We love to be scared silly by iconic horror movie characters. It’s why – in honour of Friday 13th – we’ve spent a couple of sleepless nights gathering together ten of the very best horror movie icons.
From Jason Voorhees to Norman Bates, this list is literally all killer(s), no filler(s). So find a brightly lit spot and let’s get scared together. Wait, did you remember to lock the back door...?
Behind that blank and increasingly grubby hockey mask and fondness for his iconic machete, Jason Voorhees has had one hell of a varied career. He wasn’t even the killer in the first Friday the 13th; that was his dear mum Pamela exacting revenge on the summer camp counsellors who let her boy drown. Or so she thought.
Still alive (as it happened), young Jason carried on the family ‘business’ in Part 2, only picking up his legendary hockey mask from a victim during Friday the 13th: Part III. Since then he’s been killed several times (for real), brought back to life as a superhuman sort of zombie (repeatedly), visited space in the far off future (Jason X) and slogged it out with fellow horror movie villain, Freddy Krueger in blood-soaked crossover, Freddy vs. Jason.
You’d think seemingly unkillable Jason wouldn’t be scared of anything but you’d be wrong. Because he originally drowned at Camp Crystal Lake, he’s not a fan of water at all. Perhaps he ought to get some water wings for his next rampage. Still, if he ruins your summer camp, go for a paddle.
Jason Voorhees has been a busy horror monster, notching up 157 kills. Pamela Voorhees has 10 kills to her name. Not bad for one film.
Nobody rocks the mechanic overalls/white-painted Captain Kirk mask ‘look’ like Michael Myers. A precocious young horror movie monster, Michael – simply known as ‘The Shape’ in Halloween’s credits – started slashing when he was just six. One sister down, and 15 years later, Michael escapes incarceration, returning to his home town of Haddonfield to perfect his ‘craft’, terrorise Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), and play peek-a-boo behind tall hedges.
Like Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers’ many big-screen deaths seem to have little impact on his ability to stalk Laurie Strode, her descendants and anyone else who stands between him and his next weapon upgrade. Very tall, emotionless and (with the exception of Rob Zombie’s 2007 reboot) completely silent, Myers is as profoundly unsettling as he is seemingly unstoppable.
If Michael Myers has any weakness at all, it’s a ‘fondness’ for killing on 31 October. That’s little comfort if you’re staying in Haddonfield at Halloween, but a definite plus if you plan your visit for any one of the other 364 days of the year.
Over the 10 Halloween films in which he’s starred to date – he sat 1982’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch out – Michael Myers has scored an impressive 121 kills.
Child killer, blade-glove aficionado and knitwear enthusiast Freddy Krueger originally descended on the teenage residents of Springwood, Ohio, as payback against their parents for burning him alive when he escaped going to prison on a technicality.
Horror maestro Wes Craven’s Krueger (Robert Englund) has a killer hook – taunting and murdering people in their nightmares. Freed from the constraints of reality, Krueger often takes on other forms during his killing sprees. In fact, over nine films he’s manifested as a snake, marionette, nurse, TV, phone receiver, videogame character, caterpillar and even Jason ‘Friday the 13th’ Voorhees’ mum, Pamela.
Freddy’s strength is also his weakness: he can’t kill in the real world, only in his victims’ dreams. This may not seem like great news because, well, sleep. However! If you can learn how to lucid dream you can theoretically control your nightmares and defeat Freddy.
Unlike some of the horror movie killers in this list, Freddy genuinely loves his work. As such, he favours quality over quantity, and currently tops off at 42 kills.
Maybe it’s the blood-stained butcher’s apron, the buzzing chainsaw, or the badly fitting mask made from human skin – whatever the reason, we just can’t quit The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s leading man- beast, Leatherface.
A man of few words (but lots of crazed screams), Leatherface is the youngest member of the series’ family of sanity-dodging cannibals The Sawyers. He’s also, perhaps, the most misunderstood of the bunch. We’re not condoning his love of extreme arts and crafts, but he tends to attack out of a fear of strangers. What’s more, he’s completely under the control of his fam and has been described by his creator, Tobe Hooper as a ‘big baby’.
In terms of surviving Leatherface and the Sawyer family, staying away from rural Texas has to be top of your list. Leatherface is a real homebody, which makes sense as much of his home is fashioned from bodies. If you ignore our advice and meet Leatherface yourself, all is not lost. He’s not exactly sprightly and does like theatrically waving his heavy chainsaw around, so take this as your cue to put some distance between the two of you.
Leatherface’s extended family (the Sawyers) is responsible for a bunch of murders, but the chainsaw- toting horror icon himself has racked up 34 kills.
Mirrors have always been a powerful horror-film staple – as anyone who’s ever rinsed off their face in the sink fearing who’ll be smiling back at them in the mirror will attest. So creating a vengeful, hook-handed spirit who manifests and murders anyone foolish enough to say his name five times in a mirror was a stroke of genius by horror author Clive Barker.
Look beyond his murderous ways and swarm-of-bees entourage though and Candyman’s backstory in the franchise is heartbreaking. Born Daniel Robitaille, this gifted black artist was supposedly accepted into white post-Civil War society until he fell in love with one of his models. Tortured and murdered by racists, he returned as a vengeful spirit to the Chicago housing project of Cabrini Green where his ashes were scattered.
