22 Most Terrifying Horror Movie Characters
There is nothing better than a good horror movie to give you a scare. It’s exhilarating watching a scary movie and being terrified by events unfolding on screen. Then there are the jump scares that will have you digging your nails into the armrest of your couch as the tension rises. And while the scares are part of what makes horror so good, it’s also the characters. From the final girl to the unlucky victims, horror movie characters are the driving force behind any horror flick, particularly the villains.
Think about your favorite horror movies and more likely than not, the one thing they have in common (besides scares) is the big bad who terrorizes the on-screen character. All the best horror movies have some type of evil character carrying out dastardly deeds on the big screen. Michael Myers in Halloween. Freddy Kruger in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Pennywise in It. Jigsaw in Saw. All of these characters are at the heart of the movies they appear in and are the reason why horror films are so terrifying.
These monsters, serial killers, deranged maniacs, and everything in between are often what makes horror movies so compelling. Usually more interesting than the rest of the cast, it’s these terrifying horror movie characters that have us squirming in our seats while glued to the screen. From charming cannibal Hannibal Lecter to the leader of the Cenobites, Pinhead, here are 22 of the most frightening horror movie characters ever committed to film.
22 Most Terrifying Horror Movie Characters
1. Michael Myers (Halloween)
When it comes to horror movie bad guys, it’s hard to go past Michael Myers. The creation of director John Carpenter, Myers is an almost robotic killer who will stop at nothing to take out his victims. First appearing in the 1978 classic Halloween, Myers escapes Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, and embarks on a murderous rampage, setting his sights on poor Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).
The movie is a classic that helped establish many troupes of the modern slasher. Since the original, there have been 12 more sequels/reboots of the Halloween movies, all with varying success. The one thing that has stayed the same is the relentless nature of Myers and the supernatural elements that surround him. He really is the Boogeyman.
2. Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs)
Although first played by Brian Cox in 1986s Manhunter, it’s Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of cannibal Hannibal Lecter that cemented the character as an icon. Lecter is a calculating yet charming serial killer in The Silence of the Lambs who assists young FBI trainee Clarice Starling on her hunt for fellow killer Buffalo Bill.
Lecter is smart, devious, and slightly insane. Hopkins is truly terrifying as Lecter and won Best Actor at the Academy Awards for the role. He reprised Lecter in two more movies, providing endlessly quotable moments as he goes about killing and eating those who defy him.
3. Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
Coming out of the 80s, Freddy Krueger is one of the first wise-cracking serial killers. Created by Wes Craven and played masterfully by Robert Englund, Krueger kills his victims by invading their dreams. Hideously scared after being burnt to death, Krueger is easily identifiable by his striped sweater, brown fedora, and trademark metal-clawed glove he wears on his right hand.
Brought to life by Englund, Krueger has slashed his way through nine movies, each movie upping the body count and Krueger’s sadistic one-liners that made him the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the horror genre.
4. Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
The star of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie franchise, Leatherface is another iconic horror movie character loved by fans. The hulking cannibal is known for wearing his victim’s faces as a mask and for the chainsaw he wields. Inspired by real-life serial killer Ed Gein, Leatherface has appeared in all nine movies in the franchise, even getting his own origin story.
Although his legacy has been slowly diminished with each further offering in the long-running series, the original movie is still a frightening study of Leatherface and the bloody deeds he carried out for his family.
5. Patrick Bateman (America Psycho)
He might not be as scary as some of the monsters on this list, but Patrick Bateman still rates a mention for his enjoyment of murder. Brilliantly played by Christian Bale, Bateman is your typical 80s Wall Street bro who also happens to have a penchant for Phil Collins and mutilation.
While American Psycho is a satirical look at consumerism, it’s also a hilarious black comedy with plenty of chilling murder scenes and a lead character who loves nothing more than chasing after his victims with a chainsaw.
6. Damien Thorn (The Omen)
If you ever need to justify not having children to someone, show them The Omen. Young Damien Thorn appears to be a normal kid, but he’s in fact the spawn of Satan. The Antichrist uses his powers to murder those who annoy him, including his nanna and the local priest. Even with everyone dropping like flies, it takes his parents a long time before they figure out it’s Damien doing the dirty deeds, and by then it’s too late.
This movie will put to bed any fears you might have about missing out on having kids.
7. Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th)
Even though he only appears in the first Friday the 13th movie for a couple of seconds, Jason Voorhees is one of the most talked about horror movie characters. Easily identifiable thanks to the ice hockey mask he wears, Voorhees has haunted Camp Crystal Lake for over four decades.
Across 12 movies Voorhees has sliced and diced his way through groups of young teens, even venturing to Manhatten and space in his quest for more bodies. Similar to Michael Myers and Freddy Kruger, he just can’t be stopped and is set to return to our screens in series format with a prequel show Crystal Lake.
8. Samara Morgan (The Ring)
In the American version of The Ring franchise, Samara Morgan is the young girl in the cursed videotape that brings about your death. She has a tragic backstory and becomes an evil murderer thanks to a videotape she infiltrates. There’s a lot more to it, but the bottom line is Morgan is a freaky killer you never want to get involved with, otherwise, your death will be coming in seven days.
9. Candyman (Candyman)
Say his name five times while looking in a mirror and the Candyman will appear and send you to your grave. The Candyman is another character with a tragic past – he was vilified and killed for an interracial relationship, having his arm cut off and smeared with honey so bees would sting him to death.
