/Answers: Our Favorite Horror Movie Villains

Hoai-Tran Bui: Norman Bates

The most frightening thing about Norman Bates is how harmless he appears at first. Played by Anthony Perkins with a disarming likability, Norman Bates is introduced in Psycho not as an obvious villain, but as a pathetic victim subject to the whims of his demanding, unseen mother. He is not even the focus of Psycho when Marion Bates first stumbles upon his hidden motel, his presence nearly invisible until the moment when he spies on Marion undressing through his peep hole. From there the dread builds, as you’re forced to question just how innocent Norman is when his “mother” murders Marion and the pursuant detective, while he begrudgingly hides the bodies.

Alfred Hitchcock is called the master of suspense for a reason, swinging the POV from the poor Marion to Norman for much of the second half of the film, whose motivations and actions only become more opaque the more time we spend with him. Hitchcock manipulates this confusion wonderfully, making you at first sympathize with Norman while teasing an aura of dread and distrust around the character — until that famous final reveal.

It’s such a potent reveal that Norman is the killer because you have spent so much time with him, but rather than betrayal, the audience feels a sort of cathartic relief. Those hints that Norman wasn’t what he seemed came true, and you weren’t a terrible person for distrusting a person who only seemed victim of circumstance. No, the betrayal was that Hitchcock made you feel for a murderous, twisted villain — and that is the most terrifying thing of all.

Jacob Hall: Leatherface

The iconic villain from Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre isn’t an unstoppable zombie killer like Jason. He’s not a supernatural threat like Freddy. He’s not even an inhuman shell like Michael Myers. Leatherface stands out from other iconic horror figureheads because he’s so…human.

The original 1974 film – and that’s the only one we’ll be talking about here – is a remarkable experience for a number of reasons, but the decades of imitators have only made it all the more thrilling, disgusting, and surprising. But when I think about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I don’t think about a specific kill or a scene of gore (it’s a far less violent movie than most audiences remember). I think about Leatherface, the developmentally challenged cannibal wearing a mask made of human skin, looking out a window. Teenagers have begun wandering on to his family’s property (looking for gas following a breakdown on the desolate Texas highways) and he’s reacted in the only way he knows how: with sudden violence. We never see his face, but we do see his eyes. Is he nervous? Scared? Surprised? Alert? Where are all of these people coming from? Are there more? His look says it all: “What’s going on here? Are they going to keep coming?”

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre never asks you to feel bad for Leatherface or his demented family members, but it never treats them as an unstoppable threat or anything less than human. Sure, humans with desires and lifestyles far more deranged and twisted than yours or mine, but humans nonetheless. Which means they feel all the more real. The fact that Leatherface can fall down and the fact that he gets scared and the fact that the movie ends with him swinging his saw through the air in a fit of childlike rage because the last victim got away and he can only throw a temper tantrum makes him all the more terrifying. It’s easy to say Freddy Krueger doesn’t exist. But when you’re driving through the barren heart of America, it’s easy to convince yourself that Leatherface is out there. After all, he’s only human.

Christopher Stipp: Jason Voorhees

Jason Voorhees. The name itself should mean something to anyone with even a passing interest in horror. When I first came upon the man who terrorized lusty and lascivious teens who seemed to care more about getting it on than they were with self-preservation (to say nothing of the impact the character had on what it meant to be deep within the woods in the same way Jaws redefined that hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck feeling when you went too far into the ocean), the guy was already showing up in his sixth movie. The year was 1986, I was 11 and already the series had gotten a little goofy. Sure, there were some quality kills in Jason Lives, but for the guy I’m seeing at the heart of this series, who truly embodied evil incarnate, you need to stick with parts one through four. Jason had a slow start out of the gate, but like any great maniac, it would only be dialed in with subsequent installments.

It’s hard to put into simple terms why he was such a great antagonist but I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend the nearly 7 hour (!) documentary Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th as the quintessential companion piece that can help cement why Jason’s ranking as the ultimate killing machine was not only thoroughly well-deserved but, conversely, why that image has been sullied by the shallow installments that had our guy traipsing all over New York or space or even in a head-to-head battle against Freddy Krueger that I never bothered to watch. It’s those initial films which have genuine terror in their core. Sure, Part Three seems to have had been devised first as a 3-D gimmick first, a horror movie second, but that one still can hang with the best simply for the inventive ways it knocked off the movie’s teens. Jason has seen himself be reshaped and envisioned in all sorts of ways through pop culture, but no one can change how those initial movies crafted fun jump scares while slowly killing everyone off and eventually finishing in a crescendo of blood that would end not with closure, but with that faint whiff that Jason would come back. Because Jason always comes back.

Dat Boi Pennywise

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