Apologies if this sounds super obvious but if you don’t fancy getting murderised by Candyman on the big screen, how about not saying his name five times into a mirror? More than any of the other movie monsters on our list, Candyman thrives on attention. Deny him the oxygen of publicity and you’re safe as houses.
As it stands, you couldn’t even summon Candyman by listing his big-screen appearances in a mirror (although 2021’s Blumhouse-produced reboot/sequel will bring the tally to four). Still, this makes his 22 kills to date rather impressive.
Another Wes Craven creation, Ghostface is the ‘star’ of the Scream franchise; a series of funny, shocking slasher films that self-consciously played on the genre’s tropes – ‘I’ll be right back!’ – undercutting them and celebrating them at the same time.
Key to Ghostface’s longevity (or the reason they’re not a true horror film icon) is the fact that the instantly recognisable character is really an identity/disposable Halloween costume worn by a succession of different psychopaths. And while that gets around the ‘coming back to life repeatedly’ thing, it does undermine the supernatural, superhuman vibe that the best horror movie characters possess.
Not being Sidney Prescott (or in her immediate vicinity) is our top tip for surviving the various psychos who’ve donned the off-the-shelf Ghostface Halloween costume. In the unlikely event you are Sidney Prescott, or are due to hang out with her, try not answering the phone – Ghostface loves a bit of telephonic taunting, so don’t give him/her the satisfaction.
The seven people to have put on the Ghostface mask are responsible for 42 kills in total with Scream 3’s Roman Bridger getting a respectable single-film haul of nine kills.
If the Child’s Play franchise has taught us anything it’s that serial killers should be discouraged from taking up voodoo as a hobby. Chucky, the flame-haired injection-molded psycho toy, starts off as just another ‘Good Guys’ doll until dying killer Charles Lee Ray manages to transfer his malevolent soul to the plaything, triggering a murderous rampage as he looks for a new human body to inhabit.
Over seven films (not counting last year’s reboot in which Chucky was animated by a broken AI rather than a killer’s dark soul) Charles Lee Ray has failed again and again to upgrade to a new flesh and bone bod, but he has turned his girlfriend and accomplice Tiffany into a matching murder doll (Bride of Chucky), and had an equally stabby kid Glen (Seed of Chucky). You don’t get these kinds of problems with Barbie and Ken.
Not buying murderously creepy dolls off random people in the street (1988’s Child’s Play) is a good start. Other than that, try destroying Chucky while Charles Lee Ray is using his voodoo skills to transfer his soul into a new human body. That’s when the tiny monster is at his most vulnerable.
Chucky is surprisingly prolific for such a pint-sized horror film psycho, having a total of 74 kills to his name to date.
Communicating for the most part through rosy-cheeked tricycle jockey Billy the Puppet, Saw’s Jigsaw Killer is actually former civil engineer and torture-happy ‘life coach’, John Kramer. Kramer’s status as a horror icon comes from the elaborately sadistic traps in which he places his many victims, testing their will to live.
As such, Kramer would argue it’s his test subjects’ lack of willpower that kills them, not him. That being said, we kind of think that reverse bear traps (among a host of other grisly devices Kramer concocts) might have something to do with it.
John Kramer – the man behind Jigsaw – hates it when people don’t appreciate and treasure the gift of life. Our advice for not getting yourself caught in one of his traps? Live a good life and try not to be a jerk.
Depending on how you look at John Kramer’s methods, Jigsaw has either notched up a bracing 91 kills or none at all.
Pinhead AKA the Hell Priest, Cenobite of the Order of the Gash, and Scourge of Inflatables – we made that last one up – is every bit as evil as his distinctively spiky ‘look’ suggests. In the Hellraiser franchise he’s quite the civilised and intellectual hell demon, on hand to let any human depraved enough to summon him experience transcendent pain.
Perversely, Pinhead believes the unimaginable hurt that he and his Cenobite pals dish out to humans is a kind of gift. It certainly doesn’t look or sound like that, which is why we now sleep with the lights on.
In the Hellraiser universe, Pinhead is very powerful but – in classic horror film style – his strength is also his weakness. He needs to be summoned via the puzzle box called the Lament Configuration (so don’t do that for a kick off) and can be sent back to hell using it, too. He also remembers his former human identity (Captain Spencer Elliot) so, if you’re lucky, you may be able to reason with him before things get all gory.
As leader of the demonic Cenobites, Pinhead sometimes delegates his kills to others, but that hasn’t stopped the (once) human pincushion from scoring 59 kills.
Long before horror characters required a gimmick, favourite weapon or elaborate backstory involving hell portals or dream dimensions, director Alfred Hitchcock and star Anthony Perkins proved, with Psycho, that true, skin-crawling horror could be most effective when delivered with a soft voice and shy demeanour.
Having internalised the abusive voice of his domineering and belittling mother, Bates is, as the franchise reveals, only partly Norman. The question is, which of his two warring personalities is in control at any given moment. Subsequent films never reached the heights of the original, but one stone-cold classic is all the Norman Bates anyone needs for a lifetime of shower anxiety.
The murderous side of Norman Bates’s fractured psyche is his overbearing mother, so the key to surviving him is to not antagonise her. Flirting with Norm, for example, is a big no-no. Actually, pretty much any sustained conversation with Norman is dangerous so maybe just keep driving and stop at Welcome Break instead.
Norman Bates’ complicated relationship with his darling (s)mother means he’s not always in full psycho mode. Still, he’s no horror movie slouch, with a tally of 18 kills.