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.
30. Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) | Misery (1992)
In a career spanning over 40 years, Stephen King as created a number of horrific monsters. There’s even an intricate chart a fan made that connects all the evil within his novels. Child eating aliens to eldritch monstrosities that exist outside of our universe to all powerful wizards that could destroy the world 10× over, through Easter eggs and references, he’s connected all of these supernatural beings. The world within King’s novels is terrifying beyond belief but this is the real world and within the real world, sometimes true horror could come disguised as your best friend. Or in the case of Misery, your number 1 fan.
Annie Wilkes is a nurse that saves the life of her favorite author and does everything in her power to tend to his wounds. She’s a bit quirky but nothing off putting, until she realizes her favorite author intends to kill off his most famous literary creation. Then the facade fades away and we see that true evil doesn’t come from other dimensions or supernatural entities, it’s hidden in plain sight. Beyond a smile and a warm personality.
29. Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) | The Invisible Man (1933)
It’s deeply ironic that Universal keeps trying and failing to chase the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) money train because they did it first almost 100 years ago. They were the first studio to connect their films through sequels and character overlap. It wasn’t unusual to see Dracula talking to the Wolfman or the Wolfman fighting Frankenstein’s monster. It was revolutionary and for a film fan, it was the bee’s knees (or whatever the antiquated term the 30’s had for hip is.)
But one character was suspiciously absent from the fun. While all the monsters were a-talkin’ or a-tusslin’, the Invisible Man was sitting on the bench. It couldn’t be because of lack of popularity either. The Invisible Man would eventually get more sequels than any other monster. I have a theory why he was never invited to join the crossover and it’s and actually pretty obvious.
It’s because he would’ve straight up murdered everyone else in the film.
Every other monster is slightly sympathetic. Frankenstein’s Creature never asked to be created, the Wolfman just wants to die and Dracula just wants some love but Jack Griffin just wants chaos. He revels in madness and leaves a trail of corpses in his wake. He once derailed a train killing hundreds just for funsies. He’s also invisible, which means that not only is he hard to find but that he’s naked and crazy. And there’s nothing worse than an insane naked person running towards you.
28. Quint (Robert Shaw) | Jaws (1975)
When he’s first introduced, he scratches his nails down a chalkboard as loud and annoying as humanly possible to get everyone’s attention, which includes the audience. He gives a short speech about who he is, what he does and what they’re up against. From that point forward, the film no longer belongs to Sheriff Brody.
Quint is a hard drinking, sea shanty singing, rip roaring maniac but unlike any other film of this ilk, he’s not a shark hunting badass or the comedic relief. He’s a broken human being that–not unlike Captain Ahab–lives for revenge. In the films scariest scene, he relates (in extreme detail) the story of what happened after the Indianapolis sank. It’s terrifying, it’s harrowing and it tells you everything you need to know about his character. He hunts monsters.
27. Candyman (Tony Todd) | Candyman (1992)
Clive Barker’s other famous creation; Candyman will forever live in the shadow of Pinhead and the cenobites. Which is a shame considering his mythology is far more interesting. Starting life as a slave who had the audacity to look at a white woman, he was eventually captured and tortured to death. His captors turned his ass into a figurative honey baked ham in order to get ants to eat him alive. They also replaced his hand with a hook. I have no idea why but that’s pretty fucking cool.
Freddy was burned alive, Jason drowned but Candyman was eaten alive by fucking ants. That’s an origin so tragic, you kind of sympathize with him. Plus, his entire arc consists entirely of him trying to get laid, so is he truly that bad?
26. Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) | The Silence of the Lambs (1992)
Enlisting the help of a notorious serial killer to help catch an equally dangerous monster, Clarice bites off a little more than she can chew when she agrees to Hannibal’s offer of quid pro quo. She’s makes a deal with the devil but due to her resourcefulness and intelligence, she keeps her head above water.
Jodie Foster received her second Oscar for her portrayal of the inexperienced FBI agent; a first for a genre film. Horror is often overlooked at the Academy Awards, with few films winning any of the major awards but Silence is one of the only films to win the big five–Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It was a historic win but equally as impressive is the fact that Foster is the only hero of a horror film to win the Best Actor/Actress award.
