There's truly no bad time for a fright night, but now that we're officially in Spooky Szn (aka October), I've become convinced that scary-movie villains are hiding around every corner waiting to jump out and kill me. I have Halloween on the brain constantly; it pretty much seeps into every nook and cranny of my psyche. I'm never not sourcing inspo for my costume, TBH. Sometimes you just need a classic horror flick.
As we all know, a scary movie lives or dies (but mostly dies) by its villain. I don't know about you, but watching a deranged serial killer run, walk, slink, or crawl across my screen sounds like the perfect way to get end a tough week. Here are the scariest horror movie villains to terrorize the big screen/serve as your Halloween costume vision board.
1. Dean, Missy, and Jeremy Armitage, Get Out
The entire Armitage family in Get Out is terrifying and freaking psychotic. They possess the kind of passive, manipulative creepiness that absolutely fucks with your head and sends shivers through your whole body. That and the fact that they embody the insidious racism our country was built on.
2. Audrey II, Little Shop of Horrors
Don’t feed the plants.
3. Patrick Bateman, American Psycho
Nostalgia for the '80s hits differently when you’re watching one of its most iconic characters commit brutal murders with a Rembrandt smile. The fact that Bateman’s killing may or may not be happening in his head makes him somehow scarier. If even he doesn’t know what’s real…do you?
4. Frank-N-Furter, The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Tim Curry is so campy, sexy, and entertaining in the cult musical that you forget he’s actually pretty friggin’ evil, tries to kill almost all of the characters, and is ultimately defeated at the end of the movie. Just because this twist on the “car broke down outside a spooky mansion” trope includes a dance-off doesn’t make the stakes any lower.
5. Lucille Sharpe, Crimson Peak
Spoiler alert: though he’s played many villains in his career, Tom Hiddleston is not the villain Crimson Peak. It’s his character’s sister and her creepy incest vibes that you need to watch out for in Guillermo Del Toro’s film.
6. The Facility, Cabin in the Woods
Monsters and jump scares are a dime a dozen in this spooky comedy, and any one of them is likely to shake you to your very core. The film’s “big bad” is an organization of corporate types who gleefully sacrifice young people and bet on which gore-filled horror will get them first. Somehow these heartless dweebs are the scariest of all. (That said, special shoutout to the Merman, always.)
7. Vivian Tyrell, Vampires vs. The Bronx
Well…*pushes glasses up nose* the real villain is gentrification, but who better to represent that than the white girl who is new to the neighborhood and just so happens to be a bloodthirsty vampire? It's not as subtle as Get Out, but since when has horror ever aimed for subtly?
8. Mama, Mama
A possessed, demonic, and spidery creature, this controlling mother is none too pleased when her two young daughters are adopted—even though she abandoned them in the woods for, um, five years. So she does what any mother would do: she terrorizes and tortures everyone, including her! own! children!
9. Carrie White, Carrie
You could argue that Carrie White is actually the victim in this story. But just because her murdering rampage is kinda warranted doesn't mean it's not also horrifying as hell.
10. The Thing, The Thing
No one knows exactly what the Thing is in John Carpenter's 1982 classic sci-fi horror film. Because there's really no better name for a slimy conglomeration of limbs and hands and teeth than the Thing.
11. Seth Brundle, The Fly
Seth Brundle was just your typical crazy mad scientist trying to impress a girl with a supposed breakthrough invention. Until the experiment took a very different course...one that involves Brundle slowly morphing into a human-sized fly creature that's just as gross as it sounds.
12. Henry, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Michael Rooker's harrowing performance as serial killer Henry Lee Lucas is deeply, deeply disturbing. You know this is based on a true story of a real-life murderer, right? Do not, I repeat, do *not* watch this alone at night.
13. Anna Ivers, The Uninvited
I don't want to give away too much butttttt the movie revolves around Anna, who has been in a psych ward for nearly a year following the death of her terminally ill mother. In this psychological thriller, it's unclear what's real and what's a hallucination until the very, very end—at which point, one last twist awaits you.
