Since birth, we’ve been indoctrinated with a love of horror, whether we knew it or not. The first game your mother would play with you involved her hiding behind her hands and then shouting “Boo!” We were taught folk tales that involved a witch wanting to eat children or a wolf wearing the skin of an elderly woman. Some of us were warned of the Krampus, who’d kidnap misbehaving little boys and girls.
We’d play Bloody Mary and watch old Disney films. You know, the scary ones. We dressed up like monsters and ghouls for Halloween and even begged to go to haunted houses. Everything we did as children was a lifetime of preparation for horror. Because deep down, we all have an innate desire to be frightened. We crave it and when we were finally brave enough to watch some horror horror films, these were the characters that scared us better than any others. This list is a celebration of horror and the icons that help us lose sleep at night.
This is the 100 Greatest Horror Characters Of All Time.
10. Xenomorph (Bolaji Badejo) | Alien/Aliens (1979-1986)
When you think of the Xenomorph in the first Alien film, your mind conjures up all of these images of the alien stalking the crew and killing them in various ways but the Xenomorph is the greatest villain with the shortest amount of screen time. People complained that there wasn’t enough Godzilla in the 2014 reboot but nobody ever complains about the lack of Xenomorph in Alien. Because even though he’s in it less than half of the time, every second matters.
There’s nothing more terrifying than the dread, the anticipation of seeing something and that’s the brilliance of Alien. You barely see the monster but the escalation of dread makes you think he’s always there. The sequels added different versions that were faster and stronger but nothing beats the originals design or the fear it creates. He’s the greatest monster cinema has ever produced.
09. Dracula | Various (1922-2014)
There have been multiple iterations of Dracula over the years. Some sympathetic, others have been monsters. He’s been comedic and other times an action star. With the exception of maybe Sherlock Holmes or Ebenezer Scrooge, there isn’t a character with more adaptations than Dracula. There’s something about the cape wearing blood sucker that audiences never tire of seeing.
He’s a villain that has been around forever and everyone has their favorite. Bela Lugosi set the mold (although it could be argued that Max Schrek was the first because of lawsuits and what have you but I don’t feel like arguing semantics) that others have either copied, added to or reinvented over the years. Oldman made him a sympathetic ghoul who’s still obsessed with his long lost lady love, Regehr loved his team ups and blowing shit with dynamite and Langela had glorious fucking hair but Lee made him a legit threat. He’s a heart breaker, blood taker, corpse maker–don’t you mess around with him.
08. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) | Alien/Aliens (1979/1986)
The role that made a star out of Sigourney Weaver and helped redefine what an action hero is, almost never happened. In the original script, Ripley was a man but thank god Ridley Scott decided to hire an actress, because in addition to unintentionally changing cinema, he guaranteed Ripley a spot on this list. Honestly, would we still be talking about or even giving a shit about this character if it was a man?
Warrant Officer of the Nostromo, Ellen Ripley is not only the most capable member of the ship, she’s the most capable protagonist in all of horror. She doesn’t survive due to narrative convenience or dumb luck. She survives because she’s smart and with the exception of her trying to save that goddamn cat, she never makes the wrong decision. She’s sidesteps every final girl cliche and easily would’ve made the list if they never made a sequel but Aliens takes everything great about the character and further expands upon it.
More of an action film than its predecessor, Aliens turns an already strong character into an indomitable force of nature. Her one-on-one fight with the xenomorph queen is still an all time “fuck yeah!” moment.
07. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) | Psycho series (1960-1990)
The third villain on this list based on serial killer Ed Gein, Bates isn’t as scary as Leatherface or monstrously cruel as Buffalo Bill but he might be crazier than both. Over the course of four films, we learn more of his backstory, which makes him more of a tragic victim born from an insane mothers wrath but that’s just subtext. It adds to his character but it doesn’t detract from his insanity.
Whether we the sequels existed or not, everything we needed to know about Norman is in that first film. He tends to a motel, has an odd relationship with his mother and people end up dead. With the final reveal, we realize how insane he truly is and no amount of backstory will change the fact that he dresses up like his mother and hacks people to death.
But even after he brutally knife fucks Marion to death, you never stop rooting for him. He’s violently insane but he’s also victim of said insanity. He’s tormented by the ghost of his mother who makes him an unwilling participant in numerous murders. He’s a morally complex and sympathetic monster; who’s monumentally influential and looks great in a dress.
06. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) | Halloween series (1978-2018)
Horror is at its most effective when it puts you in the shoes of its protagonist. When you’re feeling the same dread and anxiety as they are. What none of the Halloween knock offs or copy cats bothered to imitate, was creating a protagonist the audience actually cared about. Co-writer Debra Hill was in charge of making sure all the female characters felt authentic and helped mold Laurie into more than just a one dimensional character. She has insecurities. She’s unsure of herself. She talks to herself and is timid but she never feels weak.
She’s the first and most important final girl not because you’re waiting for her to finally fight back but because you’re praying she’ll just survive. The sequels made her slightly less interesting by making her related to Michael but the 2018 reboot/sequel wisely retconned that. The latest film might’ve turned her into a kickass Sarah Conner clone but no amount of guns or training will erase the image of a scared teenage girl trying to survive the night he came home.
