Written by Jonathan Wojcik
Bogleech.com Reviews Thirteen "Mainstream" Horror Villains
We've sure looked at a lot of different kinds of monsters on this website, haven't we? But there's an area of monster media I'm always kind of skipping over. It's difficult to truly categorize it, since it's an umbrella that technically encompasses some wildly different characters and "creatures," but I get asked about it just enough that I think most people recognize it even if it's hard to put it into words. It's that family of monsters that are a little closer to human or actually human, generally a product of the 80's and later, and are often recognizable even to the non-fan. Each could easily constitute an article of their own, sure, but they also have already in the words of more qualified splatter fans, so my own thoughts on them won't go too deep, but anyone wondering how I feel about some of these figures will at least finally have their answers.
Jason is pretty much the face of what we're talking about here, one of the most recognizable and oft-parodied horror villains to such a degree that he kind of single-handedly turned a piece of sporting equipment into a universal symbol of murder. He wouldn't actually start wearing the iconic hockey mask until the third film, though, first seen with only a burlap bag over his head.
The unfortunate thing about Jason is that he was originally only an innocent child, bullied for his congenital deformities and left drowning to death by the negligent staff of a summer camp. It's impossible not to feel badly for him, and it's kind of unpleasant that this all was the sole explanation for him silently, mindlessly slaughtering people in the early days. Making him a literal monster, a sort of vengeful undead revenant, was honestly a much better move that explained his behavior far better than him just being "like that," though his supernatural slant actually took almost six movies(!) to solidify.
Eventually, Jason Goes to Hell even tried to make Jason a sort of demonic parasite, a nasty little impish creature that could possess almost anyone and transform them into another incarnation of the invincible goalie. I wouldn't usually feel this way, but in this case, I think that was a little too much and there's really nothing wrong with him just being a scary dead guy.
Full disclosure, I absolutely hated this guy when I was a kid born into the 80's. I was such a squeamish and easily terrified child that I couldn't even look at his scabby flesh without getting upset and I generally thought all "R-rated" or "scary" movies were pure wicked poison. It didn't help that every single chid even slightly older than me just couldn't possibly resist preying on that very fear, accidentally confirming in my baby mind that these were movies for bad people.
Now obviously I don't think that anymore, but I still have a hard time finding Freddy enjoyable as a character. He was burned to death by a vigilante mob of parents for having actually murdered their children, and his spirit returned to torment those children in their dreams many years later. His ability to control nightmares in imaginative ways is definitely a lot of fun and his look is iconic for a reason, but I'd personally find him more interesting if he'd actually been innocent of the crimes all along. I guess I just don't like monsters that I can't rightfully "root for," and the most recent reboot film even took it a step further by implying he molested his victims. Call me hyper-sensitive if you must, but I have a hard time squeezing fun out of a character that genuinely evil, and that decision especially feels like a hackneyed attempt to make him edgier than ever...as if he wasn't dark enough already?
In retrospect, it's pretty remarkable that a child killer was successfully marketed to children, and they ate him right up as the funny, wisecracking bogeyman he was flanderized into. My older cousins had pull-string talking Freddy dolls, Freddy bubblegum cards, child-size glow-in-the-dark Freddy gloves and more that they chased me around with, laughing uproariously while I screamed bloody murder. It's funny to look back and see just how quickly I became a horror fan myself, but having only caught the tail end of Freddymania, my first real horror fandom was the significantly tamer Goosebumps.
Jason and Freddy are often thought of as a counterpart duo of the horror-slasher monsters, but I feel like Chucky kind of makes it a triad. He's definitely just as up there in fame, isn't he? He's also just another actual murderer, whose soul has been confined to a popular talking doll. He does however tend to actually get WRECKED in his own movies moreso than our previous two ghoulies, and I think it's a lot of fun whenever we see someone finally turn the tables on this little asshole. The fact that he looks like a hideous troll-baby-man and talks like a gangster stereotype all kind of contributes to an obnoxiousness that makes his comeuppance all the sweeter, though I do say all this having seen only the first movie and Bride of Chucky, if I'm remembering right.
The funniest thing about this character is that he was a parody of an actual toy available at the time, but sales of it almost immediately tanked once their stabbier doppelganger became a hit.
Probably the most compelling character here, a review of the Cenobites from the Hellraiser series could easily constitute their own post, but let's just focus on this guy for now. He's a lot more morally gray than just some random killer, since he's basically a regular guy corrupted and enslaved to "hell," or what humans came to call hell in this continuity. It's really the domain of an abstract being called the Leviathan, which feeds on human suffering or something like that, manifesting itself as a vast labyrinth of eternal tortures and as a weird puzzle-box in our own world, which is used to open a gate between realms and summon the Cenobites.
Regular people who open the gate are just kind of tortured forever, or used as "material" for "sculpting" things that presumably still never die. It's people with powerful desires and ambitions who are mangled and remade into the Cenobites, neither necessarily good nor evil but loyal to whatever the bizarre Leviathan wants.
