It’s… the most… creepiest time… of the year!
This is the month when the dead come out to play, mingle among us all. Some wear a rugged mask. Others don’t have one, much less a face to put a mask on. They are cunning and vile, smart and sardonic, and all are as nasty as it gets.
These are the people who have seen in your nightmares. And sometimes, when you least expect it and are usually alone in the dark, they talk back.
We have reviewed longevity in pop culture, sustaining box office success, impact on the horror genre, and the overall cringe factor. So, without further ado…
NOTE: For sake of reading time, sharing, and general horror aficionado conversation, we had to narrow it down to 10. That means, big names, popular names will not be on this A-List. Rest assured, they were bandied about, listed between a subsequent list with Nos. 11-20, and arm wrestled each other. If you have a complaint, the comments are open.
There was a time when horror movies were B-films at best. Some of them in the 90s were fodder for ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000.’ Like, a Kardashian trying to read Shakespeare-bad. But then, when horror fans needed a reclamation project, a master stepped forward and brought us a mysterious man throttling a slumber party wearing this … odd mask.
This face that redefined an entire genre of movies. And what made Wes Craven’s Scream even more groundbreaking, the victims were horror movie fans. Everyone was self-aware, right up until the minute they screamed before dying. Everyone wore that mask. Go to a party next week. You’ll see.
This is one of those rare moments when it doesn’t matter if it is a Broadway-acclaimed actor (and pop-culture freak icon) or a relatively unknown Swede with acid breath (shout out to Deadpool 2 fans). It’s not the men that made the character; the character completely made the men.
Pennywise is the demented brainchild of one man, and it took two others to make an embodiment of fear who feeds off that — and kids — to bring it to life. After Stephen King brought this lunatic fringe with floppy feet to TV, and then again to film, circus tickets took a bath. And why? Those damn clowns. There is an actual phobia named after them. And while Stephen King and IT isn’t to blame, they didn’t help. Not one bit.
Before you ask, this is not the name of a brilliant pizza maker. No Italian chef who suddenly went mysteriously insane one day. No, according to ancient history, he is the Babylonian demonic god in charge of all the evil spirits. Still not ringing a bell? As scholar Stephen Bertman notes, “though short on pizzazz, Pazuzu made it to Hollywood: he is the only Mesopotamian demon to have starred in a movie – The Exorcist.”
Oh, that Pazuzu! Yeah, while Linda Blair’s blasphemous behavior got most of the attention, Pazuzu was the Jeff Dunham behind Blair’s Walter. What William Friedkin was able to do in The Exorcist is mind-numbingly astounding considering the budget, the time, and the overall movie-making skill of this genre. Linda Blair will always be the pale-faced, head-turning, split-pea-soup-spitting girl victimized in the movie, but Pazuzu will always be the sinister force behind the puke giving people nightmares to this day.
(BTW, Mental Floss has a great article on Pazuzu’s subliminal flash during the movie. Cute guy.)
G’head. Stare, we’ll wait. As Anthony Hopkins glares into FBI agent Clarice Starling’s soul (played masterfully by Jodie Foster), there’s not one person who doesn’t feel like he’s staring through her and at them. As we slowly approach his cell in The Silence of the Lambs we are reminded things are never as they seem.
What a pleasant man. So meek. So kind. And so damn manipulative and evil. He has a real taste for the flamboyant and fearful (yeah, pun intended). It’s one of the best villain introductions ever and we are all taken away on his journey to “have an old friend for dinner.”
Prequels and sequels aside, Dr. Hannibal Lecter is mesmerizing as we are drawn into this man’s psyche and psychosis. Never has a villain created such as lasting effect for movie goers in such a short time. That mask blocking his grill. That fffffftttttt sound. And what he did with Miggs. What a legend.
You know what they say — everything’s bigger in Texas. And that includes the slashers. Very few people or entities strike fear in the hearts of horror fans like Leatherface. Namely since his own Halloween mask is made out of the faces he carved from his (sometimes living) victims.
And think about it: This whack-job was real. Based on the life of psychopath Ed Gein, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came to theaters in 1974 and people have been thinking about him ever since. Why did he cut off their body parts and skin? It was a Tuesday afternoon. Dude has a chainsaw and a Naugahyde mask. What’s not to love?
