The 8 Ball 10.21.13: The Top 8 Slasher Villains
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 10.22.2013
From Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers to Ghostface from Scream, Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 slasher villains of all time!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 8 Slasher Villains
Welcome back to the 8 Ball, film fans! Horror Month is barreling along toward the end of the month, and this week we go from demonic forces to killers of teenagers. Or perhaps not just teenagers, but those always seem to be the focus. There are few hallmarks of horror quite as distinctive and hallowed as those of the slasher film. Kicking off in earnest with 1974's Black Christmas (though there were the beginnings as far back as 1932's Thirteen Women), the subgenre marked a meteoric rise in horror films that put it at the forefront of Hollywood filmmaking efforts in the late 1970s and 1980s. The low cost and high grosses of the genre meant that studios could throw out a slasher flick and were almost guaranteed success. The thing that made slashers most iconic were, of course, the villains. Whether they were psychotic killers of babysitters, zombie-like creatures who kept rising again and again, summer camp slaughterers or even the ghosts of vengeful wronged souls, slasher villains have become icons of horror and cinema in general. This week we're going to look at the best antagonists of the subgenre.
Caveat: There is, occasionally, a bit of a fuzzy line when discussing who and what a "slasher villain" is. Some people would include all serial killers as slashers, while others would narrow it down even as far as during the height of the slasher craze from 1978 and 1984. I went with the following qualifications: a slasher film is one where the focus is on a psychopathic killer, often mysterious or enigmatic, who stalks and kills a sequence of victims one by one until there is only a few (at best) left. Slashers can be supernatural but they don't have to be. Some notable characters that I left off the list include the Cenobites (for whom I felt the focus is less on the stalk/kill dynamic and more the metaphysical aspects), and psychological horror/thriller killers such as Buffalo Bill, Hannibal Lector and Patrick Bateman. Finally, I wanted to fit the Firefly clan from House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects on the list but the film in which they are slashers (House of 1000 Corpses) is the much lesser of the two and Devil's Rejects doesn't fit the mold as much.
• Billy (Black Christmas)
• Victor Crowley (Hatchet)
• Death (Final Destination)
• Angela Baker (Sleepaway Camp)
• The Candyman (Candyman)
#8: Norman Bates (Psycho)
First on our list is someone who, at first glance, doesn't fit the typical slasher mold. Norman Bates is no force of nature stalking his way through half-naked drug-smoking teenagers at a summer camp; he doesn't do wisecracks and he's certainly not supernatural. But by the same token, he really is one of those characters who set the mold as being a psychopathic force of cold, harsh morality. When Marion Crane shows up at the Bates Motel she's undoubtedly a woman who is committing crimes; she's stolen $40,000 from a client so that she can run away with her boyfriend. Many people consider Alfred Hitchcock's horror masterpiece the first of the slasher genre, though arguments can be made for Peeping Tom and even other films. Hitchcock based the film on Robert Bloch's 1959 novel of the same name as the film, which used the real-life serial killer Ed Gein as inspiration for Norman. Through the course of the film Norman kills Marion and Detective Arbogast before Lila Crane, who could be considered the first "final girl" of cinema, manages to uncover the truth and survive. Norman would become a more quintessential slasher in the sequels, particularly Psycho III, and even if those films are of more dubious quality that's certainly enough to qualify him as a slasher villain and this eligible for the list.
#7: Jigsaw (Saw)
Jigsaw is one of the more unique slasher villains in that he doesn't actively kill his victims. Every other element of the genre is here; while many call the Saw series torture porn it plays out far more like a slasher entry. John Kramer punishes the guilty, people whom he believes are flawed and not deserving of their lives. But instead of just killing them off, he seeks to make them better people in his own demented way by giving them tests with which they can prove their worthiness to survive. Even if he is not the man directly wielding the instruments that cause his victims' deaths he is clearly a slasher and his ingenuity made for some of the great kills in modern horror. Jigsaw initially falls under the more mysterious category of killer in the first film, as we don't know who is behind the whole thing until the man seemingly dead in the center of the room stands up. After that we know his identity but it doesn't make anyone truly able to stop him; even his own death doesn't keep his grand, grotesque scheme from playing out. Tobin Bell made for a great villain here as he was erudite and well-spoken, even gentle in his mannerisms. That made the horror of his actions that much worse. The only thing keeping him from being higher on this list is the fact that...well, he was terrible at picking apprentices. Amanda and Hoffman were abject failures, though Dr. Gordon's appearance at the end of the final (for now?) film as another apprentice was a nice coup. If the other two hadn't boned things so hard, Jigsaw's legacy might have been strong enough to jump him a few spots on this list.
#6: Leslie Vernon (Behind the Mask)
When you're talking about slasher villains you kind of have to give respect for the balls that Behind the Mask has. In the world that Scott Glosserman created for this inventive little slasher black comedy, the killers depicted in famous slasher films are real and one man wants to join them in infamy. That man is, of course, Leslie Vernon and he takes a documentary crew in to his confidence to chronicle his rise to fame. In doing so he manages to coax them into a twisted game in which the crew has a crisis of conscience and tries to prevent the murders he plans on committing, right down to his own "final girl" which has a twist of its own. Nathan Baesel is fantastic as Leslie, embodying the role completely while allowing Glosserman to take "self-aware" to a new level with this film. It does what Cabin in the Woods does for that particular subgenre of horror, both deconstructing and subverting while simultaneously honoring the films that came before. And at its center is Leslie, a true icon of the genre just like he always wanted.
