This octet of horror slashers has laid waste to several hundred victims onscreen, with technique and victim tallies varying wildly from one maniac to the next. But which of these iconic evildoers is the best at being the worst? To help answer that question, here’s a user’s guide to eight of the genre’s most storied and imaginative villains, using info gleaned from both their original franchise as well as subsequent remakes/reboots. (We are nothing if not comprehensive.) The rankings are in order of body count, with a few tallies left open-ended given the debatable nature of certain deaths.
Who: An inbred denizen of the Lone Star State who often covers his face with a mask made of human skin.
Franchise: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Signature portrayer: Gunnar Hansen
Total films: 4
Weapon(s) of choice: Chainsaw; sledgehammer; meat hook.
Most brutal kill: Slicing a driver’s head in half through the roof of his car.
Who: In 1996, director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson unleashed the now-iconic, shabbily costumed stabber on a slew of high schoolers and adjacent grown-ups somehow connected to the small-town murder of adulterous mom Maureen Prescott. Everyone from Skeet Ulrich to Emma Roberts has donned the mask, not to mention thousands of teenagers terrorizing their peers every Halloween.
Signature portrayer: Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard
Total films: 4
Weapon(s) of choice: A glistening hunting knife and deceitful voice-changing gadget.
Who: The leader of the Cenobites, interdimensional beings devoted to harvesting human souls in gruesome fashion.
Signature portrayer: Doug Bradley
Total films: 9
Weapon(s) of choice: Flesh-ripping hooks and chains; skull-splitting discs.
Most brutal kill: Eviscerating an escapee from hell in particularly kinky fashion.
5. Freddy Krueger
Who: A child killer who’d been burned by vengeful parents, Krueger returned to exact vengeance by terrorizing teens from within their dreams. Regrettably, he was unearthed in 2010 for a remake with the typically reliable Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy, but that signature glove proved too mighty to fill. (Another fresh take is reportedly in the works as of this writing, though it’s hard to imagine what worthy update could possibly be dreamt up.)
Franchise: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Signature portrayer: Robert Englund
Total films: 9
Weapon(s) of choice: Leather gardener’s glove outfitted with blades
Most brutal kill: Pulling a snoozing Johnny Depp (as Glen) inside the mattress on which he was sleeping — and sending out a geyser of blood. (Hat tip to the otherwise forgettable ’10 affair rounding out its death roll with Connie Britton getting glove-bladed through the eyes from behind.)
Who: A doll inhabited by the soul of Charles Lee Ray, a.k.a. the “Lakeshore Strangler.”
Franchise: Child’s Play
Signature portrayer: Brad Dourif
Total films: 6
Weapon(s) of choice: Knife; hammer; plastic bag; razor. Chucky also once managed to murder someone with a high-resolution printer.
Most brutal kill: Spanking an overly strict teacher to death with a ruler.
3. The Leprechaun
Who: An imp from Irish lore willing to go to homicidal lengths to recover his pot of gold.
Signature portrayer: Warwick Davis
Total films: 7
Weapon(s) of choice: His own claws; chainsaw; futuristic saber (Leprechaun 4: In Space only).
Most brutal kill: Impaling a stoner with his own bong.
2. Michael Myers
Who: As a young child, Myers was sentenced to a sanitarium after committing murder. He escapes as a young adult and continues where his violent rampage left off. And much to fans’ delight, original director John Carpenter will be executive producing and scoring David Gordon Green and Danny McBride’s upcoming sequel, which stars Michael’s O.G. onscreen sibling Jamie Lee Curtis and — if Carpenter can help it — will bury any memory of Rob Zombie’s recent reimagining.
Signature portrayer: Tony Moran
Total films: 12 (And Counting)
Weapon(s) of choice: Butcher knife; his own hands (for strangling).
Most brutal kill: Stabbing his sister to death when he was 6 years old.
1. Jason Voorhees
Who: As a young camper, Voorhees allegedly drowned when the two counselors supposed to be watching him were busy having sex. He reappeared years later — and has kept reappearing, up through the high-fatality 2009 remake — to exact his bloody revenge.
Franchise: Friday the 13th
Signature portrayer: Kane Hodder
Total films: 12
Weapon of choice: Machete
Most brutal kill: Trapping a teenager inside her sleeping bag and than smashing that sleeping bag against a tree. (Honorable mention to Jason’s mother, Pamela Voorhees, for offing Kevin Bacon with an arrow through the neck.)