Creating a Mount Rushmore of horror villains is some difficult shit. Truth be told, we’re not sure we could do it in just four faces, which is why this Halloween we’re bringing you our 10 favourites – with a big old list of honourable mentions to follow at the end of it all.
These are the 10 characters that define our horror fandom. The guardians of our nightmares. The creations that, without whom, October 31 would just be a cold day towards the end of the year. Strap yourselves in, don’t lose your virginity, do not go to the toilet alone and you might just make it through this alive. Mwahahaha!
*Heavy spoilers to follow*
AKA Fred Krueger, AKA The Springwood Slasher
Played by: Robert Englund – the Freddy we all know and loathe. Jackie Earle Haley is the Freddy they tried to foist upon us (and tried to make us feel weirdly sympathetic to) in 2010’s pointless A Nightmare On Elm Street reboot.
First appearance: A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
Origin story: Fred Krueger was a child killer who terrorised the people of fictitious Ohio town, Springwood. He kills his victims with a bladed glove which he made in his boiler room lair. The police caught him but he was let off on a technicality. Maybe they just liked his fedora?
A vigilante group track Fred down and set him on fire, hence the pizza face. His body dies but his spirit lives on in the dreams of local teenagers. In 1991’s Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (it wasn’t) it was revealed that Alice Cooper was Freddie’s adopted parent!
Best line: “Why are you screaming? I haven’t even caught you yet!”
How to avoid: Don’t go to sleep (which is easier if you don’t watch the later films in the enduring franchise).
Played by: Many have had a crack at portraying the mute zombie, but stuntman Kane Hodder is the definitive Jason, playing the character in four films – Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988), Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1999), Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993), Jason X (2001) – as well as the 2017 video game Friday the 13th: The Game. Cool fact: Kane was originally scheduled to play the role of Freddy Krueger!
First appearance: Warning! Spoilers to follow for anyone who hasn’t bothered to check out a 39-year-old film! Technically Jason is in the first movie, 1980’s Friday the 13th, but he’s not the killer, mum Pamela Voorhees is.
Origin story: Young boy drowns while attending Camp Crystal Lake. You might blame the councillors who were supposed to be looking after him but were instead having sex. You might blame Pamela for not teaching her son how to swim. Pamela, who was once employed as the camp cook, blames the former. She kills everyone at camp in revenge, including Kevin Bacon (and not a mobile phone in sight). Then Pamela has her head chopped off. Then Jason returns from beyond the grave to avenge his mother’s death. Brilliantly, in 2001’s Jason X, this involves him going to space!
Best line: While Jason is your go-to guy for violent death, he’s not the greatest conversationalist…
How to avoid: It takes the protagonists of each movie in the series ages to realise this, but maybe – just maybe – don’t go to Camp Crystal Lake this summer?
AKA The Shape
Played by: Like Jason, many have come, and many have done an acceptable job of not saying anything and impaling people with sharp stuff. But for being the first (and returning to the role in 2018’s series retcon) we’ll say Nick Castle. He co-wrote 1981’s Escape From New York with John Carpenter too!
First appearance: Halloween (1978)
Origin story: Six-year-old Michael Myers murders his teenage sister, Judith. He’s sent to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium and placed under the supervision of psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance). 15 years later – and seemingly after hitting the weights – Michael escapes, returning to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois. He immediately finds a rubber William Shatner mask (yes, really), and becomes obsessed with teenage babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), who he wants to kill, horribly. You never know why Michael wants to do this – and just how relentlessly he wants it – well, that’s a fear masterclass from director John Carpenter, right there. Note to Rob Zombie, director of the 2007 reboot; less is more, dude. Less is more.
Best line: Again, not a talker. Rubbish on Come Dine With Me. Brilliant at Come Die With Me.
How to avoid: All that stuff in Scream? Don’t say ‘I’ll be right back…’ Don’t have sex. Don’t be the only person of colour. Yeah, it all comes from the last three films, to be honest.
Played by: Stalwart Australian actor John Jarratt, who hails from the brilliantly named Wongawilli, Wollongong in New South Wales. Jarratt’s, um, chaotic private life suggests that his approach to playing xenophobic, sociopathic outback dwelling uber-bastard Mick Taylor, may well be method.
First appearance: Wolf Creek (2005)
Origin story: They often say that everything in Australia wants to kill you. Spiders, crocodiles, rabid kookaburras. Nothing wants to kill you as much as Mick Taylor does. Why? Well, what else is there to do in the wilds of Australia’s outback? Everyone needs a hobby.
