The Horror-Slasher Showdown: Who Is the Greatest Horror-Movie Killer?

The Horror-Slasher Showdown: Who Is the Greatest Horror-Movie Killer?

Oct 29, 2014

The horror genre is chock-full of murderers who have nothing better to do with their time than kill every single person who crosses their path. But of all those murderers, which one is, mathematically speaking, the most effective slasher of the bunch?

We made a list of the most famous, brutal and terrifying "slashers" in horror-movie history. And then we cut a bunch of names. And then we cut more names. And then we cut more. Eventually, we were left with 10 names that we think best personify what horror-movie killers are all about. These are the most famous, the most quotable and the most bloodthirsty men to ever wield bladed instruments and slice teenagers into tiny pieces. This is not a definitive list, but it does represent a combination of famous (and beloved) horror icons.

Now, we'll pick the best.

Before we go any further, here are a few qualifications: to make it on this list, the killer had to have been human at some point. He has to physically kill the majority of his victims, even if he's backed up by supernatural abilities. He has to be a solo act (or at least mostly a solo act). There are many great horror villains who didn't make this list because they didn't fit our definition of a slasher.

Anyway, here's how this is going to work. We're going to run down these 10 monsters in alphabetical order, giving them scores from 1-10 in four categories: appearance (how scary/threatening they actually look), killer effectiveness (just how good are they at dispatching their victims), the quality of their films (self-explanatory) and longevity and cultural permeation (do they still hang around in moviegoers' minds?).

And here we go!

 

Patrick Bateman (American Psycho)

Appearance: 5.0

He looks like Christian Bale in a nice suit with a pretty slick haircut. That would actually be pretty scary in real life (have you heard that man yell?), but it's fairly modest when it comes to the company he's keeping on this list. Still, there's something to be said about a wolf hiding in yuppie clothing.

Killer Effectiveness: 8.5

Here's the thing about Patrick Bateman: he actually gets away with his crimes. He murders coworkers, prostitutes, homeless people and random strangers alike and no one is the wiser in the end. Unlike most slashers, he doesn't bite it before the credits roll, which has got to be worth something.

Quality of Film: 8.0

One part grisly horror movie and one part uproarious slasher flick, American Psycho is a blackly comic gem. Anchored by Bale's twisted and mesmerizing performance, it's easily the best "one and done" film on this list. Don't even bother with the Bale-less sequel.

Longevity and Cultural Permeation: 4.0

Serious film fans will talk about Patrick Bateman, but for the vast majority of moviegoers, the name will draw a blank. In fact, if you tell the average person that Batman once played a mass-murdering psychopath, they'd probably reply with a raised eyebrow.

 

Norman Bates (Psycho series)

Appearance: 3.5

Part of Norman Bates' effectiveness is just how plain and average he looks. He's just a meek, shy guy who blends into the background of every room he walks into. He's a little more frightening when he's dressing as his dead mom and wielding a butcher knife, but there are much scarier looking killers out there. 

Killer Effectiveness: 5.5

Although Norman does get away with his fair share of murders over the course of four films, Bates tends to get caught. A lot. He's a psychopath, not a skilled boogeyman, so he spends more time biding his time in mental institutions than knifing people in showers. He may be responsible for some of the most iconic kills in cinema history, but he seems awfully lucky.

Quality of Films: 7.5

Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho is a masterpiece. Everyone knows that. It's a perfect movie and you can feel its influence across the horror genre to this day. Psycho II is a competent, but generic slasher movie. Psycho III and Psycho IV: The Beginning are garbage. That score is pure generosity because the first film is that good.

Longevity and Cultural Permeation: 10.0

Even people who haven't seen Psycho are familiar with the concept of the obsessive, crazy hotel owner who's obsessed with his dead mother and kills travelers in the shower. It's not just one of the most famous images/ideas in horror history, but a trope of popular culture that everyone simply grows up knowing. 

 

Chucky (Child's Play series)

Appearance: 8.5

He's a two-foot doll containing the soul of a deranged criminal, which means he's very close to being the scariest thing ever. The innocent design, with its red hair and overalls, pays off in dividends once that blank, plastic expression transforms into a snarl. It's a juxtaposition that's still effective years later.

Killer Effectiveness: 7.5

Chucky has killed enough people and survived long enough to gain a wife and a son, which isn't bad for a child's plaything. Chucky's kills are rarely as creative or as bloody as the competition, but the mere fact that he's walking doll means he has to work twice as hard to get his murdering done. You've got to admire that.

