underrated horror villains
[Photos via Sleepaway Camp/United Film Distribution Company, The Witch/A24, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2/Cannon Releasing, Halloween III/Universal]

To horror fans, these names are sacred: Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Leatherface. They’re the cinematic slashers who replaced Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolfman in the pantheon of movie monsters. They ushered in an arguably less refined, more violent and definitely bloodier approach in the 1970s and ’80s. No doubt, they’ve earned their place as terror titans, having become as intertwined with pop culture as their black-and-white predecessors.

Although Krueger, Voorhees, Myers and Leatherface, along with a few others such as the deadly doll Chucky, may be the Beatles of blood, true horrorphiles know they’re not the end all, be all of movie villain. There’s a horrible host of underrated and undervalued movie maniacs from across the spectrum of classic, cult and mainstream film who seldom get their due.

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We’ve gathered our top 20 favorite underappreciated horror movie antagonists. By no means a definitive list (we’re sure we left out a few favorites), this is our blasphemous B team. Now, turn down the lights and hold on to your popcorn as we revisit the greatest underrated horror movie villains.

20. The Stuff – The Stuff

Larry Cohen’s 1985 sci-fi horror comedy The Stuff features one of the oddest monsters: a deliciously addictive, creamy dessert. The eponymous Stuff is a yogurt-like substance of unknown origin found bubbling out of the ground. Sweet and calorie-free, opportunistic captains of industry distribute it to the public where its addictive, parasitic and deadly qualities manifest. A pointed satire of American consumerism and junk food, The Stuff will have you asking, “Am I eating it, or is it eating me?”

19. Swan – Phantom Of The Paradise

Legendary singer-songwriter Paul Williams stars as evil music producer Swan in the cult-favorite horror-rock opera Phantom Of The Paradise. The ever-youthful Swan, the most successful record producer in pop music history, is under contract to the devil himself. However, he meets his match when he steals the music of composer Winslow Leach (William Finley) for the highly anticipated opening of his new theater, the Paradise. A pastiche of the literary classics The Picture Of Dorian Gray, Faust and The Phantom Of The Opera, Phantom Of The Paradise is a musical love letter to the genre rivaled only by The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

18. Roman and Minnie Castevet – Rosemary’s Baby

Newlywed Rosemary Woodhouse’s (Mia Farrow) neighbors aren’t what they seem in the devilish 1968 classic Rosemary’s Baby. The sweet, elderly couple next door, portrayed with diabolical glee by Sidney Blackmer and the always delightful Ruth Gordon, are the leaders of a satanic cult hellbent on ushering the Antichrist into the world. Having recruited her ambitious actor husband (John Cassavetes) into the cult, the Castevets arrange for Rosemary to be the unwitting vessel of the devil’s spawn.  

17. Angel Blake – The Blood On Satan’s Claw

Suspicion, murder and witchcraft infect an 18th-century English village when the remains of a strange beast are unearthed in the 1971 folk horror film The Blood On Satan’s Claw. At the center of the demoniac mystery is Angel Blake (Linda Hayden), a seemingly innocent teenage girl. However, she’s determined to use every weapon in her arsenal, from seduction to murder, to resurrect the demon Behemoth, one piece of ragged flesh at a time. One of the cornerstones of the folk-horror subgenre, this is a must-see for serious students of horror cinema.

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16. Lord Summerisle – The Wicker Man

Surpassed only by his portrayal of Count Dracula in the popular Hammer films, the great Christopher Lee’s role as Lord Summerisle in 1973’s The Wicker Man is among the actor’s best horror roles. Leader and namesake of the idyllic Scottish island of Summerisle, the Lord is a dandy, an intellectual and a high pagan priest beloved by his people who have long abandoned Christianity for the “old ways” of superstition and ritual magic. When the crops fail, Summerisle lures the perfect human sacrifice in policeman Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) to the island. Often called the Citizen Kane of horror, the film retains its power to shock nearly 50 years after its release. Avoid the 2006 remake at all costs. Trust us.

