A couple weeks ago, my Horror Freak News colleague Michael Klug put together a definitive list of the Top 13 Modern Horror Icons. It was a nostalgic retrospective that included all the usual suspects (Jason, Freddy, Michael) along with a few surprises; check out the list in its entirety by following the link below.
Related Article: The Top 13 Modern Horror Icons: A Definitive Ranking
Of course, it got me thinking about the names that aren’t on the list, brilliant up-and-comers who are clawing tooth and nail to make it into the upper echelons of Iconic Horror Villains. Considering my area of expertise is 21st Century horror movies, many of the names that came to mind haven’t been around long enough to be considered truly iconic. Then again, no one was calling Freddy Krueger a legend back in 1990; part of what makes a character iconic is his/her ability to endure the test of time.
Below, in no particular order, are my choices for the Top 15 Underrated Horror Villains. The only way to know if these guys truly have icon potential is to check back in a decade or so! Still, have a read and let us know what you think in the Comments section. Did your favorite underrated bad guy make the list? Can you think of others potential icons who deserve a mention? Let the debates begin!
The Man (Michael Eklund) from Poker Night (2014, Directed by Greg Francis)
Official Synopsis: A young detective becomes an unwilling participant in a deadly cat and mouse game when he is kidnapped by a serial killer. To survive, he has to use all of the wisdom imparted to him by veteran detectives during poker nights.
Poker Night is vastly underrated and the unnamed, masked antagonist is as cunning and unpredictable as he is stylish and terrifying! Fans of procedural horror and complex, cerebral thrillers in the vein of Saw and Se7en will love it, and The Man would make an excellent reoccurring villain. While never flippant, Poker Night also includes a hefty dose of black comedy that will have you gasping and laughing.
Babyface (Danko Jordanov) from The Hills Run Red (2009, Directed by Dave Parker)
Official Synopsis: Terror strikes a group of friends who visit the location of a horror movie shoot.
He may seem like just another mute brute, a Jason/Michael/Leatherface clone, but there’s something much more sinister lurking below the surface, which makes Babyface both terrifying and unique. Like Poker Night, The Hills Run Red is as vastly underrated as its hulking villain, and the decision to release this gem straight to DVD killed any potential the film had for a franchise, which is a damn shame. The Hills Run Red needs a remake, if for no other reason than horror fans would love Babyface, and the entire story/concept is fantastic.
Bloody Face/Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) from American Horror Story: Asylum (Season 2, Showrunner Ryan Murphy)
Official Synopsis: American Horror Story: Asylum was the second season of the FX’s megahit horror anthology series, created by Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy. It originally aired from October 17, 2012 to January 23, 2013. The premise of the second season marked a departure from that of the series’ first season, featuring all new characters and a new location, thus marking American Horror Story as an anthology series at the time. The season begins in 1964 at the fictional mental institution, Briarcliff Manor, following the stories of the staff and inmates who occupy it, and intercuts with events in the past and present. Returning cast members from the previous season of the series include: Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Dylan McDermott, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Zachary Quinto, and Lily Rabe.
Even before he was revealed as Bloody Face, Asylum’s Dr. Oliver Thredson was creepy as fuck, especially when forcing us to witness his homosexual conversion therapy. It was the first hint that something truly disturbing lurked beneath his prestigious doctoral, expensive clothing, and well-groomed exterior. Like many iconic villains before him, Bloody Face spawned a progeny who was almost equally terrifying! Chances are we’ll never see Bloody Face again, but considering additional connections are made with each new chapter of American Horror Story, anything is possible.
Kai/Feral Kid (Gill Eeckelaert) from Cub (2014, Directed by Jonas Govaerts)
Official Synopsis: An impressionable youngster (Maurice Luijten) sees and hears things that lead him to believe that his troop leaders’ scary tale about a feral boy is true.
Kai aka the feral kid in the Belgium film Cub (aka Welp) is part werewolf & part child of the corn with more than just echoes of a young Jason Voorhees. This creepy kid goes places most grown-up villains would fear to tread, and, despite featuring a band of Youth Scouts, Cub is not for kids (or anyone who has serious problems with depictions of violence against animals). What makes Kai a potential horror icon of the 21st Century is his uncanny ability to target and destroy bullies. Oh yeah, he’s also got a mask that’s creepy as fuck.
Josef (Mark Duplass) from Creep (2014, Directed by Patrick Kack-Brice)
Official Synopsis: Aaron answers an online ad and drives to a stranger’s house to film him for the day. The man wants to make a movie for his unborn child, but his requests become more bizarre as the day goes along.
Josef is a perfect example of the banality of evil; a terminally normal looking psycho who becomes completely invisible when out in public. He’s uncomfortably eccentric from the get-go, but I don’t think anyone who sits down to watch Creep will be truly prepared for the depths this shocker will sink.
