You’d think that after Scream people wouldn’t ask me what my favorite scary movie is, but they do. I have no real answer, but I like to play with lists of answers. “Favorite” is a bit too general, though, so today I want to challenge myself not just with favorite horrors, of which I have many, but with scary horrors, of which, nowadays, I have few. Can I come up with 10 horror movie villains that actually, as Buffy would say, give me the wiggins?
Before the official list begins, an important note:
“This is God,” says Freddy Krueger, and, alas, this man is disqualified. As an adult, I cannot possibly pass any objective judgment on Freddy’s scariness. To know why, see the intro to my book Gothic Realities.
Now, on with the show.
10.George W. Bush, from Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
Okay, a stunt to get your attention… or is it? The film does masterfully villainize a then-sitting president. It heightened my existing fears.
9. Jason Voorhees, Friday the 13th PART TWO (1981)
Jason was initially just a kinda big guy wearing a bag on his head that had one hole cut for an eye. He stalked after people quickly, hacking with whatever was handy. And his cheesy immortality wasn’t yet clear. He was just a scary, crazy dude intent on killing you if you crossed his path.
8. The mobs, from M (1931)
Yep, I think the people who come after the child murderer are scarier than the child murderer (although Peter Lorre’s performance is creepy as hell).
7. Pyramid Head, from Silent Hill (2006)
I chose Pyramid Head because he’s the most iconic, but really, all the beasties in the Silent Hill franchise that I’ve seen–both films and bits of several games–are genuinely nightmarish in a rare way.
6. Ju-On, from Ju-On (2002)
Not the scariest Japanese horror film by a long shot, but the curse may be the scariest villain both because of its inevitable operations and because of the tragic way it plays out IN THE JAPANESE VERSION ONLY. The American version makes no sense.
5.Vukmir, from A Serbian Film (2010)
The incarnation of the need to add the word “mass” to the exploitation and consumption of everything.
4. Mademoiselle, from Martyrs (2008)
Like Vukmir, a limit-seeker, but civilized… and asking bigger questions. How far she’ll go to get answers, how much she cares about those answers, is what makes her scary. Am I capable of wanting to know that much?
3. Klaus, from In a Glass Cage (1987)
Nazis asked questions, too. And raped, tortured, and murdered people. Old people. Middle-aged people. Children. Klaus preferred children. And now he’s a victim’s victim. The potential to feel sorry for him makes him even scarier.
2. Hill House, from The Haunting (1963)
It preys on loneliness and the need to belong, a person’s most intimate vulnerabilities. It makes people doubt you. It makes you doubt yourself. You feel stupid. You hate yourself at times like that. You know that feeling. That’s how it gets you.
1. Sharks, from Open Water (2003)
Horror doesn’t have to stem from elaborate themes and psychological sophistication. The movie doesn’t even have to be particularly good. I had a rare, tight-muscle-and-skin, fast-breathing, elevated-heart-rate experience seeing Open Water in the theater. Its simplicity allows the fear:
- Trapped in the water. As our bodies are built to survive only short times in water and then only in certain circumstances, this situation is not one we are programmed to seek.
- Predators nearby. We make kids laugh by threatening to gobble them up. But the threat of kids getting eaten is central in fairy tales for a reason. Fighting to keep beasts from eating us, if not fighting cannibalism, is part of our evolutionary memory. Again, we are programmed for wariness in such a situation.
- Sharks. Stephen Colbert makes a similar point about bears. Some have said cats have an attitude toward dogs similar to my own feeling about sharks. I’m not wary of sharks. Sure, I’ll pet a little one at an aquarium or something, but the very idea of meeting a big one in the ocean–it’s just not an option. I’m not wary. I’m REPELLED. Open Water ain’t makin’ my top ten favorites list, but sharks… are… scary. Period.