Horror is as much about the villain as it is the victim, sometimes more so. A good horror villain can strike fear in your heart with simply a look, his very presence in the room will turn your blood cold. He might also be charming, pitiful, or simply annoying. Sometimes terribly human, sometimes not, the villain embodies fear, disgust, anger, and madness. As an agent of chaos, the villain wants to “watch the world burn.” As a man of order, he wants to bend you to his will.
All these conflicting characterizations have appeared onscreen in one body or another. Some have been more successful than others. And while the Leatherfaces, and Jokers, and Agent Smiths of the screen world have carved out a place for themselves in the collective film consciousness, still more equally if not superior villains languish in the dark corners of the genre.
Brad McHargue of I Love Horror and I have joined forces to bring you a list of 8 overlooked and underrated horror villains. From people to places to things, these monsters are largely dismissed because the films in which they appear are themselves underrated, or their presence and actions are overshadowed by other things happening on screen.
Johns, as seen in Pitch Black
Pitch Black toes the line between sci-fi and horror, but the film is enough of a survival movie to warrant a place on this list. Although Riddick is positioned to be the bad guy (or more appropriately, the anti-hero), Johns is the real villain. The bounty hunter who’s escorting Riddick to prison, Johns proves himself to be completely heartless as he thinks nothing of sacrificing his fellow crash survivors in order to save his skin from carnivorous monsters.
A drug-addicted asshole, Johns’ humourless demeanor does nothing to lighten the mood. To his credit, he frees Riddick from his restraints and promises to cut him loose entirely in return for Riddick’s help in getting everyone off the planet. But, because Johns is a conniving bastard, his real plan is to just leave everyone else but he and Riddick behind. You’re better off putting your faith in the murderous Furion than in the badge-carrying, bonded lawman because with Riddick you know where you stand, and with Johns you only think you do.
Trickster, as seen in Brainscan
Brainscan is a video game and Trickster guides the players through the levels, encouraging them to finish the game. Though Trickster exists inside the game, he appears to you as a physical entity, inhabiting your space. He can move about your room, touch your stuff, and make a mess. Trickster, as his name suggests, is a playful being, much like Puck, whose antics are just shy of malice. Yet he oozes malevolence as his words of encouragement slowly morph into thinly veiled threats; Trickster will seriously fuck up your life if you do not do exactly as he says.
Brainscan is by no means a great movie but it does have this great show-stopping character. Trickster grabs your attention and holds it hostage while Edward Furlong tries desperately to extricate himself from the terrible mess he’s in. Trickster is sly, manipulative, and completely unconcerned with your well-being outside the world of the game.
The Creep, as seen in Creep
In the London Underground dwells a monster. His given name is Craig. He haunts the sewers and the Tube with his army of rats, waiting for the unfortunate to cross his path. Possibly he was grown in a jar. The Creep looks like a man, sort of, and he can talk like a man, in a way. But he is not really a man—more a thing that skulks and stalks and kills.
The Creep is wholly unknowable. He lives and breathes and eats like we do, but that’s where the similarities between us begin and end. The Creep plays at being human, mimicking our actions and speech. He also makes other noises in the dark, a screeching, keening sound that echoes in the halls. He kills with abandon and is completely unaware of the brutality of his actions.
Ash and Mother, as seen in Alien
One would think the actual alien would be the Big Bad in a film called Alien, but it is Ash, an android, and Mother, the ship’s computer, who collectively victimize the crew of Nostromo. Suggesting the two conspire to make things as difficult as possible for the human characters might be going too far, but both Ash and Mother express little concern for everyone’s well-being. Once the Alien is discovered, it must then be recovered. At all costs.
In the sequel, the issue of murderous robots is addressed in the character of Bishop. An android similar to Ash, Bishop takes pains to point out the Ash-unit was a flawed design and his own programming strictly prevents him from harming any human being. That a computer can actively seek to destroy life is the foundation for a great many films, but Ash’s outward normalcy and humanness is richly contrasted by his literal heartlessness, and Mother’s would-be benevolence and caring for “her” crew is simply a function of her name—the computer does not feel.
Click this link to be magically transported to I Love Horror where Brad will introduce you to four more woefully underrated villains.