25. The Bride of Frankenstein (Elsa Lanchester) | The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Three minutes. The Bride in the Bride of Frankenstein has exactly three minutes of screen time. That’s less than the xenomorph in Alien and the shark from Jaws and they both have less than ten minutes a piece. It boggles the mind that a character that does little more than look around and scream has been iconic for almost 100 years but that’s precisely why she’s on this list. Pound-for-pound, second-for-second, it’s inarguable that any character has made more with so little. It’s just a shame that Universal never brought her back.
24. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) | Horror of Dracula, The Brides of Dracula, Dracula A.D. 1972, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1953-1974)
Much like the Universal films they were trying to emulate, Hammer studios had a stable of actors that were re-used as needed. Michael Gough and Michael Ripper appeared in numerous films, while Ingrid Pitt and Barbara Shelley pretty much had a permanent residence at the studio but much like Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff before them, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were the face of their studio. They were and still are synonymous with British horror.
Lee got the heavy hitters–Dracula, The Mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster, while Cushing got Frankenstein and Van Helsing. Not exactly an even trade but I would argue that Lee’s Dracula wouldn’t be as effective if a a weaker actor was cast as his foil. Most play him as a detective trying to unravel a mystery but Cushing is no nonsense. He ain’t got time to Scooby-Doo this problem or round up no posse. He hears Dracula or any vampire is up to some shit and he immediately grabs a stake and a crucifix and goes a hunting. Lee might’ve gotten the classics but Cushing made the lesser characters classic.
23. Pinhead (Doug Bradley) | Hellraiser series (1987-1988)
Pinhead was never supposed to be the face of the Hellraiser franchise. He wasn’t even given a name in the first film. Barker only intended for ‘lead cenobite’ and his crew to act as the Devil at the end of his faustian story, never the main focus.
Creepy sex perverts Frank and Julia were always meant to be the main antagonists; with Kirsty stuck in the middle of their perverse love of pleasure. But fans had other plans. Even though he had less than ten minutes of screen time, Pinhead was an immediate fan favorite. Guys thought he was badass and women thought he was hot (Seriously, Clive Barker and Doug Bradley have received thousands of letters from thirsty hoes.) His popularity may have changed what the franchise was supposed to be but fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Your suffering will be legendary, even in Hell.”
22. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) | The Shining (1980)
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy
There’s an argument to be made that Jack is merely a pawn of the insidious Overlook Hotel and that he’s either being slowly possessed by the evil spirits within or is merely going crazy but as Mr. Grady explicitly states “…but you are the caretaker. You’ve always been the caretaker.” Kubrick made it crystal clear with the final shot that Jack isn’t crazy nor is he being possessed. This isn’t a case of ghosts or cabin fever. He is the reincarnation of a spirit long dead and that spirit was crazy. Axe murderingly crazy and that’s scarier than a million ghosts. Well, besides the blowjob bear.
21. Ghostface (Skeet Ulrich/Matthew Lillard) | Scream (1996)
I believe there’s a direct correlation between how popular a character is with how easily identifiable their Halloween costume is. Matt Groening (Simpsons) once said something along the lines of “great character design is anything you can identify in silhouette” and while that mostly applies to animation, the sentiment is the same. There’s a reason certain characters become popular, while others fade into obscurity.
Toys and costumes.
Kids need to want to buy your toys and dress up like you for Halloween. That’s it. The character doesn’t need a compelling backstory or give a great performance. They just need a cool costume. There’s a reason why Universal is more iconic than Hammer or why everyone dresses up like Billy the puppet from Saw instead of Jigsaw. Cool ass character designs.
In addition to being one of the most important figures in horror, Wes Craven is the undeniable king of the iconic Halloween costume character. Freddy Krueger has been a Halloween mainstay for over thirty years and Ghostface has the distinction of being the last horror character to claim the title of “most popular costume.”
If I was ranking these characters in terms of popularity or design, he’d easily be number 3. His look is iconic but that’s not all he brings to the table. Along with Roger L. Jackson’s phenomenal voice, there’s also the two killers who are under the mask. Billy and Stu are among the best killers in any slasher. Their motivation is crazy but original and although one half of them is a complete doof, they’re never not menacing.
“What’s your favorite scary movie?”
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!