15. Angela Baker – Sleepaway Camp

1983’s Sleepaway Camp is a film that, to use an old boxing metaphor, punches over its weight. What could easily have been just another by-the-numbers Friday The 13th rip-off is saved by realistic casting, better-than-its-budget gore effects and one of the most shocking endings in slasher movie history. Felissa Rose stars as Angela Baker, a young girl sent to live with her eccentric aunt (Desiree Gould) following the deaths of her father and twin brother in a boating accident.

Years later, a shy and introverted Angela is sent to summer camp with her cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten). A bloody mystery ensues when both kids and counselors begin dying. Although Angela is revealed to be the killer at the film’s climax, a final twist changes everything. Angela would return in a series of basically lackluster sequels (played by rock icon Bruce Springsteen’s sister Pamela), but her initial appearance is what makes her a cult-horror legend.

14. The Mutant Davis Baby – It’s Alive

Schlockmeister Cohen makes his second contribution to our list with the mutant Davis baby from his low-budget shocker It’s Alive. In the 1974 film, Frank and Lenore Davis (John P. Ryan and Sharon Farrell) are expecting their second child. However, the blessed event takes a monstrous turn when their bouncing baby boy turns out to be a hideous mutant with a taste for blood. After wiping out the delivery room staff, the baby escapes, cutting a bloody swath through suburbia. Like Cohen’s later film The Stuff, It’s Alive manages to work some social commentary into its outlandish subject matter. It skewers the pharmaceutical industry and America’s simultaneous obsession with and ambivalence toward children. Although the Davis mutant doesn’t survive, monstrous infants become a growing epidemic in two sequels and a 2009 remake.

13. Conal Cochran – Halloween III: Season Of The Witch

Hoping to expand their successful slasher series into an ongoing Halloween-themed anthology of unrelated films, Halloween creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill managed only to confuse a dedicated fanbase with the franchise’s third film, Halloween III: Season Of The Witch. Abandoning Michael Myers for a mad pagan mask maker remains a controversial subject for many horror fans. Nevertheless, the film has gained a sizable cult following and some long overdue respect in the intervening decades.

The new villain, Conal Cochran, is the founder of Silver Shamrock Novelties, a generations-old toy company specializing in Halloween masks. A hybrid mad scientist/warlock, Cochran has planned the ultimate human sacrifice. Hoping to plunge the world back into the bloody old ways of the pagan Celts, Cochran creates a line of best-selling Halloween masks imbued with a microchip made from a stolen slab of Stonehenge. Using a Halloween Night giveaway TV broadcast as cover, Cochran plans to activate the chips through a specially encoded signal, unleashing a deadly supernatural force to kill thousands of children. Taut and complex, Halloween III should be a part of every horror fan’s seasonal viewing, even if Myers is missing.

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12. Eva Galli/Alma Mobley – Ghost Story

The always compelling Alice Krige stars as the vengeful spirit Eva Galli in the adaptation of Peter Straub’s 1979 bestseller. Set in the fictional New England town of Milburn, Vermont, Ghost Story focuses on a group of elderly men. In their youth, they were responsible for the death of a young woman. Covering up their crime for decades, the old friends suspect their victim has returned from the grave to wreak vengeance when one of their number and his adult son die under similar bizarre circumstances. Krige is delightfully sinister as the seductive Eva/Alma. She gives the character a depth, dimension and sense of pathos absent from many 1980s horror film villains. Makeup effects from the legendary Dick Smith are the icing on this wonderfully textured cinematic cake. 

11. Dr. Decker – Nightbreed

Clive Barker’s dark fable Nightbreed melds horror with fantasy. The tale casts the monsters of legend as a noble, misunderstood and persecuted race driven underground by man’s intolerance. Given the unconventional premise, it’s no surprise that the film’s main antagonist is a prim, well-dressed psychotherapist. Filmmaker David Cronenberg, who directed such genre-bending body horror classics as Shivers and Videodrome, portrays Dr. Philip Decker. He’s a serial killer and self-appointed executioner of the monster city of Midian’s fantastic denizens. As in much of his work, Barker reminds us in Nightbreed that the most fearsome monster of all is man. 