Quality of Films: 5.0

After a strong start, the Child's Play series gets really bad, really fast. However, the series improves when it gains a sense of humor and takes a hard turn into comedy. It's not enough to make the entire series feel like a genuine classic, but it does elevate that overall score by a point or so.

Longevity and Cultural Permeation: 6.5

When people think about killer dolls (which is a more common thought than you'd think), they think about Chucky. He really is one of the most famous horror characters of the past few decades. But let's get real: how many people have actually seen one of his movies? The fact that he's vanished into the direct-to-DVD well speaks volumes about his current status as an icon.

 

The "Ghostface" Killers (Scream series)

Appearance: 5.5

It's a guy (or a lady) in a Halloween costume that you still see in every store on Halloween. It can be frightening in context, but are you really going to be scared of an outfit you can buy at Wal-mart?

Killer Effectiveness: 7.0

Although each Scream film features a new killer (or killers), this loosely connected group tends to have a pretty good track record in the dispatching-of-other-human-beings department. Their kills may not be as clever as other horror characters (they mostly involve sudden and violent stabbing), but they get the job done with ruthless efficiency.

Quality of Films: 6.0

The first Scream is undeniably a modern classic, but it's diminishing returns from there. Scream 2 is a perfectly decent sequel, but the series becomes a parody of itself with entries three and four. It's a shame, really.

Longevity and Cultural Permeation: 5.0

The box office failure of Scream 4 really says all you need to know. People are always going to revisit this series and the first film will be remembered as one of the key horror movies of the '90s, but it looks like everyone is pretty much over this franchise.

 

Jigsaw (Saw series)

Appearance: 7.0

Depending on when you catch him, John "Jigsaw" Kramer can look like one of three things. He could be a harmless old man dying of cancer. He could be a red-robed killer with a creepy animal mask. Most famously, he may come to you as a creepy puppet riding a bicycle, which is genuinely creepy and quite the visual.

Killer Effectiveness: 9.0

Jigsaw's whole scheme is that he traps his victims in obstacle courses and scenarios where they're forced to kill themselves or each other. Although you have to wonder about the status of his Home Depot credit card, he's pretty damn good at it and the vast majority of his victims end up incredibly dead. Not bad at all for a guy who rarely gets his own hands dirty.

Quality of Films: 4.5

The Saw films range from watchable and effective (parts one, three and six) to forgettable (parts four and seven) to totally unbearable (parts two and five). It's a surprisingly ambitious series, but the quality of each entry fluctuates so wildly that it's hard to recommend them all to anyone who's not a horror completionist.

Longevity and Cultural Permeation: 5.5

For over half a decade, the Saw films were phenomenons that conquered the Halloween box office without fail. And then they weren't. The Saw series petered out so quickly and Jigsaw's legacy vanished so completely that the series' reputation as the modern equivalent of Halloween or Friday the 13th has been totally compromised.

 

Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street series)

Appearance: 9.0

Everyone knows what Freddy Krueger looks like. With his colorful sweater, fedora, burnt face and razor-blade gloves, he's a character you can recognize from silhouette alone. It's an iconic design that proves that simplicity is sometimes so much more effective and memorable than something complicated and overdesigned.

Killer Effectiveness: 8.5

Freddy's methods of murder may steadily grow less sinister and more cartoonish as the series goes on, but his endless creativity and high success rate at the art of killing teenagers in their dreams is nothing to scoff at. Even when he becomes a parody of himself, Freddy is still icing his victims and making it look easy. In fact, some would say his groan-worthy quips actually make him even more sinister. Only a truly sick mind would utilize such terrible puns.

Quality of Films: 6.0

Like all long-running horror franchises, the Nightmare on Elm Street films vary wildly in quality. However, unlike so many long-running horror franchises, even the bad movies have their fair share of kitschy pleasures. At its best, this is a deeply unsettling and surreal series. At its worst, it's a baffling series that makes you wonder how much cocaine was being snorted off camera. Somehow, it's all worth watching.

Longevity and Cultural Permeation: 8.5

Freddy Krueger wasn't just famous in the '80s -- he was one of the decade's most popular characters. Kids who had no business seeing his movies owned Freddy dolls. Robert Englund became a household name. Freddy even got his own (terrible, awful, unwatchable) TV series. The abysmal failure of the Englund-less remake has done serious harm to the franchise's legacy, but you can't diminish something that was that big for that long. 

 

Leatherface (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre series)

Appearance: 8.0

It's another look that, when it's at its best, is simply iconic. The clothes of a simple country boy. The face of, uh, whatever person he's killed most recently. Yep, Leatherface is pretty terrifying to behold in most of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre movies. Well, except for the ones where he's pretty lame, like part four of the original series and the prequel to the turgid remake.

