Horror is arguably the oldest genre of human storytelling; cave paintings depict the ancestors of mankind against beasts and, sometimes, other humans. Now with movies like Smile still achieving huge success, the horror genre continues its stranglehold on an audience that can’t seem to take their eyes off it.
Interestingly, today’s climate prefers ghosts and demons to the slashers of yesteryear. Monster movies are also quite rare, but they’re still around. Some of the most iconic horror villains have no roots in the occult. Whether murderous aliens or sadistic slashers, these killers have marked cinema with blood.
10/10 Bruce (Jaws)
The mundanely named ‘Bruce’ is the titular great white shark of the summertime horror blockbuster Jaws. The film was a historic moment in cinema and would affect people so deeply that beach visits dropped dramatically among Americans for an entire year.
Jaws played on fears of sharks and, unfortunately, led to many misconceptions about shark aggression for decades. The author of the book Jaws is based on, Peter Benchley, became a strong advocate for the ocean until his death. It was an attempt to redeem the image of sharks he had planted in the minds of the public. It’s a testament to the film’s fear that it happened.
9/10 Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs)
There have been plenty of serial killers in movies, but none before just as charming and intelligent as Hannibal Lecter. Cultivated and polished, Hannibal Lecter could hold conversations with someone about the significance of Dante’s works. All the while, he’ll probably eat their body parts like a rare steak.
Hannibal Lecter is also one of the few horror icons to have been portrayed by more than one major actor. Mads Mikkelsen has continued to unsettle audiences with the character of Hannibal Lecter to the present day, adding a contemporary twist to the gentleman serial killer.
8/10 The Xenomorph (Alien)
The alien that started it all, the Xenomorph would be responsible for the craze for the creatures in the 1980s. On board the commercial freighter Nostromo, a crew picks up a distress signal on an unexplored moon and decides to check it out. Unfortunately for them, the moon had “survivors”. Just not humans.
The Xenomorph bursts into the horror movie scene with a vengeance, straight out of the chest of a poor member of the Nostromo crew. Unlike corny monster movies of the past, Extraterrestrial hid its monster, making it sound more like a slasher movie than a creature feature half the time. That was until the Xenomorph started spitting acid and letting out its big head tongue.
7/10 Leatherface (Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
If Jason, Freddy and Michael are considered by many to be the “big three” of horror, Leatherface is a close fourth contender. Leatherface is arguably the most terrifying of slasher killers. Massive and covered with the leather skin of his victims, his face makes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre feel way bloodier that he ended up being.
For one thing, his signature chainsaw never splits people in half on screen. The horror comes from his ways. It’s clear he’s a stunted male child, and his murderous rampages are more like a kid throwing a tantrum. Leatherface single-handedly made the turn of a chainsaw a trigger sound for horror fans.
6/10 The Yautja (Predator)
What started out as a typical 80s action movie slowly turned into a tense survival horror thanks to the galaxy apex hunter, The predator. They were eventually named the Yautja, an entire race of aliens who viewed hunting as a religious experience. All their technology and strength was devoted to hunting the most dangerous game.
The Yautja exists as a living subversion of the 80s action hero. It didn’t matter how tough the heroes were or what weapons they had. The Yautja was simply better. They reminded mankind that there is always a bigger fish. Being able to scare 80-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger away in fear cements Yautja’s place in horror history.
5/10 Jigsaw (saw)
The slasher genre needed something to spice it up, and JigsawPitfalls and convoluted schemes were the solutions. The iconic Seen franchise may not be solely responsible for the mid-2000s gorefests, but he certainly took things the furthest. Jigsaw’s brutalizing traps pushed the envelope in a way that would make the death of Final destination to blush.
As for the man himself, Jigsaw is a fascinating character. Undoubtedly unbalanced and judgmental, it’s always interesting to see the logic of his “justice”. His insistence on not being a “murderer” is frustrating, but it fits perfectly with the character’s hypocrisy. Even in death, Jigsaw’s philosophy corrupted his world for years to come.
4/10 The strangers (The strangers)
The Strangers are a relatively young group of iconic horror villains, but they’ve earned that title thanks to their unforgettable presence. In the face of scary demons and gorefests galore, The foreigners stands out for being a subtle and sinister group. They didn’t act like over-the-top serial killers like Jigsaw or Ghostface.
Instead, they were portrayed as cold, calculating house invaders. They were indescribable and barely showed personality. Add to that the chilling revelation at the end that they weren’t doing this for some sick ritual and weren’t here to steal anything; the only reason they killed two complete strangers is simple. It’s because they were at home.
3/10 Norman Bates (Psycho)
Although not the first serial killer in cinema, Norman Bates is widely considered the father of the slasher archetype. At a time when the spiciest thing people saw on screen was that Lucille Ball was slightly flirtatious, psychology audiences shocked and appalled by its violence and disturbing themes of trauma.
Norman Bates didn’t even reveal himself as the film’s villain until the now-iconic “Mother” reveal. His murder of “main character” Marion Crane remains one of the most shocking plot twists in horror history. It would be recreated decades later with Drew Barrymore by the equally influential slasher, Scream.
2/10 The thing (the thing)
The holder “Thing” in The thing is one of the most fascinating alien monsters in horror movie history. While the Xenomorph and the Yautja are creepy on their own, the “Thing” is unnervingly mysterious. There’s no learning where he’s from or what kind of goals he even has. All he does is methodically kill the stranded search party.
The effectiveness of The thing is enormously thanks to its macabre practical effects. Each form the “Thing” takes is both disturbing and fascinating. Heads turning into spiders, dogs turning into slugs, and everything nervous in between, The thing has a dozen forms for his monster, and none of them reveal what he originally looked like.
1/10 The Ghostface Slayer (Cry)
The Ghostface Killer didn’t just breathe new life into the horror genre, they completely changed the horror scene with their self-aware kills. Wes Craven was fed up with the rut the horror genre found itself in in the 90s, and Scream was her way of venting all her grievances with her beloved gender. At the same time, he still made an awesome horror movie, because he was Wes Craven.
The Ghostface Killer is fascinating because there’s almost always more than one. They are all savvy killers, aware that their victims would do the “realistic” thing. The characters may be rational, but so is the killer. It makes the terror all the more real as the characters “do the right thing” and still get killed for it. The Ghostface Killer is an iconic serial killer who perfectly represents the slasher, snark and all genre.