Halloween countdown: 12 movie characters you would never want to be in a room with

We look at the most terrifying personas who set the baseline of terror in films



by

Sushmita Bose

Published: Sat 29 Oct 2022, 10:25 PM

Last updated: Sat 29 Oct 2022, 10:31 PM

Ancient Celts observed a festival called Samhain (in hindsight, it was more of a ritual): a time that marked the end of harvest, the beginning of winter and the ushering in of a darker, bleaker time of the year. People would light bonfires and wear scary costumes to ward off ghosts (scary costumes would scare ghosts — was the probable logic). Samhain is supposed to be a reasonable throwback for the origins of Halloween. More tokenisms got factored in along the way, when the Americans appropriated it, and gave the world ‘Halloween’ — a fun, campy retread of an (apparently) ominous rite of passage. Trick or treating, costumes and masks, and the props: pumpkin, bats, cats, skulls and skeletons… The idea is of contrived spookiness.

Halloween is that time of the year when ‘evil’ — in the form of ghouls or living characters — looms eccentrically large. Movies are a great way to enjoy the mood. A film that terrifies you first lulls you into a state of mind. The settings, the uplighting and the projected shadows together with an interplay of chiaroscuro, the music (don’t know about you, but for me, watching a movie with the sound turned off takes more than half of its fearful impact), the jump scares — all of which turn the more faint-hearted among us into quivering leaves.

This Halloween, we decided to do a listing of 12 of the most terrifying reel characters, who set the baseline of terror. Run for your life from these monsters.

It’s a subjective matter obviously, one that would depend on your own insecurities and quirks. In this list, for instance, Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi, nonpareil, in the 1931 version) has been included — but not Frankenstein (or Frankenstein’s monster if you want to be more literal). I thought there is something redeeming about him, simply because he was not meant to be evil when he was created… If you have Frankenstein in a locked room and you don’t view him as a ‘monster’ and therefore treat him well, there’s a good chance he will return the favour. Not a chance in hell with Dracula.

Mrs Danvers

You have to be in shoes of the newly-minted bride in Hitchcock’s Rebecca to realise how terrifying Mrs Danvers (played by Judith Anderson) — the head housekeeper at Manderley — can be. Sinister, intimidating-yet-inscrutable, and totally sans histrionics, this is not an easy-to-figure-out métier… and its juxtaposition with her impeccable domesticity makes her character even more unpredictable. You don’t know when she’s going come at you — or for you. Interesting trivia: Daphne du Maurier’s book projected Mrs Danvers as a more rounded person, with some sparks of positivity. It took Hitchcock’s genius to convert her into something so terrifying, someone so dankly dark and creepy.

Dracula

Bram Stoker’s Dracula, has been brought to life many times over on screen, but the first one has remained most iconic simply because, back in 1931, there was not much reliance on special effects; being terrifying was entirely personified. As one reviewer puts it, “It’s like being present at the creation of a hideous idea in the subconscious and watching it rise to the surface to come to life…” Bela Lugosi plays the Transylvanian count who is a vampire and who preys on the blood of living victims, and it’s a role that’s widely attributed to him becoming a legend of horror from thereon. “With each carefully placed step, Lugosi ensures his Dracula is in complete control while radiating an ever-increasing sense of foreboding,” is what Stephanie Archer says on filminquiry.com.

Hannibal Lecter

Hannibal Lecter — brought to life by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs — is a brilliant forensic psychiatrist, with an appetite for serial killing. He’s a serial killer with an USP: he eats his victims, and he enjoys eating them, sitting at the table, a picture of sophistication and dining etiquette, and he calls himself a gourmet. He’s sharp as a tack, and plays mind games as a full-time pastime, revelling in the discomfiture of others. After he’s arrested (finally), Hannibal’s help is sought by an FBI agent who needs the help of his genius mind to track down a serial killer, but she has to speak to him through a glass wall, him strapped in a straitjacket, muzzle on his face.

Jack Torrance

“…If you find him in one of his moods, you’ll be the unlucky victim of one of the most bone-chilling, sinister yellers around. Just be sure to bring your own axe,” is how charactour.com describes Torrance, played to the tee by Jack Nicholson. Even he hadn’t moved to the Overlook Hotel in Colorado, hoping it would give him a chance to finish a writing assignment, Torrance has dubious psychological baggage which makes him somewhat sinister. In the hotel, “supernatural forces” coerce him, bit by bit, to become an embodiment of chilling derangement, and there’s no looking back. Stephen King’s The Shining was adapted for the screen by Stanley Kubrick, and Nicholson’s “Here’s Johnny” scene is often quoted as being “the scariest movie moment of all time”.

