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.
80. Rhoda Penmark
Played by: Patty McCormack
Film: The Bad Seed (1956)
The creepy kid trope is about as played out as creepy mannequins or clowns. It’s an easy gimmick to get the audience immediately unnerved but is almost never properly utilized. They’re usually chucked in as jump scare tactic but there are few that get it right. The Good Son (1993), Orphan (2009) and Joshua (2007) are all top notch but none of them would exist if it wasn’t for The Bad Seed .
This is ground zero for killer kid movies and even though this film is over 60 years old, it still holds up remarkably well. Patty McCormack‘s performance as Rhoda is excellent. She can flip between sweet as a button, to murder by fire, in almost a blink of an eye. She’s a sociopath that always has a justification for every murder she commits. She doesn’t think what she’s doing is wrong, which makes her one of the most realistic killers on this list.
Played by: A 1958 Plymouth Fury
Film: Christine (1983)
One of the most reliable genres of horror, is the haunted house film. The Haunting (1963), The Innocents (1961), The Shining (1980), The Orphanage (2007), the list goes on and on. It’s a relatable fear because even though most of us don’t believe in ghosts, if we hear a weird noise in the house at night, our imaginations take over. But the inherent flaw with each and every haunted house film is, coming up with a believable reason why the characters are still in the house past the twenty minute mark.
Once I hear “get out”, I’m out but a haunted car like Christine? That fucking thing can chase you. It has wheels and can fix itself. Oh and it’s also a huge cockblocker. Which might be the scariest thing about it.
78. The Blob
Played by: N/A
Film: The Blob (1988)
Even though there’s probably more misses than hits at this point, I usually don’t shit on horror remakes due in large part to the fact that this film exists. The film took a semi-forgotten B movie and cherry picked the good stuff and replaced the bad shit with some of the greatest practical effects of its time. It’s a perfect example of a remake done right.
Another huge improvement over the original, is the blob itself. No longer an alien threat, this time it’s man made. It was a byproduct of the cold war and was shot into space because it was deemed too dangerous. But now it’s back and it’s on an unstoppable kill path and everyone in it’s way is gonna get devoured.
77. Mr. Hyde
Played by: John Barrymore
Film: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
Due to the countless adaptations of the story, everyone on planet earth is at least somewhat familiar with Robert Lewis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Whether they’ve seen it (or read it) or not, it’s impossible not to absorb the majority of the story though osmosis alone. It’s a not at all subtle story about the duality of man and the constant fight between the Ego and the Id. And what were too happen if you were to release that Id as its own entity.
Mr. Hyde is that Id. He’s a being of pure desire. He does what he wants, when he wants. It’s an iconic character and although some of the best actors alive have played him (Spencer Tracy, Frederick March, John Malkovich), none have come close to John Barrymore.
Barrymore set the standard that all other actors follow.
76. John Ryder
Played by: Rutger Hauer
Film: The Hitcher (1986)
In 1971, Steven Spielberg directed a horror film for television called Duel which was about an unseen driver of a tanker truck terrorizing a business commuter for no real reason other than the fact that he can. Cut to fifteen years later to The Hitcher, which is similar in concept but gone is the massive truck and unseen driver and in their place is a man hellbent on making life as miserable as possible for poor C. Thomas Howell.
John Ryder isn’t a man so much as he is a force of nature. He’s a biblical plague in human form, with his eyes set on a specific target. Everything in his path will be destroyed and there’s nothing that will stop him until he gets what he wants. It’s not revenge. He’s playing a game that Howell doesn’t understand the rules to until the final scene. And by that point, it’s far too late.
75. The Phantom
Played by: Lon Chaney
Film: The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
According to legend, the scene in which the beautiful ingenue the phantom has been obsessed with throughout the entire film finally decides to see the face that’s been hidden behind his signature mask was apparently so terrifying, that some audience members actually had heart attacks.
Lon Chaney was famously known as The Man of A Thousand Faces and considering the other nine hundred and ninety nine never caused any potential deaths, I’d say the Phantom is easily his best.
74. Max Shreck
Played by: Willem Dafoe
Film: Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Because so little is known about the actor that played the lead in Nosferatu (1922), there’s a popular theory that maybe, just maybe he actually was a vampire. E. Elias Merhige’s film takes that urban legend and runs with it and the results are amazing.
Dafoe has never been better as the temperamental vampire that clashes frequently with the director, Murnau (wonderfully played by Malkovich) over his inability to stop himself from eating the cast and crew. He gives an outstanding monologue about why he thought the book Dracula was sad and when asked why he ate a particular crew member, he responded:
Murnau: “Why him, you monster? Why not the… script girl?”
Shreck: “Oh. The script girl. I’ll eat her later…”
73. Leslie Vernon
Played by: Nathan Baesel
Film: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Set in a universe where slasher villains are real, Leslie Vernon is essentially horror’s first uber fan. He not only knows all of their tricks but is playing on using them all in order to become the next big killer.
Playing like a comedic version of Man Bites Dog, the film is about a documentary crew who’s following around a guy who’s gearing up for his first big murder spree. He reveals how killers can seemingly never run but always catch up to the victim (cardio) and how to successfully fake your own death. It’s a clever little gem of a movie that may not be perfect but it’s lead sure is.
72. John Doe
Played by: Kevin Spacey
Film: Se7en (1995)
The Saw franchise is one of the biggest horror franchises in history and that entire series is inspired by one of John Doe’s lesser kills. That’s how wickedly ingenious his plan is, that an entire other icon could be created by riding the coattails of what is essentially 1/7th of Doe’s murderous M.O.
By the time John Doe finally appears in the film (right around the 90 minute mark), he’s already made an unforgettable impression. He’s one of the only villains on this list that still would’ve made the cut even if he never made an appearance. That’s how haunting his plan is but once he does materialize, you realize that being caught was just another step in a plan he ultimately wins.
71. Shaun and Ed
Played by: Simon Pegg & Nick Frost
Film: Shaun of the Dead (2004)
It’s a testament to the duos natural chemistry and likability that these characters work at all, because with any other actors, the film may not have worked. Strip the characters of Pegg’s inherent charm and Frost’s jovial affability and you’re left with two borderline insufferable man children that constantly fuck up, much to the detriment of everyone around them.
Shaun’s idiotic plan to hold up in a pub during a zombie apocalypse, costs him almost everyone he cares about and although Ed is his ride or die mate, every decision he makes is the worst possible one. On paper, they’re two of the most unlikable screen protagonists in history but because real life best friends Pegg and Frost were cast, you never stop rooting for them to succeed.