It's all pretty interesting, and while many Cenobites have designs I find cooler than Pinhead (such as first-movie Chatterer!) his unique look is hard to forget and works well as the face of the series.
I don't know if I should really count this one...should I? He doesn't have any supernatural or superhuman qualities. He's just a guy. If I'm doing just scary dudes here, should I be including characters like Hannibal Lechter? Norman Bates? I don't know...I feel like there's still kind of a difference between just "horrific villains" and "horror villains," and Leatherface is definitely a "horror villain." At the very least, he bears some mentioning because of how often pop culture conflates him with Jason; the combination of a hockey mask and chainsaw is an iconic trope, yet Jason would never wield a chainsaw until much later. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was the one that solidified it as a classic horror weapon!
So, Leatherface is just a dude with a chainsaw, and he wears a leathery mask made out of human skin. He also has a creepy family that makes his victims into various foods and little craft projects, all of which is borrowed from the sickening real-life story of Ed Gein. Did you even know how many cliche's and tropes came from that guy? Ugh. The entire "creepy mama's boy" villain trope, wearing human skin suits, drinking out of skulls, gross as shit and genuinely not cool or funny.
Man, I sound like a buzzkill here, don't I? I don't like the way we've started taking fiction direly enough that we're morally judging people for the fictional characters they find interesting, so I can promise that's not at all the kind of thing I'm doing here. I'm just saying I don't personally get a lot of joy from stabby baddies if they aren't some kind of sad ghost or misunderstood mutant. Some media portrays Leatherface as an "overgrown child" who kills only because his family both normalized cannibalism and instilled in him a mortal terror of all strangers, which I guess is better than him just being cruel for no reason, but it's seriously so damn sad. Again, no judgment, that just isn't "my kind" of horror! In fact, I think I'm going to just close up the can of worms I opened by including a normal, mortal human here. My apologies to Michael Myers or Ghost Face, but there's only room for one regular non-monster guy on this page, and I feel like that needs to be the one we got the whole "Chainsaw Maniac" idea from.
I'm counting this one for several reasons. She's from the same period, she's famous enough to still see constant cultural references and Halloween costumes, and she definitely is supernatural. It's impossible to discuss without spoiling the entire movie, but most of you already know her story; senselessly bullied and tormented until a single public humiliation drives her completely over the edge, and her rage manifests as a telekinetic power that massacres everyone around her.
This is an arguably sympathetic one, if that's going to be a running theme of my opinions here. I think a lot of people have experienced some sort of emotional breaking point where, if their brains could start fires from across the room, they very well may have done so whether they wanted to or not. I never got the sense that Carrie really knew what was going on at this point, but it was what her tormenters wrought upon everyone by pushing a dangerously powerful mind to the breaking point. This is to say that Carrie is the bomb, but not the bomber, if you get what I mean, and it's horrifying both from the perspective of those who die in the chaos and that of Carrie herself. Her rage doesn't discriminate between those who tortured her, those who merely stood by letting it happen, and those who would have extended kindness to her if they had the chance...and the worst part is that I don't think it was possible for it to make that distinction.
This is actually the oldest character on here, but I'm counting it because it feels as if its influence on horror continued to rise and finally peaked around the same decade as movies like Elm Street and Friday.
Taking over the body of a little girl in The Exorcist, Pazuzu pretty much solidified the concept of demonic possession in mainstream consciousness. The two most famous moments of course are when the demon makes its host's head twist completely around, and when it makes her projectile-vomit green sludge. This has all been referenced so many times now that it's lost all impact and rarely appears anymore outside comedy, but is still pretty horrendous stuff for an otherworldly entity to do while using a person's entire body.
I feel like Demonic possession actually continues to be an effectively scary theme, most recently pulled off by Hereditary, which, I won't lie, really was one of the most terrifying movies I've ever seen.
Of course it bears mentioning that the concept, in real life, arose from a gross misunderstanding of what we now know to be symptoms of mental illness, but demon-possession horror is over the top enough that it feels pretty divorced from that reality.
This is straying now into much less "human" territory, and like the Cenobites, this one could (and probably should) be its own article down the road. The original Puppet Master films were pretty cool concepts, as much fantasy adventures as horror pieces revolving around strange, deadly, silent little puppets, each animated by the soul of an actual person. Their sometimes just but sometimes amoral violence gives an impression that their souls and personalities aren't quite intact, but more often than not, the puppets act primarily to punish evil and have been full-blown heroes in several of their films - especially considering that they're often pitted against Nazis, who were responsible for many of their original deaths. This is why I have to say I'm disappointed, even a little disgusted by what I've heard of more recent films in the franchise, at least one of which even has a new wave of puppets who are Nazis and engage in a series of on-screen hate crimes played for pure schlock value, with none of the original puppets returning on the righteous side of Nazi throat-slashing.
THE PUPPET MASTER'S PUPPETS
So, if you've never seen these...definitely stick with the first couple films. I should probably say more, but I might just do that expanded article one of these days.
