10 horrifying characters

When I’m not savoring this fruitful life of free blogging, I spend much of my free time looking at photos of LOLcats. Now, if you’re about to rifle through your bag-o-insults to find all the best “hey, you’re a crazy cat lady!” zingers, don’t bother. I don’t own a cat, have no desire to own a cat and don’t harbor any particular fondness for creatures that look at human beings as though they are quietly hatching a plot to wipe us off the planet. 

This LOLcat craze, though? For some odd reason, it’s piqued my interest, and today I found a photo that got me pondering the scariest characters ever created — you know, not villains, but the faces that induce chills and (sometimes, if there’s no ominous score to warn that chesty blonde not to walk into that dark abandoned barn) necessitate a quick change of undergarments. Not that I would know what that’s like.

But pay no attention to this digression; it is like the Man Behind the Curtain. So since the Season of Scare is upon us, let’s revisit these 10 frightening creations — classical and modern — that make us cringe, cry, squirm and cry sloppy, unrepentant “I want my mommy now, dammit!” tears:

Take it from Mikey -- talking is overrated.

Take it from Mikey -- talking is overrated.

1. Michael Myers, “Halloween” — Masks do strange things to our insides. They obscure the eyes and mouth, obliterating personality and humanity in ways that make us very, very nervous. John Carpenter went wild with this notion in “Halloween” and created Michael Myers, a hulking, lumbering, knife-wielding mute killer rendered nearly immortal by his desire for victims. The mask makes him scary, but it’s his ability to feed off human terror without so much as a peep that solidifies him as the scariest of the scary.

2. Pennywise the Clown, “It” — Clowns are curious little things, brightly dressed and made up to delight children that end up terrifying them (and plenty of adults, too) into quivering, wimpering blobs of goo. So coulraphobes everywhere quaked in their boots when Stephen King introduced Pennywise, a murderous evil spirit in clown garb. With his pointy yellow teeth and glinting eyes, he’s the stuff of hideous night terrors and a most excellent reason to stock up on nightlight bulbs.   

3. Mombi, “Return to Oz” — The fact that this cheesy 1985 release inexcusably and shamelessly bastardized a timeless classic is beside the point. What’s squarely on top of the point is Princess Mombi (Jean Marsh), a witch with a Carrie Bradshaw-like fetish for collecting heads. That’s right. She’s got a cabinet full of heads. All kinds of heads. With eyes that look and mouths that talk. It’s enough to make your inner child cower under the bed with Blankie. And your outer adult, for that matter.

4. Annie Wilkes, “Misery” — With her freakball set of core values and menacing politeness, Annie (Kathy Bates) belongs in a class of her own. She’s the kind of woman who got hugged too much as a child and quite possibly stalked the hell out of every sap dumb enough to wrap his arms around her. When she grins, you see the horrified faces of her victims in the shine of her dingy teeth. Yet there’s an element of childlike innocence about her that’s utterly disarming. You can’t see the menace for the sweetness. What a perfectly freaky combination. 

Rhoda: Like Pippi Longstocking, only evil-er and with more peroxide

Rhoda: Like Pippi Longstocking, only evil-er and with more peroxide.

5. Rhoda Penmark, “The Bad Seed” — Of late Hollywood has become obsessed with making villains out of pasty, dark-haired children with eyes that all but flash “666.” But back in the 20th century (1956) blonde hair shivered our timbers, with evil taking human form in one Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack). You don’t see Rhoda’s devilment coming, and nothing’s as scary as evil that sneaks up on you (see above).

6. Nosferatu — Vampires are enjoying quite a renaissance these days, though the “True Blood”-styled plasma poachers are more interested in having sex than biting necks. Let us not forget, however, the one who started it all, the Godfather of Vampirism: Nosferatu, star of the so-named 1922 silent film that still chills our bones. Max Schreck’s eerie, goosebumpy performance reminds, and not gently, that simplicity can unnerve in ways that CGI can’t touch. 

7. The horny tree, “The Evil Dead” — With this, the first installment of the “Evil Dead” trilogy, Sam Raimi unleashed a Hoover Dam’s worth of blood and gore and gave us some seriously strange costumed undeaders. None of those things can eclipse the sheer, unbridled craziness of that oversexed forest tree, with its naughty branch becoming a catalyst for the most bizarrely unnerving rape scene ever filmed. It’s like “The Happening” … on angel dust.

Overalls and horizontal stripes never looked so creepy

Overalls and horizontal stripes never looked so creepy.

8.  Chucky — Pediophobia doesn’t seem quite so strange when you stop to consider Chucky, that demonic doll who vaguely resembles My Friend Buddy minus the unflattering bowl cut. Yes, this possessed toy, with his shiny butcher knife, chipmunk cheeks and milky marble eyes is about 472 kinds of terrifying, partly because Chucky taps into that ancient human fear that inanimate objects aren’t all that lifeless. With the advent of Furbies, I ask you: Is that fear really so unfounded?

9. Freddy Krueger, “Nightmare on Elm Street” — Forget that machete-toting lunkhead Jason Voorhees; he’s got nothin’ on the Krueg, Wes Craven’s knife-fingered psychotic burn victim who delights in using the dreams of children and adolescents to snuff them out like Glade candles. Robert Englund makes this guy — and the singsong rhyme that immortalizes him — a character infinitely scarier than his tight striped sweater.

