Horror movies are filled with iconic roles in all kinds of archetypes – scream queens, psycho killers, possessed children, noble heroes, doomed lovers and nefarious conjurers among them. The very best horror characters can take the shape of an unforgettable image, or something deeper – delivering explorations of fear, grief, and death. And sometimes they’re just supremely entertaining killing fodder, there to rack up the bodycount and giving good gusto while they die horribly.
From the villains to the victims, Empire presents a list of the 100 greatest horror movie characters – dating right back to the earliest days of the genre, and with inclusions from the most memorable scary movies of 2020. Because in recent years, the horror genre has been in a very, very good place, with brilliant filmmakers delivering all-time-great spooky works. Turn off all the lights, and get reading.
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100 - Father McGruder
Played by: Stuart Devensie
"I kick arse for the Lord!" announces Stuart Devenie's zealous priest, before proving - rather conclusively - that God is taking a sabbatical. Still, points for trying. Intriguingly, Zombie McCruder was played by a different actor.
99 - Jemma
Played by: Jemma Moore
Film: Host (2020)
Horror movies have total disdain for rule-breakers – and in Host, the rules are laid out as clearly as can be: don’t disrespect the sanctity of the seance, even if it’s over Zoom. Taking no notice of this is prankster Jemma, who makes up a morbid story when the spirit-summoning session isn’t moving fast enough for her liking – and kicks off a world of shit for everyone in the meeting. Like all the characters in this ingenious lockdown horror, Jemma feels real – when she’s joking about, terrified out of her mind, or being clonked on the head by a bottle of wine.
98 - Kevin Wendell Crumb
Played by: James McAvoy
Film(s): Split (2016), Glass (2019)
Technically, 24 places on this list could be filled by McAvoy in Shyamalan’s Unbreakable spin-offs – his multiple personalities ranging from the silly (lispy kid Hedwig) to the sinister (kidnapper Dennis) to the downright savage (The Beast). It’s a bravura performance, with McAvoy managing to provide such distinct turns for each role – and providing physical hulking menace when his supernaturally-strong inner predator is unleashed.
97 - The Alien
Played by: Bolaji Badejo
It was written by Dan O'Bannon, directed by Ridley Scott, played by Bolaji Badejo, sketched by H.R. Giger and plucked straight from the blackest excesses of your nightmares. The Nostromo's reckoning is beautifully summed up by Ian Holm's Ash: "Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility... I admire its purity. A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality." Plus, it has a head shaped like a willy.
96 - Charlie Graham
Played by: Milly Shapiro
Film(s): Hereditary (2018)
Grief hits us all in different ways, and Charlie Graham is merely doing her best to get by when her grandmother passes away. She wanders and stares, she worries, she tries to get noticed and bad things, inevitably, happen. Oh, and she cuts the heads off birds. As you do. Shapiro manages to be terrifying without saying a word, or with the mere cluck of a tongue. And when that scene comes, her role takes on a whole new kind of emotional terror. Scariest of all: she’s now a major TikTok star.
95 - Thomasin
Played by: Anya Taylor-Joy
Film: The Witch (2016)
Anya Taylor-Joy kick-started her Scream Queen career in Robert Eggers’ bone-crunching folktale. Poor Thomasin is labelled a Witch by the puritanical patriarchy until she finally becomes one, choosing to “live deliciously” with devil-goat Black Phillip and a coven in the woods. Agony, ecstasy, liberation, demonisation – for Thomasin, it’s all the same thing.
94 - Father Karras
Played by: Jason Miller
Film(s): The Exorcist
Jason Miller's Damien Karras is a priest racked by guilt, fear, doubt, and memories (or are they visions?) of his dead mother, descending into what looks like the Chicago subway and which therefore might as well be Hell. So he's the perfect person to take on the wily demon, Pazuzu. Miller is fantastic as a weeping wound of a man whose belief is slowly restored by exposure to the most awful proof that God does, in fact, exist. He returned as a form of Karras for the surprisingly excellent Exorcist III.
93 - Tree Gelbman
Played by: Jessica Rothe
Film(s): Happy Death Day (2017), Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Odd arboreal name and all, Tree is one of the most game slasher queens in recent memory – a college student who goes from victim to detective when she’s trapped in a timeloop that always ends with her being murdered by a baby-masked killer, forced to decipher the culprit in order to move beyond her doomed birthday. Rothe commits brilliantly – and cranks up the comedy in the Back To The Future Part II-inspired sequel, through suicide montages, multiple alternate-timelines, and unmasking another mystery murderer.
92 - Mrs Voorhees
Played by: Betsy Palmer
Film(s): Friday The 13th
It's always been a mystery why the Friday The 13th series never resurrected Betsy Palmer's psychotic camp counsellor. Yes, she may have had her head lopped off at the end of the original movie, but she's so much more interesting than her son, Jason, and deserves to be remembered as more than just a trick question at the beginning of Scream.
91 - Conal Cochran
Played by: Dan O'Herlihy
Film(s): Halloween III: Season Of The Witch
Played with chilling understatement by Dan O'Herlihy, this demented loon is perhaps the only toymaker on the planet who wants children to choke on the small moving parts.
90 - Danny Torrance
Played by: Danny Lloyd, Ewan McGregor
Film(s): The Shining (1980), Doctor Sleep (2019)
'Redrum... redrum'. Danny Lloyd has one film, and one film only (he also has a TV movie shot in 1982, but as that spoils the narrative let's ignore it), on his CV, but what a film, and what a performance. True, as Danny Torrance, the young boy blessed / cursed with the Shining in a hotel filled with ghosts that see him as a psychic Twinkie, Lloyd isn't called upon to do much more than ride a tricycle very fast and look afraid. But he does that like a champ, clamping his fingers over his eyes, mouth wide in terror. Wonder if Kubrick made him do each take 99 times?
89 - Richie Tozier
Played by: Finn Wolfhard, Bill Hader
Film(s): It (2017), It Chapter Two (2019)
The members of the Losers’ Club are all loveable – but it’s Trashmouth who steals the show. In the kids timeline, Wolfhard delivers stellar brash insults as the wisecracking wonder, hiding his vulnerability behind the biggest of mouths, and he gets the final act’s greatest rallying cry: “Now, I’m going to have to kill this fucking clown!” It’s a mantle effortlessly picked up by Hader in the second film, who obviously aces the comedy – but the revelation in Chapter Two is the emotional heart of Richie being exposed. He suffers real loss, and Hader makes you feel every ounce of it.
88 - Theo
Played by: Claire Bloom
Film(s): The Haunting
Claire Bloom's stylish, somewhat sniffy psychic (perhaps her sniffiness, in some perverse way, comes from being overlooked by Hill House in favour of Julie Harris' Eleanor) broke new ground for horror as an openly gay character. To this day, though, most lesbian characters in horror fiction remain, regrettably, buxom vampires.