Before there was a hockey mask, a bladed glove, and that creepy head tilt, this guy broke the mold of what a fiendish slasher should be.
This is the film that throttled personal hygiene for a decade. And while movie goers came back to the movie theater to see the Hitchcock classic a second time smelling like ass and crackers, this was one of the first times we ever saw the tormented soul within the killer.
It was gripping to see how the villain suffered before the kill. Norman Bates is a total mama’s boy…and that’s before you find out just how deep that sentiment runs. He hates her. He loves her. And, oh yeah, he is her.
Anthony Perkins was brilliant in this role. He transforms from feeble dolt to fiendish demon seed. No one — not one person alive — saw that plot twist. It was The Sixth Sense and The Usual Suspects mixed. Brilliant performance that stands the test of all time. And all Janet Leigh wanted to do is take a shower. Poor girl.
This is the plight of Norman Bates kicked up about 10 to 20 notches. And why does he go bat-ess crazy trying to kill his family. The isolation. Maybe the cold? He’s a writer with a block who takes a gig housesitting of the Overlook Hotel. He just overlooked the power of those pesky demonic spirit that screw with his head.
What’s makes Jack somewhat of a tragic hero is we watch his slow descent into madness. Just about any time you talk to someone who has been in a bad car accident, they usually say the whole thing happened in slow motion. They saw the car coming and was nothing they could do about it. That’s Jack running headlong into the loony bin. And it’s shivering.
We experience his descent into a dark place from which there is no return, and Shelley Duvall’s portrayal as his tormented wife (yes, that’s Olive Oyl from Popeye) sells Jack’s psychosis all the more.
Speaking of mama’s boys (see: Norman Bates), this is the champion of that category. You see, mom was a vengeful, cantankerous old broad who decided to kill all these spoiled rich kids at Camp Crystal Lake. However, on one of her late-night jaunts, she lost her head. Literally. So, her darling baby boy picked up a mask, grabbed a machete, and the family business.
From there, he terrorized us all for close to two decades. Many of the movies were laughable, but no one can talk slashers without the hellion behind the hockey mask. His affect on pop culture around this time of the year is everlasting. And on that eternal note, you can’t kill this guy!
Fire and water, electrocution and hacking. Nothing keeps a good man down. He’s been to camp, Elm Street, and even space (that’s one of those laughable moments), and he’s still here. Where he’ll always be.
Is there anything more haunting than having a nightmare and then the dreaded foe of that bad dream is real and can kill you in real life as a result? Wes Craven is a twisted genius and Freddy Krueger was the result of him eating too much LSD. Just look at that face. It was surreal for 1984. And when Nightmare on Elm Street was introduced to us, no one wanted a house there but everyone became a tourist.
Freddy was an instant phenomenon among both slasher fans and the rest of us. The hat. The sweater. And those blades. Ever wonder why Freddy looked like he was caught on a weekend bender? Rumor has it Wes Craven ran into a homeless man that gave him the willies. That was his inspiration.
At first, this bum was the personification of evil who enjoyed torturing children. As the series grew, the evil became comedy. Sure, we forgive Freddy for those indiscretions. Well, expect for that time when he met number three on this austere list. Woof.
The recent sequel aside — because it is AH-MAZE-ING — there is no slasher, no horror villain, no one that can hold a candle to Michael Myers. Ever heard someone say, “His eyes are so dark it scares me”? Yeah, well gaze upon the coal peepers of Michael. That adds to his legacy — he doesn’t represent evil, he is evil.
Think about a man who mauls his victims with a butcher’s knife and doesn’t flinch, sweat, or have facial expressions. That dank stare — and the preceding head cock before your demise — is the stuff of legend. The original and the latest sequel are bookmarks in what has to be one of the most hallowed franchises in horror history. He kills because he digs it. He slaughters because he wants to do it.
One killing of his sister and the subsequent escape from a mental institution has led to a killing spree through 10 different films — most scary, some brutal, and all Michael. (Except Halloween 3. There’s no excuse for that crap.)
Fun fact: Did you know Michael’s mask is modeled after one William Shatner? Now watch the sequel again and try not to see James Tiberius Kirk. Enjoy.