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 would get 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. It was a lifetime of preparation for horror. Because deep down, we all have an innate desire to be frightened. We crave it and these characters scare 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.
100. Alymer (John Zacherle) | Brain Damage
Voiced by legendary television horror host John Zacherle, Alymer (don’t call him Elmer!) is a centuries old alien parasite who attaches himself to the spinal cord of humans to use as hosts in order to help him procure fresh brains. He does this by injecting his hosts with “brain juice”, an addictive hallucinogenic blue fluid that makes his hosts drug addicted zombies that are willing to do anything for another hit. Including murder.
Unlike Henenlotter’s other puppet monster, Alymer isn’t just some murderous creature who’s only goal is to kill and scare, he actually has a personality. He’s a dick who delights in fucking with his hosts because he knows that he owns their asses. He turns people into desperate, obsessed slaves and when they no longer can provide brains fast enough or if he just gets bored fucking with them, he ditches them to a life of brain juice-less torment. He’s a total asshole and he’s the most enjoyably entertaining thing Henenlotter ever created. And he created a frankenhooker for godsakes.
99. Trash (Linnea Quigley) | Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Return of the Living Dead is filled to the brim with memorable characters. There’s the lovable goof Frank, the impossible-not-to-like Nazi Ernie, the “send more paramedics” zombie, the Tar Man and a whole slew of others but odds are, the only character you’ll remember after you see it the first time is Trash. Much like Santanico Pandemonium, no character has done so much, with such limited screen time.
98. Theresa ‘Tree’ Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) | Happy Death Day, Happy Death Day 2U (2017-2019)
Time-loop films rely on the protagonist being likeable enough to keep the audience invested in the ongoing struggles the protagonist faces. Groundhog Day had Bill Murray’s Phil; Edge of Tomorrow has Tom Cruise’s Bill Cage; and Happy Death Day has Jessica Rothe’s Tree Gelbman. Honestly, without Rothe, I don’t think this film would have been as enjoyable to watch. Time-loop films require the actor to shoot the same scenes multiple times, but add something new to each take to help differentiate each “loop”. No scene in the films highlight’s Rothe’s talents as an actor more than the “morning after walk home”. Rothe’s having fun in the scene, and, by the end of it, so is her character. The sequel is unfortunately nowhere near as good as Happy Death Day, but again it’s Rothe who holds that film up as Tree. Horror movies require memorable characters in order to leave a footprint on the genre. Tree has definitely ensured Happy Death Day a place as not just a modern horror classic, but as a modern time-travel one too. And that’s worth taking notice of.
97. Sang-Hwa (Dong-Seok Ma) | Train to Busan (2016)
Forgive the pun but for the last couple of years or so, the zombie genre has gotten a bit rotten. Over saturation and the lack of any new ideas has made the genre go stale. Long gone are the days of Romero and it feels like a lifetime ago since Snyder and Gunn made them fast.
But like a ray of light in the darkest cave, Train to Busan came out and brought new life to a dying genre. It had genuine heart and characters you cared about. You rooted for Seok-Woo to protect his daughter, which in turn made you afraid for her safety. It was a believable relationship but as amazing as the leads were, you only really cared whether Sang-Hwa lived or not. He’s so instantly badass, you kind of stop caring about anything other than him and his journey.
96. Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) | Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
In the original novel by Ira Levin, the story is structured in such a way, that the reveal of what Rosemary’s baby actually is, is an unexpected surprise. The reader is supposed to be caught off guard by the ending. The film doesn’t work that way. You have a pretty good idea what those weird ass neighbors are up to by the half way point and even the slowest of viewers should deduce what’s up after they see the devil giving it to Rosemary. But that’s the genius of the film. It works not because we’re supposed to be shocked but because we knew it was coming and were powerless to stop the inevitable.
We are Rosemary. We only have half the pieces to the puzzle and by the time we figure out It’s a cat, a cult wants to take our newborn baby. But the structure nor the film itself would work without a rock solid performance from Mia Farrow. She anchors the film with a perfect blend of confusion and distrust. She thinks she might be going mad but we know better and because she’s so likable, we aren’t frustrated at her. We’re terrified for her.