Best line: “Now, this little procedure is called ‘making a head on a stick’. Because once your spine’s shattered, right… well, that’s what you are, eh? Head on a stick!”
How to avoid: With apologies to the Australian tourist board, maybe give Australia a miss next summer.
AKA Elliott Spencer, AKA Hell Priest, AKA Lead Cenobite, AKA The Pope Of Hell, AKA Dr. Paul Gregory, AKA The Engineer, AKA Cold Man.
Played by: Liverpool born actor Doug Bradley, one of only six actors to play the same horror character six consecutive times, the others being Christopher Lee (who portrayed Count Dracula), Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger), Warwick Davis (the Leprechaun), Brad Dourif (Chucky) and Tobin Bell (who portrayed Jigsaw in the Saw movies).
First appearance: The character first appears briefly in Clive Baker’s 1986 novella The Hellbound Heart, though he isn’t openly referred to as Pinhead until Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth in 1992. The character’s nickname only came about thanks to say-what-you-see make-up artists – Barker hated the name and thought it ‘undignified’.
Origin story: A different kind of horror icon, Pinhead is a former soldier called Elliott Spencer, who, suffering from PTSD and survivor’s guilt, turned to hedonism as self-medication. Now he is one of the leaders of the Cenobites, formerly humans but ones transformed into interdimensional monsters, who travel to Earth through a puzzle box called the Lament Configuration in order to harvest human souls. Hey, it’s better than easyJet. He’s rubbish to buy hats for too.
Best line: “The box. You opened it. We came. Now you must come with us, taste our pleasures…” Heads up; he’s not talking about Milk Tray.
How to avoid: You need to be smart. And you need to be able to talk. Barker insisted Pinhead’s personality be more like Christopher Lee‘s classic portrayal of Dracula, as seen in the Hammer Horror films. “Part of the chill of Dracula surely lies in the fact that he is very clearly and articulately aware of what he is doing,” he said. “You feel that this is a penetrating intelligence – and I don’t find dumb things terribly scary. I find intelligence scary, particularly twisted intelligence. It’s one of the reasons why Hannibal Lecter is scary, isn’t it? It’s because you always feel that he’s going to be three jumps ahead of you.”
Played by: Many have tried, most have failed; the man who gets our chainsaw running is Iceland’s Gunnar Hansen. Since 2015, he’s sadly no longer with us, but he’ll always be hanging us on a meat hook in our hearts.
First appearance: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).
Origin story: In attempting to explore the origins of the crazed, human flesh-wearing cannibal, the countless remakes and reboots of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (we count eight films, but there’s comics, video games and a TV series to come) have gone some way to diluting the raw terror of the character with each addition. We’ll go with Hansen’s explanation of the character, who explains why in the original film, Leatherface wears three different masks: the ‘Killing Mask’, the ‘Old Lady Mask’ and the ‘Pretty Woman Mask’.
“The reason [Leatherface] wore a mask was that the mask really determined his personality,” said Hansen. “The idea of the mask is that there is no personality under the mask. That was the idea in talking with [creators] Tobe [Hooper] and Kim [Henkel]. When they created the character, they said he has to put on masks to express himself because he himself can’t do it. There is nothing under the mask, which is what makes him so frightening.”
Best line: “Ughgh Ughugh Ughugh!” (in Leatherface speak, “I’m going to cut your face off!”)
How to avoid: Don’t pick-up hitchhikers. Just drive on by, dude. Leave them in your dust.
Sadako Yamamura (山村 貞子)
AKA Park Eun-suh, AKA Samara Morgan
Played by: Many have tried, but nobody did it like Rie Inō, who played the part of the cursed well-dweller in the Japanese productions Ring (1998) and Ring 2 (1999). Fair’s fair though, Daveigh Chase – as Samara – in the American remakes of said films (in 2002 and 2005, respectively) earned her cheque too.
Origin story: Sadako’s beginnings change drastically between film adaptations and Koji Suzuki’s original novels, so instead we’ll try to find some commonalities between the two. It’s basically agreed that Sadako is the vengeful ghost of a psychic who was murdered and thrown into a well. She doesn’t own a towel and her hair is always wet. As a ghost, she uses ‘nensha’ – essentially the pseudoscience that a person can project ‘thought’ onto a physical image, though Uri Geller believes he can do it, the mad bastard – to create a cursed VHS that will kill whoever watches it exactly one week later. To avoid this, the tape must be copied and shown to another person, who then must repeat the same process, hence ‘The Ring’. If anyone under the age of 20 is reading this and would like to know what a VHS is, then Google is your friend.
