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The 10 Best Non-Monster Horror Villains

Forget about monsters, zombies, and vampires. We highlight some of the most terrifying human villains from horror!

Sometimes the scariest thing about horror is when the threat is something human rather than some corrupted, otherworldly beast. We’re human and we all know far too well what it’s like to have a bad idea or see some news report about some seemingly normal fellow who just couldn’t take it anymore. It’s scary to think of how the human mind can snap and spawn such dangerous, yet some of the most memorable villains from out of horror happen to be non-monsters. Sure Freddy, Jason, Pinhead, and Predator, you’re all great, but let’s dig into how warped men can become.


Jack Torrance from The Shining

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The Shining should be mandatory viewing not just for any horror fan, but any fan of cinema in general. There’s a lot to love about this movie but one of its greatest strengths is Jack Nicholson’s unhinged, psychotic performance as Jack Torrance. Nicholson’s portrayal of Jack has been aped endlessly because of how effective it is. Near the end he moves with such ruthless, unstoppable efficiency you’d think that he was a Terminator or something. Sure, there are supernatural aspects in play here and aiding Jack on his rampage, but part of what makes this works so well is because he is just a man. He’s a man trying to murder his family and in a lot of ways something as simple as that is more terrifying than any Pumpkinhead or Xenomorph.


John Kramer (Jigsaw) from the Saw Franchise

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I love when horror audiences can get modern franchises and villains to look forward to like the people of the ‘70s and ‘80s got spoiled with, with Saw being one of the better examples of a modern hit. The Saw films are without a doubt remembered for their deranged booby traps and they might be responsible for popularizing the “torture porn” sub-genre of horror, but there’s a very human character lying underneath all of that. Pulling back all of the layers of the Saw films leaves you with John Kramer, the man who became so disenfranchised and deluded with life and the people “living” that he would become Jigsaw. It’s the sort of sordid, dramatic backstory that’s perfect for a Batman villain, so it’s probably why this character resonates so strongly (and why the films would continue to try to find a way to work John Kramer into them even after his demise). Even after Kramer leaves the picture, there are many followers willing to take up the Jigsaw mantle and continue pushing his ideology. There’s a lot of Tyler Durden in the old guy too in that way and seeing the way that his actions simultaneously cause people to open their eyes and stop wasting their lives paints him as the sort of layered villain that only humans can be. It’s like he’s a human that’s upset at others for wasting their humanity. It’s perfect.


Asami Yamazaki from Audition

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Audition is one of the best sort of slow burns and you’re really not sure what sort of film it’s going to be as it gets going. The premise sees a recently widowed man holding auditions, so to speak, for his next wife, with his selection, Asami Yamazaki being one hell of a pick. Like some of the most compelling human villains, Asami is the product of abuse and conditioning that has turned her into the insecure, unstable person that she now is. She’s the absolute worst person that you’d want to ghost on or dodge calls from, which Aoyama learns the hard way. Takaski Miike brings out Asami’s vengeance and playful insanity with dreadful anticipation. Asami connects so well on some levels because this is just your standard vengeance story and the experience of getting stood up or jilted by some lover is a largely relatable one. Potentially anyone could snap like Asami does or you might just happen to set off the wrong person. You never know who’s going to have a giant sack in their room. She’ll also leave you never looking at needles and piano wire the same way again.


Angela Baker from Sleepaway Camp

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Sleepaway Camp is a real guilty pleasure for me simply because while other people might laugh at touches in the film like “crazy” Aunt Martha or the image that the film goes out on, these are elements that curl me into a ball and make me full of anxiety. Whether the movie makes it the subject matter or not, Sleepaway Camp is a horror film that is brimming with mental illness and the effects of ignoring such a thing and thinking about all of that makes this film much more disturbing. Sleepaway Camp holds out on telling you who the killer is until its ending (so, err—spoiler alert, sorry…) but by reverse engineering everything you get an idea of how messed up Angela is through this whole thing. There’s such a sadness to a helpless individual that’s forced into living a certain way and developing problems accordingly. She’s probably even unaware of the murders she’s committing. Angela’s just a big ball of triggers and a place like summer camp that’s full of hormones being a prime place to set her off. That final image of the film really gets me and I think has more impact than the closer of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but it also tells you everything you need to know about this broken, confused individual.


