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.
40. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) | American Psycho (2000)
It’s 1987 and Patrick Bateman works for an extremely successful investment banking firm. He wears the slickest suits and is in peak physical shape. He’s a yuppie that bitches about other yuppies and has a strong affinity for Huey Lewis and the News. He flaunts his business cards as a sign of vanity and ego and enjoys the company of prostitutes.
He also murders people.
There’s been much debate on whether or not the events of the film actually take place or if they are just the delusions of an insanity but the writer and the director both maintain that the majority of the evil Bateman commits throughout the film actually happened. I’m assuming that includes the scene with the ATM demanding payment in the form of a sacrificial kitten. Or maybe ATMs in the 80’s were actually evil. It was a different time.
39. Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) | Carrie (1976)
Based on Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie tells the story of the worst treated teenage girl in cinema history. She gets bullied at school, tormented at home and even her own body is betraying her by leaking copious amounts of blood from her lady parts. She can’t catch a break.
As the film progresses, you start to wonder if there was a real Carrie White that made fun of Stephen King’s penis or something because goddamn, she is put through the ringer. But the more punishment she goes through, the sweeter the revenge is.
High school is hell. That’s a universal truth but this high school might actually qualify. Every student or faculty member is either a prick or indifferent to her, which all culminates in the most memorable prom ever.
38. Father Karras and Father Merrin (Jason Miller/Max Von Sydow) | The Exorcist (1973)
Although the poster only shows one of the priests, make no mistake, this film belongs to both of them. Their dynamic is not unlike a cop drama–Merrin is the old pro that’s seen it all before and Karras is the wet-behind-the-ears rookie but no amount of training or faith could prepare either of them for the horrors they’re about to witness. When they see the full extent of Pazuzu’s power, the shit–to quote the greatest line in a buddy cop film ever–just got real.
Pazuzu uses their weaknesses against them. Karras’s weaker faith and guilt over his dead mother and Merrin’s age but as powerful as the demon is, it’s mere existence is its ultimate downfall. Because if a demon exists, that means God exists and that’s all Karras needs to eventually save the day.
37. Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) | The Sixth Sense (1999)
“I see dead people.”
Good god, was “I see dead people” infuriatingly everywhere. I see [blank] people was the overused meme of its day. In fact, I saw a “I see dumb people” T-shirt at Wal-Mart just the other day. The shit still never ends. As annoying as it is, that just goes to show how much of a footprint this film left on pop culture. Everyone knows the quote and most know the twist. They’re indelibly burned into the public conscience.
As amazing as M. Night Shyamalan’s script and directing were, the lions share of credit belongs to Haley Joel Osment because without his performance, the film falls flat on its face. Child actors, by and large, are almost always terrible. They’re usually used as an adorable prop to keep the audience entertained but Osment ain’t no puppy. He went toe to toe with every actor in the film and he held his own.
36. The Gill Man (Ricou Browning/Ben Chapman) | Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)
Of all the Universal monster films, Creature is the only one that has never been remade. Not from a lack of trying (both John Carpenter and Joe Dante have worked on different versions of a remake) but since every iteration of the remake has failed, a part of me believes the movie gods are protecting it from failure.
The rest of the Universal monsters were based on novels, so their stories are instantly timeless but Creature is an original story that can’t be improved upon. Like the Hunchback of Notre Dame or King Kong, it’s a love story in which you’re rooting for the monster to get laid.
35. Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) | The Fly (1986)
For some reason, Cronenberg has spent his entire career obsessed with body horror. The betrayal of the flesh. It’s a recurring theme in almost every one of his films but none have come even remotely close to The Fly. After a mishap with a teleportation device leaves him with part fly DNA, Seth Brundle gains the abilities of said fly and from that point forward, he dedicates his life to eradicating crime and injustice.
Just kidding. His skin falls off and he has to vomit acid on to food and then suck it up to eat because he ain’t got no teeth anymore. Although the films visual effects are second to none, his slow deterioration would just be gross and not heartbreaking if it wasn’t for Goldblum. He gives the performance of his career as a man who fucked with science, only for science to fuck back. He’s effortlessly charming and his romance with Geena Davis is believable. Their chemistry is palpable, which makes his story all the more tragic.
34. Oskar and Eli (Kåre Hedebrant/Lina Leandersson) | Let The Right One In (2008)
Based on the acclaimed Swedish novel of the same name, Let the Right One In is a love story that’s equal parts darkly sinister as it is beautifully nuanced. There might not be a more fully realised or believable love story in all of horror. Which is astonishing considering on top of the leads being unknowns with no acting experience, they’re also children. Oskar is a constantly bullied youth, who fantasies about becoming a serial killer to get revenge. Eli is a vampire who kills to survive. It’s a tale as old as time.
You immediately understand why Oskar is attracted to the mysterious Eli and because of the exceptionally well written script (adapted by the novelist himself), you never question why he would fall in love with her. This is a fairy tale that, in addition to being one of the best modern films – horror or otherwise stands – shoulder to shoulder with the best of the Brothers Grimm. It’s a story that will live on for all time.
33. Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) | An American Werewolf in London (1981)
In a parallel universe, this film was almost a vehicle for Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. Because the script is primarily comedic, the studio wanted well known comedians to star in it and if they offered Landis just a little bit more money, it might’ve happened. And while I could totally see Belushi as a wise ass ghost trying to talk Aykroyd into suicide, Griffin Dunne owns the role.
Everything his character does, from the constant decomposing, to his incessant bitching about the other corpses he’s forced to converse with, to his desperate attempts at getting the main character to kill himself, are side-splittingly hilarious.
32. Henry (Michael Rooker) | Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Loosely based on real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer might be the most accurate depiction of a serial killer ever caught on film. Henry doesn’t have a clever MO like John Doe in Se7en or the charisma of the killer in Man Bites Dog nor is there an elaborate cat and mouse game between him and a clever detective. He’s just an evil man in an uncaring world.
He doesn’t get caught because nobody cares about his victims and he doesn’t stop because he can’t. He was built wrong. He has no backstory, so he lacks any empathy or sympathy. All there is are his actions. Actions so horrific, that this film is still one of the only films to be rated X for violence.
31. Pennywise the Clown (Tim Curry/Bill Skarsgård) | IT (1990-2019)
Before I got around to watching the miniseries proper, my mother decided to give me an extremely detailed plot synopsis that involved a sewer dwelling clown that eats a child by popping up out of a shower drain. If you’ve seen the film, you know I got some of the details mixed up but to make a long story short, I flooded the bathroom by clogging the shower drain with towels.
Clowns were already on my “no fucking thank you” list thanks to Poltergeist and an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, so the prospect of a supernatural one that can shape shift was too much for me to handle. Curry scared an entire generation with his unmistakable voice and trademark Curry-isms and based on Skarsgård’s fantastic performance in the 2017 film, Pennywise will be scaring audiences for generations to come.
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!