Halloween is a time for monsters, ghouls, witches and ghosts. It is the time for the exploration of our deepest fears we keep locked within the far reaches of our psyches. In the spirit of that notion Before The Cyborgs will cover the films and figures in pop culture in a week long celebration of those who embody the essence of horror and Halloween.
There have been countless horror movie villains over the years stretching across every boundary of the imagination. From ghosts to killer dolls to deranged serial killers, you name it and it’s probably been done on screen in some capacity. But not all horror movie villains are created equal which got me thinking if I had to create a Mount Rushmore for Horror Movie villains akin to the one in South Dakota to be immortalized for all time what would that theoretically look like? Of course, there have to be criteria from which to judge this on so this is what I came up with:
Criteria One: Legacy / Influence
How significant is this villain in the scope of popular culture? Would they be instantly recognizable to those unfamiliar with the film? How much influence did this villain have on the villains that followed? If it did not pioneer a trope, did they help popularize it? Have they been referenced and parodied across pop culture? These all come into play here.
Criteria Two: Longevity
Much like the Hall of Fame in sports, a candidate for the Horror Movie Villain Rushmore must possess an undeniable legacy of greatness that has withstood the test of time. This effectively eliminates all of the recent villains from the last ~ 15 years as they have simply not established themselves long enough as enduring figures in pop culture (example: Pennywise and The Babadook).
Similarly, just like in sports, athletes are not inducted into the hall of fame on the back of one great season, those with only one culturally significant movie will be excluded (example: Hannibal Lecter (Silence of The Lambs), Jack Torrance (The Shining))
Criteria Three: Fear Factor
Horror movies are meant to induce fear within the audience, if you can’t extract fear, you have failed as a horror film but here I am not focusing on how scary the film is but rather how scary the character is.
This eliminates the likes of Norman Bates (Psycho), Jaws (Jaws) and Jigsaw (Saw) because they are just human beings or wild animals (as sadistic as they may be). This is not to say that they aren’t scary (because they are) just that I would rather take my chances against old man Jigsaw or normal human being Norman than the supernatural abilities of say a Freddy Krueger.
With that in mind here’s my Rushmore for Horror Movie Villains:
Freddy Krueger (Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise):
Conceived by Wes Craven at the end of the golden era for slashers. Freddy stands out for introducing many special effects to the game. In contrast to the likes of Halloween and Friday The 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Freddy attacked his victims in their dreams blurring the lines between imagination and reality. This makes Freddy scary to a new degree because in dreams we are at the mercy of our subconscious – limited in our control. His ability to warp that fabric of reality invented unique ways to execute his dastardly kills as he could literally strike at any time.
Behind his iconic glove, hat and sweater (not to mention face) Freddy Krueger has been a fixture of pop culture since his inception. His presence in pop culture might be unrivaled as well showing up in 9 films and referenced constantly from Rick and Morty to this Will Smith song.
Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th Franchise)
The silent figure behind the hockey mask is one of (along with Freddy) the most recognizable figures in not just horror cinema but in cinema period. These two are so iconic that there was AN ENTIRE MOVIE dedicated to having these two sadistic figures slug it out. Forget Mayweather vs McGregor or Batman v Superman, This would be the equivalent of having Ali (in his prime) fight Tyson (in his prime) or if a real-life Superman fought a real-life Goku (so that fans on both sides would finally shut up).
Anyway back to Jason. A relentless killer on-screen (holding the record for most kills among his peers with 300+) and a timeless last-minute Halloween costume off it, Jason successful fulfills all three criteria with ease. Also, he may be partially responsible for spreading the rumor that misfortune occurs on Friday the 13th because it’s a bad day if you cross paths with this guy.
Michael Myers (Halloween Franchise)
The John Carpenter product is essentially a better version of Leatherface hence why having both on Rushmore would be redundant. Second in total kills (behind Jason), the Halloween franchise really sets the tone for the slasher franchise. Without Michael Myers, there probably is no Jason and no Freddy. Pulling in a whopping 70 million against a budget of less than 500,000, Halloween was an unprecedented box office success for the genre.
I know, I know, I said no monsters but that was just the classic ones. Unlike the classic monsters, The Xenomorph alien from Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise is unique for a number of reasons:
1. There aren’t countless interpretations of the character as there have been with say something like The Mummy and it has one definitive appearance that is instantly recognizable in comparison to the many takes on the Dracula vampire
2. The Xenomorph holds the distinction of being most plausible in terms of real-life existence (god help us should that day come)
3. The classic monsters are made to garner a degree of sympathy. Frankenstein is but a misunderstood creation of a mad scientist, The invisible man but a man inflicted with a terrible condition whereas the Xenomorph is out to kill pretty much from the get-go.
Since the original 1979 release, the Xenomorph is responsible for one of the most famous scenes in movie history and has produced multiple sequels, spinoffs and merchandising including the most recent Alien: Covenant from earlier this year. It’s been nearly 40 years since the Xenomorph first graced our screens but he shows no sign of old age striking fear into unknowing space travelers and audience members alike.
Chucky (Child’s Play Franchise): Look, Chucky is responsible for every possessed doll horror movie since the first film came out in 1988. Its legacy is undeniable in this regard and the fact that sequels (even of the direct to video variety) are still being made today is a testament to its longevity BUT I don’t think the films really hold up nearly as well as some of the other choices in this piece. Furthermore, at the end of the day, isn’t Chucky still just a 5-pound doll? The scare factor just isn’t there in comparison to the other figures listed.
All of the Universal Monsters / Classic Movie Monsters: You only get to carve 4 faces on that mountain so how do you even begin to choose between the likes of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Dracula or The Creature From The Black Lagoon? Add to the fact that there have been so many incarnations of these monsters in culture, choosing a singular face would be unfair to rest so for simplicity’s sake, all of the classic movie monsters have been excluded from consideration.
Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Franchise): The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre really set the stage for the many slasher films that followed but I think its legacy is hurt by the fact that the films that followed managed to refine the concept that Leatherface set out. As a result, the ones that did make Rushmore ended up surpassing Leatherface. Also, Leatherface just doesn’t have an iconic look worthy of being chiseled onto a rock. I mean, I get that his “mask is made of human skin” but on a rock? It just looks like a dude with a bag over his head.
Sadako Yamamura AKA Samara (The Ring Franchise): This one was a tough cut but I think it’s relatively short lifespan plus lack of widespread resonance puts it out of the running. I think the fact that she kills with videotapes also doesn’t help its cause as showing that to a teen now will probably elicit some questions of “what is that”?.
Ghostface (Scream Franchise): Ghostface is a parody of all the slashers that came before it, It fails to transcend any of his predecessors in any way despite revitalizing the slasher genre for modern audiences. Ghostface’s iconic look would have been nice to put on Rushmore but sadly it doesn’t quite make the cut.
Pinhead (Hellraiser Franchise): If there was a fifth spot on the mountain, it’d go to Pinhead. The fact that Pinhead is arguably smarter than many of his contemporaries makes him one to fear. He has an iconic look as well but Hellraiser often gets lost in the shuffle when putting against his peers so sadly Pinhead comes up just short.
That’s my Rushmore of Horror Movie Villains…What’s Yours? Let me know via email, social media or in the comments below!