One of the most majestic qualities of the horror genre is that it’s the one genre of film that once every couple of generations can introduce “icons” into the pop culture lexicon. Whether you’ve seen the famous Universal Monster movies or not, pretty much everyone the world over instantly recognizes Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Bride, The Mummy, The Invisible Man and the Creature when they see them.
In the same regard, during the golden age of the “slashers,” by the mid-80’s, the same could be said about Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, Leatherface, Chucky and Pinhead. There’s also something exciting about seeing pictures of these icons together. Sometimes it happens in fan forums, sometimes in comic books. And if we’re lucky, in the occasional “HOUSE OF” or “VS” film.
But who are our modern horror icons? Certain franchises didn’t manage to get a wide theatrical release in the post-2000’s era. And while masked madmen, dolls, psychos and vengeful spirits roamed free in dozens of horror favorites, both on the studio level and indie, none have really stuck into the public subconscious the same way the Universal Monsters or the Movie Maniacs of the 80’s have.
So, why not start our own revolution? The following are a group of movie monsters over the course of the last decade or so that terrorized both the big and small screen that I think are worthy of “icon” status. Or a least a “Last Supper” style painting featuring them all!
Lipstick-Face Demon – INSIDIOUS (2010)
It’s interesting. When you think of the INSIDIOUS franchise, which currently clocks in at 3 entries, with the 4th on the way, what stands out to you? I always think of the creepy lipstick-faced demon growling behind Patrick Wilson in the first film’s money shot. Sure, he only appears in the first INSIDOUS, but he was such an indelible presence that he’s now felt throughout the entire franchise. Part of that is because of the beautiful way that James Wan directed the sequences to feature the demon of unknown origin. Another part is in the performance by Joseph Bishara, primarily a sought-after composer for horror films, that doubled both as the main antagonist for INSIDIOUS, as well as the musician that provided its ultra-scary soundscape. I’ve seen plenty of people dressed in lipstick-face demon costumes. Multiple people jumped out at me in the INSIDIOUS Universal Halloween Horror Nights maze. And fan art is all over the internet. Would love to learn, not only, more about the backstory of this particular baddie, but see him return somewhere down the line! We can hope!
Annabelle – THE CONJURING (2013)
It seems like James Wan has helped create 3 of the villainous “big bads” on this list; the second being that creepy little doll, based on a true story, named Annabelle from THE CONJURING, and then her own solo 2014 movie. While I love both CONJURING movies, it’s interesting to me that the B storylines of both feature the more cringe-worthy deities. In the second one, it’s “The Nun,” iconic in her own right. But for the original, not since the likes of Chucky have I been truly terrified by a blasted doll! With ANNABELLE 2 on the way next year from LIGHTS OUT director David Sanberg, it looks like this is one horror icons that plans to keep coming back!
Leslie Vernon – BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON (2006)
The criminally underappreciated BEHIND THE MASK really deserved a second outing. The debut feature from director Scott Glosserman and writer David Stieve told the story of Leslie Vernon, an ambitious, charming young guy that wants to be the next great serial killer, next to Freddy, Jason and Mike. In this world, those were real legends, but there was a meticulous plan in place to make those legends real. And so, we follow Leslie around, along with a documentary crew as he explains how he’s going to build his myth. And when he strikes, the movie turns into a narrative feature, complete with score and cinematic camera angles. The acting across the board is what makes the movie stand out, but really it’s Nathan Baesel’s amazing performance as Leslie that is reminiscent of a young Anthony Perkins in PSYCHO that make this movie a cult classic. If you’ve never seen it, you should. He’s name checked in HATCHET 2, and the same gang behind the original has been trying to get a sequel off the ground for years, so here’s hoping they do, because Leslie Vernon deserves to be a horror icon.
Babyface – THE HILLS RUN RED (2009)
For a brief spell there, Warner Home Video were producing original horror features for their DVD line Warner Premier. And one of the most notable of the bunch is director Dave Parker’s THE HILLS RUN RED. A group of documentary filmmakers are investigating the original shooting locations of “The Hills Run Red,” a notorious long-lost horror film that supposedly only played once, before it, and the director behind it, disappeared. The movie (within the movie) told the legend of Babyface, a hulking monster that stalks anyone who enters his forest, and sports the creepiest looking baby mask ever. Scripted by David J. Schow, the crew behind this one totally created an instantly recognizable horror icon. I hold Babyface up there with all the “slasher” greats. And although the movie was a success, a much-talked about sequel never happened. Maybe one day, Babyface will return and claim his icon status. Also of note, Parker directed the first segment in the horror anthology TALES OF HALLOWEEN, which introduced us to a new holiday urban legend; that of “Sweettooth,” another icon worthy character.
Chromeskull – LAID TO REST (2009)
The skull faced killer of Rob Hall’s LAID TO REST also got to come back for a sequel that featured his name before the title! CHROMSESKULL: LAID TO REST 2! Very little is known about the true identity of Chromeskull in the first movie, but the deranged serial killer is very meticulous, and he stalks his prey in the same way a hunter hunts for sport. By the sequel, we learn that he’s a wealthy aristocrat and does, in fact, kill (and tape it) for the thrill of it. The first film’s strong points are the elaborate gore FX. And the second one has an equally impressive amount of well-orchestrated “kill” scenes, but not enough Chromeskull! As performed by Nick Principe, Chromeskull seems like he’d made a worthy adversary against someone like Babyface, Victor Crowley or Leslie Vernon.