Chucky

How scary can a doll be? Well, check out Chucky. “Personally, I like hiding behind an innocent face,” he says (voiced by Brad Dourif) in Child’s Play, the first — and most compelling — instalment of the franchise. Chucky is a Good Guy doll with a sweet, earnest face purchased for a kid by his mom, but nobody knows that the soul of a dying serial killer has migrated into his frame. His face changes as he changes intent, so when he’s in murderous mode, Chucky — all of his two-feet format — is twisted evil. The creepiest bit about him is how he’s able to flip from being a good guy ‘doll friend’ to killer. And because he’s tiny, he gets in and out of dark corners, with chiaroscuro effects getting a new life.

Michael Myers

Michael Myers created the Halloween cult of scary films where strange creatures — living or dead — prey on you. For most part of the original Halloween, his faced was covered with a mask so, in a sense, he’s almost anonymous except in the final scene. In ‘The Boogeyman, Fear, and Responsibility: A Close Analysis of Halloween’, Brad Miska writes, “One of the most obvious qualities of Michael Myers that sets him apart from his slasher brethren is that he is a stalker. He is methodical and calculated. He observes, he judges, and only then does he act…. Michael Myers weighs his observations of his would-be victims on some unknowable scale, and once his decision has been made, he kills.”

Annie Wilkes

Somebody who claims to be your number one fan and then becomes your Halloween nightmare. Meet Annie Wilkes — played by Kathy Bates — in Misery. James Caan plays an author who crashes his car and is rendered unconscious, which is when Wilkes, a cheery ‘nurse’, rescues him and brings him back to her remote log cabin, and tells him how much she admires his writing. There’s a volte face when she commands him to tailor his next novel according to her whims. But it’s not just that she’s a crazy control freak with a fetish for torture. Wilkes is also a serial killer — many patients had died mysteriously under her watch when she was employed as a nurse.

Pamela Voorhees

Like Halloween, Friday the 13th has always been spooky. So, when a film titled Friday the 13th released in 1980, it took the lid of a Pandora’s box thanks to Pamela Voorhees — played by Betsy Palmer. The setting is the newly-reopened Camp Crystal Lake, a venue that’s popular with teenagers. Voorhees is hovering around the area, stalking guests and then killing them; she believes her son had accidentally drowned in the lake many years ago due to the negligence of the camp staff. She now wants to extract revenge by killing everyone so that Camp Crystal Lake is permanently closed. But there’s more to it at the end when there’s a terrifying suggestion that she’s capable of existing in spirit form too.

Norman Bates

If you are a woman, you wouldn’t want to be in any of the rooms at the remote Bates Motel. There’s a good chance that the seemingly mild-mannered owner Norman (Anthony Perkins) will morph into his mother and go on a slashing spree — and then forget all about it. While he’ll blame his mother for the murders, since he loves her to death, he will do what a ‘good son’ would: dispose off the bodies, along with all traces of evidence. Hitchcock’s cult classic explores the horrific case of schizophrenia gone terrifyingly over the edge. Till date, Psycho remains one of the scariest films ever made, with one man’s psychological accoutrements holding sway even in scenes where Norman is not visible.

Pennywise

Pennywise is a trans-dimensional, shape-shifting evil entity — assuming, for most parts, the form of a ‘dancing clown’ with a dark sense of humour — who preys on your worst fears, exploiting your phobias and then manipulating reality to get you sucked into nightmare that ends with a high probability of death. He appeared on reel for the first time in 1990, in the mini-series It — based on Stephen King’s book of the same name. It’s a role that’s attained cult status with Tim Curry turning in a performance that struck terror. In an interview, Stephen King had famously remarked that he thought of Pennywise as a clown because he felt that kids are likely to be most scared of clowns.

Freddy Krueger

A child killer who is burnt alive by his victims’ parents, returns as a degenerated spirit who depends on life energies — or “souls” — of fresh victims. That’s Freddy Krueger for you. A Nightmare on Elm Street introduced him (played by Robert Englund) into the horror ecosystem with his disfigured face, dirty red-and-green-striped sweater and brown fedora, and, most importantly, the trademark metal-clawed, brown leather, right-hand glove which he uses as his weapon for serial killings. Krueger kills people in their dreams, and then they die in the real world. And there can be no comeuppance because he’s an “urban legend”, a spirit. There is also a theory that he stands for our own subconscious fears.

Professor Henry Jarrod

There’s something chilling about Vincent Price — even if it is only his meticulous fastidiousness. As Professor Henry Jarrod, a talented sculptor, in House of Wax, he sinks his teeth into the role. Jarrod’s wax museum is burnt down, and he is presumed dead in the fire. But then he returns — disfigured and wheelchair-bound — to rebuild his museum and repopulate it with new figures. But the wax statues look eerily like a bunch of those who have been reported missing. It is revealed Jarrod now murders and then dips the corpses of his victims in wax and puts them up on display. The horror that was Jarrod was accentuated by the fact that 'House of Wax' was one of the first films released in 3-D.


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