The Most Terrifying Characters in Film

I grew up watching horror films.

A close family member of mine is a fan of the genre, and we grew up watching everything from Salem’s Lot to Dead Alive (I still can’t keep my food down with that second one). I loved best the films that left a lot to the imagination instead of showing you the gore and bloodshed–movies like Psycho. My imagination is likely to be 10x more graphic than the film (except now most scary movies hold nothing back and surprise me with what they show), and leaving things to my imagination is the best path a filmmaker can take. I will sit and stew over something for hours.

Because of my upbringing, there are characters that have resonated with me all my life (and have even influenced how I create heroes and villains in my writing). Here are a few of my favorite terrifying characters in film:

1. Michael Myers

*cue the theme*

The stuff of nightmares. Halloween was my introduction to horror, and Michael Myers, to this day, is my ultimate horror bad guy–one who doesn’t stop coming, one who is always one step behind, one who is relentless. I’m a snob about these movies and look only to the originals, not the newer adaptations. The most recent Halloween film that I loved was H20–well done, well written, the whole nine.

Here’s something interesting: I read somewhere that Christopher Lee was originally approached to play Dr. Loomis in the first Halloween but turned it down–a decision he later regretted. (No idea if this is fact, but something interesting to think about!) I can imagine Christopher Lee doing an excellent job with the role, but now Donald Pleasance owns it. I still shout, “I shot him six times!” when something in my life goes awry.

2. Karen Cooper

My first encounter with innocence-turned-monstrous, Karen is the little girl in Night of the Living Dead who turned zombie and ate her parents. *shudder* I still get the wiggins just thinking about it. (Note: I’ve been rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to explain my vernacular use of “wiggins.”) When you think about it, Karen was the first Sophia (sorry if that’s a spoiler because you’ve been living under a rock), only Sophia didn’t get the chance to ingest her life-givers. Not that she wouldn’t have. *shudder*

3. Roman

Granted, the film Possession wasn’t a blockbuster. It wasn’t a sleeper like The Fall (here I go again). But that doesn’t mean that Roman, played by Lee Pace, wasn’t one of the most terrifying characters I’ve seen in a movie. What drew me to this movie was both Lee Pace and Sarah Michelle Gellar, and I was thrilled at their on-screen chemistry, especially with Roman being a total psycho. Now Lee Pace has dazzled audiences with his portrayals of the less-than-lovable Thranduil in The Hobbit films and as Ronan in Guardians of the Galaxy. I know that Lee can truly do it all (see: Soldier’s Girl, Pushing Daisies, etc.), but I really really really hope that some more villainous roles find their way to his doorstep, because holy cow he can be terrifying.

4. Verbal

The Usual Suspects isn’t a horror film–more of a neo-noir thriller. It’s full of suspense, action, and mind-bendy stuff, all made intense by Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of Verbal. Spoilers shall not enter into this exposition, but if you’ve seen TUS then  you know why he’s on this list. If you haven’t seen it, then buy this 1995 classic. Just buy it. Trust me. (Or Netflix it, if you have a disc subscription. It’s currently not streaming, sadly.)

5. Norman Bates

There’s a reason that Psycho is such an iconic film. Well, several reasons, really–great music (how many of you have just turned soprano in this very moment?), excellent writing and cinematography, prime direction, ballsy movies (e.g. Janet Leigh as the top-billed actress who’s role is to be Norman’s first victim)–but it all boils down to Anthony Perkins’s most pivotal and career-defining role as Norman Bates. Bad guys are scary in their own right–but nice guys can get into your house. Norman Bates is a nice guy on the surface–unassuming, seemingly normal, even plain and unnoticeable. He blends in with the background. And then he’s stabbing you in the face.

What are your favorite terrifying characters? Tell me in the Comments section!

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