87 - Jessie Burlingame
Played by: Carla Gugino
Film: Gerald’s Game
In survival horror movies, characters go through the wringer – and Jessie is no stranger to trials and tribulations. For one, she’s handcuffed to a bed with no hope of unlocking them. Secondly, she’s taunted by the spectre of her husband Gerald who just died of a heart attack, as well as her own inner demons, an entire childhood of repressed trauma, and a hungry dog who sounds like Cujo. And that’s before the Moonlight Man comes into play. And when she – spoiler alert – rips all the skin from her hand, right down to the bone, in order to escape? That takes guts.
86 - Grandpa
Played by: Barnard Hughes
Film(s): The Lost Boys
Everybody wants a Grandpa like Barnard Hughes in Joel Schumacher's garish and gory '80s comedy-horror. Sure, he's a cantankerous old sod, the sort of guy who's very protective of his own special shelf and who thinks a driving lesson involves turning the engine on and off again, but when it comes to wiping out vampires with a truck loaded with wooden stakes, he's your man. Plus, he wears a bandana. At his age. A bandana.
85 - Stevie Wayne
Played by: Adrienne Barbeau
Film(s): The Fog
The best big-screen DJ this side of Wally Banter, Adrienne Barbeau is magnificent once more for her then-husband John Carpenter as the velvet-voiced coastal town radio host who gradually becomes aware of the dangers lurking in the fog, and then spends the second half of the movie delivering the kind of weather updates that would turn Wincey Willis green. Topical reference, there.
84 - Randy
Played by: Jamie Kennedy
Given that he's been astonishingly unlikeable in virtually everything else he's done, it's a huge surprise that Jamie Kennedy's cine-literate Randy is so adorable in the first two Scream movies. Maybe it's because film fans so readily identify with him, just one more reason why Craven's decision to kill him (in broad daylight) takes Scream 2 to the next level. If Randy - or, essentially, the audience - is dead, then nobody's safe.
83 - The Tall Man
Played by: Angus Scrimm
Angus Scrimm, in a suit that's too tight for him to accentuate his slender frame, squints and scowls for all he's worth as the iconic bad guy of Don Coscarelli's completely (and we mean this with love) bonkers franchise. An inter-dimensional alien being who poses as an undertaker while he prepares to wage war with his army of psycho dwarves and flying balls (stop sniggering), The Tall Man is just one of many (maybe even millions) - which makes him that much harder to stop.
82 - Maud
Played by: Moryfdd Clark
Film(s): Saint Maud (2020)
Maud is the nice, sweet, harmless private nurse who is here to save our souls. Except, obviously that’s not quite true – as Rose Glass’ terrifying and terrific debut Saint Maud presents our protagonist as a young woman with a dark past capable of dangerous things. She has a very… special relationship with God, which, naturally, means she’ll do anything for him. Morfydd Clark plays the self-flagellating Maud with both quiet brilliance and quick wit – buried under mounds of pain and unprocessed trauma – in her quest to find salvation for us all.
81 - Dr. Génessier
Played by: Pierre Brasseur
Film(s): Eyes Without A Face
Pierre Brasseur's surgeon scientist only wants to do what's right for his dear, darling, disfigured daughter Christiane. If that means kidnapping and, by default, murdering a string of young girls so he can conduct a revolutionary face transplant, then so be it. Brasseur is unforgettable as one of cinema's very best takes on Frankenstein in Georges Franju's classic.
80 - Mark Lewis
Played by: Karlheinz Bohm
Film(s): Peeping Tom
Is it the soft German accent? His quivering presence? Those empty, wide, sad eyes? Karlheinz Bohm's subtle, timid killer plays a huge part in Peeping Tom's success, underplaying against Michael Powell's vividly voyeuristic kills, catching his victim's death throes on tick-tick-ticking camera. Either way, his demise is no moral triumph - it's tragedy.
79 - Pale Man
Played by: Doug Jones
Film(s): Pan's Labyrinth
Nightmarish craziness from the mind of Del Toro, The Pale Man carries his eyeballs in his hands. Bizarrely, it's still all the better to see you with.
78 - Lawrence Talbot
Played by: Lon Chaney Jr.
Film(s): The Wolf Man
Sorry Benicio. There's only room enough for one Wolf Man on this list and that goes to Chaney Jr., whose quiet, tormented dignity makes his monster Universal.
77 - Grace Le Domas
Played by: Samara Weaving
Film: Ready Or Not (2019)
The most badass bride since Beatrix Kiddo. After a seemingly idyllic wedding, Grace learns that her new husband’s family are crackers – beholden to a superstition that means they’ll hunt her in a killer game of Hide and Seek. But Grace doesn’t take her fate lying down, fighting back against the Le Domas gang with gusto. She punches children, smashes a boiling teapot on someone’s head, withstands a bullet through the hand, and bludgeons brains. In her own words: “I want a divorce.”
76 - Dani Ardor
Played by: Florence Pugh
Film(s): Midsommar (2019)
Listen, just don’t dump a girl when she’s dealing with the death of her entire family. Ari Aster makes the scariest break-up movie you’ve ever seen, in which Florence Pugh proves she wears both a frown and a flower crown like nobody else. Dani is looking forward to fun frolics in the Swedish countryside as much as anyone would – but what she finds there, and how she deals with it, reveals something so much more sinister than your usual summer holiday. It might be all sunshine and rainbows, actually – but there’s still a lot to fear when it comes to this particular May Queen too.
75 - Father Malone
Played by: Hal Holbrook
Film(s): The Fog
"Why not me, Blake?" asks Hal Holbrook's sozzled priest at the end of The Fog, before getting his answer in spectacular fashion. Prior to that, Holbrook is excellent as Malone, gradually putting together the pieces of the true fate of the Elizabeth Dane and its crew of lepers, in which his ancestors were involved, and not at all happy about it. Armed with this knowledge, and a gold cross, Malone - previously a shambles of a man - decides to redeem himself, and his family name.
74 - Annie Wilkes
Played by: Kathy Bates
The monstrously wholesome Annie (played by a ferocious Kathy Bates, who won an Oscar for her troubles) is completely, terrifyingly, batshit cockadoody crazy. Don't let her anywhere near your ankles.
73 - Candyman
Played by: Tony Todd
Tony Todd's hook-handed legend has, unusually for a franchise fiend, layers of emotional depth and something of a tragic sheen. We know what happens if you say his name five times into a mirror, but what happens if you type it? Candyman. Candyman. Candyman. Candyman. Can... actually, let's leave it there.
