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 were 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. We dressed up like monsters and ghouls for Halloween and even begged to go to haunted houses. Everything we did as children was a lifetime of preparation for horror. Because deep down, we all have an innate desire to be frightened. We crave it and when we were finally brave enough to watch some horror horror films, these were the characters that scared 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.
20. Nancy Thompson
Played by: Heather Langenkamp
Film: A Nightmare on Elm Street [series] (1984-1987)
Since slasher films only need a cool looking killer, buckets of fake blood and the occasional tit to be successful, we take strong protagonists for granted. The last (wo)man standing usually involves a lot of screaming and running until the last act; where they’re either saved by an outside source or they put up just enough of a fight to ultimately win the day.
Nancy doesn’t get enough credit for not only fighting back but devising an actual plan to survive. It’s ridiculous (she’s able to MacGyver her house in 20 minutes) but the plan itself is irrelevant. It’s the fact that she took back her fear and did something about it. She also gets props for being the only horror protagonist to help other protagonists in the sequel. In Dream Warriors (1987), she teaches a group of troubled teens to take control of their dreams in order to fight back. They all end up dead anyways but she gets points for trying.
Played by: Ken Foree
Film: Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Maybe it’s because all the other Romero films have bigger casts or it might be another case of the Mandela Effect, but for years, I could’ve sworn there was far more people stuck in the mall. Not including the bikers who show up late in the film, the cast only consists of four people. Two SWAT members (Ken Foree and Brad Bird lookalike Scott Reiniger), a traffic reporter (David Emge), and his television executive girlfriend (Gaylen Ross.) That’s it.
And frankly, that’s enough. Because even though you grow attached to each member of the group, you really only give a fuck about Peter. Besides being one of the only human beings on earth who could rock a turtleneck, he’s the only character in a Romero film (or any zombie film period) to offer a logical explanation to the sudden appearance of the walking dead:
‘When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth’.
18. Larry Talbot (The Wolf Man)
Played by: Lon Chaney Jr.
Film: The Wolf Man (1941)
Easily the most sympathetic of all the Universal monsters, The Wolf Man isn’t about science gone awry like Frankenstein and The Invisible Man or humanoid creatures running amok like The Mummy and Creature from the Black Lagoon nor is it about a sex fiend trying to get some ass like Dracula. No, The Wolf Man is about a man cursed with being a monster. He doesn’t do anything wrong, yet because of circumstances beyond his control, he’s technically the villain.
Being hunted just because you’re different? Doesn’t that sound awfully close to something that was a major problem in the 40’s? I’m obviously hinting to the prosecution of the Jewish people at the time. This film was an allegory for the Jewish plight but can be applied to any minority and that’s a testament to the strength of its theme. We’re all the wolf man.
Played by: Brad Dourif
Film: Child’s Play [series] (1988-2017)
Every single horror film made throughout the 80’s was a direct result of the success of Halloween. Every studio wanted their own franchise but as most imitators would find out, success is 90% the villain. While the majority focused on the masked silent type, Child’s Play creators Tom Holland and Don Mancini decided to roll the dice on a new type of killer. Instead of playing it safe and producing another formulaic slasher film, the duo decided to shake things up by putting the soul of a stereotypical serial killer into the body of a doll.
On paper, it sounds absolutely absurd but thanks to some pretty decent puppetry and a Jack Nicholson-on-cocaine sounding Dourif, it works. There’s something inexplicably terrifying about something unnaturally small trying to kill you. Chalk it up to the uncanny valley effect or a phobia of things that remind me of Cabbage Patch kids but Chucky scares the shit out of me. Or maybe I’m just afraid of an insane Jack Nicholson trying to kill me. Who knows.
Played by: Gunnar Hansen
Film: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre burst onto cinema screens with the power of an exploding star. Loosely based on the real life serial killer Ed Gein, audiences had never seen such violent depravites on the big screen before. In retrospect, it’s quite amusing how little blood is actually in the film and almost all the violence is done off camera but at the time, the hulking cannibal named Leatherface was the most terrifying monster ever.
