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.
60. Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) | Fright Night (1985)
What makes Peter Vincent a brilliant character, is the fact that he’s a pussy. A goddamn coward. A former vampire hunter (he’s essentially Van Helsing) on the big screen, his career has deteriorated to the point where he’s become a late night horror host. When the protagonist thinks he’s being hunted by a vampire, he enlists the aid of Vincent and soon discovers that his movie persona is nothing at all like the reality.
That’s my only problem with the surprisingly solid remake. David Tennant does a great job in the role but he’s too much of a badass for it to work. It doesn’t detract from the film but it kind of ruins the character. It would be like remaking Scooby-Doo with Tom Hardy in the role of Shaggy. He needs to be a coward for the redemptive arc to land and McDowall sells both.
59. Amelia (Essie Davis) | The Babadook (2014)
Before the LGBTQ community turned him into a mascot, The Babadook was a movie William Friedkin referred to as “the scariest film he had ever seen” and while I don’t agree with him (the man has clearly never seen Showgirls 2), the film is terrifying. Jennifer Kent’s debut works on a level not many horror films do because it’s success lies not in its ability to frighten you but in its masterful depiction of loss and resentment. There’s an overwhelming emotional power to the material, and it’s owed chiefly to star Essie Davis, who gives an astonishing performance as a mother who’s slowly losing her grip with reality.
There might not be a more multifaceted performance in all of horror. She starts the film as a victim of an otherworldly boogeyman but as the film progresses, she eventually becomes the bogeyman. Was the Babadook real? Is it a product of her fractured psyche or is it more? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter because even though the film is named after him, it’s her movie and she owns every frame.
58. Dad (Bill Paxton) | Frailty (2001)
Imagine you’re ten years old and your father sits you down and tells you that God has chosen him to vanquish demons here on earth. He then takes you to the shed out back and tied to a chair, crying like her life depends on it, is a local waitress you see every day after school.
Your father then convinces your younger brother that she isn’t human but is in fact, a demon in disguise. He then precedes to kill her in front of you. What the fuck would you do?
That’s the general plot synopsis for the critically under seen film Frailty. Matthew McConaughey may be the star of the film but the film belongs to Paxton. He’s extraordinary in the role of “dad.” He never once plays him as a villain. He’s a sympathetic man lost in his delusions. Delusions that are costing the lives of more and more people.
57. Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman/John Shepherd Thom Mathews) | Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives (1984-1986)
Friday the 13th is the only major horror franchise without a consistent protagonist. Each film hit the restart button on the franchise until The Final Chapter (spoiler: It’s not the last one) introduced Tommy Jarvis. Originally played by Corey Feldman, Tommy is a horror obsessed 12 year old that actually outwits and ultimately kills Jason in their first encounter.
In Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, Tommy (now played by John Shepherd) is a little bit older and a little bit more crazy than the last time we saw him. He’s living in a halfway house and is suffering from hallucinations. He’s trying to get his life back together but the past won’t leave him alone. Jason is back to his old tricks. Or is he?
And in his last appearance in the series, Tommy (now played by Thom Mathews) has to contend with a super powered zombie Jason in Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives.
In spite of the fact that he was only in three out of the twelve films in the franchise, Tommy Jarvis has nevertheless become a fan favorite and if we’re being honest, his three are unquestionably the best in the series.
56. Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) | Pumpkinhead (1988)
After a group of teenage campers kill a young boy in a dirt bike accident, the father (Lance Henriksen) stricken with grief, seeks a witch that lives in the woods that can offer him a chance at retribution through black magic, but at what cost?
Working as a sort of southern fried Faust, Pumpkinhead is what happens when you make a deal with the devil and the devil actually delivers. The reason the film works as well as it does, is the fact that it holds the audience accountable for their own bloodlust. At first you want to see the terrible teenagers all die but once they start getting killed–you, like Harley–want it to end. It puts you in the shoes of the protagonist. You completely understand why he’d make the deal but then you root for him to kill the goddamn thing. The monster might put the ass in the seats but the film doesn’t work without Ed Harley and his decision.
55. Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd) | The Shining (1980)
“REDRUM REDRUM REDRUM”
Poor Danny Torrance. On top of the voice in his head named Tony who tells him weird ass shit, he has to deal with a nasty ass hag from room 237, a power called the Shining which he doesn’t understand, a pair of creepy ass twins (who happen to be dead) who won’t stop pestering him to play and an axe wielding manic who just happens to be his father. Thank god Hong Kong Phooey is here to save the day…
54. Sadako Yamamura (Rie Inō) | Ringu (1998)
Before Ringu, Japanese monsters were either hopping vampires, big ass Godzilla Kaijus or creepy old ghost ladies. After Ringu, every horror movie released, to this day, is either ripping off its iconic black hair-over-the-face ghost or is tying ghosts to technology like a haunted cell phone or some shit. Ringu‘s ghost design might be as important to Japanese culture as Romero’s zombies were to the West. But that’s not all Ringu brings to the table. It doesn’t just have a scary ass ghost, it has a scary ass ghost that can crawl through your TV. You’ll never look at VHS tapes the same.
53. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) | Scream series (1996-2011)
For as many final girls as there are, Sidney Prescott is the only one to appear in every film of her respected franchise. The fact that she survives the entire series is a big deal. Nancy, Ripley and Laurie are arguably the three biggest final girls but two of them died and the third technically never got a conclusion since she was replaced by the actress that played her (New Nightmare is extremely meta) but Sidney was there from the beginning to the end.
In addition to being the ultimate survivor, she also has one of the best character arcs; with each subsequent film making her more and more capable. Ghostface may be the face of the series but it wouldn’t work without Sidney.
52. Tucker and Dale (Alan Tudyk & Tyler Labine) | Tucker and Dale Vs Evil (2010)
Hillbilly redneck cannibals are such a prevalent villain in horror, that the film The Cabin in the Woods used them as one of their cliche monster du jour. Like zombies or Nazis, they’re an easily identifiable albeit unremarkable baddie. But what makes Tucker and Dale Vs Evil so brilliant, is that it takes that lame ass villain and all of the cliches associated with it and flips it on its head
Tucker and Dale are hillbillies but they’re not murderous in anyway but because they keep unintentionally putting themselves in situations that make them look like they’re deranged killers, the group of teens they keep running into end up accidentally killing themselves because they’re trying to avoid them. Tucker and Dale are just minding their business but due to a hilarious misunderstanding, everyone around them end up dead. The film is ingenious and the duo are the funniest horror protagonists since Abbott and Costello.
51. Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) | The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
When Tarantino and Rodriguez teamed up to make Grindhouse, the ultimate goal was to invoke the feeling of seeing a double bill at a seedy drive-in. The good ol’ days when you could potentially see Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS paired up with a sleazy cannibal film. The plan was ultimately a failure, since no one went to see it but as awesome as the experiment was, neither Death Proof or Planet Terror were technically a “grindhouse” film.
Both films were inspired by the idea of the grindhouse experience but neither actually would’ve existed in the 70’s. The Devil’s Rejects on the other hand, that feels like it would’ve been on a double bill with either I Spit on Your Grave or the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s a nasty bit of exploitation but that was the point. Grindhouse films aren’t supposed to be fun. They’re supposed to feel dangerous and to that point, not since the release of the Last House on the Left has there been a more dangerous group to hit the cinema than the Firefly Clan.
Each and every one of them is a rotten human being and while Captain Spaulding is debatably the least horrible, he’s easily the most entertaining. Although he’s dressed as a clown, Spaulding is the defacto ringleader of the family of killers. He may not kill as many as the members of the clan but he’s certainly the one holding the leash.
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!