72 - Darryl Revok
Played by: Michael Ironside
Film(s): Scanners (1981)
Michael Ironside's cocksure scanner will blow your mind. Sometimes literally, on live TV.
71 - Rose The Hat
Played by: Rebecca Ferguson
Film: Doctor Sleep (2019)
“It’s the special ones that taste best.” Right from its opening scene, Rebecca Ferguson steals Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Shining sequel novel. Her Stevie Nicks attire and lilting tones hide an ancient devouring force which occasionally comes more transparently into view in a cheshire-cat grin. She can be soft – and has her own plight to face as her immortal cult, The True Knot, face the decline of the Steam that keeps them alive – but brutal too, not least in a scene where she murders innocent little Jacob Tremblay. How could she!
70 - Chief Brody
Played by: Roy Scheider
One of the wonders of Jaws is that its three heroes seem like ordinary guys, played by men who didn't wander straight out of modelling school and onto a movie set. When Roy Scheider's Martin Brody takes his shirt off, there's no rippling six-pack underneath. Brody is an ordinary guy catapulted into extraordinary circumstances, and Scheider makes him rich, relatable, human; the perfect man, then, to dispose of a villain that's everything but. Smile, you sonofabitch.
69 - Peter Vincent
Played by: Roddy McDowall
Film(s): Fright Night
Roddy McDowall's prissy, hammy horror show host, forced to discover his faith and become the thing he's pretended to be for thirty years when he's confronted with real vampires, is a delight. Miles away from David Tennant's vulgar creation in the murky remake, McDowall's turn is a reminder of a more innocent time in horror.
68 - Ed and Lorraine Warren
Played by: Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga
Film(s): The Conjuring (2013), The Conjuring 2 (2016), Annabelle Comes Home (2019)
Sure, the frights are good – but The Conjuring films would be nothing without the Warrens, the fictionalised versions of the real-life paranormal investigators whose cases sparked the franchise. Wilson and Farmiga bring such lived-in warmth to this married couple whose devotion to each other can’t be shaken by any level of demonic activity – bringing a surprisingly romantic heart to one of the defining horror franchises of the 2010s.
67 - Prince Prospero
Played by: Vincent Price
Film(s): The Masque Of The Red Death
Vincent Price starts Roger Corman's movie as a Satan-worshipping despot who orders the burning of a village, kidnaps a girl to be his sex slave, and then throws a big old party for the rich, figuratively fiddling while Rome burns. From there, it's downhill for Prospero, but Price is on fine form throughout.
66 - Carole Ledoux
Played by: Catherine Deneuve
Catherine Deneuve is on superlative form as the repressed recluse whose awkwardness and disdain for men and sexual contact begins to eat into her psyche, first manifesting itself as hallucinations (the image of hands coming through the wall to grab at Carole has been stolen by a number of directors, most famously George A. Romero for Day Of The Dead), then as bloody murders, then as catatonia. Startling.
65 – Rose Armitage
Played by: Allison Williams
Film: Get Out (2017)
Talk about villainy – the moment Rose stops pretending to look for her car keys in Get Out’s final reel, all pretences are dropped: she’s in on the Armitages’ Black body-snatching scheme, and she delivered Chris to her nefarious parents on purpose, a pure psychopathic wolf in sheep’s clothing. She’s a total monster – and that’s before you find out she eats her Fruit Loops dry, with a separate glass of milk on the side.
64 - Michel Delasalle
Played by: Paul Meurisse
Film(s): Les Diaboliques
Meurisse's cheating husband is a grade-A scumbag, whose emotional and physical abuse of his wife, Christina, continues even after his 'murder'. Meurisse is, thanks to the very nature of the film's plot, off-screen for much of the movie, but his presence is everywhere, while he's front-and-centre of one of horror cinema's most famous shock twists.
63 - Dick Hallorann
Played by: Scatman Crothers
Film(s): The Shining
As played by Scatman Crothers, Hallorann - the chef at the Overlook Hotel - is a kindly old man who, blessed with his own Shining, acts as Danny Torrance's guide to the dos and don'ts of the evil old hotel. As set up by Stephen King, he's the knight in armour who travels half the country to save the day. As set up by Stanley Kubrick, he's a rug pulled from under your feet.
62 - Miss Giddens
Played by: Deborah Kerr
Film(s): The Innocents (1961)
Deborah Kerr is on fine form in Jack Clayton's elegant and creepy horror as the governess who comes to suspect that her two young charges are possessed, while we, the audience, come to suspect that she may not be the full shilling.
61 - Roger
Played by: Scott Reiniger
Film(s): Dawn of the Dead
OK, so Scott Reiniger's devil-may-care SWAT guy may border on the psychopathic, and contributes to his own demise, but we defy you not to will the little guy to fulfil his promise to Ken Foree's Peter that "I'm going to try not to come back". Anyone who's ever seen the back of a Dawn of the Dead VHS cover will know that he doesn't succeed.
60 - Duc de Richleau
Played by: Christopher Lee
Film(s): The Devil Rides Out
A rare good guy turn for the great Christopher Lee in, arguably, Hammer's greatest movie. As the occult expert charged with saving Patrick Mower's rich kid from a fate worse than Emmerdale, Lee is fantastic as an uptight, upright, unswerving bastion of moral invincibility. And the facial hair - neatly devilish itself - is a winner.
59 - Derek
Played by: Peter Jackson
Film(s): Bad Taste
Forced to take the lead role in Bad Taste because he had no other real option, Peter Jackson plays Derek as a dithering idiot who becomes dangerously unhinged when he falls off a cliff and spends most of the movie holding his brains in via judicious deployment of a belt. Jackson displays such a nifty instinct for comedy that it's a real shame that he hasn't given acting a go since; and Derek's Ash-like transformation into chainsaw-wielding badass is ludicrously satisfying. He's a Derek, and Dereks don't run.
58 - The Babadook
Played by: Tim Purcell
Film(s): The Babadook (2014)
One of the most striking bogeymen of recent years, the creaking, croaking Babadook – conjured from the creepiest pop-up book of all time – brings terror to the traumatised pair of young Sam and his mother Amelia (Essie Davis). There’s no shaking his sharp fingers and horrifying grin, or that signature rattling cry: ‘Baaaa-baaa-doooook!’ And his real identity (a – SPOILER ALERT – physical manifestation of Amelia’s grief over her late husband) brings poignancy beyond that terrifying silhouette. All that, and he became an unlikely LGBTQ+ icon – who else has that kind of range?
57 - Henry
Played by: Michael Rooker
Film(s): Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Michael Rooker's frighteningly humdrum performance as a no-nonsense monster in John MacNaughton's dead-eyed character study gave audiences everywhere chills... and Rooker a career that sees him playing heavies and weirdos to this day.