10. Helena Markos the Mother of Sighs – Suspiria

Posing as the founder of a prestigious dance academy, Helena Markos (Lela Svasta) is actually a powerful, centuries old witch known as Mater Suspiriorum—the Mother of Sighs. She’s first introduced in Dario Argento’s colorful horror opus Suspiria as the first of his Three Mothers trilogy which includes Inferno (1980) and Mother Of Tears (2007). The elusive Markos is the puppet master of a black coven secretly entrenched in the prestigious Freiburg Dance Academy. Imbued with the powers of telekinesis, telepathy and the ability to resurrect the dead, Markos and her deadly cabal are brought low by American ballerina Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), who slays the ancient witch with a quill from a glass peacock. The mythology was revisited in Luca Guadagnino’s stylish 2018 remake as Tilda Swinton stepped into the role of the witch.

9. Dr. Carl Hill – Re-Animator

H.P. Lovecraft’s 1922 novella Herbert West: Reanimator has no clear-cut villain save the eponymous Dr. West’s hubris. Of the ample liberties screenwriters Stuart Gordon, William Norris and Dennis Paoli took with their source material, one of the most brilliant was the inclusion of the detestable neurosurgeon Dr. Carl Hill. Hoping to blackmail Herbert West out of his corpse-reviving formula and claim credit, Hill meets his demise at West’s hand. Not one to let a fresh corpse go to waste, West reanimates the decapitated Hill in two pieces. Death and reanimation do nothing to improve Dr. Hill’s character, but the reagent does gift him the ability to telepathically control West’s failed experiments—animalistic corpses made docile after being lobotomized. Although Hill would face a particularly disgusting fate along with his army of zombies at the film’s climax, his reanimated head would return to bedevil West in two sequels.

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8. Krug Stillo – The Last House On The Left

Of all the villains on this list, Krug Stillo (David Hess) from Wes Craven’s acclaimed The Last House On The Left is the one we’re sorry to say could most likely exist in real life. Seemingly plucked from the headlines, Stillo is an escaped rapist and serial killer in the mold of Henry Lee Lucas and Ted Bundy. With his depraved partners Fred “Weasel” Podowski (Fred Lincoln), Sadie (Jeramie Rain) and his heroin-addicted son Junior (Marc Sheffler), Stillo commits a brutal, protracted assault on teen friends Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham) and Mari Collingwood (Sandra Peabody) that takes up much of the film’s running time. In one of the most shocking sequences, Krug tops even his endless depravity by goading his own son into suicide. A hammer blow of a debut from the artist who gave us The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare On Elm Street, this a difficult and uncompromising vision of innocence consumed by evil.

7. Belial – Basket Case

Film critic Rex Reed famously called 1982’s Basket Case the “sickest film ever made.” Nearly 40 years later, its reputation remains largely intact thanks to its most unusual monster. Basically a twisted lump of flesh residing in a wicker basket, Belial is the formerly conjoined twin of Duane Bradley. Although a sentient tumor with teeth and claws, Belial loves his brother, and the two share a strong, telepathic bond. All is well as the siblings take revenge on the doctors who separated them as children. However, when Duane falls in love, a jealous Belial cannot contain his rage. What Basket Case lacks in production values, it makes up for in sheer audacity. This one truly has to be seen to be believed.

6. Dr. Anton Phibes – The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Narrowing the many villainous roles of the great Vincent Price down to one favorite is virtually impossible. In his long career, the legendary master of menace made villainy his bread and butter. Whether he was aiming for high camp or pure evil, he rarely missed the mark. For this list, we’ve settled on Price’s unforgettable turn as Dr. Anton Phibes. In 1971’s The Abominable Dr. Phibes, a brilliant organist and expert in theology goes on a biblically inspired murder spree using the Old Testament’s 12 plagues of Egypt to knock off the team of surgeons who allowed his wife (Caroline Munro) to die on the operating table. Predating Saw by three decades, Phibes’ ingenious methods of murder are among the most original and complex in horror history. 

