For all the wonderful things about the horror genre, its habit of sidelining its female characters (especially female villains) is not one of them. Names such as Michael Myers and Freddy Kruger are often the ones your mind drifts to when thinking of the scariest horror villains, but news flash: Women can be scary too, and they deserve just as much praise as their male counterparts.
Pamela Voorhees in Friday the 13th (1980)
For a franchise that became so synonymous with hockey mask wearing Jason, it can often be forgotten that Pamela is really the one behind the camp massacres in the first Friday The 13th film. Perhaps it’s the soothing nature Mrs. Voorhees radiates at first, earning the trust of Alice with her feigned shock and disturbance. Or maybe it’s how she slowly begins to unravel as she tells Alice the lore of Camp Crystal Lake, slowly escalating into hysterics and eventually pulling a machete on the girl. Or maybe it’s just the brilliant performance from Betsey Palmer whose slow-burn reveal created a terrifying villain (and an iconic final battle) that will stand the test of time.
Asami Yamazaki in Audition (1999)
Takashi Miike’s Japanese horror/thriller Audition is an unsettling and grisly film, and Asami is the main cause. At first glance she seems to be the perfect woman: she’s sweet, she’s beautiful and the film’s main character Shigeharu falls for her instantly. It doesn’t take long however for her gruesome intentions to come to fruition resulting in seat-squirming terror that will likely scare you away from ever dating again.
Lola Stone in The Loved Ones (2009)
Similarly to Asami, Lola is introduced as your everyday, girl-next-door type, and there’s nothing to elude there being anything off or different about her. That changes rather quickly and we’re soon treated to one of the most deranged characters in recent years. Lola’s antics are brutal and unforgiving, without any reasoning behind them, but hey you know what they say: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”… even if scorned is a bit of an exaggeration it certainly amps up Lola’s fear factor.
Samara Morgan in The Ring (2002)
There are plenty of factors that go into why The Ring’s Samara is so scary. First of all, she crawls out of the tv, her hair hangs long over her face to keep her identity hidden (making her ultimate face reveal ten times more horrifying), and she sends out cursed videotapes that will kill curious listeners 7 days after viewing them. Plus, she’s a kid, and kids in horror are rarely a good thing. Need more be said?
Red in US (2019)
Debate can definitely be had on whether or not Red is truly the villain of Jordan Peele’s US, but there is no denying that she’s absolutely terrifying. Her strangled voice is the cherry on top of an already well-rounded villain, but it’s her stoic calmness that truly amplifies her fear factor. She moves with cat-like reflexes and communicates with her family through eerie gestures that make them scurry like feral animals. She’s terrifying in such an understated way and Lupita Nyong’o does a stellar job capturing that.
Esther in Orphan (2009)
Esther is one of the most baffling villains in horror simply because she doesn’t look scary or even intimidating in the slightest. After all, she’s just a sweet little girl, right? Wrong. Orphan’s infamous twist turns the film on its head and crafts a villain unlike the genre has seen before. She’s not the sweet little girl the film’s family thought they adopted, she’s a killer without a cause, hell-bent on causing mayhem wherever she goes. And as we know: Kids are scary.
Rose The Hat in Doctor Sleep (2019)
Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep introduces Rose The Hat — the telepathic leader of a cult called True Knot which feeds on the essence of other psychic beings and allows them to stay immortal. Due to Rose’s ability she’s able to find those who share her gift and easily lure them in, which is already scary in theory. But what amplifies it is when she explains that as people age their essence becomes stale, and therefore she targets children, stealing their essence with zero remorse. She’s brutal, unrelenting and a terrifying addition to recent horror.
Baby Firefly in the House of 1000 Corpses Franchise
Let’s be real, it’s very rare when a Rob or Zombie character doesn’t make your skin crawl in some way or another – it’s just synonymous with his style. But there’s something especially unnerving about Baby Firefly in the House of 1,000 Corpses trilogy. Perhaps it’s how innocent she looks and sounds, often speaking with a high-pitched squeak to her voice that feigns an infantile facade and singing sweet little songs. Or maybe it’s how quickly she can go from zero to one hundred, asking a simple question to suddenly screaming and demanding an answer. Sheri Moon Zombie plays the role excellently, having slipped seamlessly back into character 3 times (most recently in 2019), and brings an eerie allure to the character that makes her strangely charming.
Annie Wilkes in Misery (1990)
There’s a reason Kathy Bates took home the Best Actress Oscar for her role as Annie Wilkes in Misery, and it’s also why Annie remains a staple in the villain category. She doesn’t look inherently scary (I mean really, can anyone dislike Kathy Bates?) but when she snaps she snaps hard. Her style is more methodical and slow, gaining the trust of her victim before showing her hand. She’s a slow burn that turns into a firework show, and it’s hard to look away when she’s in action.