56 - Tangina
Played by: Zelda Rubinstein
'When your little girl/Has been kidnapped by The Beast, who you gonna call?' Zelda Rubinstein, apparently. The 4'3" actress, with a voice that sounds like a possessed doll, is a weird and unforgettable presence in Tobe Hooper's brilliant haunted house movie, showing up near the end to do battle with the darkness armed with nothing but a rope, some tennis balls and unshakeable faith.
55 - Tommy Jarvis
Played by: Corey Feldman, John Shepherd, Thom Mathews
Film(s): Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986), Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
The only opponent worthy of defeating Jason Voorhees, Tommy was played across three different films by three actors, beginning with Corey Feldman in the laughably-titled Final Chapter. Back then, he was a kid obsessed with movie make-up who uses his skills to lure Jason to his death. Part V's A New Beginning saw him become a borderline Jason himself; Jason Lives saw genre favourite Thom Mathews inadvertently resurrect Jason, then spend the rest of the movie Keystone Kopping his way around Camp Crystal Lake while scores of innocents perished. Dr. Loomis he ain't.
54 - Blade
Played by: Wesley Snipes
Unusually violent for a Marvel property, Blade avoids the moral ambiguities of the similarly trigger-happy Punisher by only slaughtering vampires. He's also cooler than Steve McQueen at the South Pole.
53 - Asami
Played by: Eihi Shiina
She's a serial seducer and torturer who keeps her victims in sacks. Remember, words create lies but pain can be trusted. Kiri kiri kiri...
52 - Pazuzu
Played by: Mercedes McCambridge (voice)
Film(s): The Exorcist
It's the mocking, malevolent entity that seizes hold of an innocent young girl and proceeds to turn her into a hellish shock jock, so that it can settle old scores with two priests. Besides that, Pazuzu has a lot to answer for: virtually every screen demon since has been a thinly-veiled rip-off, down to the face (yes, Pazuzu's true visage is glimpsed subliminally, but there's no doubt that it can also be seen in Regan's twisted, mutated features) and Mercedes McCambridge's eggs-fags-and-whiskey voice.
51 - Van Helsing
Played by: Peter Cushing
Film(s): Horror of Dracula (1958)
Not the original iteration of Bram Stoker's vampire killing Dutch doctor, of course, but by far the best. Cushing plays his Van Helsing with a cut-glass English accent, and a sense of moral rectitude and purpose as sharp as his stakes. His look of triumph upon reducing Christopher Lee's Dracula to ash in the original Hammer movie is as dastardly as this good Doctor (Cushing actually played the role several times, although it wasn't always the same Van Helsing) ever gets.
50 - Count Orlok
Played by: Max Schreck
Monster monster! The original - and some would say, best - screen vampire is a balding, rat-like, inhuman creature whose very shadow has more personality and menace than a thousand imitators.
49 – Pennywise
Played by: Tim Curry, Bill Skarsgard
Film(s): It (1990), It (2017), It Chapter Two (2019)
Of all the guises that ‘It’ takes across Stephen King’s tale, it’s telling that the shape-shifting cosmic entity of purest evil takes on the form of a clown. Because who isn’t terrified of clowns? If Tim Curry’s incarnation made the TV miniseries iconic, Bill Skarsgard still managed to make the Dancing Clown his own in Andy Muschietti’s films, the actor using his very own real-life special effect: the ability to make one of his eyes veer off at a creepy angle. Nightmare-fodder.
48 - Jack Griffin
Played by: Claude Rains
Film(s): The Invisible Man
Rains is unnervingly crazy as the scientist who accidentally disappears himself. The invisibility effects, to this day, border on magic. "What do you think of that, eh?!"
47 - Cesare
Played by: Conrad Veidt
Film(s): The Cabinet of Dr Caligari
The great Conrad Veidt is touching as the sleepwalking slave - very nearly a homunculus - of Dr. Caligari, forced to murder innocents until he's beguiled by the beauty of Lil Dagover's Jane. Cesare meets his end, in somewhat unorthodox fashion for a Big Bad, from exhaustion.
46 - Victor Frankenstein
Played by: Peter Cushing
Film(s): The Curse Of Frankenstein
For a man who was known as the Nicest Guy In Showbiz, Peter Cushing did have an amazing talent for playing rotten bastards. His take on Baron Victor Frankenstein is a bold one, a 180 from Colin Clive's noble scientist in the Universal films. Victor is a wild-eyed nutter, entirely focused on his goal of creating life from death - and if, along the way, he has to create a few deaths from life in order to get that little bit closer to being a living God, then so be it. Cushing, steely-eyed and dastardly from the off, is fantastic here, creating a character that would reappear in six sequels (one of which doesn't star Cushing).
45 - John Rider
Played by: Rutger Hauer
Film(s): The Hitcher
Enigmatic evil from Rutger Hauer, as the hitch-hiking psychopath desperate to be stopped by a worthy opponent. He's ruthless enough to tear someone in half with a truck, playful enough to place a severed finger in a plate of French fries.
44 - Carrie White
Played by: Sissy Spacek
Oppressed, bullied and ignored, Carrie White (a gift of a role for Sissy Spacek) is a powder keg of burgeoning telekinetic power, just waiting to explode at her school prom. Many die at Carrie's hand - or, more accurately, mind - that night, but impressively she remains the film's true victim.
43 - Herbert West
Played by: Jeffrey Combs
One of cinema's greatest mad scientists, Jeffrey Combs' nerdish psychopath is a morbid delight, whether it's beating a zombie cat to death or struggling to escape from killer intestines.
42 - The Phantom
Played by: Lon Chaney
Film(s): The Phantom Of The Opera
Lon Chaney was famously known as The Man Of A Thousand Faces, but really one stands out above the other 999: Erik, the masked madman who lurks in the bowels of the Paris Opera House and develops a dangerous obsession with a young ingenue. When she finally pulls off his mask, the results, especially for a 1925 audience, were horrifying. Chaney, of course, came up with the make-up, redolent of Skeletor's chartered accountant cousin Norman - himself.
41 – Chris Washington
Played by: Daniel Kaluuya
Film: Get Out (2017)
It might be the defining horror image of the 2010s: Daniel Kaluuya sat in a brown leather chair, eyes wide and horrified, tears streaming down his cheeks as his consciousness sinks into a starry void. He’s a Black man in a world of literal bodily appropriation, fighting for survival against the racism lingering just beneath the surface of supposed liberal Western civilisation – and watching him let rip in the final act is pure catharsis.