The Troglodytes (David Midthunder, Raw Leiba, Geno Segers, Alex Meraz, Robert Allen Mukes, Brandon Molale, Eddie Spears, Jay Tavare, Gray Wolf Herrara, Benjamin Woodruff, Susie Castaneda, Marem Hassler) from Bone Tomahawk (2015, Directed by S. Craig Zahler)
Official Synopsis: In the Old West, a sheriff (Kurt Russell), his deputy (Richard Jenkins), a gunslinger (Matthew Fox), and a cowboy (Patrick Wilson) embark on a mission to rescue three people from a savage group of cave dwellers.
Native Americans never looked this terrifying in old Westerns; the band of troglodytes in Bone Tomahawk feel like they come from an alternate universe made for Hellraiser fans. This tribe performs ritualistic body modifications that put today’s hipsters to shame, piercing their faces and throats in order to make animalistic howling noises. They’re cannibals who mutilate their victims alive and even hobble their own women to keep them docile and pregnant.
The Owlman (David Schofield) from Lord of Tears (2013, Directed by Lawrie Brewster)
Official Synopsis: Lord of Tears tells the story of James Findlay, a school teacher plagued by recurring nightmares of a mysterious and unsettling entity. Suspecting that his visions are linked to a dark incident in his past, James returns to his childhood home, a notorious mansion in the Scottish Highlands, where he uncovers the disturbing truth behind his dreams and must fight to survive the brutal consequences of his curiosity.
The Owlman has the eloquence of Pinhead and the surreal appearance of a fiend born within a nightmare. He’s fond of incantations and human sacrifice with powers to curse individuals and even entire families. This abomination has been known to escape the bonds of celluloid in order to terrify urban explorers all across the UK.
Related Article: The Owlman from “Lord of Tears” Will Be Back in a New Feature Film
The Collector (Juan Fernández & Randall Archer) from The Collector & The Collection (2009/2012 Directed by Marcus Dunstan)
Official Synopsis: Desperate for money to pay off a debt, a man targets a wealthy family’s home and plans to break in and steal a valuable gem. He soon learns that he picked the wrong night to carry out his plans, for a masked madman has gotten there first, imprisoned the family, and lined the mansion with deadly traps.
Official Synopsis: A young woman named Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick) sneaks out of her house one night to attend an exclusive party, unaware of the horror that awaits her. A sick criminal known as The Collector crashes the party in search of fresh victims. When Elena goes into hiding, she finds and frees Arkin (Josh Stewart), The Collector’s captive. Arkin manages to escape, but Elena is taken prisoner. A mercenary friend of Elena’s father then forces Arkin to come along on a mission to free the young woman.
It’s no coincidence that the masked Collector looks like a spider: He’s always spinning his web, trapping victims like insects. No one escapes his grasp without enduring a significant amount of pain. He’s definitely a spiritual cousin of The Jigsaw Killer (aka John Kramer played by Tobin Bell) from the Saw Franchise.
Big Daddy Zombie (Eugene Clarke) from Land of the Dead (2005, Directed by George A. Romero)
Official Synopsis: In a world where zombies form the majority of the population, the remaining humans build a feudal society away from the undead. Ruthless Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) rules and protects this microcosm but enforces painful class distinctions. Second-in-command Cholo DeMora (John Leguizamo) attempts to lead a secret rebellion against Kaufman’s tyranny, but when the zombies begin to evolve, the survivors must discover a way to protect themselves from a zombie hoard that can learn and adapt.
One of the most terrifying things about zombies is that they’ve lost all of their humanity; past memories are replaced by the desire to consume living flesh, meaning even a loved one can become a monster willing to kill you in a heartbeat. Films that deal with the idea of zombie rehabilitation (like Day of the Dead, 28 Days Later, and Fido) show that results can be dangerously inconstant, but Big Daddy from Land of the Dead represents an evolution of established zombie tropes. It introduces the idea that zombies can, and will, evolve into sentient being who won’t be so easily contained. He’s like the Moses of zombies, leading them into a new promised land, a new golden era for the undead.
Doom-Head (Richard Blake) from 31 (2016, Directed by Rob Zombie) [Featured Image]
Official Synopsis: Five carnival workers are kidnapped the night before Halloween and held hostage in a large compound. At the mercy of their captors, they are forced to play a twisted game of life or death called 31. For the next 12 hours, they must fight for their lives against an endless parade of homicidal maniacs.
Even those who found themselves disappointed with Rob Zombie’s carnival-themed retro horror 31 agree that Doom-Head, played by Richard Blake, was the highlight of the entire film. If Zombie never gives 31 a straightforward sequel, I can guarantee fans would swoon for a Doom-Head spinoff.
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Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder) from the Hatchet Trilogy (2006-2013, Created by Adam Green)
Official Synopsis: Ben (Joel Moore) and Marcus (Deon Richmond) are college students in New Orleans, enjoying Mardi Gras, when they decide to go on a boat tour of an allegedly cursed bayou. Meeting up with several other tourists, including quietly beautiful Marybeth (Tamara Feldman), they are entertained by their guide Shawn (Parry Shen), who regales them with tales of a ghostly serial killer who wanders the swamp. They laugh off the stories — until someone, or something, starts picking off members of the group.