Victor Crowley – HATCHET (2006)
At a time when no one was making traditional 80’s style “slasher” flicks, Adam Green introduced us to a new folklore legend coming out of the New Orleans swamp. Haunting the grounds is Victor Crowley, a frantic deformed madman that literally rips apart anyone that gets in his way. And with Kane Hodder behind the make-up, his performance introduced us to another killer as great as his portrayal of Jason Voorhees. Green brought back Victor Crowley and expanded upon the legend for HATCHET II in 2010, and the series was closed out with one more installment, HATCHET III in (2013) from director BJ McDonnell. Yet again, Victor is the sort of movie monster I’d give anything to see go up against any of the other names mentioned on this list.
Bagul – SINISTER (2012)
Sometimes, the greatest, most iconic villains are the ones that hide in the shadows. And the mystery of SINISTER’s demon is still an intriguing one. Based upon what transpires in Scott Derrickson’s first feature, very little is known about the ghoul except that he’s been doing his thing for a long, long time and it always involved families with impressionable young children. For the 2nd film, helmed by Ciaran Foy, the narrative to see how Bagul claims his victims shifts to the perspective of the children. And although we start to see how he works, he still have no clear idea of why. And the “why” is what makes these characters even scarier. It seems that Bagul won’t be coming back any time soon for any more movies, but he’s already left one hell of a mark just from his 2 appearances.
Sadako/Samara – RINGU (1998)
I’m dipping back in time quite a bit for this one, but it’s relevant, because she still is one of the most recognizable horror icons in the world. I’m talking about the specter from THE RING movies. Introduced as Sadako in the original 1998 Japanese flick, this ghost is the vengeful unquiet spirit of a telekinetic and truly evil little girl. For the 2000 American remake, her name was changed to Samara. Here in the States, we only got two RING movies, along with a slew of Japanese remakes. But over there, Sadako continued to thrive in various sequels, prequels and 3D spin-offs throughout the decade. Most recently, she went up against THE GRUNDGE’s Kayako!
Jigsaw – SAW (2004)
Arguably, Jigsaw is the most sophisticated and deeply philosophical of all the horror’s villains. And technically, he’s not a serial killer, because he places his victims into elaborate traps that forces them to either inflict pain on themselves to live, or kill themselves trying. Early on in this franchise, which was the launching pad for James Wan and Leigh Whannell, I tended to enjoy the moral ambiguity of its story. Basically, if you ended up in a Jigsaw trap, you probably did something really shitty to get there, and most likely deserve it. But as the sequels went on, and other accomplices came into play, a lot more innocent people fell victim to the “school of Jigsaw.” While the great Tobin Bell is most associated with the physical version of “the Jigsaw killer,” it’s really his alter ego, Billy the puppet, who appears on his video messages, and sometimes trots into the room on a tricycle who is the icon of the SAW franchise. With SAW: LEGACY in the can and arriving next year, it’ll be interesting to see how they continue this particular iconic character!
Mick Taylor – WOLF CREEK (2005)
By far, the meanest and nastiest guy on this list has to be Mick Taylor from the WOLF CREEK movies and TV show. Based in part on a few real life Australian back-pack killers, John Jarrett plays him with such intense and sinister glee. He first appears to his victims as a helpful, and somewhat charming outback guy. But usually over a campfire chat, he can immediately shift into the cold-blooded monster that he is. I’ve had a lot of trouble with the various iterations of Mick between film and TV, only because he’s a bit too real for me, and reading about real life killers is always upsetting business. I like a little fantasy in my horror icons, but regardless, he’s one of the most notable on-screen maniacs since HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER.
The Strangers – THE STRANGERS (2008)
Do we know anything about “The Strangers?” Will we ever get to see them return? And when they do continue to stalk, do they always wear the same masks? Bryan Bertino’s tense nail-bitter introduced us to 3 human monsters that felt familiar, and yet unlike anything we had ever seen before. These sadistic voyeurs stalk around the house for a long time before making their presence known. They wear creepy masks to elicit fear. And they have absolutely no remorse when it comes to killing their victims. As far as their motives? “Because you were home.” Once you’ve seen the image of these 3 hovering over Scott Speedman’s James Hoyt, you’ll never get it out of your head.
Sam – TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007)
Last but certainly not least, the Halloween season really needed a new icon; not that there’s anything wrong with Michael Myers! But Michael is a serial killer. He just happens to have laid his claim on October 31st for his routine killing sprees. But not too many horror films or franchises have really taken advantage of all the ominous folklore that’s associated with Halloween. Enter writer/director Michael Dougherty, who not only delivers a fantastic Halloween anthology that gives us several new legends, but it introduces us to one central character that happens to be in the middle of it all, Sam.
Short for “Sam Hain,” this pint sized little terror is just as scary as he is cute. Intriguingly mysterious as he is menacing. And he’s instantly become a cult phenomenon among horror fans ever since TRICK ‘R TREAT quietly snuck out of Warner Brothers and into our ever-loving hearts. Sam is the type of horror icon that very well could be lurking in the background of every horror movie you watch, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. He’s our ideal horror icon, and a gatekeeper, in the same way that “The Watcher” is to the Marvel Universe. Who doesn’t love Sam?