Since birth, we’ve been indoctrinated with a love of horror, whether we knew it or not. The first game your mother would play with you involved her hiding behind her hands and then shouting “Boo!” We would get taught folk tales that involved a witch wanting to eat children or a wolf wearing the skin of an elderly woman. Some of us were warned of the Krampus, who’d kidnap misbehaving little boys and girls.
We’d play Bloody Mary and watch old Disney films. You know, the scary ones. It was a lifetime of preparation for horror. Because deep down, we all have an innate desire to be frightened. We crave it and these characters scare us better than any others.
This list is a celebration of horror and the icons that help us lose sleep at night.
This is The 100 Greatest Horror Characters Of All Time.
Previous installments: Honorable Mentions.
100. El Santo
Played by: El Santo (Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta)
Film: Various (Like 100 of em)
It’s extremely rare for an iconic horror hero to fight more than one type of monster. Van Helsing fights Dracula and other vampires, Ellen Ripley fights aliens, Ash fights demons (deadites) but Santo, Santo has fought them ALL.
Transitioning from the world’s most famous Luchador, to Mexico’s favorite movie star—that also happens to be a Luchador, El Santo was in roughly 50 or so movies and each and every one them involved him kicking the shit out of something.
Including but not limited to:
a mummy, some vampire brides, a group of she-wolves, a ghost, a guy dressed as a ghost, a yeti, a Frankenstein, a Wolfman, a Dracula, Frankenstein’s daughter, a collection of random monsters, some zombies, a satanic cult, a witch coven and martians.
Sometimes all in the same movie.
El Santo may not be a horror icon himself but he sure as fuck kicked all of their asses.
Played by: Julian Beck
Film: Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)
There are few characters that are instantly unsettling without the use of prosthetics as Kane. He looked like the walking dead and his voice could send chills down the spine of corpses. Unfortunately, his memorable look was the result of Julian Beck‘s stomach cancer, which would end his life shortly after the film wrapped.
His death gives the performance a haunting quality, as if he was already a ghost haunting the celluloid.
“God is in his Holy Temple! Earthly thoughts be silent now!”
98. Black Phillip
Played by: Goat
Film: The VVitch (2015)
“Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”
Played by: Linnea Quigley
Film: Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Return of the Living Dead is filled to the brim with memorable characters. There’s the lovable goof Frank, the impossible-not-to-like Nazi Ernie, the “send more paramedics” zombie, the Tar Man and a whole slew of others but odds are, the only character you’ll remember after you see it the first time is Trash.
Much like Santanico Pandemonium, no character has done so much, with such limited screen time.
Played by: Dong-Seok Ma
Film: Train to Busan (2016)
Forgive the pun but for the last couple of years or so, the zombie genre has gotten a bit rotten. Over saturation and the lack of any new ideas has made the genre go stale. Long gone are the days of Romero and it feels like a lifetime ago since Snyder and Gunn made them fast.
But like a ray of light in the darkest cave, Train to Busan came out and brought new life to a dying genre. It had genuine heart and characters you cared about. You rooted for Seok-Woo to protect his daughter, which in turn made you afraid for her safety. It was a believable relationship but as amazing as the leads were, you only really cared whether Sang-Hwa lived or not. He’s so instantly badass, you kind of stop caring about anything other than him and his journey.
95. Seth Gecko
Played by: George Clooney
Film: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
While working on the film Reservoir Dogs, Special Effects Technician Robert Kurtzman offered to do the infamous ear slicing gag for free, on the condition that Tarantino write a script based on his idea of a vampire run bar. That script would eventually become From Dusk till Dawn. Which is arguably the most kick ass vampire flick ever made.
Which is due in large part to George Clooney. He starts the film as a badass bank robber and ends it the slayer of over 100 vampires. He may not have killed as many as Blade but he never starred in a shitty sequel either. Just saying.
94. Rosemary Woodhouse
Played by: Mia Farrow
Film: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
In the original novel by Ira Levin, the story is structured in such a way, that the reveal of what Rosemary’s baby actually is, is an unexpected surprise. The reader is supposed to be caught off guard by the ending.
The film doesn’t work that way. You have a pretty good idea what those weird ass neighbors are up to by the half way point and even the slowest of viewers should deduce what’s up after they see the devil giving it to Rosemary. But that’s the genius of the film. It works not because we’re supposed to be shocked but because we knew it was coming and were powerless to stop the inevitable.
We are Rosemary. We only have half the pieces to the puzzle and by the time we figure out It’s a cat, a cult wants to take our newborn baby.
But the structure nor the film itself would work without a rock solid performance from Mia Farrow. She anchors the film with a perfect blend of confusion and distrust. She thinks she might be going mad but we know better and because she’s so likable, we aren’t frustrated at her. We’re terrified for her.
Played by: Toni Collette
Film: Hereditary (2018)
Some horror films live and die by their premises. They ask an audience to believe a guy can kill you in your sleep or that a little boy can see ghosts. Some horror films live and die by their villain. Others by how much sex and violence they promise.
And a few live and die by the performances. Hereditary would not have worked if the lead was weak. The character of Annie needed an actress who could run the full gamut of emotions, who could inspire sympathy and disgust in the audience. You needed to believe her but there also needed to be doubt. Is she crazy or is something malicious happening to her family?
Hereditary is a perfect example of a film being completely dependant on the strength of the central character and Toni Collette knocks it out of the park. She gives one of the best performances in any horror film to date.
92. Sitterson and Hadley
Played by: Richard Jenkins/Bradley Whitford
Film: The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Taking Randy–the fourth wall breaking character from Scream–and cranking him all the way up to an 11, The Cabin in the Woods takes the meta approach to cliches and not only points them out as they’re happening, but now turns those cliches into an actual job. Randy used them to keep him and everyone around him alive, Sitterson and Hadley use them to placate the old gods. They literally created every bad trope in the book just to entertain some blood hungry giants.
Which incidentally makes every terrible horror film slightly more enjoyable as a result. Because unofficially, they all take place in the same universe.
91. Mr. Simms
Played by: Clarence Williams III
Film: Tales from the Hood (1995)
Horror anthologies are arguably the hardest subgenre to pull off. Not only do they have to deliver entertainment in bite size doses but more importantly, they have to create a compelling wrap around to tie everything together. Asylum (1972) has arguably the best structure but the one everyone steals from is Tales from the Crypt (1972).
In it, five strangers are brought together by a mysterious Crypt Keeper and due to their actions, they are all shown how they will eventually die. It’s been the template for numerous films but never as successfully as Tales from the Hood.
And that’s 100% due to Clarence Williams III as Mr. Simms. He’s charismatic, creepy and completely unforgettable.
Welcome to Hell, motherfuckers!