Gather around, fearless readers, because it’s the witchiest of conjunctions with Friday the 13th falling in the spookiest month of the year. What better day to do a round-up of the most legendary characters from horror movies. So here goes:
You may find yourself asking “How hard is it to kill a doll?” When it comes to the Child’s Play films (of which there are seven) or its reboot and spin-off television series, the answer is: Very, very hard. You could use your superior human strength to subdue it. You could throw it in the fire. You could shoot it with a gun or decapitate it. The possibilities are endless. And yet, none of this is enough to put Chucky down. Chucky was born when a fatally-wounded serial killer transferred his soul into a battery-operated talking doll because he was on the brink of being captured by the police. Once upon a time, Chucky was kinda sorta cute and child-like (in that murderous, sure-to-stab-you-with-a-gigantic-knife way), but he has since collected scars across his face and met his match in a doll-bride who is just as terrifying as him. The first Child’s Play (1988) was a true-blue slasher film, but the horror franchise evolved along the way to adopt a self-aware, comedic voice that leans into the absurdity of an immortal killer doll.
Before Chucky, there was Annabelle, a Raggedy Ann doll believed to be demonically possessed by paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren back in the Seventies. First seen in The Conjuring (2013), Annabelle eventually inspired an eponymous film franchise of her own, in which the woman who comes into possession of the doll was coincidentally played by an actor named Annabelle. Like most demon-dolls, Annabelle is on the hunt for a human being whose body she can take over. With her buggy eyes and creepy smile, we’re not sure which parent would buy the Annabelle doll for their child in the first place, demonic possession notwithstanding, but what is horror without some suspension of disbelief?
Not even your dreams are safe from the clawed hands of Freddy Krueger, the main baddie of the A Nightmare on Elm Street films. Fittingly, the very sight of Freddy is nightmare-inducing: His face is disfigured with burns and his weapon-of-choice is a leather glove with razor-sharp blades protruding from it where fingers should be. A notorious killer of children, Freddy feeds on the fear that grips people in his presence, laughing menacingly as he kills them in horrific ways. The damage Freddy inflicts in the dreams of his victims manifests in the real world as well. “The souls of the children give me strength,” he says as he reveals the frightened faces embossed on his chest. What makes Freddy Krueger truly dreadful is the helplessness he inspires in his victims. He cannot be killed because, well, he’s already dead.
She wears a white dress, soaked with water. Long black hair curtains her face, her skin is pale as chalk, her limbs are abnormally contorted. If you make the mistake of watching her cursed videotape, your fate is sealed. You have but seven days to live, after which she will crawl out of your TV to kill you. If there was ever a character who could act as a deterrent to binge-watching, the girl from The Ring would be it. The mysterious girl was first brought to life (or rather, death) in the Ring novel series by Japanese author Koji Suzuki, which spawned multiple successful film adaptations in Japan and South Korea. With the 2002 American adaptation, she became a bona fide global horror icon. What makes her particularly eerie is that she’s rarely shown killing her victims on-screen, which means her murderous behaviour is shrouded in speculation. All we know is that she was thrown into a well by her adoptive mother, who was terrified of the girl’s creepy powers. The girl drowned despite her attempts to claw her way out of the well, but only after seven days of terror.
Frankenstein's Monster is basically a DIY project gone horribly wrong. Grave robbing doesn’t often produce desirable results (pun intended). Victor Frankenstein tries to play God and then swiftly abandons his creation because it’s terrifying (so is parenting, Victor). It is really hard to decide who we are more afraid of — the Monster who is stitched together like a patchwork quilt or an irresponsible “scientist” prone to stress fevers. Alas, in this lookist world, the Monster suffers the bigger disadvantage. He is a horror icon because we cannot unsee the tragedy that is Victor’s suturing technique. In all fairness, however, the Monster deserves our sympathy more than our disdain. Sure, he’s a big guy and that’s pretty terrifying, but before you judge him for his lumbering gait, consider the tragic loneliness that defines this iconic Monster.
Regan MacNeil is the girl who made head-spinning all the rage before it was cool. The Exorcist's resident possessed prodigy, Regan took the term "teenage rebellion" to a whole new demonic level. One minute, she's innocently playing with a Ouija board, and the next, she's doing acrobatics on the ceiling and speaking in tongues that would make a sailor uncomfortable. Puberty was hard enough without having to deal with projectile vomiting and demonic possession. This girl can pull off a 360-degree head turn without breaking a sweat. It is as impressive as she is unsettling.
