10 Scariest Horror Movie Villains
by Marc Patterson
The nightmares of our childhood dreams are constructed from shadowy faceless horrors, often rationalized as “The Boogeyman”. For many of us die-hard horror fans the faces of those boogeymen were embodied early in our formative years in the form of Jason, Freddy, Leatherface, Pinhead, and Michael Myers. The mantra “It’s only a dream” became “It’s only a movie”. Yet, as we’ve grown up the nightmares of our youth slowly became the object of our pleasure. The shapes and shadows that made us tremble, should we need to get up at night, fail to elicit so much as a goosebump. Fear, however, never goes away. It’s a basic human instinctual reaction to a threatening situation, designed to keep us alive. Which is to say that fear is the ever-present shape-shifting enemy of the third eye. As we mature, so do the things that frighten us. Here’s a list of my 10 Scariest Horror Movie Villains, vile creatures that make even the toughest of us wake from our sleep in a cold sweat. Here, I’ve avoided the obvious icons (some stated above) and assembled a list of villains whose presence conjures a more visceral reaction. Make sure to comment and leave your list as well!
10. The Thing in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) – After such an introduction how could I start off this list with a supernatural creature, a fictional creation of Lovecraftian inspiration, something that clearly haunts no man of rational thought? Simply for this reason – The Thing represents a more visceral fear, that of isolation and inescapable death. The Thing isn’t the Boogeyman. It’s an unseeable enemy that lurks in plain view. You can’t distinguish it, even when it has taken over your best friend. Remember the Swine Flu hysteria? The Thing is not only a brilliantly made film, possibly the closest we might ever come to seeing a cinematic version of At the Mountains of Madness (though it remains a far stretch from that), but it also represents our fear of extinction and that of dying an agonizing and lonely death.
9. James Brocklebank in The Living and The Dead – I can’t remember a film that has both terrified me and haunted me, while at the same time conjuring up such immense sympathy for the villain, who also happens to be a victim. If this at all sounds confusing it’s because The Living and the Dead, from Simon Rumley (Red, White and Blue), is a multi-textured approach to the horror genre, showcasing a family falling apart. Lord Brocklebank leaves home to attend to business. At home is his dying wife and his mentally disabled son James (Leo Bill). James locks the attending nurse out of the home, insistent that he is able to care for his mother. The horror of watching James lovingly murder his mother is too much to bear at times and resonates at so many levels. It’s the fear of having our well-being left in the hands of someone who means well, but who causes pain and destroys us nonetheless. Sadly this is a horrifying pain that far too many of us can relate to.
8. Asami in Audition – So beautiful, so deadly, so enraged! I’d like to take this opportunity to declare out loud, and officially, that Takashi Miike is my favorite filmmaker working today. His films are insanely brilliant, stunningly beautiful to watch, harrowing, at times heartbreaking. When Miike decides he wants to deliver a punch to the gut, well – to borrow a term from the realm of MMA fighting – he’s the “pound for pound” best filmmaker out there, and no one, not even Tarantino, gets it done better. Asami (Ehi Shiina) might be his most villainous creation, a killer so vengeful that her torturous ways would rival the likes of Ichi the Killer. We’re drawn to her. We love her. We buy into her role-playing. And then we are brutalized alongside her victims. So dark. So delinquent. So deliciously deadly.
7. John Lucker in Lucker the Necrophagous – Can I get a raise of the hands for anyone who has watched Lucker the Necrophagous and NOT experienced the sensation of bile rising in your esophagus as you’re about to lose your lunch? If you haven’t seen this chunk-blowing barbarity from Belgium then you’re really missing out. Well, maybe not so much. John Lucker is a fuckin’ pig. The kind of scum that would hang around with Frank Zito, jerking him off in the back of a porno theater. This is the kind of guy that you just know is on the street of every major city in America. He’s the reason women don’t want to ride the subway without a canister of mace. Lucker’s MO is pretty simple; If you’re a woman and you stumble into his path he’ll abduct you (indiscriminately), he’ll kill you (brutally), and he’ll fuck your corpse (repeatedly). This was Nick Van Suyt’s final role in a very short film career. We wonder why.
6. Crazy pack of kids in Ils (Them) – Some people enjoy extreme solitude. I’m one of them. I don’t live in the woods by accident. However, there are very real things that go bump in the night, and when you’re miles from civilization and are about to become the victim of a malicious home invasion, being pit against an enemy you can’t quite see, and can’t fight back against, an enemy with no clear motive – well, I promise you this; there is nothing more terrifying. Talk all you want about what you would do in that situation. God help you should you actually be put there.