Played masterfully by Tony Todd in four films, the Candyman legend is much more of a social commentary on class and race, but that doesn’t make him any less scary. Candyman is a terrifying nightmare who kills his victims with relish in the most bloody ways.
10. Norman Bates (Psycho)
Norman Bates is another horror movie character who is a human but has a few screws loose. He has a split personality and enjoys talking to his dead mother’s corpse and killing attractive women. Bates is the key character in Alfred Hitchcock’s phenomenal thriller Psycho. The shower scene alone is worth the price of admission.
Bates would go on to appear in three Psycho sequels as well as the recent Bates Motel television series and remains a genuinely horrifying creation you don’t want running the hotel you are standing in.
11. Jack Torrance (The Shining)
Although Steven King isn’t a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel The Shining, almost everyone else agrees that Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of author gone mad Jack Torrance is incredible. In one of his greatest roles, Nicolson completely embodies the role of the crazed villain Torrance, who begins seeing things as a murderous rage brought on by supernatural forces awakens inside him. “Here’s Johnny!”
See more about - 12 Banned Horror Movies That Shocked The Censors
12. Chucky (Child’s Play)
A horror film with an evil doll that comes alive is always going to get moviegoers’ attention, as is the case with Child’s Play. Another long-running franchise (eight movies and a TV series) Child’s Play centers on the killer doll Chucky. Possessed by the spirit of a murderer, Chucky takes no prisoners as he tries to take down all who get in his way while trying to find a human host.
Although the character has become a little campy and less serious over the years, in the first couple of movies Chucky is terrifying and not to be messed with.
13. Pinhead (Hellraiser)
The leader of the Cenobites, demonic creatures devoted to pleasure and pain, Pinhead (a fantastic Doug Bradley) is a ghastly creature noticeable for the large nails embedded in his head. Bradley’s version of Pinhead is a chilling vision combining sexual thrill with squeamish violence that offers people pleasure beyond their wildest dreams.
Just looking at Pinhead is enough to cause most people to feel uncomfortable, with the sadomasochism experiments he and his fellow Cenobites carry out truly shocking.
14. Ghostface (Scream)
When it comes to modern-day horror movie characters, Ghostface is one that has resonated with many. The main killer in the Scream franchise has been played by a number of actors and actresses, with the murderer being someone different in each movie. The mask Ghostface wears is now iconic and makes for a great Halloween costume.
Ghostface might not have supernatural powers or a loaded backstory, but when it comes to spooky killers the character certainly ranks among the best.
15. The Shark (Jaws)
Slightly controversial, but the shark in Jaws definitely ranks as one of the most terrifying horror movie characters of all time. The underwater beast kills several characters in each movie and is almost unstoppable. Just when you thought it was safe to get back into the water, Jaws came along to ruin things.
16. Pennywise (It)
Clowns are scary at the best of times, so when confronted by one that eats children, it’s fair to say most people would drop their bundle and run. Pennywise is the big bad in Steven King’s novel It. The murderous clown has been brought to life by two different actors – Tim Curry in the 90s mini-series and Bill Skarsgård in the recent movie adaptations – who both bring a different energy to the freaky clown.
Even if you’ve never had a problem with clowns before, after watching It you’ll understand why people have a phobia of them.
17. The Thing (The Thing)
Another John Carpenter classic, The Thing features a group of American researchers in Antarctica who are taken out one by one by an alien creature. What makes this “Thing” so horrifying is that it assimilates its victims in a ghastly fashion, as shown numerous times throughout the movie.
The special effects by Rob Bottin are still mind-blowing today, with the Thing another scary monster that will stop at nothing on its quest to take over the world.
18. The Creeper (Jeepers Creepers)
The Creeper (Jonathan Breck) is an ancient creature that awakens every 23 years to feed on humans for 23 days before going into hibernation. Seeking out its victims through fear, the bat-like human causes havoc across four movies (including a reboot) and is another freaky creature you don’t want anything to do with.
19. Jigsaw (Saw)
The main killer in the Saw films isn’t a malevolent spirit or undead monster. He’s just an ordinary man with a sick mind who wants revenge on those who wronged him. Despite being killed off in the third movie, Jigsaw manages to be a major player in all of the remaining sequels.
Although human, Jigsaw has a blood lust he satisfies by making people perform blood-curling tests that leave them mutilated or dead. While he believes he is doing a noble thing, Jigsaw is just as unstable as any other serial killer on this list.
20. The Mother (Barbarian)
The most recent horror movie character, The Mother is not someone you want to encounter. As Barbarian is a new film and the less you know the better your viewing experience is, we won’t give away any secrets about this terror-inducing creature. All we will say is be sure to thoroughly check your Airbnb the next time you book one. You never know what you might find.
21. Art the Clown (Terrifier)
If you still aren’t convinced clowns can’t be trusted, give Terrifier and its sequel, Terrifier 2 a watch. Art the Clown is a sadistic, supernatural entity who kills his victims in the most disgusting ways possible. These movies are only for those who love gore, as many of the kills involve the severing of body parts, the gouging of eyeballs, and even one character being skinned alive. Not for the faint-hearted.
22. Annie Wilkes (Misery)
What makes Annie Wilkes so horrifying is that she could be your neighbor or work colleague. An obsessed fan of writer Paul Sheldon, Wilkes happens to come across Sheldon after he’s involved in an accident. Helping him recover from his injuries, Wilkes has ulterior motives for rescuing Sheldon and will stop at nothing to make sure he fulfills her wishes when it comes to writing his next book, even if that means breaking his legs.
See more about - The 10 Scariest Horror Movies Of All Time