10. The Blair Witch — Everyone has that “things that go bump in the night” concept stashed securely in a safe somewhere way deep down in the dank basements of our psyches. Then movies like the spare but monumentally disquieting “Blair Witch Project” come along and up comes the ageless fear of the dark and what might be lurking in it. We never see the Blair Witch — from a logistics standpoint, we cannot even prove she exists — but the suggestion, the faint whiff of evil, is enough to remind us that what we don’t see is far more terrifying than what we do.

Honorable mentions: Leatherface; Norman Bates; Damien Thorn (“The Omen”); Cruella DeVille.

24 Responses

  1. For your consideration…

    Norman Bates (There’s something seriously distrubing about such a wholesome looking person being so out of their mind).

    Nurse Ratched ( She’s supposed to represent a beacon to help these men get better, but seems to embody nothing but complete passive-aggressive control )

    • Good suggestions, MH. The “looks-normal-while-being-nuckin-futs” character never quite stops making me nervous…

  2. This is a pretty good post. I like Myers at number 1, he would be there on my list. I would have moved Kreuger up just because I think his story of killing people in their dreams is something that really strikes fear in people.

    Love the inclusion of the Blair Witch. Great choice. Chucky I never found frightening. And as much as I love to the Evil Dead, the tree was no where near as terrfiying as crazy evil being that Sheryl becomes after the raping.

    What about Pinhead or the Candyman or Jigsaw? Even Norman Bates would have been a great inclusion.

    Overall though good post.

    • See, Sheryl just wasn’t that scary to me. I thought she was more funny than anything. But the tree thing? Man, that was creepy. Something about the reversal of “man rapes the planet” idea got me thinking. Also, I found the scene itself very odd because it doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie (except the opening credits, which are great). I’ve often wondered what — if anything — Raimi was trying to say.

      I am staunchly opposed to the “Saw” films in particular and torture porn in general — it’s just gross, not scary, though I will agree that Jigsaw’s mask gives me the wiggins.

  3. Love the inclusion of the Blair Witch, that movie has been a favorite of mine since it came out and I never feel it gets its just due for using suspense to create horror the way it does among my fellow horror aficionados.

    Can’t disagree with Mike at #1, but my addition would be Asami from Takashi Miike’s Audition. I don’t get scared at horror movies, but she is the only character to ever make me turn a bit squeamish. If you haven’t seen it you need to give that movie a go, and ignore anyone who tries to tell you it’s torture porn, it’s not. And I hate torture porn, so I should know. :)

    • “Audition” … haven’t seen it. If you say it isn’t torture porn, I’ll give it a shot. Torture porn as a genre holds no interest for me — I just find it lazy. I want to be genuinely scared, not watch some guy get his toenail pulled out with rusty pliars.

      • There is torture in it, but it’s not like what most people, myself included, define as torture porn. It takes up maybe 10 minutes of the running time and it has substance behind it, it isn’t just torture for the sake of torture.

  4. After reading through your list I realized I must be afraid of children. The two I was most horrified by were Chucky and Damien. Think I need therapy?

  5. I was *terrified* of Chucky as a kid. My next-door neighbor’s parents, for some reason, thought it was OK to let us watch the first movie at the tender age or 3 or 4. My parents were not happy, to say the least. There was a Chucky poster up at the video rental store we frequented, and I avoided the aisle where it was at all costs, doing everything I could not to look at it. Still makes me shiver a bit, to be honest, even though I’ve seen the films as an adult and enjoyed them as a sort of campy horror-comedy.

    (Have I mentioned that I adore your blog by the way? It’s always a joy to see a new post in my reader!)

    • If it makes you feel better, Ditty, my phobia extends to any stuffed animal that runs on batteries and appears to have a mind of its own. Example: When I was little, my mom bought me a Teddy Ruxbin. She popped the batteries in, turned him on and the second I heard him talk I freaked out. From then on he stayed buried at the bottom of my toy bin. (Don’t even get me STARTED on Furbies!)

      But, yeah, I only saw the first Chucky movie, and I swore I’d never watch another. I have kept that vow.

  6. The Children of the Damned–to keep to your creepy kids theme.
    I had another one, but it slipped my mind as I was typing, so I guess it was undeserving after all.

  7. My buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuddy, my budddddddddddddy and meeeeeeeeeeeee.

    Don’t forget Kiiiiiiiiid siiiiister………that strangely looks a lot like Rhoda Penmark. What’s going on here?

    Pennywise is an excellent addition. Tim Curry contributing to the evil of clowns in a way that wasn’t quite John Wayne Gacy style, but certainly horrific.

    As a kid though……..Damien pretty much did it for me and still does.

    • The only way I made it through the second viewing of “It”? I kept repeating: “It’s only Tim Curry … It’s only Tim Curry.”

  8. Return to Oz frequently pops up in conversations regarding scariest cinematic experiences. For me, it’s the Wheelers. GOOD GOD.

    • The Wheelies run a close second — I had nightmares about them for weeks! But Mombi … to this day I can’t walk by a large glass display case without seeing the live heads in it. “Return to Oz” should NOT be shown to children!

      • I haven’t seen it since I was little, so my memory is hazy. So, I just looked it up and was shocked: “Fairuza Balk as Dorothy Gale”
        WTF.

      • Miss Balk did indeed play young Dorothy. This, I believe, is what made her so weird. I mean, after a movie like this who can blame her for “The Island of Dr. Moreau”?

  9. that little kid from Problem Child
    anyone played by Marisa Tomei

    • Marisa does tend to play the same parts over and over, doesn’t she? And now that you mention it, the kid from “Problem Child” has a Buddy doll quality that creeps me out.

  10. Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

  11. I’m quite surprised by the absence of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter.

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