40 - Jason Voorhees
Played by: Various
Film(s): Jason X, Freddy vs. Jason, Friday the 13th, Friday The 13th Part 2 (1981), Friday the 13th Part III (1981), Friday the 13th Part III (1982), Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986), Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988), Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989), Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985), Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984), Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
Let's be frank: when it comes to chopping up teenagers, Jason may be more creative than Michael Myers, but he has none of the genuine menace or the interesting backstory. In fact, when Jason shows up as a readymade killing machine in Friday The 13th Part 2, it makes next-to-no-sense, given the events of the first film. Still, the mask, the machete and the massacring are all too iconic for him not to rank highly, even if he did descend into self-parody long before the end.
39 - Robert Thorn
Played by: Gregory Peck
Film(s): The Omen
Played with sublime gruffness and unfolding layers of guilt by Gregory Peck (who, along with Richard Donner, believed he was making a thriller, rather than a supernatural horror), Thorn gives The Omen a rock-solid foundation on which to ladle the scares. It's hard to imagine anyone but Peck selling the 'When the Jews return to Zion' speech. Just ask Liev Schreiber.
38 - Ben
Played by: Duane Jones
Film(s): Night of the Living Dead
George A. Romero's debut was groundbreaking for the horror genre in a number of ways, including its protagonist. It's hard, now, to overstate the impact that Duane Jones's Ben had at the time. Not only was he a black hero at the height of the Civil Rights movement, in the same year that Martin Luther King was assassinated, but he was a black hero who was smart, sassy, proactive, and who survived. That is, of course, until Romero's pointed ending, in which Ben is 'mistaken' for a zombie and shot by a bunch of rednecks.
37 – Red / Adelaide
Played by: Lupita Nyong’o
Film(s): Us (2019)
Good luck ever getting her voice out of your head. Adelaide is a woman just trying to mind her own business and take care of her family, but a group of doppelgängers, who we’ll come to know as the Tethered, have other ideas. The way Nyong’o shifts between Adelaide and her Tethered, Red, is nothing short of masterful – the terror in her eyes and the horrifying rasp in her voice, as if always gasping for air, is enough to give you nightmares for weeks. You’re welcome.
36 - Laurie Strode
Played by: Jamie Lee Curtis
Jamie Lee Curtis' stalked 'sitter becomes, arguably, less interesting later when she's saddled with being Michael Myers' stalked sister. But she's still the resourceful, indefatigable horror heroine to beat.
35 - Henry Frankenstein
Played by: Colin Clive
Although he shouts "It's alive!" in a manner that sparked hundreds of imitators, Colin Clive's Henry Frankenstein isn't the insaniac that many screen Frankensteins are. He's clearly one bolt short, but Clive plays Frankenstein as a driven, hungry young scientist who is almost immediately consumed by regret and guilt once he sees what he has created. Perhaps because audiences in the 1930s needed someone to root for, Clive is alive by the movie's end, and is more heroic still in Bride Of Frankenstein, where he's coerced into continuing with his experiments.
34 - Dracula
Played by: Bela Lugosi
Film(s): Dracula (1931)
"Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make." Bela Lugosi made an impact that few actors have equalled before or since as the scheming, fiendish Transvylanian c(o)unt in Tod Browning's 1931 version. Based on a stage play, Lugosi's is by far the most verbose of screen Draculas, wrapping that magnificent Hungarian accent around lines like the above while, with his burning stare and Ray Reardon hair, he's possibly the most iconic screen vampire of them all. Maybe even more so than Christopher Lee's version.
33 - Sgt. Howie
Played by: Edward Woodward
Film(s): The Wicker Man
Why does Sgt. Howie burn so easily? Because he's made of Wood! Ward. Dammit. Anyway, The Artist Formerly Known As Eewah Woowah is hugely impressive in Robin Hardy's classic as the puritanical Scottish cop whose moral rectitude and outrage at the pagan rituals he finds on Summerisle is outweighed only by the sheer size of the brick in his boxers when he spies the Wicker Man and realises his imminent fate. Oh, Christ! Oh, Jesus Christ!
32 - Sadako
Played by: Rie Inō
The most chilling of the stream of raven-haired J-horror ghosts, Sadako is the ultimate video nasty. Hideo Nakata's original Japanese version is much more terrifying than Gore Verbinski's American remake precisely because it has the balls not to show us Sadako's face, trusting instead that a close-up of a vengeful eye will be enough to make us rush to unplug the telly.
31 - Dr. William Weir
Played by: Sam Neill
Film(s): Event Horizon
It's clear that Sam Neill's Dr. William Weir is a mite crazy even before he gets on board the ship that he created; a ship that has become, literally, a gateway to Hell. He's plagued by visions of his dead wife, something that's only exacerbated by the presence on board, a presence that soon claims the good Doctor and puts the 'Weir' in 'weird'. Before you can say 'Jurassic Park', Weir has plucked his eyes out and is running around naked, bumping off the crew one by one with gleeful abandon while hissing lines like 'Where we're going, we won't need eyes to see'. Who'd have thought a naked, eyeless Sam Neill would be so terrifying? Don't answer that.
30 - Eli
Played by: Lina Leandersson
Film(s): Let The Right One In
Lina Leandersson's wicked inversion of the girl next door, reinvented as an age-old vampire trapped in the body of a wide-eyed teen, forms a morbid and mutually dependent relationship with her young death-obsessed neighbour, Oskar.
29 - Jack Goodman
Played by: Griffin Dunne
Film(s): An American Werewolf In London
"Have you ever tried talking to a corpse? It's boring." Griffin Dunne's ever-decomposing zombie best friend lights up American Werewolf every time he appears, putting the 'dead' in deadpan.
28 - Pinhead
Played by: Doug Bradley
Although his impact was watered down by a phalanx of terrible sequels, it's no surprise that Doug Bradley's demonic torturer - billed simply as 'Lead Cenobite' in the first movie - became the focal point of the Hellraiser series. His appearance alone is startling, as is the deep, treacly British accent, but Pinhead's a fascinating character far removed from Freddy or Jason or any other '80s movie monster. He's not, initially at least, a stalk'n'slasher, but a complex character who's only interested in one thing: meting out punishment to those who deserve it. Or is it pleasure? As far as Pinhead's concerned, it's one and the same thing, the kinky bastard.
27 - Regan
Played by: Linda Blair
Film(s): The Exorcist
In many ways, expecting Linda Blair to forge a successful career post-Exorcist was unfair, because this is a role, and a performance, that 99% of actors could never top. Blair is extraordinarily brave as the young girl corrupted by Pazuzu, going to a host of dark places and enduring a number of indignities with the fearlessness that only children can possess. Yes, Dick Smith's astonishing make-up and Mercedes McCambridge's rasping voice does some of the heavy lifting, but without Blair's rock-solid base upon which to build, Regan wouldn't have half the lasting impact she does. Also, some of the most affecting scenes show Regan pre-transformation, when Blair perfectly captures the panic of a young girl who doesn't understand why her body is, all of a sudden, betraying her.