14. Brahms, The Boy
Why do we let little kids play with dolls and pretend like they aren't the scariest things ever?!?!? Brahms is a creepy, life-like doll who terrorizes anyone who comes in contact with him. Thanks Hollywood, but I don't need another reason to harbor ridiculous paranoia about dolls!
15. Esther, Orphan
Listen, obviously little kids can be super cute and adorable, but they can also be freaking CREEPY. Exhibit A: Esther, from Orphan. Esther epitomizes Evil Child Syndrome, which is a real thing, apparently.
16. Griffin, The Invisible Man
This 2020 retelling of H. G. Wells’s classic novel of the same name modernizes the evil Dr. Griffin by making him a super-possessive ex-boyfriend/inventor who fakes his own death and makes a techy suit that turns him invisible so he can terrorize his ex-girlfriend Cecilia. His hobbies include sneaking into Cecilia’s room and pulling off the bed covers while she's sleeping and tackling her from behind, ya know, just stuff that makes everyone around Cecilia question her sanity.
17. The Shark, Jaws
This circa 1970 shark might look kind of fake, sure. But if you’ve ever been afraid of the deep blue sea, this massive great white villain—with his rows of razor-sharp teeth, hankering for human flesh, and a not an ounce of remorse—will only confirm your fears. You’ll definitely want to say “no thanks” to any cruise or boat trip opportunities forever.
18. Pelle, Midsommar
Incoming *controversial* take! Can we just talk about the fact that Pelle—as good as he thinks his intentions might be—literally took all his new “friends” on this trip to Sweden to visit his ~cute~ cult family and subjected those same “friends” to human sacrifice, bad shroom trips, and general gory chaos. Like? IDK? Sounds pretty villainous to me. Also, he is just waaay too ready to comfort Dani. And his smile? It’s creepy.
19. Ghostface, Scream
Fact: Ghostface is terrifying. I get that most people, at this point, associate Ghostface with things like their little brother’s Halloween costume or Scary Movie and maybe don’t find him that scary. But no. Literally, LOOK at that mask. The eyes are too empty and the mouth is way, way too long to be natural.
20. The Xenomorph, Alien
There are countless iterations of this parasitic and murderous alien monster, but there’s nothing quite like the OG Xenomorph from the first Alien movie. This guy comes out as a weird crab-like creature that pops out of an even weirder fleshy egg that latches on to your face and falls off before a little demon-alien baby (think: Bella’s vampire child but scarier) bursts out of your stomach and grows into a human-size killing machine with an extra jaw. Need I say more?
21. Michael Myers, Halloween
Ruining Jamie Lee Curtis’s trick-or-treating and otherwise harmless sheet masks since 1978. You might want to hide all your sharp knives after this one.
22. The Entity, It Follows
If you haven’t seen It Follows, allow me to explain the setup: You have sex with someone infected by the entity. The entity, which can take the shape of anyone, including people you know, starts following you. The entity follows you until it kills you or you pass it on to someone else through sex. If the entity kills that person, it comes back for you. You can never go anywhere with only one exit, you can never trust anyone, and you can never sleep again. Basically, you are fucked for all eternity. Good luck! (Bonus: For a good three or four days after watching this movie, you will believe every single person you see is a sex demon coming to murder you.)
23. Annabelle, The Conjuring and Annabelle
Annabelle certainly isn’t the first villain to prove that dolls are horrible and should never be allowed in the hands of human children, but she does hold the distinct honor of being based on an IRL doll believed to be responsible for the death of at least one person. Having met that doll, I can confirm that she is just as scary in real life as she is onscreen, if not more so.
24. Jason Voorhees, Friday the 13th
Jason wants revenge for getting drowned in a lake, and I get that. I really do. But did he have to drag his mother into it? The only thing worse than a serial killer hell-bent on destruction is one who has to get his mother to do it for him. Does he ask her to wash his underwear too?