5. Black Phillip – The Witch

The most recent horror villain on our list is the diabolical Black Phillip from Robert Eggers’ 2015 film The Witch. Set in 17th century New England, witchcraft casts a long shadow over a family of banished settlers. When infant Samuel is stolen away, fear of a supernatural threat causes the family to descend into paranoia focused mainly on teenage daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). However, unbeknownst until the final moments, the family’s majestic horned goat Black Phillip is far more than a barnyard animal. 

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4. Randall Flagg – The Stand

Author Stephen King has cited Randall Flagg as one of his greatest creations. First appearing in his apocalyptic magnum opus The Stand, Flagg is a charismatic man without a past who just may be the ultimate embodiment of evil. Portrayed by Jamey Sheridan in Mick Garris’ faithful but underpowered TV adaptation, Flagg is a denim-clad demigod thriving on destruction. Setting up an amoral and violent kingdom in the plague-ravaged remains of Las Vegas, Flagg is an inversion of Mother Abagail (Ruby Dee), the aged and beatific spiritual leader of the Boulder Free Zone survivors. Although he has appeared across several of King’s works in a variety of guises, the author has refused to label Flagg as the devil himself. He’s let the audience decide if his chief villain is Satan, an incarnation of Lovecraft’s sinister entity Nyarlathotep or the embodiment of supreme chaos.

3. Zé do Caixão (Coffin Joe) – At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul

Despite all appearances to the contrary, it would be a mistake to think Hollywood has a lock on horror villains. In the early years of the 1960s, just as Hammer Film Productions was spearheading an intense and bloody revival of cinematic Gothic horror, a young Brazilian auteur and actor named José Mojica Marins was single-handedly forging a culturally unique empire of movie terror out of the raw ore of comic books, nightmares and latent Catholic guilt. In the process, he created a character who, for much of the world outside of North America, would thematically bridge the gap between Frankenstein’s Monster and Freddy Krueger—Brazil’s supreme creature of the id, the sinister undertaker, Zé do Caixão (Coffin Joe).

Making his first appearance in 1964’s At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, Coffin Joe is an utterly amoral avatar of evil. Murder, rape, blasphemy and worse are merely a means to Coffin Joe’s ultimate goal: locating the perfect woman to help him attain immortality through the continuance of his bloodline. In addition to his three “canonical” appearances in the films At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967) and Embodiment Of Evil (2008), Marins’ sinister alter ego has made countless appearances in film, TV and comics over the past five decades.

2. Chop Top – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

Despite having appeared only in one film, Chop Top as portrayed by fan favorite Bill Moseley has become an icon of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, surpassed only by the skin mask-wearing Leatherface himself. One of the genre’s most quotable characters (“Dog will hunt!”), Chop Top appears in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, the only sequel directed by series creator Tobe Hooper, as the twin brother of the first film’s hitchhiker (Ed Neal). Stationed in Vietnam during the events of the first film, Chop Top found himself on the business end of a Viet Cong machete, resulting in his signature head wound and protective plate. A constant irritation to his older brother Drayton “The Cook” Sawyer (Jim Siedow), Chop Top fancies himself a 1960s hippie. It’s complete with tea shades and his signature Sonny Bono wig. He also peppers his speech with such dated catchphrases as “far out” and “groovy.” Alternately terrifying and hilarious, Moseley’s performance has made him one of the most beloved figures in horror history.

1. The Tall Man – Phantasm

Making his first appearance in 1979’s surreal, sci-fi horror hit Phantasm, the Tall Man has always flown under the radar. Nevertheless, the character is instantly recognized as a villain just as revered as Freddy or Jason by the cult-horror faithful. The Tall Man is an emissary of an alternate dimension who appears as a normal, albeit tall and thin, undertaker. He possesses incredible strength and is in command of a legion of deadly, flying spheres. A body snatcher, he utilizes an unknown technology to crush corpses into dwarf slaves to send through a dimensional portal. In later installments, the Tall Man is revealed to have once been a normal man. A friendly mortician by the name of Jebediah Morningside, his experiments in space, time and dimensional travel led to transformation. As the series unfolds, his agenda becomes increasingly apocalyptic as he and his minions decimate the populations of entire towns. An unkillable enigma, the Tall Man is an embodiment of our collective fear of death and the unknown.