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The thing that really separates a good horror movie from a great one is the villain. A good villain will terrify you, make you feel uncomfortable, and even make you think.
Today, we’re going to tackle the difficult task of looking at the best horror villains out there. We’ve narrowed it down to 10 villains and then ranked those. All of these villains are awesome, but only one can sit atop the list as the king of horror movie killers.
10. Jack Torrance (The Shining)
Can you think of a more iconic line from a horror movie than “Here’s Johny?” That moment when Jack Torrance comes smashing through the door while exclaiming that he has arrived is one we’ll always remember. Jack Nicholson plays the deranged character perfectly. While terrifying, there’s a certain magnetism about the character that makes him one of the best.
9. Pinhead (Hellraiser)
When it comes to sick and twisted characters, Pinhead might be one of the vilest. Pinhead and his band of Cenobites torture their victims while gleaming an unfathomable amount of pleasure from their pain. When you include some of his clever lines and interesting traits, you have a character who rivals any of the other horror greats.
8. John Doe (Se7en)
Of all the killers in horror, Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of John Doe receives the least screen time. However, his elaborate kills are featured prominently (and disgustingly) throughout the movie. Once Doe starts talking, we quickly realize that while his motives seem logical, he’s easily one of the sickest individuals to grace a screen.
7. Norman Bates (Psycho)
Psycho is a movie that helped define the horror genre, and Norman Bates is the smooth psychopath who made moviegoers stand up and take notice all the way back in 1960. Alfred Hitchcock truly was a master of creating a slow, suspenseful film, and it still holds up today. Bates, played by Anthony Perkins, is charming, witty, and insane—the perfect combination for a horror movie villain.
6. Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
Leatherface is an absolute madman. And while he doesn’t have as much depth as some of the other characters on the list, there’s a certain charm to a chainsaw-wielding serial killer who wears his victims faces as masks. Okay, maybe charm isn’t the right word. If there’s one thing you can say about Leatherface it’s that he’s a memorable character who will haunt you in your nightmares, whether you watch the classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre films or the newer remakes.
5. Jigsaw (Saw)
“I want to play a game.” Before 2004, those words weren’t remotely scary. But after SAW came out, hearing those words told us that someone was about to be tortured in an absolutely heinous way. No matter how strong your stomach is, there’s almost certainly a puzzle built by John Kramer aka Jigsaw that’ll make your insides crawl. The character is oozing depth and personality, and he has a backstory that actually makes you sympathize with him, even though he’s a despicable killer.
4. Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare On Elm Street)
Freddy Krueger is a twisted pedophile who haunts and kills young folks while they sleep. As if that wouldn’t help him make the list, you just add in how much he wisecracks throughout A Nightmare on Elm Street films and you have a truly entertaining horror movie villain who will always be remembered as one of the greats, both in terms of scariness and entertainment value.
3. Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th)
Jason and his mother are straight-up savages when it comes to taking out camp counselors. Jason has been in plenty of Friday the 13th films, and his body count seems to be never-ending. Like many of the best killers in horror movies, Voorhees doesn’t speak—he lets his machete do the talking for him. He’s big, seemingly unkillable, and relentless, making him a perfect villain for slasher films.
2. Michael Myers (Halloween)
Michael Myers is a master of suspense. He slowly stalks his victims, making viewers of his movies squirm while they watch. He has an interesting backstory, which helps explain why he’s relentlessly pursuing members of his family with murder on his mind. He stacks bodies along the way, taking out anyone who walks into his path. Like Jason, he doesn’t speak, but there’s something about the mystique of Michael Myers that makes him even more badass than Jason.
1. Pennywise (IT)
Pennywise the Dancing Clown only gets the kill once every 27 years, and when the time comes, he definitely makes the most of it. But he doesn’t just kill his victims—he exploits their greatest fears to make them truly suffer. He has some truly incredible lines throughout both IT remake films. Bill Skarsgård portraits Pennywise in what I consider to be the single greatest performance of any horror villain. Plus, there’s the original IT mini-series and performance of Tim Curry as the killer clown, which truly puts Pennywise leaps and bounds ahead of all horror villains.