5. Krug in The Last House on the Left - Fathers, lock up your daughters. Hell hath spawned a child and his name is Krug. We’re in the top five now, a destination reserved for only the most sadistically evil of on-screen monsters and Krug (David Hess) is tops. Outwardly he appears to be a common drug dealing street thug. Yet he’s something far worse. He’s the monster every one of us knows all too well. He’s the kid who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks killing animals for fun. He’s the kid who would eventually become the next Michael Myers, should he ever be attain that level of “sainthood”. Krug is a man without morals, or remorse. Wes Craven didn’t just create an icon with Krug. He turned the mirror on the audience showing us how this monster was a creation of society’s making, and further that to defeat it we must become it.
4. Frank Zito in Maniac – Lucker, Krug, and now Frank Zito? How much more base can this list get? Oh, I can go to some dark places, kids. Shamefully, I don’t think I gave Maniac the respect it deserved until I got to spend some time wallowing in the toxic extras of the 2010 Blue Underground Blu-ray release of this now classic slice of sleazy 80’s horror cinema. The late pioneer of horror cinema criticism, Chas Balun, called Maniac “the low point in a long, long season of low points”, writing this film off as a “reprehensible snuff film made by former pornographers”. Thirty years later and look how far we’ve come. We’re calling it “classic”. Joe Spinell did such a great job at disgusting audiences that now, years after his death, this trashy, grindhouse film, set in the porno theaters of 42nd Street, is very well the role that defined his career. I imagine Mr. Balun is rolling in his grave to think of it.
3. Béatrice Dalle as “The Woman” in Inside – The only home invasion film that was more terrifying than Inside was Kidnapped. (reviewed here). But, what edges out the psychopaths of Kidnapped, making this particular villain my number three on this list, is a fantastic backstory that provides viewers with one of the most visceral, white-knuckle rides of the last decade. Béatrice Dalle remains nameless, and even faceless for most of this film. She mercilessly torments and tortures our protagonist, a pregnant widowed woman, on Christmas Eve. We don’t know what her motives are, or why, but when they are revealed it’s one of the biggest “holy shit” moments in modern horror cinema. They say hell hath no fury like a woman’s scorn. I say “indeed”.
2. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) – American Psycho – Most of the characters on this list, if they’re a serial killing maniac, come from the lower echelons of society. They dwell in the dregs, preying on victims who happen to stumble across their path. Patrick Bateman is a different beast: a vain, overly cocky, well-to-do Manhattanite, who lacks for nothing. His lunacy and blood-lust are matched only by his pop-culture heavy wit. He rips off one-liners like “I like to dissect girls. Did you know I’m utterly insane?” as though making small talk at a cocktail party, except he’s doing exactly that. He’s a disenfranchised, bored, trust fund playboy who has a seriously sadistic streak. In his head he knows he’s not right, but he so desperately wants to fit in with his yacht club, scotch drinking, up-town friends that he has driven himself quite literally insane. Patrick Bateman is one of the most quotable serial killers in horror cinema history, even more so than Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, who by the way – almost made this list. While his monologues are extraneous to the point of humorous, when he turns on his inner psycho Christian Bale shows the world why he’s one of the best actors working today. Two words: Fucking frightening.
1. Henry in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer – Should you spend any amount of time gazing into the eyes of this sociopath you’ll likely encounter a vast wasteland of nothingness. In my imagination I envision such an exercise as equivalent to losing oneself eternally in the desolation of Fulci’s The Beyond. Henry (Michael Rooker) is, bar none, the king of creepy. He is the ultimate arch-villain, a living, breathing psychopath of unimaginable depths. He’s something far more frightening because he’s doesn’t exist in the supernatural land where nightmares are fabricated by the neurons and synapses of our brains. No, he just sits on his couch, indifferent and emotionally detached to anything and everything. He kills because he needs to, because he was out buying a 12-pack of beer and saw a woman and wanted her dead. Entertainment Weekly called Henry “One of the 20 Scariest Movies of All Time”. Fuck that noise. This is very likely the most frightening film I’ve ever seen, not because it makes me turn on lights in my house as I walk through in the dark, but because I know that out there in this fucked up universe there are individuals just like him and we’ll likely never recognize them until it’s too late.