Who doesn’t love a good ol’ ranking session? Around these parts, we certainly do – and, while my delightful co-editor has been turning his hand to his area of expertise in superhero movies, it seems only right that I plunge into the pulpy pit of horror to do some ranking of my own. I’ve already written a lot about horror franchises, so I don’t want to rank those – but I do want to talk about the horror villains who have earned an iconic place in pop culture thanks to their dreadful turns in terror.
You might ask what the criteria for this list is, and to that, I say – it’s a secret. I’m just going to be working with the villains I know enough about (and have a strong enough opinion on) to write about, but I would love to hear your favourites (and otherwise) in the comments below!
Ugh! The power this has, the clearance this has, the status this has – Tony Todd’s Candyman is one of the only bonafide incredible performances in the world of 90s horror, and even now, his take on the urban legend is unputdownably compelling. Sexy, charismatic, stylish, and commanding, I can’t wait to see his return in the upcoming reboot, and honestly, if you haven’t taken the time to watch the Candyman franchise yet, he’s reason alone.
Now, I’m mainly a fan of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series because it gifted the horror world Bill Moseley, but there’s no denying that Leatherface is one of the most layered and interesting villains out there. Early films show him protecting his family instead of slashing through sexy teens at random, and Gunnar Hansen’s wordless but deft performance really delivers a different edge to the masked murderer.
Okay, so this isn’t actually one specific villain – but that’s what makes Ghostface so great. Ghostface is a walking horror meta-commentary with a mask on, basically me when I do my skincare regime, and it’s impossible not to love that balance of genuinely spooky horror killer and self-referential teenage bullshittery.
4. John Kramer/Jigsaw Killer
I am a huge apologist for the Saw franchise, and a huge part of that is because of Tobin Bell as John Kramer. Even when the films are at their most abjectly silly, every time he appears on screen, he owns that shit: sinister with just an inch of silly, and focused more on ingenuity than mere muscle, he’s the reason that the franchise, for better or for worse, has endured as long as it has.
5. Michael Myers
Now, much as I am not a huge fan of the Halloween franchise, there’s no denying that Michael Myers made the rulebook on how to run a horror villain. Imposing, silent, and unstoppable, that force-of-nature thing he has going on is genuinely unsettling. My personal favourite version of him is, unsurprisingly, in the much-maligned Rob Zombie remake, as Daeg Faerch and Tyler Mane, but I’m willing to work with any version of this character done right.
6. Freddie Krueger
Freddie Krueger is the best part of almost every movie he’s in. Played with chaotic energy by Robert Englund (and Jackie Earle Haley, but we don’t talk about that), he has the most interaction with his victims, and the most room to play in the dreamworld he traps them in: this can make for some really impressive and unsettling interaction, or it can just be intensely annoying. Just because he’s the best part of those bad movies doesn’t mean he’s actually good.
Hello, it’s me, your resident apologist for the Annabelle series! The Conjuring spin-offmight have a bad reputation (somewhat earned, to be fair), and God, there are some dreadful movies in this list – but I still kind of dig Annabelle as a villain. She’s only so far down on this list because I need some more winners in the deck before I can get behind her outright. Or, wait, is she behind me? Fuck!
8. The Miner
I want to love The Miner, the villain from the My Bloody Valentine series, because he looks so damn cool: I love the costuming, love the design, love that eerie clank as he draws closer. But his backstory is generally a mess, and none of the films really use his unique look and style to the effect that they could.
9. Jason Voorhees
What are you, Jason, some kind of cuck? Letting your own mother run the show for the first movie? That’s not a very Alpha Move. Despite the iconography of the hockey mask and Jason’s dozen Friday the 13th movies all to himself, he never really has the grounding of a great first movie that others on this list do.
10. Chucky the Doll
Do you know how much it pains me to put something that Brad Dourif has done so low on this list? I can’t even begin to tell you the agony that courses through my soul right now at even the thought of it. It’s nothing on the agony of watching these movies, though – dull, irritating, and, at the centre of it all, this painfully annoying villain who could be taken out with one well-timed punt into a dumpster.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Vanity Fair)