It’s almost impossible to hear a chainsaw without immediately thinking about this film. Other horror monsters may have more iconic weapons but there’s nothing scarier than hearing a chainsaw rev up in the woods at night. Plus, he’s a cannibal. There’s not many taboos America considers to be unbreakable but that’s one of them.
Played by: Duane Jones
Film: Night of the Living Dead (1968)
When it comes to music, critics and fans say there’s only two eras of music: before Bob Dylan and after Bob Dylan. One man had such an impact on the industry, that more than all of recorded history is technically irrelevant because he wasn’t involved. This same logic can be applied to movies. Cinema is such a new art form, that you can honestly find a middle point in which it changes.
While Star Wars (1977) is clearly the frontrunner but there’s a strong case to be made for Night of the Living Dead. Coming at the tale end of Hammer (which began after the Universal Monster films ended) but arriving before Halloween, It’s literally at the apex of two major cinematic movements.
Not only did it singlehandedly create zombies and help usher in the new Hollywood independent system but it’s also monumentally important due to the casting of Duane Jones. It’s impossible to overstate the impact that Duane Jones‘s Ben has on cinema. Not only was he a black protagonist at the height of the Civil Rights movement–in the same year that Martin Luther King was assassinated–but he’s a black hero who was smart, took no shit, gave orders, and who survived.
Who survived the zombies, that is.
14. Dr. Samuel Loomis
Played by: Donald Pleasence
Film: Halloween [series] (1978-1995)
“I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.”
Technically, Sam Loomis serves only one narrative purpose–to deliver exposition. He’s there to more the plot from point A to point B, while parceling out little bits of insight into the mind of Michael Myers. And while that’s certainly useful, he serves a far more important function–to induce dread in the audience. We don’t know much about Michael Myers other than the fact that Loomis believes him to be evil and due to the doctors obsessive quest to murder him, we believe it.
13. Herbert West
Played by: Jeffrey Combs
Film: Re-Animator (1985)
Herbert West gives new meaning to the term “mad scientist.” His pursuit to bringing the dead back to life is so insane, he makes Frankenstein a pillar of mental stability by comparison. West is a terrible human being but since Combs’ performance is so delightfully madcap, you can’t help but to love him. Which is quite impressive considering he kills the same cat three times, creates a headless rape monster and subjects his roomate/lab assistant and his girlfriend to a litany of nightmare scenarios.
Dan Cain: [Dan’s cat died and has been found in Herbert’s refrigerator] You can call, or write a note.
Herbert West: I was busy pushing bodies around as you well know and what would a note say, Dan? “Cat dead, details later”?
12. Dr. Hannibal Lector
Played by: Anthony Hopkins
Film: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Created by Thomas Harris for the novel Red Dragon, Hannibal Lecter’s first appearance on screen wasn’t The Silence of the Lambs but actually Manhunter. Brian Cox did an admirable job bringing the insane doctor to life but when it comes to Hannibal Lecter, nobody fills those shoes quite like Hopkins. Winning an Oscar for less than 15 minutes of screen time, Hopkins, much like his on screen counterpart, makes a meal out of every scene he’s in.
Unlike most villains, his power comes from words, not actions. He’s a spider drawing everyone in with his charm and undeniable charisma but the second you let your guard down, he cuts off the top of your head and makes you eat part of your brain or drugs you up and makes you cut off chunks of your face. He’s the smartest person in the room, which automatically makes him the most dangerous and that’s before taking in account his willingness to kill anyone who gets in his way.
Played by: Linda Blair/Mercedes McCambridge
Film: The Exorcist (1972)
Is there a character (besides Jesus), that’s been through as much as Regan in this film? The amount of shit this demon puts her through (and the amount of shit the director put her through during the making of the film) is insane. She’s simultaneously one of the most tragic victims and terrifying monsters in film.
Between the effects, the make up and McCambridge‘s gravely voice, you’ll believe in possession. The Catholic church declared the film a work of evil and the Pope himself said the devil lived within the celluloid. That’s a testament to the power of this film and the effectiveness of Pazuzu. While not the devil, this is the closest cinema has come to convincing me that he could exist.
“Your mother sucks cocks in Hell!”