Killer Effectiveness: 6.5

The great thing about Leatherface is that he's not a particularly skilled killer. He's just some psychotic bumpkin with a chainsaw and a thing for wearing people's faces as masks. He may not rack up body counts as high as some of the competition, but his occasionally bumbling nature actually lends him a great deal of personality. Movie serial killers: they're just like us!

Quality of Films: 6.0

You know the drill by now. The first film in this series is an unquestionable masterpiece and one of the best movies ever made. The second is wildly different but worth your time. But everything beyond that? That's for committed fans only.

Longevity and Cultural Permeation: 7.5

When people think of getting lost in Texas, they think about Leatherface. This crazed killer has become a key part of the state's identity over the past 40 years and many citizens think about him with a demented pride. The character's raw power has been diluted thanks to terrible remakes and one truly atrocious 3D reboot, but he's still got the whole "evil mascot of an entire state" thing going for him. That's nothing to sneer at.

 

Michael Myers (Halloween series)

Appearance: 8.5

It's hard to imagine director John Carpenter was thinking about creating an iconic character when he spray painted a Captain Kirk mask white and put it on the deadly Michael Myers. And yet it's ended up being one of the most recognizable images in all of horror, a blank and emotionless face that represents the blank and emotionless killer underneath.

Killer Effectiveness: 9.5

When Michel Myers sets his mind to killing, nothing can stop him. Only a few villains on this list can rival his body count and if you want to know more, all you have to do is put on any random Halloween movie. He's a force of nature: impossible to kill and impossibly resourceful, he'll wipe out an army of small town cops and babysitters if need be.

Quality of Films: 5.5

The Halloween series is a little more consistent than other series that run 10 entries, but it's hard to forgive Rob Zombie's poor remake and his baffling sequel to his remake. At least the bad entires of the original run had a little charm. Still, when Halloween movies are good, they're great, and the first film is one of the best horror movies ever made.

Longevity and Cultural Permeation: 9.0

They're still working on another Halloween movie, which is more than you can say for Freddy, Jason or Jigsaw. The Halloween series has seen better days, but this is a franchise that still has the public's interest.

 

John Ryder (The Hitcher)

Appearance: 5.0

John Ryder looks like some guy. However, that some guy happens to be Rutger Hauer, which is worth all of the points in the world. He looks like Sean Bean in the remake, which isn't quite the same, but it doesn't hurt.

Killer Effectiveness: 10.0

He may not be as well-known as other killers, but John Ryder makes quite the impression in his only movie. An unstoppable killing machine whose skill for taking lives is matched only by his skill for framing innocent people for his crimes. John Ryder is pretty much the Terminator if the Terminator was a blond psychopath who enjoyed tormenting and killing random motorists waaay too much.

Quality of Films: 6.0

The first Hitcher is a trash masterpiece and the second is a bland remake that has about one third of the original's psychotic intensity. You know which one to skip.

Longevity and Cultural Permeation: 3.5

Few people outside of serious horror fans knows what The Hitcher is and those that do know are probably only familiar with the remake. John Ryder is easily the greatest horror movie slasher that the general public doesn't know about.

 

Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th series)

Appearance: 9.5

It's the quintessential slasher look: ragged clothes on a massive frame, the face hidden behind an old hockey mask. What else is there to say? Virtually every single horror parody ever created has quoted this look. Everyone with even the smallest grasp of pop culture knows what Jason looks like.

Killer Effectiveness: 10.0

Are you kidding? Jason is the definitive executioner of horror-movie victims. Armed with whatever is in the near vicinity, no one catch match Jason's body count or his penchant for creative, gory and downright insane deaths.

Quality of Films: 3.0

But this is where we hit a roadblock on Jason's march to victory: most of his films are terrible. Like, really, really bad. None are genuinely good and only a handful are genuinely fun in any intentional way. Most of the fun to be had with this series is at its expense. This may be a famous and popular franchise, but the vast majority of the films in it border on unwatchable.

Longevity and Cultural Permeation: 8.5

Count how many hockey masked killers you see wandering the streets this Halloween... but also remember that no one could get a sequel to the (not terrible) reboot from a few years ago off the ground.

 

FINAL RANKING:

Michael Myers: 8.13

Freddy Krueger: 8.00

Jason Voorhees: 7.75

Leatherface: 7.00

Chucky: 6.88

Norman Bates: 6.63

Jigsaw: 6.50

Patrick Bateman: 6.38

John Ryder: 6.13

The "Ghostface" Killers: 5.88

 

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