26 - Rosemary Woodhouse
Played by: Mia Farrow
Film(s): Rosemary's Baby
An unforgettable Mia Farrow is the gentle soul driven to distraction and madness when she suspects that she's at the centre of a supernatural conspiracy. Of course, she's absolutely bang on about that, but the most disturbing moment in Roman Polanski's movie comes at the end when the conspiracy is revealed and Rosemary comes face-to-face and eye-to-lizardy-eye with her baby, the scion of Satan, and begins cooing like any devoted mother would.
25 - Quint
Played by: Robert Shaw
Robert Shaw was a force of nature as a man, so it's only fitting that his most memorable screen role follows suit. Quint, the Ahab-a-like shark hunter who becomes obsessed with hunting down the Great White munching on tourists in Amity, has one of the most memorable entrances (nails down the blackboard) and exits (bitten in half, blood spurting from his nose in distressing fashion) in movie history. Inbetween, Quint is a roaring, raving maniac, singing old sea shanties and snarling for New England. And then comes the speech about the Indianapolis, the origins of which have been forever debated. But here's one thing that's incontrovertible: whoever wrote the words, Shaw says 'em with a gusto and a gravitas that tips Quint over from larger-than-life a-hole to tragic hero. Genius.
24 - Nancy Thompson
Played by: Heather Langenkamp
Heather Langenkamp is the original Dream Scream Queen, the first nemesis of Freddy Krueger, smart enough and plucky enough to take on the four-fingered fiend not once, not twice, but three times (if you count Wes Craven's brilliant New Nightmare, in which Langenkamp plays herself). The key to confronting Freddy seems to be in Nancy's demeanour. From the off, she seems a lot older, wiser and more self-assured than her years. She's far from the flighty teenagers who usually populate movies like this, and that level-headedness comes in handy when she's confronting Krueger in his boiler room, or running up porridge stairs.
23 - Bum
Played by: Bonnie Aarons
Film(s): Mulholland Drive
Inexorable nightmare logic and an atmosphere of utter dread leads to this massive jump scare behind the Winkies diner. If you're wondering how a character that appears in just one scene can be so high up on this list, just count the nightmares.
22 - Ripley
Played by: Sigourney Weaver
The role that made a star out of Susan Alexandra Weaver, Ellen Ripley (of course, we don't learn that she's called Ellen until Aliens) is a put-upon, long-suffering but steely warrant officer on board the good ship Nostromo, who finds that she must step up to the plate when a slimy bastard with acid for blood starts treating her crew as an all-you-can-eat buffet. Ripley has always been painted as an indomitable force of nature, but what's interesting about Alien, in particular, is how willing Weaver was to show that she's absolutely bloody terrified, even as she musters up the courage to blow the thing out of the goddamn airlock.
21 - Rhodes
Played by: Joe Pilato
Film(s): Day Of The Dead
Joe Pilato's blackhearted soldier is insane when we first meet him, and only spirals downwards from there, his raging bloodlust way more dangerous than any zombie. His comeuppance, yelling "CHOKE ON 'EMMMMMMM!'" at a group of zombies as they rip him in two and feast on his intestines, is iconic, influential and still not half of what the bastard deserves.
20 - The Bride
Played by: Else Lanchester
Film(s): Bride of Frankenstein
English actress Elsa Lanchester only has a few minutes of screentime as the eponymous bride in James Whale's 1935 sequel (she bolsters that by starring as Mary Shelley in the framing device), but pound-for-pound, second-for-second, it's arguable that no horror character makes so much with so little. Jerking her face and body like a prototype Harryhausen creation, with her beehive hairdo streaked through with white, Lanchester is an instant icon. Such a shame that The Bride - specifically built so that Boris Karloff's Monster can have someone to love and bump really uglies with - instantly rejects her betrothed. These mail order marriages never work out.
19 - Jigsaw
Played by: Tobin Bell
Walter White isn't the only cancer victim to break bad. When Tobin Bell's John Kramer is diagnosed with an inoperable tumour, he attempts to take his own life, but fails. In that moment, he becomes his very own Heisenberg as The Jigsaw Killer, a twisted genius who traps his victims in elaborate scenarios designed to make them appreciate the fact that they're alive - if they survive, of course. Kramer's curious moral code (look back at the films and you could even argue that he never directly kills anyone; his victims all contribute to their own downfall) makes him, by some distance, the most interesting screen monster since Freddy Krueger. It's a shame that Bell was relegated to flashback work for the last few instalments.
18 - Dr. Loomis
Played by: Donald Pleasance
"I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes... the devil's eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply... evil." With that one statement, Donald Pleasance's psychiatrist, the man charged with finding out just what the hell is wrong with impassive killer Michael Myers, blows doctor-patient confidentiality out of the window. Later on, he blows Myers himself out of the window with six shots from a revolver, and hippocratic oath be damned. Sam Loomis is, of course, the only person who knows how dangerous Michael Myers can be, and so tracks him all the way from his escape from the lunatic asylum to Haddonfield, where he's fairly sure Michael is going to go loco once more. Pleasance, here starting a fruitful relationship with John Carpenter, is brilliant: part Basil Exposition, part hero, never unafraid to show that Loomis is utterly bricking it and, perhaps more importantly, that prolonged exposure to those blackest eyes, the devil's eyes, has driven Loomis more than a little bit mad himself.
17 - Clarice Starling
Played by: Jodie Foster
Film(s): The Silence Of The Lambs
Jodie Foster bagged her second Oscar for her beautiful portrayal of a young, nervous FBI agent who becomes locked into a dangerously intrusive relationship - far, far from quid pro quo - with Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter. Surrounded on all sides by leering male figures (the loathesome Dr. Chilton, Lecter, Buffalo Bill), Foster is amazing as a green-behind-the-ears but astoundingly capable and intelligent woman desperately trying to forge her way in a world dominated by men.
16 - Harry Powell
Played by: Robert Mitchum
Film(s): The Night Of The Hunter
Robert Mitchum's preacher has 'love' tattooed on one hand, and 'hate' on the other, but there's never any doubt in Charles Laughton's superb directorial debut (and one-off) about which way Harry Powell leans. A cold-blooded killer who bashes more than the Bible, Powell is an implacable, unstoppable predecessor of characters like The Terminator, taking his sweet time to hunt down two cute kids who have run off with a bag of cash that he thinks should be his. Often seen in silhouette, Mitchum is never more chilling than in the sequence where he sings hymns with Lillian Gish's Rachel, as she stands guard over the children with a shotgun at her lap and God by her side.
