The 10 Best Horror Movie Villains of the 1990s

The 1990s provided horror fans with some of the greatest entries in the genre. by Wes Craven Scream brought satirical self-awareness to the slasher subgenre, that of David Fincher Se7fr approached a typical “buddy cop” story with a macabre horror sensibility, and Jonathan Demme Thesilenceofthelambs broke all sorts of Oscar records for horror movies.

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In addition to some of the biggest horror films, the ’90s introduced the genre’s fanbase to some of its most iconic villains, from Candyman to John Doe to Annie Wilkes.

ten Max Cady (Cap Fear)

Robert De Niro and Nick Nolte in Cape Fear

The 90s remake of Martin Scorsese Cape fear is a hugely effective horror-thriller that skillfully adapts the timeless, simplistic and universally terrifying story of the 60s original: a lawyer and his family are terrorized by an ex-con whom the lawyer has failed to defend.

The role of the stalker, Max Cady, was originally played to disturbing effect by Robert Mitchum. In Scorsese’s remake, Robert De Niro appropriates the role with an even more ruthless sadistic take.

9 Sadako Yamamura (Ringu)

Ring 1998 Sadako coming off TV

In the original version Ringu (the J-horror classic that inspired Hollywood the ring franchise), Sadako Yamamura appears on a videotape that supernaturally kills her viewers a week after watching it, unless they show a copy of the tape to someone else and pass on the curse.

This premise is like modern folklore. Seeing Sadako is an ominous warning sign that impending death is inevitable. Her story makes her surprisingly sympathetic: she was thrown into a well and her spirit lives on through the gang.


8 Peter and Paul (fun games)

Fun Games (1997)

Michael Haneke’s Famous Home Invasion Thriller funny games revolves around a family held hostage in their vacation home by two psychotic young men, Peter and Paul, who torture them with a series of twisted games.

Audiences struggle to sit during the film as Peter and Paul torment the family for hours, especially as they often break the fourth wall, cementing the haunting realism and luring audiences into their dark world. This tale of terror proved so effective that Haneke made a shot-for-shot remake in America a decade later.

seven Count Dracula (Bram Stoker’s Dracula)

Gary Oldman Dracula

Bram Stoker’s vampiric literary icon, Count Dracula, had already been made iconic on the big screen by Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee by the time Gary Oldman stepped into the role of Francis Ford Coppola’s beautifully gothic vision. Dracula.

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Oldman won over critics with a new take on the character. Dracula actors usually do it, but Oldman goes the other way with a refreshingly understated twist.

6 John Doe (Se7en)

Kevin Spacey as John Doe in Seven

John Doe is a high profile traditional horror villain. He’s a serial killer whose grisly crimes are inspired by the Bible’s “Seven Deadly Sins,” a murderous whirlwind pitch that sets up a macabre horror version of a classic “buddy cop” movie. Morgan Freeman plays a grizzled veteran detective about to retire opposite Brad Pitt as the rule-breaking rookie he reluctantly teamed up with.

These characters are brought together by their narrow pursuit of the biblical murderer. John Doe lands one of cinema’s most iconic twists when he surrenders well before his killing spree is complete (and it all, of course, turns out to be part of his master plan).

5 Candyman (Candyman)

Tony Todd as Candyman with bees on his face

Bernard Rose’s film adaptation of Clive Barker’s horror story “The Forbidden” took the source material’s poignant use of social commentary and updated it for a modern world and American setting. The titular boogeyman candy man is an incisive symbol of racially motivated violence.

The character is also more broadly an exploration of urban legends and modern mythmaking. His victims must speak his name five times into a mirror to summon his ghostly wrath. Tony Todd is fascinating as Daniel Robitaille, the original Candyman, and his invisibility makes him a visually unique slasher.

4 The Ghostface Killers (Scream)

The Ghostface killer in Scream

Kevin Williamson’s Subversive Scream script offers conscious satire of its own genre. The characters know all the beats, tropes, and conventions of the slasher formula when a masked killer begins to take them out.

Self-awareness wasn’t the only way Williamson revolutionized the genre; he also added a whodunit angle as the killer could be hiding among the protagonists. The shocking final twist reveals that there are two Ghostface killers, both horror movie enthusiasts who wanted to live out a blood-soaked Hollywood fantasy.

3 Asami (Audition)

Asami with piano wire for torture in Audition.

Takashi Miike’s Horror Masterpiece Hearing has no sign that it’s a horror movie for the first hour or so. It is initially conceived as a soapy melodrama about a widower named Aoyama looking for new love. Aoyama’s producer friend sets up a fake casting call so he can choose the perfect second wife.

During the auditions, he falls in love with Asami, who turns out to be much less sweet and innocent than she seems. Meeting a jealous, psychotic killer is Aoyama’s cosmic punishment for manipulating all the women who came to his auditions.

2 Dr. Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs)

The Silence of the Lambs - Anthony Hopkins as the smiling Hannibal Lecter

Anthony Hopkins created an unforgettable cinematic icon with approximately 16 minutes of screen time in Thesilenceofthelambs. His win for the Best Actor Oscar was both unprecedented and well-deserved.

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Her imprisoned cannibal charmer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, shares a captivating on-screen dynamic with Jodie Foster’s rookie FBI profiler, Clarice Starling.

1 Annie Wilkes (Misery)

Annie Wilkes in Misery, wielding a big hammer

Apparently based on Stephen King’s Worst Nightmare, Misery revolves around famed author Paul Sheldon rescued and then held hostage and tormented by the ultimate toxic fan. Disappointed that Paul’s latest novel doesn’t match his boss, Annie Wilkes keeps him bedridden as she forces him to rewrite history.

The “hobbling” scene is one of the most heartbreaking sequences in all of horror cinema, and Kathy Bates more than earned her Best Actress Oscar. Her performance masterfully maintains Annie’s unsettling murderous menace while using words like “cockadoodie.”

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