Best line: Sadako doesn’t speak, but if you’ve seen the 2016 crossover movie Sadako vs. Kayako, then we’ll leave you with the terrible thought of the noise “akkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk” coming at you down the receiver of your landline.
How to avoid: Don’t watch the VHS. Ancient Aliens is on Discovery. You’ve got Netflix. There’s no need.
AKA John Kramer, AKA The Jigsaw Killer
Played by: Tobin Bell. A man you’d think hadn’t starred in anything other than the bazillion Saw movies that have emerged since the franchise began in 2004. But you’d be wrong! Bell also stars in brilliant KKK crime thriller Mississippi Burning (1988) and played a hermit in longrunning U.S. soap Days Of Our Lives! So there you go!
First appearance: Saw (2004)
Origin story: Basically everyone who’s ever said, “cheer up! Life is great!” distilled into one weary form, John Kramer is a cancer patient who, upon being told he had no hope of recovery, tried to kill himself by driving his car off a cliff.
When he survived, he decided life was too valuable to be squandered. What did he do with this realisation? Spend his life savings on a yacht? Go to New Zealand? Spend the rest of his days eating pizza and playing on Mario Kart? Nope. Instead John decided to share his wisdom with the world by drugging people he thought unworthy of life and placing them within horrendous situations, in which his captives would have to prove their right to live. The guy is sick, but he’s principled.
Best line: “Hello. I want to play a game…” Heads up, it isn’t Mouse Trap.
How to avoid: Be a good person. Enjoy life. Simon from Biffy Clyro is never ending up in a trap set by Jigsaw – and that’s a goddamn fact.
Played by: The Babadook was the surprise hit of 2014, with Jennifer Kent’s debut feature – based on her previous short, 2005’s Monster – grossing over $10m (£7.7m) against a $2m (£1.5m) budget. Consequently, the Australian film starred all manner of no-name actors, most of whom were just starting out. The titular monster, who is very rarely seen, was played by Tim Purcell.
First appearance: The Babadook (2014)
Origin story: While the film is very scary – The Exorcist director William Friedkin claims The Babadook is “the most terrifying I’ve ever seen”, and he knows a thing or two about scary movies – the Babadook’s backstory plays second fiddle to the exploration of grief and motherhood. You may well want to investigate ‘lost’ 1927 mystery London After Midnight. The character ‘The Man In The Beaver Hat’ was the inspiration for The Babadook (and there we were thinking it was actually Pete Doherty).
Best line: Another one who isn’t a talker.
How to avoid: Don’t read pop-up books. What are you? Six?
The Blair Witch
AKA Elly Kedward
Played by: In the first film – the pioneering Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez-directed 1999 found-footage marvel, The Blair Witch Project. You don’t ever see the titular witch, and since that is the only film in the franchise we acknowledge and everything that’s come since is ephemeral detritus that deserves to be consigned to the dustbin of pop culture, there is, technically, no-one who has ever played the Blair Witch. Yup. That’s our party line and we’re sticking with it.
First appearance: Though the film didn’t begin production until 1997, the basic idea for the Blair Witch had been in existence since 1993.
Drawing on the history of New England, Myrick and Sanchez – influenced by the Salem Witch Trials and Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible – conceived the idea of a woman who’d been accused of witchcraft, then left to die of exposure. Her name was Elly Kedward, which riffs on the name of Edward Kelley, the 16th Century mystic.
Origin story: Essentially we’ve just given it to you, but at this point it’s worth saying that, 20 years after the character debuted, no-one – in film, television, literature, comics or video games – has ever come close to capturing the lightning-in-a-bottle magic of Myrick and Sanchez’ original creation.
Best line: Ol’ Elly isn’t one for chat…
How to avoid: If you go down to the woods today… well don’t. Play PlayStation instead.
With honourable mentions to:
Chucky, Pennywise, Jack Torrance, Ghostface, Hannibal Lecter, Regan MacNeil, all the Xenomorphs, The Thing, Candyman, Cujo, The Creeper, Norman Bates, Pyramid Head, Damien Thorn, Gage Creed, Count Orlok, Predator, Annie Wilkes, the woman in the attic in [REC], Mary Shaw, Fire Face from Insidious, Bathsheba, Toshio from Ju-in, Captain Spaulding, Seth Brundle, The Crypt Keeper, Carrie White, the worm things from Slither, Frankenstein’s Monster, Dr. Heiter from The Human Centipede, Mr. Boogie, The Creature From The Black Lagoon… and all of the other bats and ghouls that make Halloween the most wonderful time of the year.