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.
50. Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) | Saw series (2004-2017)
To summarize a backstory that gets increasingly more and more convoluted as the series progresses: After being diagnosed with an inoperable tumour, John Kramer (Tobin Bell) decides to take his own life. Miraculously, the suicide attempt fails but instead of counting his blessings or hitting the titty bar, Kramer decides to dedicate his life to punishing those who take their life for granted.
From that point forward, he becomes Jigsaw: torture game enthusiast with a penchant for puppets and pig masks. If you ask hundred horror enthusiasts why they like horror, I’d bet over half of them would say the gore effects. There’s nothing better than seeing creative kills done practically and the Saw series have some of the most ingenious kills in all of horror. And that’s far more important than whatever bullshit backstory they use to pad the length of these films.
49. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) | The Sixth Sense (1999)
Bruce Willis has been phoning in his career for so long, it’s hard to remember a time when he was a good actor. Even before he consigned himself to DTV trash, he was an actor known mostly for action and action comedies but some how, M. Night Shyamalan was able to get a subtle, poignant performance from him.
After getting shot by a patient in the opening scene, Malcolm Crowe is a psychiatrist who, in a desperate attempt to “fix” his previous mistake, takes on a peculiar patient that reminds him of the man who shot him. The patient? A ten year old boy (Haley Joel Osment) who claims he can see ghosts.
Once Osment is introduced, it immediately becomes his film and while he gives a phenomenal performance, Willis has the equally hard job of doing two things at once. Everything he does in the film, takes on a completely different meaning the second time you watch it. Osment’s performance sells you on the premise of a little boy who can see ghosts and Willis’s performance makes the twist unforgettable.
48. Adelaide/Red (Lupita Nyong’o) | Us (2019)
The film Us can be interpreted in a number of different ways— it could be about Democrats versus Republicans (which would explain the red jumpsuits), the homelessness problem (which would explain the tethered all living underground) the 1% going after the 99%, the haves vs the have nots or some other wacky ass theory I didn’t find on Reddit but whatever it’s about, the strength of the film isn’t it’s ambiguity but the strength of its lead actress. Lupita Nyong’o’s duel performance as Adelaide Wilson and Red, the leader of the tethered (identical looking copies of the main characters who want their lives, by any means necessary) will go down as one of the great Oscar snubs of all time.
I know the academy doesn’t honor multiple performances by the same actor within the same movie and I also know the academy doesn’t give a shit about horror but they should’ve broken their garbage ass rule this one time because no other performance that year came close to matching it. She completely transformed into two different people. One was fragile like porcelain and the other was jagged like broken glass. It’s a remarkable achievement and is another example of the academy not knowing what the fuck they’re doing.
47. Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) | Scream series (1996-2000)
In a film filled to the brim with memorable characters, the film obsessed nerd Randy Meeks might be the most important. The audience needed to root for Sidney (Neve Campbell) to survive, be shocked by Casey Becker’s (Drew Barrymore) death and instantly love the villain (gotta sell that merch) but most importantly, they needed to relate to Randy. For the first time in a horror movie, the audience had a mouth piece. Skating right up to the fourth wall, Randy comments on horror cliches as they’re happening in real time. He was such an immediate hit, that slashers had no choice but to become self aware from that point forward.
46. Frank Zito (Joe Spinnell) | Maniac (1980)
Film critic Gene Siskel was so disgusted by the infamous “shotgun head explosion” scene, that he immediately got up and walked out of the movie theater. Which means he only made it about 15 minutes into the film. If that made him leave, I can’t imagine what the other 80 minutes would have done to him.
There are certain performances that feel like the actor isn’t acting; they are just the character. R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket or Erwin Leder in Angst come to mind. Joe Spinnell is so good in Maniac, you pray to God he’s just acting. It doesn’t even feel like a performance. It feels like we’re trapped in the theater with a psychopath and we have no idea what he’s going to do next.
45. The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) | Phantasm series (1979-2016)
The original Slenderman, Angus Scrimm’s Tall Man is the only horror villain that’s iconic due to the performance and not the costume. Outfitted with nothing but a suit that’s far too tight, the Tall Man doesn’t have a mask or any facial deformities; which make it nearly impossible to dress like him for Halloween but he’s been a fan favorite for 40 years and it’s all thanks to Scrimm’s God given face and voice.
44. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) | Frankenstein/Bride of Frankenstein (1931-1935)
“Now I know what it feels like to be God!”
Although the imitators often misquote him (he says “it’s alive!” not “he’s alive!”), Colin Clive’s manic performance is so gloriously over the top, its forever etched itself into the fabric of pop culture. The Hammer films version is arguably more fun–somebody told Peter Cushing to be an asshole and he dials that shit all the way to 11–but Clive’s is far more iconic and ultimately sympathetic. With his sidekick Fritz (later called Karl in the sequel but never Igor), Frankenstein is responsible for some of the most quotable dialogue of any movie as well as the creation of two cinematic icons. Pretty good for a glorified grave robber.
43. Godzilla (Haruo Nakajima) | Gojira (1954)
Before he became the most famous character in Japanese history, Gojira (or Godzilla if you’re nasty) was created as a cautionary tale. The dark side of the Atomic Age. Godzilla is a large, destructive, and irradiated dinosaur that appears out of nowhere with the sole purpose of destroying mankind with his radioactive breath and big ass feet. Unlike the sequels that turned him into a world saving superhero, Godzilla is destruction incarnate. Much like Fatman and Little Boy–he came without warning, destroyed everything he saw and immediately changed history forever.
42. Sally (Marilyn Burns) | The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
While most horror fans have appointed Jamie Lee Curtis as the first official scream queen, Marilyn Burns’s importance to cinema is unquestionable. Laurie Strode is like the band Nirvana, she got the ball rolling but without the Pixies, there would be no Nirvana. For those of you that aren’t good at figuring out analogies, Sally is the Pixies. She’s the proto final girl but ironically, even though she’s only technically considered one, she goes through more shit than arguably any of the others. Stalked, mocked and tormented by an entire family of cannibals, the film puts her ass through the ringer. She might not fight back or even “defeat” the villain like every other final girl but her simply surviving is victory enough.
41. R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) | The Thing (1982)
Snake Plissken has the eye patch and Jack Burton has the tank top but MacReady has the hat. The best film out of the Russell/Carpenter collaborations, The Thing is not only the greatest horror film ever made, it has one of the best protagonists in film history. Cool without feeling too machismo, Mac is a Scotch swigging loner that’s thrust into the role of hero when an alien is slowly assimilating everyone around him. But even after the shit hits the fan, he never goes full action movie badass. He’s smart enough to test the blood but still fallible in that he accidentally kills an innocent person. He may not of been able to save his teammates but he was willing to sacrifice his life in order to save the world. Just don’t ever play chess with him.
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!