Halloween is fast approaching so it’s that time of the year to sit back and watch your favorite horror movies. Ever since Dracula, Frankenstein and the “classic” Mummy, movie characters have given us nightmares as well as some laughs. Today, Jason, Freddy and Chucky are more than just leads in slasher and gore movies; they are pop culture reference points.
We have narrowed down the list of characters to ten based on a few rules. First, the chill factor – is the character capable of giving nightmares? Second, the back story – very important in a horror film, there needs to be a reason this maniac is on the streets wielding a chainsaw or terrorizing children. Finally, every horror movie villain has an X-factor, maybe humor (see: Teen Wolf – just kidding, definitely not Teen Wolf) or maybe why he kills (moral, revenge, etc…); it’s what makes them unique. (Seriously though, not Teen Wolf.)
There were some exclusions starting with the classics such as Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. Also, don’t tell me Godzilla is a horror movie character. Because then King Kong is also a candidate and that is just not comparing apples to apples. For this reason I am excluding Jaws. Sorry fish fans, but the good news is you can go back in the water (as long as it’s not Crystal Lake, of course). The other upset is Ghostface not being included in my top ten. There is something about the Scream movies that seemed too manufactured. Don’t get me wrong, there was no need for more than three Nightmare on Elm Street movies, but when movie parodies (Scary Movie) arrive right after your movie, it loses some of its momentum, and chill factor.
Pumpkinhead loses points based on the “un-cool name” factor, but gains back by being part of Halloween. The character avenges anyone who has been wronged; essentially, the pumpkin’s got your back. Where the movie takes a crazy turn is when the character Harley realizes he is Pumpkinhead and must kill himself in order to save the others. It’s a twisted tale, ending with Harley begging his friend Tracey to kill him. She shoots him, causing both to die. There is also a witch, did I mention the witch? She buries Pumpkinhead in a pumpkin patch. Of course, we know what happens when pumpkins are buried in patches – sequels.
Making a doll a serial killer was always right in front us, the only surprise is how long it took before the Child’s Play movies came out. Anyone who had a “My Buddy” doll when they were young never slept again after watching Chucky chop up his victims. Of course, the doll itself wasn’t bad, but was possessed by the soul of a serial killer. Still, today I would not keep a “My Buddy” in the same room I’m sleeping in.
8. Santa Claus
There is something about Santa Claus killing that makes everything in the world wrong. (Full disclosure: Even Dan Aykroyd as “drunk” Santa in Trading Places gave me nightmares.) Props to whomever sat back and said, “You know, what slasher movies are missing is innocence. Let’s give Santa an axe and make him a serial killer!” That is essentially what we get in the Silent Night/Deadly Night movies. The moral of the story is one set loosely on revenge, but mostly around the notion that you are what you are. If you witness your parents being brutally murdered by a man wearing a Santa Claus suit, then there is at least a fifty percent chance you will don the same suit when you begin your killing spree.
7. Jigsaw Killer
The name is awful; it’s like calling Freddy Krueger “Freddy Fingers” or Jason Voorhees “Jason Hockey Mask”, so let’s just call him Jigsaw. (It was never in the scenes, but I bet he even asked his victims to just refer to him as “Jigsaw” versus his full name.) Jigsaw was the main character in the Saw series, movies known to many (along with Hostel and other movies during the nineties) as torture porn. Jigsaw’s real name is John Kramer, who after a failed suicide attempt decides to test others and exploit moral flaws in his victims. Did you know the name Jigsaw was given to him by the media because he cut puzzle shapes of flesh from those that failed the tests? The more you know…
Most of us can agree clowns are creepy. Once I saw a guy who was half-dressed as a clown commuting on the Subway – so much worse that being fully dressed in clown gear. Anyway, Stephen King got it right with his book It, creating Pennywise, a clown that lives in the sewer of a small Maine town. This is not an entertaining clown; instead, Pennywise is viewed differently, depending on his victims. This is clever given that Pennywise is based on a character in a book, presumably perceived differently by everyone who read the book.
Pinhead was a complicated character, but the good news was that everyone new his name. There wasn’t any street where he wouldn’t hear “Hey, Pinhead!” As part of the Hellraiser movies, Pinhead leads a group of demons (into bondage) where the prize is eternal pain and suffering. Hellraiser was never a straight slasher-type movie, instead it pulled from classic movies and tried to tie in an aspect of morality around Pinhead; however, this was the eighties – people wanted serial killers in their horror movies. Also, they wanted someone easily recognized on the street.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre was an awesome name and the main character Leatherface was an awesome horror movie serial killer. Victims included cops, children and really anyone. Leatherface did not discriminate. After this movie was released, if you were driving through Texas and your car broke down, you prayed for no chainsaw noises in the distance. Unfortunately something happened after the first movie. The original movie was made on little to no budget, with scenes of Leatherface running down roads wielding a chainsaw. There was something raw and real in the scenes that made it all very scary. The sequel (and others to follow) were not as scary, instead focusing more on cannibalism and gory type “family” situations. There is nothing wrong with this, but it’s a major change from the original movie. Had they not made a sequel would have made Leatherface even more infamous as a horror movie character.
3. Michael Myers
The scary thing about Michael Myers is that there is very little back story to help when trying to kill him. This is semi-brilliant and really becomes the back story in itself. We know he escaped a mental institution after killing his sister and that he is a cold-blooded killer. There are two X factors with Michael Myers. First, he haunts his victims on Halloween, raising the chill factor (and raising movie attendance during Halloween). Secondly, the music – my God that theme music is so unique and so scary some have panic attacks when listening. There isn’t anything humorous with Myers, in fact he is probably one of the most dangerous characters (one exception possibly being Santa Claus) on this list.
2. Jason Voorhees
Most think of the Friday the 13th series as the hockey mask and Jason. These movies are much more complicated though. First, the original villain wasn’t even Jason, but rather his mother. Jason emerges from death to assist his mother and avenge his death, carrying on his mother’s legacy like any good boy would want to do. The first few movies followed a similar format: teenagers visit Crystal Lake for a weekend of skinny dipping, drinking and potential sexual escapades while Jason lurks in the woods and lake, killing them off one by one. The nude scenes were a big deal for teenage boys pre-Internet. Somewhere around the seventh sequel the movie spiraled out of control with Jason in Manhattan and even Space. There was even a Jason vs. Freddy which makes absolutely no sense at all, unless they were fighting for number one in this list. I never saw the ending of this movie so I’m going to assume Jason did not win.
1. Freddy Krueger
No one had a better back story: Burned by adults (payback for murder) on Elm Street and then comes back for revenge on their children via dreams. Brilliant. If the back story wasn’t unique enough, how about the hand made of knives? Brilliant. The first two Nightmare on Elm Street movies were two of the best horror movies of all time. Freddy was very mysterious in the first two, often lurking in the boiler room admiring his ripped sweater and kick-ass fedora. Even his laugh in the first two was horrifying, a low deep ha-ha-ha! Of course all good things must come to an end and starting with the third installment (Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors) Krueger became more visible and also more vocal. By the fifth installment Freddy was more comedian than slasher. Still, it’s hard to argue with the first two and as a character in general, Freddy Krueger is the most chilling and to this day most likely to invade your nightmares.