What would horror movies be without good villains? After all, they can't all be existential nightmares about our place in the universe. Most of them need a good old-fashioned serial killer, monster or supernatural deity to menace the unsuspecting heroes, rip them limb from limb and either go about their business or take a minute to cackle with glee at their handiwork. Here are our picks for The Top Ten Horror Movie Villains, the guys who make it seem so very good to be bad.
Charles Lee Ray was just your plain, old-fashioned, run of the mill serial strangler before he planted his soul in the body of the season's hottest Christmas toy. (Look, it seemed like a good idea at the time, alright?) Since then he's been wreaking havoc across the nation as a seemingly innocuous child's plaything, forced to suffer the indignities of being treated like a doll and taking them out on his owners whenever he gets them alone. Although fairly easy to defeat in battle (just punt him across the room, why don't you?), his tenacity, wit and disturbingly good-natured appearance make him the ultimate nightmare for kids, and adults, who just plain old-fashioned hate dolls.
Best Movie: Bride of Chucky (dir. Ronny Yu, 1998)
The Invisible Man
Many of the great movie monsters are scarred, ugly or simply unpleasant to look at. Many of them try to hide their disfigurements, or even just their normal face, with a mask. The Invisible Man doesn't have to worry about that. He doesn't have to worry about being seen at all, come to think of it, and that freedom has utterly gone to his head. He gats about the world at large, naked as a jaybird, breaking your stuff, redistributing wealth and, because he's got one heck of a god complex, derailing trains just for the hell of it. The Invisible Man has no sense of personal tragedy. He's just a sociopathic jerkwad who does whatever he wants because he knows he can never be caught. There's something uniquely terrifying about a sick bastard with nothing stopping him from doing any sick thing that pops into his head, don't you see? Oh wait… you can't.
Best Movie: The Invisible Man (dir. James Whale, 1933)
If it hadn't been for those pesky sequels, and those atrocious remakes, Michael Myers would have been right at the top of our list. Unfortunately, nine films after the original John Carpenter classic, with his origin revealed and his humanity somewhat restored, "The Shape" has gone from the ultimate homicidal nightmare, a man simply born without a soul, into a strange commercial commodity, overexposed and overanalyzed to the point of near meaninglessness. And yet here he is anyway, on the top ten just because for one film, and one film only, Michael Myers was the scariest person in movie history. Cold, calculating and totally incomprehensible in his villainy.
Best Movie: Halloween (dir. John Carpenter, 1978)
The thing about Jason Voorhees is, after his first film (that's Friday the 13th Part 2, mind you, not the original Friday the 13th), we were on his side. The teenaged victims of the Friday the 13th franchise are mostly really horrible, stupid, self-obsessed bastards who, from the perspective of a horror audience at any rate, totally deserve to die, if only so we don't have to watch them anymore. His legacy is too muddled to achieve true greatness – it takes one film just to introduce him, another to give him the hockey mask, and six films total to turn him into the unstoppable undead killing machine we all know and love – but as an unstoppable juggernaut of carnage, few horror movie villains can compete.
Best Movie: Friday the 13th Part 2 (dir. Steve Miner, 1981)
He's a clown. Isn't that enough? The villain of "It," the epic TV movie adaptation of Stephen King's classic horror novel, is a really, really scary clown. He's also a godlike spider thing that can prey on all of your most personal, private fears and enslave an entire town with his wickedness. Also, he's a clown, played by Tim Curry at his very creepiest (quite an honor, that is). Though ostensibly all-powerful, Pennywise gets points deducted for falling for the old "This is battery acid" gag, forced as he is to accept the imagination of his victims as reality, even if doing so kills him. Don't be a doormat, Pennywise. You're a villain. Make your own damned rules.
Best Movie: "It" (dir. Tommy Lee Wallace, 1990)
Jigsaw likes to claim that he's never actually killed anyone, but we dunno… doesn't putting them in a horrific deathtrap with only seconds to tune out the adrenaline coursing through your veins and make a practical conscious decision that flies in the face of your natural fight or flight instincts qualify as murder? It's certainly a dick move at any rate. The serial killer from the Saw movies gets points for creativity, since his Rube Goldberg homicide machines are usually fiendishly clever, but gets an added boost for forethought. Half the people he doesn't "kill" are killed long after Jigsaw's death early in the franchise, because somehow he thought out all the variables days, weeks, even months in advance and knows exactly what you would do in any given situation. If nothing else, you gotta admire his attention to detail.
Best Movie: Saw (dir. James Wan, 2004)
Lots of horror movie villains are, in their own way, trying to teach you valuable lesson. Jason teaches you to avoid drinking, drugs and pre-marital sex. Jigsaw teaches you to appreciate your life while you still can. But John Ryder just teaches you not to pick up hitchhikers, because they're probably homicidal maniacs who will develop an obsessive fixation with destroying your life if, by some miracle, you happen to survive your first encounter with "The Hitcher." In Robert Harmon's horror classic, Ryder, played by Rutger Hauer, becomes the ultimately embodiment of unstoppable homicidal mania, culminating in the worst thing that has ever, ever happened to Jennifer Jason Leigh. We hope.
Best Movie: The Hitcher (dir. Robert Harmon, 1986)
Here's a novelty: a horror villain who actually thinks he's doing you a favor. In Clive Barker's Hellraiser series, Pinhead's the leader of a group of demons calling themselves The Cenobytes, who appear to their faithful followers, if they open a magical puzzle box, and torture them until they achieve the ultimate sexual pleasure through their pain. "Pain and pleasure, indivisible" as they say. The godlike figure of Pinhead, depending on the movie, usually doesn't care for the affairs of mankind. He's a minion of Hell itself, and he has a job to do. It usually ends in a bloody, nightmarish mess.
Best Movie: Hellbound: Hellraiser II (dir. Tony Randel, 1988)
We debated including Death on the list since it could be considered a force of nature more than an actual villain, but the Final Destination franchise exerts so much energy personifying the entity that we finally decided that it qualifies. That uncertainty is what makes Death such a terrifying villain, since it has no physical form and can't really be fought. All you can do is try to play by its rules, which happen to conveniently change every other film or so, but who are we to argue with Death? If you were supposed to die, and happen somehow to avoid it, Death is coming for you even if it has to murder all plausibility in the process. Just about the only thing you can do to avoid Death is lock yourself in a padded cell for the rest of your life, but even then, who knows? You just might find yourself with cotton poisoning or something
Best Movie: Final Destination 2 (dir. David R. Ellis, 2003)
Like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger has changed over the years from a purely terrifying creation into something more likable, but unlike those two other villains we don't mind. A serial child murderer who came back from the grave to slaughter teenagers in their dreams, Krueger's modus operandi, controlling all of reality when you're asleep, makes him more than a living nightmare… it makes him a comic book supervillain. So playing him like a cackling maniac in love with his own abilities, as many of the later films do, just feels like a natural evolution of the character. Think about it: no matter how badly you died, if you could do anything you wanted, wouldn't you enjoy it after a while? At his scariest, Freddy Krueger is probably the scariest horror movie villain ever created. At his goofiest, he's still the most entertaining.
Best Movie: A Nightmare on Elm Street (dir. Wes Craven, 1984) and Wes Craven's New Nightmare (dir. Wes Craven, 1994) – Tie
Full Disclosure: This article has been sponsored by Open Road Films.