What happened to Pumpkinhead? When I was that little weiner shrieking at the sight of Freddy, I was ironically fascinated by the sight of "Pumpkinhead" on VHS box covers at the video store. Such a gorgeously gnarled and bony beast, with such a catchy name even if its head is not literally any kind of festive gourd. I was also incorrectly told at one point that Pumpkinhead was actually the ghost of a dead child, and I think that still would have been pretty rad, but it's really that Pumpkinhead is a demon of vengeance summoned to avenge a dead child. That's Pumpkinhead's only purpose, to act on the rage and hate of whoever felt wronged enough to call upon it, but of course it comes with some terrible prices to pay that may not necessarily be worth the task.
I used to feel that Pumpkinhead was equal to Freddy and Jason in importance to the genre, but it does feel like another one that kind of fell to the wayside...probably after so many lackluster sequels.
This one has unfortunately fallen into obscurity in recent years, but I think that's set to change now that Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us) has helmed a remake set to come out in 2020.
Candyman is one of the all-paranormal entries here, and by far the hardest hitting; the victim of a horrific, racially charged and torturous lynching that included dousing him in honey to be stung to death by bees. Becoming a pervasive urban legend along the lines of Bloody Mary, the Candyman isn't really a "ghost" in the traditional sense, but a force of death fueled by the very memory of his story and the terror it inspires. Candyman is another indiscriminate killer that seems difficult to blame for it, having been transformed into such a monster by the sheer evil that he was subjected to. Candyman is such a powerful and artistic film, it almost feels a shame to slap its antagonist onto the same post as Chucky, but it's not like this is some kind of countdown list based on quality or cultural importance; this is me taking a moment to share my thoughts on some human-based movie monsters I don't usually spend a lot of time with.
Or "Samara" if you're more familiar with the American remake, I guess, but the central specter of Ring is such a distinctly Japanese kind of ghost, it's a shame that so many were introduced to her by a Hollywood production that threw out some of the subtlety. That said, I kind of liked the remake's backstory that Sadako was some kind of psychic child produced by unusual fertility drugs. She had psychic abilities before her death in the original Japanese as well, but different films and novels have changed her origin story to involve everything from sea demons to computerized viruses. Yeah.
I suppose it doesn't really matter where she got her mental powers; wherever they came from, the point is that she was a very, very abnormal and very dangerous child, lacking the empathy or discipline to care how she warped reality around her. When an attempt was made to murder her by throwing her down a well, she managed to somehow survive down there into adulthood, which is frankly even more frightening than the fact that her will perpetuated beyond death and manifested a curse in the form of a videotape. The fact that she's no mere case of a "haunting," but something beyond human to begin with, always fascinated me more than anything else in the character's lore; that she was never confined to a single human body and single human life in a natural way that could truly be "killed" in a sense we understand.
I feel like the Saw films made for interesting horror-thrillers at one time, but kind of overstayed their welcome, you know? I long lost track of how many were even made, and they were so packed full of sadistic gross-outs that I didn't find most of them terribly enjoyable. That's not to say they aren't a solid concept, however - the emphasis on deadly, terrifying, improbably complex traps and puzzles can make for some pretty exciting scenarios. I also like how the "villain" became more of an abstract idea over time, a tradition that spread from one twisted genius to disciples and imitators, all tied together by the symbol of Billy, a truly ghastly looking and now pretty famous paper mache puppet.
So, I guess I'm cheating here, by treating this inanimate object and what it "symbolizes" as a "monster" of sorts, but can't it be? Does a monster actually need to be a singular and literal entity? I like to think not. I like to think that almost anything can be a "monster" - an idea, a condition, a song, a chemical, anything that's abnormal enough to be dangerous or frightening.
But maybe I'm getting too deep. Maybe I just like that a weird, ugly puppet is considered a major horror character without even being alive or sapient in its own canon.
Okay, this is one that neither used to be nor was created by humans as far as we know, but I still see Sam merchandised and sold alongside characters like Jason and Leatherface every Halloween lately, and I strongly respect this addition to that loosely-defined roster. Sam comes from the more recent movie Trick r' Treat, though by "recent" I mean "2007," which some people now apparently consider to have been quite some time ago. Huh.
I really love that awareness of Sam has only been on the rise, though. He's a Halloween spirit the size of a toddler and could not possibly be more adorable, totally removed from human morals and his origins entirely unknown. Pretty much my only critique of him is that (SPOILER) I would have rather not known what his face really looked like, because I think it takes away a little too much mystique, but I did enjoy knowing he was filled with pumpkin guts when some fool nearly managed to fight back that hard. I guess the reveal of his weird pumpkin-skull mug implies too heavily that he's just some kind of goblin or demon, and I would have rather been left even more in the dark than that.
Still, I think he might be my personal favorite thing here, even if there are some characters on this page that I find scarier, or funnier, or a whole lot deeper. There's just a little bit of everything here! This was really all over the place!
There's also, arguably, quite a bit more we could cover within the parameters I've now set here, but most of it is a whole lot more obscure, and I'm not MADE out of monster movie opinions!!! They don't grow on trees!!!
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