The funny thing about writing this article is that, generally speaking, I’m not one to feel fear when watching movies. It’s usually upon examining the fear it represents is when I truly feel the disturbing forces the films projections. So go ahead and consider this arbitrary but then again every opinion one has on a film is built on one’s own experiences.
There’s something about fear that has a magnetic power. Even if people say they hate being scared we have to be honest with ourselves that we look for those thrills everyone once in a while. And what better way to seek thrills than with the movies? I for one would much rather subject myself to the fictional thrills of the film world than struggle with the ordeals of the real world, when you get down to it it’s all about that grand escapism.
So with that these are the villains and what the film as a whole does for them that makes them the scariest in our minds. Without further ado these are the 10 Scariest Movie Villains.
10. Leatherface – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
In all honesty “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is the film that probably scared me more than any other at a specific time in my life, granted I was young when I saw this but still I couldn’t sleep well after I saw it. Leatherface is a disturbing look at the mentally insane, something that future movies would completely miss the ball on.
At first glance he seems like a crazy killer but once the film starts going more we see what his role in this family is. Wearing a wig, putting on grotesque female makeup, and positioning himself as the housewife of the family.
The greatest strength the film creates is the lore of being ‘real’. To this day I still come across people who think this was based on a legitimately true story. The actual truth of course is that it was inspired by the real life serial killer Ed Gein, who likewise would serve as the inspiration for several villains over the years. But the real fear the film has is not the idea that it actually happened but rather that it could happen.
9. Older Woman – Onibaba (1964)
Director William Friedkin, most famous for directing “The Exorcist”, once listed this as one of his all-time favorite films. The setup is simple enough and it flows at a fast pace that differentiates largely from period pieces of the time. But what grabs us is the dynamic of the Old Woman and her daughter-in-law doing what they do to survive. In a time of war these two women lure samurai into their home area and live off of their materials.
After a samurai is killed off they steal their artifacts and sell them. But when the daughter is determined to share love with a man the Older Woman becomes consumed with jealousy and rage as she plans to separate the two by any means necessary.
The film is drenched in weird psychological tones that are exhibited in the characters as everything builds up. Taking place in a dark period in Japanese history the mechanisms of murder and the mental toll one takes to reach these dark places is put at the forefront of this dark, delirious story.
Sometimes the best way to end an is with a quote someone else said so I’ll summarize everything with this one by Friedrich Nietzsche: “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
8. Harry Powell – The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Robert Mitchum was one of the great actors of all time. His greatest strengths were put on full display with his turn as Reverend Harry Powell. A tall, built man with stature and presence. Seeing a man of his size putting his large hands and arms around these defenseless kids is nerve racking as it is.
But what gets under the skin of viewers with his character is the manipulation game he plays with weak minded folks. Turning up the charm he blinds the townsfolk who buy into his religious preaches and woos the hearts of desperate women.
He famously has the words ‘LOVE’ and ‘HATE’ tattooed on his knuckles to which he preaches his sermons our the duality between right-hand and left-hand. This duality I speak of is personified in the character contrast between Powell and Rachel Cooper (Lilian Gish) who likewise serves as a holy than thou figure. But whereas she has love and warmth, Powell is sinister and cold. There’s talk of the wolf in sheep’s clothing who devours the weak and that’s exactly what Powell is.
7. Kim Soo-hyeon – I Saw the Devil (2010)
Vengeance is something that consumes us and poisons our human nature. The old cliché is that it turns our hearts black and leaves us empty, but the reason it’s a cliché is because there’s so much truth to it. Kim Soo-hyeon is a NIS agent in South Korea, married to the daughter of the police chief, who lives an honorable and respectful life.
But when his wife is brutally murdered at the hands of a serial killer he becomes consumed with darkness as he goes out into the night and preys upon the merciless. Soon enough all those morals he represents as an agent disappear and he becomes a barbarian set with not simply killing his wife’s killer, but torturing him beyond anything he ever did himself.
The roles are quickly turning as the concepts of hero and villain change at the beat of a heart. Depending on your views Kim is probably the hero exacting the revenge he deserves but in other ways he’s the monster who takes ‘justice’ too far, leaving him a broken man. Whatever your views are the experience is overwhelming. A masterpiece of blood, violence, and what defines our morality.
6. Norman Bates – Psycho (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock was perhaps the greatest emotional strategist in film history and in no other film does he personify the deepest rooted fears in the human mind than in “Psycho”. Given how old and legendary this film is the impact of its quality may be lost for many out there, but Hitchcock did what no one else was willing to do and that is push the envelope of what film could do.
The character of Norman Bates serves as the driving force of the films power; always twitching, never set in just one mood, and keeping you guessing until the very end. I think we’ve all met someone like Norman at one point.
A shy, reclusive person who acts sincere enough but you can tell there just isn’t something quite right with him. You can’t help but pity him but at the same time he almost seems like a bomb ready to go off at any moment; just like Hitchcock’s famous metaphor of the bomb under the table. I’m sure everyone who comes to this site already knows what happens but in case of the one person who hasn’t I won’t dare spoil this marvelous film.
Needless to say Norman Bates personifies so many of the fears we hold dear to us. The fears of danger drawing nearer, the fears of not trusting the seemingly nice people around us, the fears of the sickness that consumes people, and the fears of disappointing our mothers.