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.
70. Samantha Belmont (Kelli Maroney) | Night of the Comet (1984)
When Joss Whedon was creating what would eventually become his most enduring character: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, his major inspiration was the happy go-lucky cheerleader Samantha Belmont from the post apocalyptic zombie flick Night of the Comet. Along with her arcade obsessed older sister Regina, the Belmont sisters might be the most likable and capable protagonists of any zombie film since Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott H. Reiniger) from Dawn of the Dead.
69. Damien Thorn (Harvey Stephens) | The Omen (1976)
With the exception of a clown in the woods at night or an abandoned mannequin factory, there’s nothing more unsettling than a creepy kid. It may be an over used trope but it’s a trope for a reason. Kids are fucking creepy. There’s the Banjo boy in Deliverance, the creepy cat sounding ghost kid in Ju-on, the religious mini monsters in the Children of the Corn, the reanimated knife wielding moppet of Pet Semetary and on and on and on. The list is literally endless but of all the lil hellions that haunt the cinema, Damien Thorn is by far the most evil. He’s literally the son of the devil. You can’t get more evil than that.
68. Pumpkinhead (Tom Woodruff Jr) | Pumpkinhead (1988)
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. After a group of teenage campers kill a young boy in a dirt bike accident, the father (a career best Lance Hendrickson) 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?
Directed by special effects wizard Stan Winston, Pumpkinhead is one of the few monster films that puts character above the effects. It’s a drama first, monster film second but it also doesn’t skimp on the scary shit either. It’s like a peanut butter cup: it has the perfect blend of story and monster killing excitement. It’s a shame that Winston never directed another horror movie because his debut is one of the best.
67. Mick Taylor (John Jarrat) | Wolf Creek (2000)
Loosely based on the tourist killings committed by Ivan Milat in the 90’s and Bradley Murdoch in the early 00’s, Wolf Creek is an unrelenting serial killer thriller set in Australia. Stranded in the literal middle of nowhere, with no help in sight, three backpackers are being hunted by a sadistic psychopath played impeccably by John Jarrat.
The true horror of the film isn’t the extreme isolation of the outback or the villains , It’s the fact that Mick Taylor is so goddamn likable that you’d never in a million years suspect he’d be capable of such cruelty. Jarrat disarms you with charm and just like a koala bear, attacks when you’d least expect it. But seriously though, koala bears are terrible monsters.
66. Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina) | Audition (1999)
A man in mourning after the loss of his wife looks to find the perfect woman to replace her. He holds bogus auditions for an ostensible film role in order to find her but the girl who catches his interest turns out to be a much better actress than he bargained for. Without any context, that plot description could go in any direction. It could be a wacky comedy starring Sandra Bullock or a slow burn drama a la David Fincher but Audition is unlike any other film in existence.
At first glance it appears to be a dark, psychological thriller but like an infected wound that only gets worse the more you fuck with it, Audition gets uglier the more you peel away. And it will definitely leave you with a scar. There are scenes in this film that are burned into my memory and it’s been almost 20 years since I’ve seen it. Never has the phrase “I’ll wait for your phone call” been more ominous.
65. Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Böhm) | Peeping Tom (1960)
The film’s controversial subject matter as well as its extremely harsh reception by critics and audiences effectively killed Michael Powell’s career. Released before Psycho, audiences had never seen anything like Peeping Tom. It’s a mixture of voyeurism and ultra violence, a literal game changer. This is ground zero for the slasher genre; which makes the deranged Mark Lewis one of the most important horror villains ever.
Using a camera with a mirror affixed to the top (so the victims can watch themselves die) and a bladed tripod at the bottom to record his victims as he’s slowly stabbing them to death, Lewis is not only one of horrors grandfathers but one of its most demented as well.
64. Angela (Felissa Rose) | Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Tarantino once said that an audience has an invisible umbilical cord connected to the film they are watching and two things can easily sever that cord: being boring or being confusing. Once either one starts to happen, the cord gets thinner and thinner until the viewer is completely disconnected. I agree but I believe there’s two other things that can detach an audience member: having Johnny Depp in the cast or having a shitty fucking twist.
A twist can make or break a film. Some movies like High Tension, The Number 23, Hide and Seek, and Secret Window are defined by having terrible, movie ruining revelations but some films have a twist so crazy, so out of left field, they become classics because of them. Sleepaway Camp would probably be dismissed as just another slasher if it wasn’t for the last five minutes. Those last five minutes completely change the film and easily earn Angela a spot on this list.
63. Erin (Sharni Vinson) | You’re Next (2011)
Home invasion films are among the hardest genre to pull off. In order for them to work, there has to be quite a bit of suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience. You have to essentially root for a pussy(s) to survive. A pussy that’s designed to be usually dumb as fuck in order for the plot to function. It’s a sub-genre built on a foundation of weak ass protagonists but You’re Next said fuck all that noise.
In addition to creating the most hardcore home invaders in movie history, You’re Next might have the single most badass protagonist in any genre. Erin is what would happen if Kevin McCallister and Jigsaw had a baby and then Mad Max babysat it.
62. Brigitte & Ginger (Emily Perkins/Katharine Isabelle) | Ginger Snaps (2000)
Not since Carrie has there been a better depiction of the teenage outcast then Ginger Snaps. Brigitte and Ginger are death obsessed teenagers that create fake suicide and murder scenes and have even taken a blood oath to die together, by any means necessary. Even though they’re dismissed by everyone but the school bullies, the two are completely inseparable. That is, until one of them gets bitten by a werewolf and needs to be put down before they commit another murder.
Since their inception, werewolves have often been used as a placeholder for something else. The Wolf Man made it a metaphor for the hunting and prosecution of the Jews. Teen Wolf turned them into an analogy for puberty and Ginger Snaps cleverly compared turning into a wolf, with a woman having her period for the first time. It’s bloody, it’s awful and whoever is going through it wants to kill everyone in the room. It’s an ingenious set up that is anchored by two of the most unique, relatable protagonists in horror.
61. Severen (Bill Paxton) | Near Dark (1987)
Before she was the Oscar-winning director of The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow was behind unique action thrillers such as the Keanu Reeves surfer–bank robber flick Point Break, the Ralph Fiennes end-of-the-century film Strange Days and 1987’s vampire-western Near Dark. There was a time she was a far more interesting director than her now ex-husband James Cameron. He might’ve made better films but she was willing to take a chance on anything. Including hiring the semi unknown Bill Paxton as a sadistic vampire. She clearly wasn’t the first to use him and she most likely hired him because he was Cameron’s buddy but she was the first to turn him into a legit badass.
Before this film, he played either assholes, creeps or weirdos but this film proved that he could do anything. The best scene of the film (and in my opinion the only good scene in the film) involves him massacring an entire bar of patrons. Not because he needs to feed or because he needs to defend himself — he did it because he’s a psychopath who just doesn’t care. He kills because he can and because he wants to, which makes him exponentially more terrifying than the typical amoral vampire.
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!