Official Synopsis: A woman (Danielle Harris) returns to the Louisiana swamps to seek revenge against a maniacal killer (Kane Hodder).
Official Synopsis: Marybeth (Danielle Harris) joins forces with a policeman (Zach Galligan) and his ex-wife to put an end to the murderous rampage of ax-wielding maniac Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder).
Victor Crowley represents one of the few 21st Century horror villains to have already attained iconic status. His popularity comes, in no small part, from the fact that he’s played by a real-life horror icon: Stuntman/actor Kane Hodder, the man vastly considered the best who ever played Jason Voorhees. Crowley definitely includes aspects of past, iconic horror villains, but there’s still something uniquely modern about him. While there may be no plans to continue the Hatchet franchise, the films already have legions of fans and are destined to become cult staples.
Related Article: 21 Best Horror Villains of the 21st Century (So Far)
Darcy (Patrick Stewart) from Green Room (2016, Directed by Jeremy Saulnier)
Official Synopsis: Members (Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat) of a punk-rock band and a tough young woman (Imogen Poots) battle murderous white supremacists at a remote Oregon roadhouse.
The mere fact that Patrick Stewart, the man who became a de facto father figure to legions of kids who grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, could even play a convincing villain is a difficult concept to swallow. Nonetheless, his turn as the leader of a Neo-Nazi compound in 2016’s Green Room was nauseatingly disturbing. His deliberate eloquence was delivered with the grim chill of the Grim Reaper, and he seemed as inescapable as the inevitability of death itself. A man who regards multiple murders and elaborate cover-ups with the nonchalance of common chores is petrifying.
Related Article: Top 15 Horror Movies of 2016 & 5 Major Disappointments
Leslie Vernon Mancuso (Nathan Baesel) from Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006, Directed by Scott Glosserman)
Official Synopsis: Nice, normal-looking Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel) has an obsession with movie-style slashers like Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger. Leslie decides to follow in the footsteps of his heroes, and, ever the self-promoter, invites a documentary filmmaker (Angela Goethals) and her crew to follow him around as he constructs his own grisly legacy.
Like Victor Crowley from Hatchet, Leslie Vernon is already legendary among aficionados of 21st Century horror. The film itself is a brilliant conglomeration of found footage/mockumentary and straightforward cinematic storytelling techniques that add up to a uniquely compelling and entertaining experience. That fact that the film set us up to expect a sequel has made the last decade without a follow-up a bit of a sore spot for some horror fans. Still, Leslie will live in in comic book form (in nothing else) with a planned prequel hitting shelves later this year.
The Mountain Man (Rune Melby) from Cold Prey (2006, Directed by Roar Uthaug)
Official Synopsis: Eirik (Tomas Alf Larsen) and his girlfriend, Jannicke (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), join newly coupled Mikael (Endre Martin Midtstigen) and Ingunn (Viktoria Winge) and single wisecracker Morten (Rolf Kristian Larsen) on a snowboarding excursion to a remote mountainous region in Norway. When Morten breaks his leg, however, and requires medical attention, the friends take shelter at an abandoned nearby ski lodge. Little do they know it also harbors an unseen, psychopathic killer.
While the majority of slasher films produced in the 21st Century fail to improve on established formulas from the 1980s (hiding this shortcoming by declaring themselves “retro”) Norway has created a slasher franchise that feels both traditional and innovative with Cold Prey. The Mountain Man bears more than a passing resemblance to Michael Myers, but Cold Prey was produced in an environment that’s integral to both the mood and aesthetic of the film. It’s familiar and refreshing; everything we love about traditional slashers without the same-old-same-old cat and mouse bullshit.
Rusty Nail (Uncredited: Matthew Kimbrough & Voice: Ted Levine) from Joy Ride (2001, Directed by John Dahl)
Official Synopsis: It’s summer break and college freshman Lewis Thomas (Paul Walker) has decided to embark on a cross-country road trip to pick up the girl of his dreams, Venna (Leelee Sobieski). But Lewis’ romantic hopes hit a detour when he stops on the way to rescue his older brother, Fuller (Steve Zahn), who goads him into playing a practical joke on a lonely trucker, over a CB radio. Now, that trucker, an unseen and terrifying force known only by his CB handle, Rusty Nail, wants the last laugh and revenge.
Part of what makes Rusty Nail so scary is that we never see him beyond shadows and a silhouette in the cab of a big rig; of course, that voice is cold enough to freeze blood. This nebulous psycho shatters the illusion of safety most of us feel when enclosed inside the steel cages of our cars while serving as an allegory warning against playing pranks on strangers. He’s a cold, horny, murderous motherfucker who will have you dreading the sight of lights in your rearview mirror while driving at night. Bottom line: Don’t toy with this trucker!