25. Minnie Castevet, Rosemary’s Baby
In Minnie’s defense, she’s not the only resident of the Bramford who conspired to get Rosemary knocked up with Lil Satan, but she’s definitely the one you’d least expect—and that’s what makes her terrifying. She might look like an innocent elderly neighbor who just wants to help calm your pregnancy nerves (for the love of god, don’t take the herbs!), but in reality, she’s a devil worshipper determined to make sure your newborn ends up in a black bassinet designed for a hell spawn. He has his father’s eyes!
26. Mister Babadook, The Babadook
As was established with Esther in Orphan, children are terrifying, but they’re even worse when they start hallucinating a character from a kid’s book and crafting homemade weapons to defend themselves from said character. It also doesn’t help that the Babadook looks like your childhood vision of the bogeyman.
27. Pinhead, Hellraiser
I mean, hello. Look at him.
28. Freddy Krueger, A Nightmare on Elm Street
Everyone’s had nightmares, and everyone knows they’re awful. Freddy Krueger is what happens when those nightmares come alive and actually start killing you. Sweet dreams, suckers!
29. Annie Wilkes, Misery
Before she was killing it on American Horror Story as formidable villains Delphine (Coven) and the Butcher (Roanoke), Kathy Bates ruined lives as Annie Wilkes, a psychopath who takes the word “superfan” too far. She’s the single reason Harry Styles doesn’t respond to your daily Twitter mentions.
30. Candyman, Candyman
Pour one out for all the ’90s kids who saw this at the video store and mistook it for a sequel to Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. If this guy offers you an Everlasting Gobstopper, do not take it under any circumstances.
31. Samara Morgan, The Ring
Actually, forget what I said about "super cute and adorable." Children are terrifying. This is a fact. Even in real life, they talk to people who aren’t there, they think a fairy comes to their rooms at night and hands over money in exchange for lost teeth, and they could accidentally kill themselves at any moment.
But no child, real or imagined, is more terrifying than Samara Morgan, a monster so nightmare-inducing that after I first saw The Ring, my mom offered to take my television out of my bedroom lest Samara crawl out of it and strangle me. May Samara fall down that well one more time and never slink out of it again.
32. Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs
He could have just been a serial killer with a talent for uncomfortably compelling conversation. But nooo, he had to be a cannibal too. Have the lambs stopped screaming, Clarice? No, Hannibal, and they never will as long as your face is visible on cable 40 times a month.
33. Jack Torrance, The Shining
No matter how many times you see The Shining, the image of Jack Nicholson’s face popping through that door after he bashes it in with an axe will never stop being bury-your-face-in-the-couch terrifying. Side note: This movie makes a great case for never marrying a writer.
34. Norman Bates, Psycho
If a boy tells you his best friend is his mother, run.
35. Pennywise, It
As Carrie Bradshaw so wisely said, “Nothing’s scarier than a clown,” and no clown is scarier than Pennywise, who is not even really a clown but an evil otherworldly entity that just takes the form of a clown so he can more easily murder children. (TBT to the infamous clown epidemic of 2016!)
36. Pazuzu, The Exorcist
What, you thought it was gonna be Regan MacNeil on this list? You can’t blame her for all that green vomit and floor pee! It was all Pazuzu’s fault. (Although, technically, none of this would have happened if she hadn’t been playing with that Ouija board in the first place.)
37. Leatherface, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Spoiler alert: That’s not really leather.
38. Dr. Heiter, The Human Centipede
This dude gets off on sewing people’s mouths to other people’s buttholes. What else could you possibly need to know?
39. The Nun, The Nun
The only thing scarier than the Nun is the fact that she’s based on an IRL nightmare of a true story.
40. Black Phillip, The Witch
Who wouldn’t want a talking pet goat, right?!
Unless you’re all alone in the middle of nowhere with your family and that goat is actually Satan. Then, I guess, no one?
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