#5: Ghost Face (Scream)
As great as Leslie Vernon is, let's be honest...he owes his existence to Ghost Face. In fact just about horror film of the last seventeen years owes its existence to that Edvard Munch-based mask. In 1996 the horror genre was mostly dead, struggling along on its last legs like a slasher who was about to be put out of their mister by the Final Girl (or Cassie Hack, at least). But like any good horror film, trust Wes Craven to figure out a way to bring it back from the brink. Craven was presented with a script by Kevin Williamson that brought a modern sensibility to the horror genre. Craven then took the reins and the Scream franchise brought horror roaring back. Scream took the image of the famous painting The Scream and gave it the form of a psychotic serial killer who was obsessed with making a movie. I always loved the ingeniousness of the fact that, due to voice modulation and the costume, you could (and they did) have multiple killers, and even multiple in the same film. It removed the need to rely on the unlikely event that the killers somehow rise from the dead. And while the specific people behind the killers were largely kind of pathetic people when it came down to it (but still well-played and interesting), the image of Ghost Face lived on because it could be anyone. Ghost Face reinvigorated the genre and inspired a host of copycat films, some of which were fun in their own right but none of which ever came close to the original.
#4: Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
All of the above four (plus Honorable Mentions) could be completely debated and you could put other villains on instead of them and I could completely understand. The top four, however, I really consider essential for a well-informed list of slasher villains. First up is the man who is, in my estimation, the least of the cream of the crop. And that's no insult at all. Leatherface is iconic without horror movie villains for a very good reason; he chronologically precedes everyone on this list with the exception of Mr. Bates. And Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre set the horror genre on fire, helping establish a lot of the elements of the slasher genre. There are only two things that hold him back from that elite three. The first is not his fault; those three are almost unassailable. The one reason that is on him though? Leatherface has help. He has his whole family of psychos, the Sawyers (or Hewitts if you prefer the remakes--but why would you?) who are part and parcel to unleashing the horror, and in truth Leatherface is mostly just doing his family's bidding. Granted though, once he does that bidding he's the last person you want coming after you. He makes the pain last and kind of enjoys it before he kills you and subjects you to a final moment of ignominy, your face worn like a Halloween mask. That last put drove him into infamy and easily puts him on the All-Star team of slasher villains.
#3: Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th)
Okay, so let's get this out of the way: we all know that Jason Voorhees didn't kill anyone in Friday the 13th. That was Pamela Voorhees. But man, once the little freak got started, he made up for lost time. The slasher who made summer camps a thing of terror has a staggering 192 victims to his name for all his films from the 1980 original through Freddy vs. Jason. And that's only official, confirmed kills. That puts him almost fifty deaths above his next-closest rival. And we're not just talking kill count when we point out how badass of a slasher Jason was. I admit that I love the word "iconic" but is there anything more iconic than the concept of a hockey mask for a killer at this point? (Yes there are, but it's still pretty iconic.) Jason became the name synonymous with killing kids who had sex and did drugs and after they killed him he just kept coming back. Even increasingly weird and bad films like Jason Takes Manhattan and Jason Goes to Hell couldn't tarnish his legacy. The unstoppable killing machine has earned his place on this list by not only inspiring kills, but by surprisingly nuanced portrayals from some of the actors who took on the role and that perfect mix of badass, terrifying and even at times a bit sympathetic to make him really compelling.
#2: Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
Let's face it; the top three are all debatable for placement. It's all about personal preference and I don't think anyone can say one of them is definitively above the other. So when Freddy Krueger places above Jason, it's purely the fact that he appealed to me more as a horror fan as a kid and still does to this day. There's just something more terrifying to me about someone who isn't physically dominating, but mentally so. Freddy, of course, doesn't have to bash down walls or chase you down. All he has to do is wait until you fall asleep--which let's face it, has to happen at some point--and then he can torment you all he want. That made Freddy the ultimate in inevitability; at some point he was going to get you. You can only stay awake for so long. What's more, most killers have some sort of thing about them that creates a certain amount of empathy. Jason Voorhees was tormented as a child; Leatherface was just a family guy at heart. Jigsaw had cancer. We had reasons to feel for all of them. But not Freddy. He was a child killer (and implied pedophile) who was angry because he was burned to death and was now getting revenge on all the adults who had done so. Nothing sympathetic there. And that's why Robert Englund is the greatest slasher actor of all time; he made us care about the character. That was due to Freddy's wit, sure; but it was Englund's charm that made the wit work. To this day the first film freaks me out, and for good reason if you ask me.
#1: Michael Myers (Halloween)
Michael Myers is the quintessential slasher. He has been doing it longer than just about everyone, to start with; Halloween came out before Friday the 13th, before Elm Street, and all of them but Leatherface and Norman Bates on this list. Michael Myers if a force of nature; he is specifically credited as "The Shape" because he is intended to be a force of nature slicing his way through with complete impassive caring. He has all the hallmarks of the slasher villain; an innocuous mask given horror connotations, an iconic weapon in his kitchen knife, an impressive body count (second only to Jason at 150) and an inability to stay dead. Halloween was always the film that took it for me when I wanted a slasher film and still does to this day. Michael is the perfect representation of the boogeyman and Halloween is the gold standard; even when the franchise hit lows Michael stayed somehow untarnished so that audiences were always happy to take him back. For me there is no other choice for #1.
Note: Now that I am caught up to current, I have gone back to watch the episodes that have become available in the US since I started watching and thus were previously unavailable to me (thus why I have episodes remaining despite being caught up).
Current Series/Season:Season Five (1968) Episodes Watched: 633 Last Serial Completed:The Web of Fear - The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria return to London where they find the Great Intelligence and its robotic Yeti have overrun the London Underground railway system. With the help of a Colonel named Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, they move to stop the villain from taking over the world. Surviving Episodes Remaining: 20
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.