05. Jason Vorhees (Various) | Friday the 13th Series (1980-2009)
The first film had his mother doing all the killings. The second one involved a Jason with a burlap sack over his head. It wouldn’t be until the third film in the series that we’d finally get the iconic look. A look that catapulted him into the upper echelon of horror icons.
There’s something about that machete/hockey mask combination that really struck a chord with audiences and has made him one of the most recognizable figures in pop culture. And that’s just his look. Based on his body count and the variety of kills, Jason is easily he big screens most violent killer.
The fact that his character looks different in almost every film, has a backstory that makes literally no sense, starred in more gimmick based sequels than actual legit releases and has not a single great movie in his filmography is a testament to how beloved a character he is.
As beloved as he is, the thing that fans love about him, is also a detriment to his character. They love that he’s an unstoppable machine of murder but that love comes at a price. The price of fear. He hasn’t been scary since 2 but since he’s not wearing his iconic mask in that one, it feels like a completely different character. The only thing Jason has going for him is the look and the creativity of the kills but to the fans, that’s more than enough.
04. Michael Myers (various) | Halloween Series (1978-2018)
After viewing Carpenter’s film Assault on Precinct 13, independent film producers Moustapha Akkad and Irwin Yablans approached the director with a film idea about a killer that stalked babysitters. After writing the first draft titled “The Babysitter Murders“, Yablans suggested the film be set on Halloween. He rewrote the script and with a new setting and title, Halloween was officially born. I wonder where cinema would be if Yablans didn’t suggest that change or if the prop department went with a clown mask instead of a 2 dollar William Shatner mask.
The gods of cinema must have been shining on Carpenter (which, if you know his career, is deeply ironic), because every element some how worked. He somehow overcame his budgetary limitations to create one of the most important horror films in existence. And it’s all due to the success of Michael Myers.
We are given a flashback to his childhood but never a backstory. The only explanation given in the film to account for his murderous behaviour comes from the film’s psychiatrist Dr. Samuel Loomis, in which he simply states, “that boy is pure evil.”
Tommy was right, he is the boogeyman.
03. Ash (Bruce Campbell) | Evil Dead/Evil Dead 2 (1981/1987)
Starting the franchise as an unassertive wimp that kind of wins by default, the man formerly known as Ashley Williams pulls a complete 180 in the sequel. Gone is the cowardly boyfriend of the Evil Dead and in his place, a live action cartoon that spouts one liners and kicks an ungodly amount of deadite ass. But make no mistake, even at his most badass, he’s still an idiot. But his idiocy is actually an asset. He’s too fucking dumb to be afraid of all the crazy shit that’s happening around him. With his chainsaw hand, shotgun and the Necronomicon, Ash’s transformation from zero to hero, is one of the most jarring but satisfying arcs in all of horror.
Hail to the king, baby.
02. Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) | A Nightmare on Elm Street series (1984-1994)
For atleast five years, Freddy Kruger was a rock star. He skyrocketed past horror icon status to become an omnipresent figure in pop culture. Everywhere you looked, he would somehow appear. He had tons of merchandise, a television show, a book series, a comic series, bubblegum and even a rap song. His fame was almost immediate and equally inexplicable considering he’s a child killer but that’s a testament to his Craven’s designs and Englund’s performance, that it was never an issue. Hell, I dressed up as him for at least three Halloween’s.
I think a huge chunk of his appeal stems from the fact that, compared with his rivals in horror-film serial murder, he’s cut from a different cloth. Unlike Leatherface, Michael Myers, and Jason Vorhees, he doesn’t hide behind a mask, so there’s no discontent. The audience isn’t separated by a wall of artifice. Which means they can connect to him on at least some level.
They’re also all mutes and Freddy is a regular ol’ chatty cathy and talking, as you know, is one of the defining pillars of personality. And it’s a hell of a lot easier to love someone who talks as opposed to someone who doesn’t.
He also brings a level of creativity to his kills, that no other villain can match. Since he’s cursed to the haunted dream world, his power is only limited by his imagination. If he can think it, he can use it to kill you.
01. The Monster (Boris Karloff) | Frankenstein/The Bride of Frankenstein (1931/1935)
Greatness is almost impossible to quantify. In order to determine somethings worth, there must be a set of parameters apart from personal bias. If you remove subjectivity, you can compare anything. Creating a list is no different. Although horror has the most varied set of subgenres, the algorithm remains the same.
Using popularity, longevity, performance and importance as my grading criteria, the only character that exceeds those qualifications, is Frankenstein’s Monster.
He’s instantly identifiable by almost everyone in the world, has been in the public consciousness for almost 100 years, is massively influential to both horror and sci-fi and Karloff gives an unnaturally great performance as the Monster.
With his gaunt appearance, sunken eyes, big ass boots and trademarked flat top head and neck bolts, every element of his design is iconic. Jack P. Pierce’s make up was groundbreaking but it would’ve been for naught if it was applied to any other actor. Shelley might’ve given him life but Karloff gave the monster a soul.
Unlike his contemporaries, Karloff didn’t play him as a one note, lumbering zombie. He added a child like innocence to him, which is all the more tragic after he accidentally murders a little girl. Even still, you never lose sympathy for him because he never asked to be born again. He’s hated simply because he’s different, which is something far too many of us relate to.
Because of his undeniable importance to cinema, The Monster is the #1 Greatest Horror Character Of All Time.
What do you think of the selection so far? Who are some of your favorite horror characters from over the years? Maybe they will show up further on the list!