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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.