15 - Leatherface
Played by: Gunnar Hansen
Film(s): The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
The poster child of Tobe Hooper's horrifying original (and all the unfortunate sequels, remakes and remake prequels that followed), Leatherface is the sort of guy who gives DIY enthusiasts a bad name. A maniac of a manchild who, in the original at least, has a mask for every occasion (made out of the skin of former victims, a trait nicked from the real-life killer Ed Gein), Leatherface is the attack dog of the Sawyer family, looming out of the darkness to kill people with one blow of a hammer, hang others on hooks, and wave a chainsaw around in a manner that would frankly infuriate Tim The Toolman Taylor. Played with genuine menace by Gunnar Hansen, Leatherface was divested of much of his scariness in the subsequent sequels, but we'll always have Texas.
14 - Jack Torrance
Played by: Jack Nicholson
Film(s): The Shining
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes jack a dull boy All work and no lay makes Jack a dul boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
13 - Ed
Played by: Nick Frost
Film(s): Shaun of the Dead
There's a very real possibility that, had Ed been played by any other actor, he wouldn't be on this list. For Shaun's best friend is, and let's be frank here, an absolute tit, a sponging freeloader who says inappropriate things at the worst possible times, makes hideous life choices, and takes his friends for granted. If he hadn't been played by the innately likeable Nick Frost, there's a chance we'd have been begging for him to be bitten by the end of the first act. As it is, when Ed does go down, there's a note of real tragedy.
12 - Bub
Played by: Howard Sherman
Film(s): Day Of The Dead
The greatest zombie of all time: fact. Howard Sherman's Bub - presumably named after Wolverine's favourite term of endearment (it can't be a coincidence that another character in Day Of The Dead is named 'Logan') - is the natural culmination of the evolution of zombies throughout his original Dead trilogy. Bub is a 'good' zombie, one who vaguely remembers his past life as a soldier, who salutes when he sees superior officers, who revels in culture (he listens to Beethoven and 'reads' Stephen King) and doesn't necessarily want to eat human flesh. Brilliantly played by Sherman, who makes the character almost childlike in his movements, Bub is a bright spot of innocence in a movie filled with some horrible deeds and characters. Intriguingly, at the end, he becomes the hero, gunning down the movie's villain, Rhodes. Even then, though, there's a sense of regret that his purity has been corrupted.
11 - R. J. MacReady
Played by: Kurt Russell
Film(s): The Thing
Snake Plissken has the patch and the flash, but R.J. MacReady is the greatest product of the fruitful friendship between John Carpenter and Kurt Russell. A cynic and budding drunk, MacReady, an outsider in the camp who lives apart from the rest of the men, comes into his own when the shit starts assailing the fan. Effortlessly cool (and sometimes cold), Mac is a wonderful character: smart enough to come up with the blood test theory, dumb enough to mistake Norwegians for "crazy Swedes" and noble enough to sacrifice himself, and his colleagues, for the rest of mankind. And even then, he goes out on his own terms, swigging Scotch straight from the bottle while the camp burns all around him.
10 - Father Merrin
Played by: Max von Sydow
Film(s): The Exorcist
Years after playing chess with Death, Max von Sydow donned a dog collar and seamless old-age make-up to play Rock Paper Scissors with the Devil himself. Father Lankester Merrin is a noble, implacable soul who, unlike Jason Miller's Damien Karras, has faced demons before, and knows how deceitful they can be. It's just a shame that his flesh isn't quite as unwavering as his spirit. Merrin is, of course, the star of the film's poster and the title itself, but - prologue aside - Merrin doesn't really show up until near the film's end and, once there, he's virtually straight into compelling Pazuzu with the power of Christ. Nevertheless, the impact von Sydow makes as Merrin cannot be overstated: just check out any Exorcist parody, and there'll always be a Merrin figure there, while Karras is often overlooked.
9 - Norman Bates
Played by: Anthony Perkins
"We all go a little mad sometimes," says Anthony Perkins, so unforgettably quirky as the proprietor of the world's worst motel. Well, yes, but we don't all stab innocent people in the shower, hide their bodies in a swamp, or keep the corpse of our mums in the basement while dressing up as them to carry out unspeakable murders now, do we? Five stars in Empire, one star on TripAdvisor. Swings and roundabouts.
8 - Damien Thorn
Played by: Harvey Stephens
Film(s): The Omen
A walking advert for contraception, Harvey Stephens' teeny terror – product of the unholy union between the Devil and a jackal – is perhaps even more unsettling given that, in The Omen, he's unaware of his propensity for evil. He's just a kid, a tremendously creepy kid around whom bad things just happen to occur. As good as Jonathan Scott-Taylor and Sam Neill are as the teenage Damien and suave older Thorn in Damien: Omen II and Omen III: The Final Conflict, it's Stephens' ability to convey implacable, albeit unwitting evil in an innocent vessel that really clinches it.
7 - Dracula
Played by: Christopher Lee
Film(s): Horror Of Dracula (1958)
Tall, domineering and genuinely aristocratic, Christopher Lee was a far better fit for Count Dracula's cape than he was for the rags of Frankenstein's creature. Lee was in his mid-30s when he bagged the role that would come to define his career, and he understood from the off that his vampire would have to differ substantially from previous incumbent Bela Lugosi. And so it does. Lee's Dracula is a force of nature: red-eyed, blood dripping from fangs, often in the grip of rage. He's hypnotic, physically powerful, well-spoken, but Lee also understood - crucially - that an important layer from Bram Stoker's novel had been missing from Lugosi's performance: sexuality. Lee's Dracula is a rampant sex fiend, using that stare to make buxom ladies everywhere come over a little faint. Of course, this being the 1950s, we never see Dracula seal the deal, so to speak, but we like to think it involves at least one verse of The Impossible Dream.
6 - Frankenstein's Monster
Played by: Boris Karloff
The first and best version of Dr. Frankenstein's (well, really, Mary Shelley's) cobbled-together creation, James Whale's classic made a jobbing British character actor into a huge star. His numerous appearances on this list indicate that he was able to forge a career outside the nuts and bolts of the Monster, but William Henry Pratt - sorry, Boris Karloff - will always be inextricably linked with his lumbering creation. Karloff's trick was not just to create a visual template that defines the Monster to this day, but to see the creature as much more than a creature, to imbue it with a genuine longing to be whole again, to be human, to have a friend, to have a soul. These moments of calm - smoking with the blind hermit, or throwing stones into a lake with a young girl - make the tragedy of the inevitable storm all the greater.