95. Annie (Toni Collette) | Hereditary (2018)
Some horror films live and die by their premises. They ask an audience to believe a guy can kill you in your sleep or that a little boy can see ghosts. Some horror films live and die by their villain. Others by how much sex and violence they promise.
And a few live and die by the performances. Hereditary would not have worked if the lead was weak. The character of Annie needed an actress who could run the full gamut of emotions, who could inspire sympathy and disgust in the audience. You needed to believe her but there also needed to be doubt. Is she crazy or is something malicious happening to her family?
Hereditary is a perfect example of a film being completely dependant on the strength of the central character and Toni Collette knocks it out of the park. She gives one of the best performances in any horror film to date.
94. Sitterson and Hadley (Richard Jenkins/Bradley Whitford) | The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Taking Randy–the fourth wall breaking character from Scream–and cranking him all the way up to an 11, The Cabin in the Woods takes the meta approach to cliches and not only points them out as they’re happening, but now turns those cliches into an actual job. Randy used them to keep him and everyone around him alive, Sitterson and Hadley use them to placate the old gods. They literally created every bad trope in the book just to entertain some blood hungry giants. Which incidentally makes every terrible horror film slightly more enjoyable as a result. Because unofficially, they all take place in the same universe.
93. Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors) | Tourist Trap (1979)
There are few characters that have as much going on as Mr. Slausen and even fewer actors that would embrace each and every single odd eccentricity about said character with as much energy and devotion as Chuck Connors. For any other actor, this would’ve been an easy paycheck gig but Connors jumps into this crazy ass character with both feet. He has to play a mannequin obsessed telekinetic tourist trap operator with multiple personalities who also has a penchant for murder who can also magically turn people into mannequins. A power of which is never explained. Nor is the telekinesis.
Hell, he doesn’t even have a backstory. Connors is literally given nothing but crazy to work with but by god does he craft something beautiful with it. He’s so amazingly over the top, he feels like he could be a forgotten member of the Leatherface family but since he’s so Goddamn peculiar, you feel like they ostracized him because he’s too much for them to take. A group of murderous cannibals couldn’t handle Mr. Slausen. That’s how fucking bizarre he is.
92. Rudy (Ryan Lambert) | The Monster Squad (1987)
I believe there was no better time to be a kid than the 1980’s. Hollywood was an imagination machine, kicking out nothing but backyard fantasies you’d recreate with your friends. You could all be a bunch of Rambos trying to save POWs, or make homemade light sabers out of broom sticks covered in pool noodles or strap your mom’s vacuum to your back to go bust some ghosts.
But out of all the films that came out that decade, the film no one ever recreated with their friends was the Monster Squad. Not because it wasn’t cool (it was) or because it was a flop (it was), but because every kid who saw that film didn’t want to be in the Monster Squad, they wanted to be Rudy.
He wore a leather jacket and shades, smoked cigarettes and kills damn near half of the monsters in the film. He was the coolest motherfucker we had ever seen and that’s the real reason why we never played Monster Squad. Because we knew, deep down inside, we weren’t cool enough to even pretend to be him.
91. Elvis (Bruce Campbell) | Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
I doubt anyone could’ve predicted that when Bruce Campbell said “hail to the king” at the end of Army of Darkness, that he’d actually go on to play the king. But that’s one of the many inconceivable things about Bubba Ho-Tep, a film in which Elvis and a black JFK team-up to defeat an ass sucking mummy.
And although the premise is amazing, the film only works because Bruce Campbell commits to the role. It doesn’t matter whether he’s actually Elvis or not, all that matters is that you believe that he believes he’s Elvis and he sells the fuck out of a decrepit Elvis who’s far outlived his usefulness. He’s forgotten, ridiculed and ignored. The mummy is almost inconsequential. The film is about the horrors of dying forgotten and alone and Campbell sells that heartbreak.
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!