Billy Lenz from Black Christmas

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Billy Lenz doesn’t get his due in horror fandom, which is really a shame because he’s ostensibly the prototypical slasher villain and even an inspiration for the likes of other early, influential titles like Halloween. Billy is largely a cipher through this film but we get an idea of how sadistic he is based on the almost sarcastic executions he pulls off throughout the film. Stabbing someone with a glass unicorn implies some sort of messed up sociopath at play here. One of my favorite things about Billy is that he kills so many people but you have no idea if he has some personal obsession with Agnes or if all of this is random. Like most modern remakes, 2006’s Black Christmas tries to flesh out Billy’s backstory with the typical strokes, but it’s really not needed. The film’s final reveal of him is so perfect and chilling that you don’t need to know much more than that.


Hannibal Lecter from the Red Dragon Trilogy

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It’s a little crazy to think that on AFI’s list of Top Villains, Hannibal Lecter would often be vying for the top spot amongst the likes of other heavy hitters such as Darth Vader. Lecter connects with audiences and Hopkins’ performance is so memorable and haunting that it not only earned him an Oscar, but it’s the factor that pushed Hannibal and Red Dragon to get made in the first place. It’s kind of mind boggling when you realize that Hannibal is only on screen for 16 minutes of Silence of the Lambs but he makes all of them count. While a lot of the villains on here are tortured, confused individuals, Hannibal works so well because of his intelligence and how he regards himself better than everyone else. He’s the ultimate puppet master and a prime example of what happens when extreme intelligence is put towards ill means. Hannibal’s murders are not only brutal, but they show off his wit and intellect in a way that make them even more disturbing. This list might be restricted to cinema, but Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayal of Lecter in Hannibal also manages to knock everything Hopkins does out of the water and create an even more intriguing character that operates like the Devil himself, even though he’s still somehow human.


Reno Miller from The Driller Killer

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The Driller Killer might not be on your radar but you should get it on there as quickly as you can. Abel Ferrara’s ultra-violent genre picture from the ‘70s operates with such reckless, gleeful disabandon. The film depicts Reno Miller (played by Ferrara himself) as a struggling New York artist who eventually snaps from the stress of it all and begins murdering people with a drill. And murdering them violently I might add (not that there might be a gentle way of murdering someone with a drill…). Reno Miller works so well as a character because his struggle is so regular and something that most of us are experiencing in some respect. The other side of this sees Miller killing so extravagantly that he naturally stands out as a villain. He’s human but he creates messes that could easily be the work of a werewolf. His efforts are so extreme that unsurprisingly The Driller Killer was banned in the UK and a number of places due to Miller’s murders.


Frank Zito from Maniac (2012)

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Part of why Frank Zito is such an interesting horror villain is that you get to spend the entire film inside his head—literally. Maniac is presented entirely through the first-person POV of Frank so you get to see his carnage along with him. This also means that you’re privy to Frank’s delusions and crumbling sanity, which makes this experience all the more interesting. To say that Frank is going through a lot would be an understatement, but seeing how beleaguered and worried he is most of the time makes him a villain that you actually want to root for. His murders almost seem to hurt him as much as his victims. Throw in an unhealthy obsession with mannequins and slipping hold on reality and how can you go wrong?


Norman Bates from the Psycho Franchise

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Norman Bates, along with Jack Torrance and Hannibal Lecter, are really the all-stars of this category, but it’s not without good reason. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is a masterful piece of horror but Anthony Perkins performance as Norman is really a revelation. Perkins sinks so completely into this role and every twitch and fidget is felt. Great work is done where you want to root for Norman through the first half of the film, thinking he’s as much a victim here, and then you learn the complicated truth behind everything and his character gains countless depth. There’s a wealth of sexual issues wrapped into all of this which often manifest themselves through Norman’s killings too, but really just watching this reluctant, two-minded individual lose it is the centerpiece here. Also, I could have just left this limited to the first Psycho film alone, but honestly the further films in the series—whether you want to acknowledge them or not—only deepen and make this pained character more interesting. Norman continues to go on a roller coaster and killing spree that redefines an challenges who he is, which is the sort of journey that a monster can’t necessarily go on.


Thomas Brown Hewitt (Leatherface) from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Franchise

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Leatherface and the Hewitts in general are an upsetting backwoods family that have spawned countless imitation through the years. I love the idea of society just forgetting about a certain family and it truly feels like the Hewitts have removed themselves from the world as they’ve built their own nightmare version instead. I think it’s significant to single out Leatherface himself here, rather than picking the Hewitts as a whole because it’s implied this sort of fate was forced onto Leatherface. He was born into this life and unable to know anything else, while the rest of his family might have had some modicum of choice. It’s worth mentioning that while Leatherface has become to be known as more of a monster than a human through the years, I think he works here over someone like Michael Myers for instance. Myers doesn’t seem human. He’s a force of nature, whereas Leatherface offers up brief glimpses of humanity where we can guess what’s happened to get him to this point. It’s these touches of Thomas Brown Hewitt sneaking through that make it work all the better.