Admittedly this film isn’t necessarily a horror movie, but Dr. Hannibal — who has a screentime of about 15 minutes — was voted the no.1 Movie Villain of All Time by the American Film Institute. What's creepier than a brilliant psychiatrist with a taste for the finer things in life, especially if those things include your liver served with a side of fava beans and a nice Chianti? Anthony Hopkins played Lecter with chilling calm and frightening intelligence, making him the stuff of nightmares. So much so that his sibilant utterance of “Clarice” is almost scarier than the cannibalism. The subsequent films — Hannibal (2001), Red Dragon (2002) and Hannibal Rising (2007) — open a Pandora’s box of psychological mayhem.
Jack Torrance is the poster boy for cabin fever. His journey in The Shining is like a crash course in "How Not to Spend Quality Family Time." Even after he is specifically warned against spending winter at the Overlook Hotel, he decides to bring his family along for this misadventure. While Jack Torrance might be the headliner in the "Creepy Family Vacation" horror show, Danny and the twins are the supporting characters who turn it into a supernatural spectacle. The psychic kid with an imaginary friend named Tony, a talent for predicting the Overlook Hotel's descent into madness and a special love for tricycle rides in empty hotel corridors far out-creeps a writer who can only manage to write one line over and over again.
He is the OG Daddy and the one to blame for everything from Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Edward in the Twilight series. Bram Stoker's creation has spun several worthy adaptations. There is the 1931 adaptation, with a delightful Bela Lugosi - a horror icon who inspired Tim Burton among others. There is the divisive Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 Dracula, with Gary Oldman essaying the character, and Winona Ryder playing Mina Harker. If you are into the lovable, the goofy, and the fatherly, there is also the animated Hotel Transylvania film series, with Adam Sandler voicing Dracula, and Selena Gomez voicing the character of his daughter Maeve. We especially recommend the films in which Bela Lugosi plays the character though, if you like your vampires less glittery, unapologetically murderous and deliciously camp.
Where do we even begin with our conniving, beloved, misunderstood Chudail? She is a feminist symbol, she is a terrifying misandrist, and in recent genre cinema, she’s become seriously cool. Many mythologies about her swirl in South Asia — a persisting notion is that their feet point backwards, earning them the moniker mudiya pairi — and these haunting figures have often been interpreted as manifestations of male insecurities and misunderstood female rage. Cinema has used the Chudail to great effect, often adding an unexpected feminist layer to the plot through these characters. In Roohi (2021), the mudiya pairi possesses Roohi (Janhvi Kapoor), and wants to get married along with her. In Stree (2018), the vengeful spirit (played by Shraddha Kapoor) haunts men at night during the festive season, echoing the folklore surrounding a Chudail and turning the tables on reality by imagining a world where there’s a curfew for men. In Bulbbul (2020), the Chudail is something of an avenger, delivering punishment to those who oppress women. The men in most of these stories suffer for their sins, adding a hint of subversion to the horror genre which has traditionally been rather grotesquely sexist.
An identity assumed by the murderers in the Scream franchise, the killer’s Ghostface mask is one of the most identifiable and recurring symbols in the horror genre space. It is also, unsurprisingly, a very cliché halloween costume. Originally crafted by Kevin Williamson, the antagonist has a threatening, exaggerated intonation as they loom over their victims with a knife. A fun slasher-lite, the series spoofs its audience while really pandering to them. While Scream has become the most beloved franchise about horror fandom, with scary-movie obsessives as victims or killers or both, there have always been die-hards who felt its self-referential humour came at the expense of the scares.
One of Stephen King’s most iconic characters, Carrie brings to the fore several horrors of being an adolescent girl. Carrie is being bullied by her peers, by her mother, all of this while she is also discovering her telekinesis abilities. One the most iconic scenes features Carrie covered in pig’s blood, one that can be construed as humiliation associated with a menstruating body. Her bullies kill pigs and draw blood from them with a syringe to cruelly cast the blood at her — it is malicious and purposeful brutality. Carrie’s story is a perverse mixture of body horror and psychological tension about being an introverted girl as a teenager, and rejecting assimilation on the grounds of trauma.
An unsubtle, and menacing metaphor for grief, Babadook is terrifying with his bulging eyeballs, top-hat and taloned fingers. His smile reaches the ends of his white-textured face, leaving his pointy teeth perpetually visible to us. When his image is seen without context, Babadook almost looks comical, like he could be out of a Cartoon Network show where a conundrum is skilfully wrapped up by the end of 20 minutes. Babadook, though, awakes to torment you once you become aware of its existence, and his methods are anything but funny, leaving the person he is haunting helpless against their unaddressed trauma. Several horror films mine the idea of how grief can persist and haunt you, but few embody it the way the Babadook films do.