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.
Played by: Natalie Mendoza
Film: The Descent (2005)
Playing like a gender flipped Alien (1979), The Descent trades the terrifying isolation of space for the claustrophobic horrors of underground caves and Xenomorphs for blood thirsty mutants but other than that, the two films are remarkably similar. They both involve groups of characters getting trapped in a remote location, getting hunted by a monster they can’t see.
And like Alien (1979), The Descent eschews the final girl trope by making the lead a badass from the jump. She immediately accesses the situation and comes up with a plan to survive. Which involves killing some fucking mutants. But the twist is, Juno isn’t the lead of The Descent. This film’s Ripley isn’t the lead, she’s actually the villain.
89. Dr. Phibes
Played by: Vincent Price
Film: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
There may not be an actor more synonymous with horror than Vincent Price. His oeuvre reads like a greatest hits of the genre, with most of his films being among the best of all time. Narrowing down just one performance from a near perfect catalog is damn near impossible but as great as all of his other performances were, I don’t think Price was ever more deliciously diabolical than he was as Dr. Phibes.
Seeking revenge on the nine doctors he believes were responsible for his wife’s death, Phibes decides to go old testament for his retribution and kills them off one by one with the nine plagues from the bible. Predating both Se7en and Saw by a couple of decades, The Abominable Dr. Phibes may not be Price’s most iconic or memorable film, but it’s inarguably his most fun character.
88. The Collector
Played by: Billy Zane
Film: Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)
There aren’t many actors that can make evil look as fun as Gary Oldman. He brings a malevolent whimsy to each and every one of his villains. Which makes the fact that he’s never played the Devil (on the big screen) all the more tragic. It’s a perfect marriage of character and actor and while we may not have a cinematic Satan by way of Oldman, we have almost the next best thing–a crazy, over the top demon played by Zane.
Since both films are similarly themed, picture Santanico Pandemonium from From Dusk till Dawn but replace the insane sexiness and vampires for hillbilly charm and demons and you have essentially the same film. But unlike Santanico, The Collector is the main antagonist from the first frame till the last. In a film filled with hideous demons, Zane is still the scariest monster because he’s deceptively likeable. He’ll disarm you with charm and then rip your heart out and eat it.
87. Tangina Barrons
Played by: Zelda Rubinstein
Film: Poltergeist (1982)
One of the many brilliant things about the film Jaws (1975), is that it’s actually two films in one. Because of it’s structure, the first half works as a horror film and the second acts as a man on a mission film, with each part having its own main character. Poltergeist is very similar to that structure. The first half is a family drama that increasingly gets more and more terrifying until the ghosts take Carrol Anne, then it turns into Tangina’s film.
She’s the Quint of the film. She has the most quotable dialogue and with the exception of that goddamn clown, she’s the most memorable character in the film. She’s a no nonsense magical munchkin that ain’t afraid of no ghosts.
86. The Miner (Harry Warden)
Played by: Peter Cowper
Film: My Bloody Valentine (1981-2009)
After the monumental success of Halloween and Friday the 13th, every studio immediately green lit at least five slashers in order to mimic their success. In a span of just six years, over fifty copycats were produced and the greatest by far, was My Bloody Valentine.
It was far darker than the rest, much more violent and has a killer that should be as iconic as Michael Myers or Jason. The Miner has a fantastic look, a great weapon and I’d argue, is more intimidating than either Michael or Jason. (Until Kane Hodder showed up, that is.)
Played by: Bruce Campbell
Film: Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
I doubt anyone could’ve predicted that when Bruce Campbell said “hail to the king” at the end of Army of Darkness (1992), that he’d actually go on to play the king. But that’s one of the many inconceivable things about Bubba Ho-Tep, a film in which Elvis and a black JFK team-up to defeat an ass sucking mummy.
And although the premise is amazing, the film only works because Bruce Campbell commits to the role. It doesn’t matter whether he’s actually Elvis or not, all that matters is that you believe that he believes he’s Elvis and he sells the fuck out of a decrepit Elvis who’s far outlived his usefulness. He’s forgotten, ridiculed and ignored. The mummy is almost inconsequential. The film is about the horrors of dying forgotten and alone and Campbell sells that heartbreak.
Played by: Joe Pilato
Film: Day of the Dead (1985)
The brilliance of Romero’s dead series (the first three at least), was that the films were never about the dead. Zombies were always used as a metaphor for something else. Vietnam, racism, consumerism, an unchecked military–each film is a dark satire of the decade in which it was released, with Day of the Dead being the darkest by far.
This is the film Romero was through fucking around with allegory. Zombies are no longer used as metaphor here. This film proposes for the first time, that not much separates the zombies from the humans. And that’s no more evident than with the character of Rhodes. Acting as the commanding officer, Rhodes is a psychotic douchebag of the highest order. He’s such a piece of shit, that he easily earns the distinction of being the most satisfying death in cinematic history.
83. Mrs. Carmody
Played by: Marcia Gay Harden
Film: The Mist (2007)
It speaks volumes to Harden’s abilities as an actress that she created a character so detestable, that in a film filled with Lovecraftian horrors (some the size of skyscrapers), the main characters would rather choose the unseen horrors of the mist than spend one more second in a room with her.
Beginning the film as the local religious nut everyone knows and knows to avoid, after each subsequent attack on the supermarket, she becomes more and more righteous and gains more and more followers until she’s amassed a cult that has become so fanatically loyal, they have no problems killing for her. Even if she orders them to sacrifice a child.
She’s an obvious metaphor for the dangers of extreme religious devotion and how easy it is to manipulate people into doing the worst things imaginable out of fear and desperation. It’s a terrifyingly real scenario but what’s even scarier than the real world parallels, is the fact that she was right.
Played by: Quinn Lord
Film: Trick ‘R Treat (2007)
With the release of the Nightmare Before Christmas (1992), Tim Burton made a valiant attempt at making Jack Skellington the unofficial mascot of Halloween and even though he’s super fucking popular with the Hot Topic crowd, the plan never caught on. I can see why, as he has no appeal to anyone outside of goths but the character that could’ve been a contender, is Sam from Trick ‘R Treat.
If Warner Brothers didn’t intentionally sit on this film for years, we might’ve gotten a new horror anthology around October every year but since the film was unceremoniously dumped to DVD, it never got the audience it deserved. Acting as the glue that ties all of the segments together, Sam is a supernatural entity that punishes those who have no respect for tradition. With his burlap mask and dirt orange onesie, Sam is arguably the last great Halloween costume to spawn from a horror character.
81. Jerry Blake
Played by: Terry O’Quinn
Film: The Stepfather (1987)
Loosely based on the story of John List, the New Jersey man who killed his family in 1971, The Stepfather is about a man obsessed with the perfect nuclear family. He envisions himself a family man, with a wife and two perfect kids. A house with a white picket fence and the greenest grass in the neighborhood.
And if one element of his fantasy is wrong, like for example, a mouthy teenager who doesn’t like him, he’ll kill them all and start over. Terry O’Quinn is absolutely phenomenal as the stepfather. His rage induced outbursts, coupled with his penchant for talking to himself, make him a dangerously unpredictable character.