But what say you? Billy Loomis from Scream? Kevin Spacey’s mastermind from Seven? The gang from You’re Next? Who are your favorite examples of horror villains that kept it simple and didn’t get supernatural?



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COMMENTS

34 Comments
  • Creepshow

    Why does it look like the Norman Bates photo is two pictures in one? He has teeth over his lips, and it looks like there are eyes under his. It’s really freaking me out.

    • It’s the edited version mixing Norman with Norma

      • Creepshow

        Thanks. Can’t say that I’ve ever seen that before. But I have never been overly psycho for the Psychos.

        • J Jett

          Creepshow i’ve never seen that hybrid pic before either. it’s freaky looking!

          • 1EyeJack

            It’s actually in the movie – It’s flashed so quickly that it makes one wonder if they actually saw it or not.

  • Matt

    Patrick Bateman from ‘American Psycho’ is one I would definitely have on my list. Christian Bale delivered a truly frightening performance in that film. One of the best non-supernatural killers of all-time in my book.

  • Creepshow

    I’d go with Krug Stillo from The Last House on the Left (original).
    He was such a parasitic piece of maggot shit!

    • Vincent Kane

      Yes. He is on my list too. Not many characters in movies make me utterly hate them but Krug is one of the few. I hate that fool!

    • fannypack aficionado

      “Piss your pants.”

      • Creepshow

        Ok, I just finished. What now? Oh wait…shit!
        *throws skivvies in trash*

    • scrunchi2003

      YES

  • Rick Kowal

    As much as I loved the remake of Maniac, its a shame to not mention the orignial. Joe Spinell’s performance was creepy and unsettling as well, although Elijah Wood’s take certainly went in a very interesting and refreshing direction.

  • shawn lawson

    Martin from human centipede 2

  • Vincent Kane

    I’ve always enjoyed John Ryder from The Hitcher. Rutgers Haur’s and Sean Bean’s versions.

    Krug-Last House on the Left (original) I normally like the villains but I wanted to torches and murder this prick.

    Max Cady- Cape Fear Deniro’s version. Not really “horror” but great villian.

    The Firefly family- Devils Rejects.

    • Matt

      Good choices all, especially John Ryder. Unfortunately, you had to remind me of the re-make of The Hitcher. I was successfully able to block that from my memory up until now. Bean, as always, was great. Unfortunately the movie itself was not good IMO. Thanks a lot, dude! LOL

      • Vincent Kane

        Haha. My bad. Yea the movie overall is bad but I just like that character. Show up for no reason , do bad and cause hell for no reason. It’s a shame Bean’s performance was wasted in something so bad.

        • Matt

          Agreed. Sean Bean always delivers an excellent performance, even if the film itself totally sucks!

  • J Jett

    La Femme (Beatrice Dalle) from INSIDE.

  • Flu-Like Symptoms

    Thomas Brown Hewitt Jed Sawyer

    • fannypack aficionado

      Holy shit. How the fuck can a horror website get that wrong???

      Oh yeah… I forgot I wasn’t on Dread Central.

    • Matt

      Technically both names are correct. Just depends on which continuity you are talking about.

      • Flu-Like Symptoms

        In a general sense I agree, but they’re using the ’74 Leatherface image for the article which would technically make him Jedidiah Sawyer.

  • Gabriel James

    How did the tall man not make it?

  • scrunchi2003

    Any list of scariest villains has to include this crazy mofo. Yeah, Blue Velvet isn’t strictly a horror movie, but neither is Silence of the Lambs, so… https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a6afa172b436418d12bdcc3bae698e9f5c08cb36cf11f51ce85da9ad59bd668d.jpg

    • 1EyeJack

      Good one! Love Frank!

  • dub

    I am beside myself with joy that Frank Zito circa 2012 is on this list. I &$#@ing love that movie.

  • J. Moses

    Jang Kyung-Chul (masterfully portrayed by Choi Min-sik) from I Saw the Devil. Horrible, believable, and menacing.

  • I don’t care what you say, Asami Yamazaki was a goddamn monster. That woman scares the crap out of me

  • Un Gsund

    rutger hauer as the Hitcher! i was a kid and he showed me fear 😀

  • Eastman420

    Hewitt smh….. Its Sawyer get it right.
    A

  • Bradius Maxximus

    Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) from Wolf Creek is a great thriller/horror villain. John Ryder (Rutger Hauer) from The Hitcher is awesome! Kyung-Chul (Min-Sik Choi) from I Saw the Devil is amazing…one of the best thriller/horror movies ever…very underrated.

  • How about Annie Wilkes – (Kathy Bates, Misery). That hobbling scene!!

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