen Us, The Witch Prometheus, Alien: Covenant, Split, Glass, Se7en, Friday the 13th, and Get Out, or don’t care about spoilers.
Adelaide Wilson (Us)
While Red is all kinds of creepy, the reason she stands out among the Tethered as their leader is because “Adelaide” is actually the Tethered of the two, for Us’ finale reveals that she swapped identities with her human counterpart decades earlier. The Red that would eventually lead the Tethered in their murderous uprising was a initially a victim that had her life stolen by someone who looked just like her. Basically, Adelaide’s forced switcheroo created a chain of events that lead to all of the death and chaos seen in Us. And while they were just children at the time, seeing Adelaide’s scary-ass smile as she dragged Red’s unconscious body to her new home is all I needed to add her here.
Black Phillip (The Witch)
The Witch is the most well-crafted horror film I’ve ever seen. Robert Eggers’ masterful feature debut creates an atmosphere of constant anxiety and dread throughout the majority of its runtime, and then uses all of that built-up discomfort to unleash a finale that is bleak, horrifying, and poetic all in equal measure. The most shocking part of said finale is when the family goat Black Phillip, which the two youngest children claimed was able to talk, is revealed to be none other than the devil himself. Even though you don’t see his (non-goat) face, “Black Phillip’s” presence is one of the most intense and memorable I’ve experienced in any film.
David (Prometheus & Alien: Covenant)
It is without question that the Xenomorphs are the Alien franchise’s most famous aspect – Ellen Ripley certainly comes close though – but I think the deviant android David (Michael Fassbender) is actually its best villain. He caused the extinction of the Engineers, dissected Prometheus‘ protagonist, and his experiments – which caused multiple deaths – eventually yielded the birth of the first Xenomorph. When Covenant’s credits rolled, he seemed poised to continue his work by turning even more innocents into incubators for his nightmarish abominations, and I truly hope that Ridley Scott gets to continue his precursor story. That would most likely allow David to become an even scarier antagonist, and I believe that he has the potential to match his “greatest” creation in terms of terror.
The Horde (Split & Glass)
Kevin Wendell Crumb isn’t a bad guy, but his split personalities that highjacked his body and summoned the Beast, a superhuman persona that seeks to rid the world of the “impure” certainly are. Eventually dubbed “the Horde,” Kevin’s villainous alternate psyches go on a murder spree before meeting their supposed equal in the nigh-invulnerable vigilante, the Overseer, Bruce Willis’ character from Unbreakable. Watching the immensely-talented James McAvoy instantaneously switch between the different identities over and over again in Split and Glass is both awe-inspiring and unsettling, and it’s such a bummer that the Horde (and the Overseer) got done so dirty in Glass’ painfully terrible finale.
John Doe (Se7en)
Out of all the serial killers I’ve seen in movies, John Doe (Kevin Spacey) left me the most shaken. His plan, to commit murders that represent the seven deadly sins, tests the limits of the audience along with the morale of the detectives chasing him. He only needed the last two sins – which combine into an unpredictable masterstroke – to earn his place here though. Immediately after learning that his wife Tracy has been murdered by John out of “envy,” Brad Pitt’s detective Mills is given a choice: spare his wife’s murderer, thus preventing Doe’s plan from succeeding, or give into the overwhelming grief, execute Doe, and “become wrath.” It’s a haunting reveal that I will never, ever forget.
Pamela Vorhees (Friday the 13th)
For those of you wondering why Jason Vorhees didn’t make my list, it’s because I just don’t think he’s all that great. In my opinion, he’s nothing more than a Michael Myers wannabe, and as of 2020 his franchise has only two films that I believe are worth watching (three if you count Freddy vs. Jason). However, the reveal that Jason’s mother (Betsy Palmer) was the killer in the original film is one of the most surprising moments in slasher cinema. Driven mad by the “death” of her child, Pamela ends up slaughtering almost ten people throughout the first Friday the 13th, which was a fairly high body count for early slashers, and still is even today.
Rose Armitage (Get Out)
I thought about putting all of the Armitages on this list at first, but eventually decided to just give the spot to Rose (Allison Williams). Every member of the Armitage family is a legitimately terrible human being, as they all conspire to kidnap unsuspecting black men and women in order to possess their bodies while they still remain conscious, but Rose takes the cake here. She’s the one who builds a relationship with the victims before bringing them to meet her family, and leads the unaware patients to their haunting fate. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, have you seen the way she eats cereal?!
And there you have it, those are my favorite horror movie villains! Leave a comment below if you think someone (or something) else deserves a spot on this list, or if you’d like to suggest what horror-centric content I should tackle next. Also, if you liked what you read here, check out my write-ups on underrated scary movies, my favorite horror TV series, follow me on Twitter or Letterboxd and bookmark my author page to see my future posts. Until next time, remember: The best seats are in the Middle of the Row!