5 - Michael Myers
Played by: Nick Castle
At first glance, there's precious little that's interesting about Michael Myers. Yes, he shares a name with Austin Powers. Yes, he wears an inside-out, dyed William Shatner mask. But otherwise, he's just a blank, remorseless, mute killing machine like Jason Voorhees, slaughtering transgressive teens in their dozens, right? Well, wrong. As imagined by John Carpenter and brilliantly played by stuntman Nick Castle, Myers - aka The Shape, aka The Haddonfield Hacker (ok, we made that one up) - is the literal embodiment of pure evil, an unstoppable, glassy-eyed abyss staring right back at us. This particular abyss just happens to have a thing for butcher knives. Myers is also far more psychologically interesting than Jason or any of the myriad copycats that followed in his wake; for him, it's mostly about family. There's also an interesting wrinkle with Myers that you sense Carpenter wanted to leave hanging, open to interpretation. The last lines of Halloween are "Was it the boogeyman?"; "As a matter of fact, it was". Then we see that Myers has survived six bullets and a fall from a second-storey window. He now lurks everywhere, his breathing dominating the soundtrack. Why? Because there's a supernatural tinge here. How else can you explain his indestructibility? His penchant for appearing and disappearing, seemingly at will? Because he is the Boogeyman.
4 - Peter
Played by: Ken Foree
Film(s): Dawn of the Dead
The coolest character in any Romero zombie film (and, by extension, any zombie film), Ken Foree's SWAT guy is cooler than a cucumber Cornetto, equally adroit at wearing turtlenecks and cooking romantic meals as he is roundhouse-kicking zombies and ominously intoning, 'When there's no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth'. When the world goes to pot, we'd like to be like Peter. He's the reason why Simon Pegg's Shaun works at Foree Electric, and Foree is electric here. Knowing our luck, we'll be more like Peter Mannion.
3 - Hannibal Lecter
Played by: Anthony Hopkins
Jonathan Demme's adaptation of Thomas Harris' serial killer novel is magnificent, but every time that Anthony Hopkins appears on screen, it becomes a fully-fledged masterpiece. His Hannibal Lecter is parceled out throughout the film, dispensed to us in, appropriately enough, bitesized chunks, offering sinister advice and wisdom to Jodie Foster's Clarice Starling. Hopkins played Lecter, the brilliant psychiatrist turned incarcerated cannibal, as part-bird, part-Dracula. The combination is unforgettable. There are still those who would lobby to have Brian Cox's Lecktor, from Michael Mann's Manhunter, recognised as the best screen iteration of Hannibal, but it's the Oscar-winning, iconic, endlessly quoted Hopkins who gleefully sank his teeth into the zeitgeist. Let's hope he washed it down with a nice chianti.
2 - Freddy Kreuger
Played by: Robert Englund
Film(s): A Nightmare on Elm Street, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, Freddy vs. Jason, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, Wes Craven's New Nightmare
Wes Craven reached into his nightmares and pulled out the greatest screen monster of them all. Craven fused Freddy Krueger from a combination of real-life experiences (he once had a scary encounter with a homeless man upon whose look he would base Freddy's appearance) and a fanciful notion about a monster who could operate in the dreamscape, a terrifying notion. Robert Englund - then best known as the nice alien, Willy, from V - revelled in the chance to give vent to his inner demons, pocking his voice with cruel, taunting hate, his face scarred and blemished beyond recognition. It was a marriage made in, well, Not Heaven. Freddy was built to be an instantly recognisable icon, with the hat and the scars and the glove made of four razor-sharp knives. What's interesting, though, is how the character mutated. His first and last appearances, both directed by Craven (we're ignoring Freddy Vs Jason for the sake of our theory and our sanity), see a truly sinister, frightening Freddy: a coldblooded killer, preying on kids (a child molester was, Craven has said, the very worst thing he could think of) with nary a one-liner in sight. But as the sequels (some of which have merit) progressed, and Freddy became the star of the show, the deaths became more elaborate, and Krueger himself became almost comedic, almost like Roger Moore's Bond, a wisecracking machine built of pure irony. It's testament to the character's strong foundations, and Englund's brilliant performance, that both versions of Freddy remain equally memorable.
1 - Ash
Played by: Bruce Campbell
Here is your number one, and The Chin has it by an overwhelming margin. Good thing, too, as we didn't want to have to get out our boomstick. Let's be very clear here: the Ashley Williams of The Evil Dead is not the number one horror character of all time. He's a very different creation, a passive, almost cowardly character who becomes the hero of the film almost through default (being best mates with the director didn't exactly hurt). And as much as we love Army Of Darkness it's hard to make a case for that Ash – an unapologetic idiotic American abroad who shoots first, asks questions later – being number one as well. The Ash of Evil Dead II, though? That's a different story altogether, and it was clear from your votes that you feel the same.
When Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell came together on Evil Dead II, they were a more confident acting/directing team, but they had also (Raimi especially) just come off a flop in Crimewave. They had nothing to lose, and so they built the kind of horror hero they wanted to see: a swaggering, stone-faced, super-cool ass-kicker, as if someone had parachuted Clint Eastwood into the middle of a horror film. But Evil Dead II's Ash is much more than that. Raimi and Campbell's impish shared sense of humour saw to it. It's about the evolution of a hero, the birth of a badass, as Ash is dragged – sometimes literally – kicking and screaming – again, sometimes literally – from a hapless haunted husk of a man to the sort of grizzled action hero who can look a giant demon in the face and slide a chainsaw into its eye.
Raimi has often said that torturing Campbell is fun. It may even be his raison d'etre, and it's fascinating to see the sheer hell that Ash is put through in Evil Dead II. He's possessed, near drowned, hit with branches (wielded by Raimi himself), flung through car windshields, smacked on the head with pottery, chucked down wooden stairs, driven mad by laughing household objects, covered in more blood and goo than you could shake a large stick covered in blood and goo at and, of course, has his right hand seized by demonic bailiffs. But it's all part of this particular hero's torturous journey as he finally mans up and does what anyone would do in that situation: weld a chainsaw to the bloody stump, arm himself with a sawn-off shotgun, and start speaking almost entirely in one-liners. Groovy.
We asked Bruce Campbell how he felt on being voted number one: "How do I feel? I feel pretty fucking good. I think your readers are fine, intelligent, discerning people with obviously a lot of taste. The Ash character we like doing because he's an evolving character, a very flawed character. In the first Evil Dead he's a worthless git who slowly learns how to survive. The second one, he's got a little more abilities, he's like a Vietnam veteran in the second, and by the third one he's a full, ugly American who causes the deaths of hundreds of innocent people through his ignorance. What a great leading character. Hollywood would never allow that character, which is why I love those movies so much. But audiences eat it up. I think the Ash character is endearing to some people because he doesn't really know what he's doing!"