Sometimes a horror can only be as good as its villain. They’re the ones carrying the face of the movie after all – no pressure really. This genre has never been afraid to exploit a person’s deepest, darkest fears through monsters, spirits and serial killers; but a horror film should always make it count. Without a memorable villain to set the tone, audiences can leave the theatre without the lingering afterthought that they could encounter the frightful antagonist at a dark corner.
But these embodiments of evil aren’t so easy to erase from memory. Each bring their own hellish dish to the table which are sure to strike every single nerve. Leaving nothing but chaos and terror in their wake, the horror genre would never be the same after these villains got their bloody hands on it.
The Strangers – The Strangers (2008)
“Because you were home…” are four words that have haunted even the hardest horror fanatics since 2008. The eponymous trio who stalk, torment and later brutally murder a young couple have no motive. There’s no connection to the homeowners, no reason for even being near their home other than to inflict severe paranoia and psychological warfare. Little warning is given before these villains seem to materialise from the dark corners of the house; and they know exactly how to execute this disturbing game of cat and mouse, whether that’s by knocking repeatedly on the door or lurking behind the protagonists undetected.
Billy Loomis and Stu Macher – Scream (1996)
Who would’ve thought that two morbidly deranged murderers would be so charismatic and lovable – ok, Billy (Skeet Ulrich) a little less so but everyone has a soft spot for Stu (Matthew Lillard), right? The best part apart this dynamic duo is how blatantly obvious it is that they’re pulling the strings behind the whole Woodsboro operation; Stu practically outright confess at one point and it’s just glossed over because he’s portrayed as the eccentric, goofy somewhat comic relief of the teenage group. Both Billy and Stu can express ignorance and insensitivity but the alarm bells don’t start ringing until it’s too late. While the franchise has carried on beyond the Macher residence with various characters donning the robe, Billy and Stu are the blueprint that started this nightmare.
Michael Myers – Halloween Franchise (1978 – 2022)
Though Jamie Lee Curtis shot to stardom with her role as the genre’s favourite final girl, it’s her masked nemesis who has remained the face of a four-decade-long franchise. It’s hard not to think about Michael Myers wherever horror is concern. He’s an iconic figure yet to utter a single word – excluding Rob Zombie’s reboot. Michael’s mask has seen better days across the film series but never fails to strike terror in his victims and audiences. The serial killer is menacing in appearance; always calculating, always preying; he is the embodiment of pure evil. Despite the wavering quality of the Halloween sequels, Michael always pulls through and continues to find unique and horrific ways to eliminate his victims.
Rose the Hat – Doctor Sleep (2019)
Rebecca Ferguson’s performance in Mike Flanagan’s 2018 legacy sequel to The Shiningis thoroughly compelling. Rose the Hat is devious, wickedly malicious, and simply diabolical. She cares for no one but herself. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a close contender here but the difference between the two is that Jack is driven to insanity whereas Rose the Hat is a natural born threat committed to using her power with malicious intent. There is no remorse towards the children she tortures; she knows precisely where her next victim is too, able to track their location as her power grows; and once she catches wind of them, Rose the Hat will not let up until they are squirming before her.
Freddy Krueger – A Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise (1984 – 2010)
The stripy-sweater, razor-gloved wearing Krueger isn’t particularly scary in theory; instead, Robert Englund’s horror icon thrives because he lives inside his victim’s own subconscious. Freddy Krueger is the original recipe for nightmare fuel. His method of attack relies purely on the teens falling asleep, which of course is something that can’t be avoided by anyone. Despite the character himself becoming more and more comical as the franchise goes on, there is never an escape from Krueger. He will cross paths with his targets eventually, who remain helpless to his advances. Plus, he’s one of the few horror villains to be accompanied by an unsettling nursery rhyme.
The Grabber – The Black Phone (2022)
Anyone would fall head over heels for the gentle, soothing sound of Ethan Hawke’s voice – no matter what role he’s playing, Hawke will always be sweet, shy Todd Anderson. Until he whacks on a top hat and a satanical-like mask. The Grabber is a frightening villain in that his intentions never stray from what could easily be reality; a predatory figure preying on children is a tough thought to stomach; and with the fate of his victims all happening off-screen, it leaves the imagination to conjure up the most disturbing, unthinkable imagery that no one dares explore.
Seth Brundle – The Fly (1986)
It could be argued that Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is as much a victim as he is a villain. The charming scientist doesn’t set out to merge with a housefly, though his decision to place himself inside the telepod is an indicator that Seth is reckless and quite egocentric when it comes to his work. Over a gradual period, Seth begins a grotesque transition into the eponymous creature. He loses all sense of morality, grows increasingly aggressive and eventually plans to merge himself with Ronnie (Geena Davis). The problem isn’t Seth himself, it’s his warped agenda to literally bring his family together that send audiences spiralling down a nauseating path.
Annie Wilkes – Misery (1990)
Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) might be every celebrity’s worst nightmare. Created by psychological horror mastermind Stephen King, Annie is a kind-hearted, nurturing Good Samaritan who welcomes a car crash victim, who also happens to be her favourite author, into her home to help him recover. At least, that’s how she introduces herself. It’s not long before Paul Sheldon (James Caan) realises Annie’s behaviour runs deeper than casual fan interest. Annie will do everything in her power to keep Paul bedridden and by her side. Her character serves as a disturbing reflection on obsessive fan culture, which has been made all the more chilling and invasive following the rise of social media. Rest in peace Annie Wilkes, you would have loved Twitter.
Esther – Orphan (2009)
What could be creepier than a kid in a horror movie? Isabelle Fuhrman gives a truly deranged, magnetic performance as Esther, a young orphan taken in by estranged couple Kate and John (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard). For her young age, Esther is a skilled manipulator, driving a wedge between the already strained family she infiltrates; her actions are that of savagery and the idea that she is merely a child is horrifying as she carries the persona of the friendly, talented and misfortunate orphan a little too well. Of course it turns out Esther isn’t a child at all and is instead a 33-year-old serial killer who’ll murder anyone who stands in the way of what she wants – including children.
Sebastian Caine – Hollow Man (2000)
There’s no greater menace to society than Kevin Bacon’s egotistical mad scientist Sebastian Caine. From the get-go, Sebastian is a grade-A d-bag and that’s before an unethical experiment enables him to commit heinous crimes against humanity. Once invisible, the scientist takes immediate advantage, resorting to sexual violence and stalking before turning murderous. Sebastian could literally be anywhere. And there’s no guarantee he can be stopped. The scariest part about Hollow Man is not only the inability to see the antagonist but the fact that Sebastian’s first instinct is to torture his neighbour and co-workers; he never once experiences a decline of morality because he’s at rock bottom from the very beginning.