These madmen and women from the fan favorite movies are not the faceless automatons from such slasher and body count pictures like Halloween or No Country for Old Men. No, these monsters are all too human, with recognizable traits and even sympathetic qualities, which make them all the more interesting. And batass scary.
Dennis Hopper’s wheezing, sadistic Frank Booth is the dark heart of David Lynch’s dreamy horror noir. He’s a sexually deranged gangster who tortures and assaults women, murders with glee, cries at Roy Orbison tunes and loves Pabst Blue Ribbon almost as much as he likes inflicting pain on others.
It’s tough to choose just one incarnation of Thomas Harris’ culturally refined cannibal killer. All of them – from Brian Cox to Mads Mikkelson – offer some new, sinister and smooth take on the monster. But its Anthony Hopkins who will always stand the tallest, especially in Ridley Scott’s kinky and outlandish 2001 Hannibal, with the mad doctor on the loose in Florence, playing cat and mouse with a greedy cop.
The Coen Brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s meditatve psycho thriller/western is a masterpiece and Javier Bardem is its central devil. His Anton Cigurh is a dead-eyed automaton who drifts through life playing loose with people’s lives by flipping a coin. He’s chilling because he doesn’t care if he kills you or not, it’s just the way of fate.
William Lustig’s lurid, upsetting and ultraviolent portrait of late ’70s New York and the titular lunatic who prowls its streets is as grimy now as it was then. And it’s anchored by a show-stopping central performance by character actor Joe Spinell, who scalps women and fantasizes that his stable of mannequins are alive. Hard to watch and unforgettable.
Actor Mickey Hargitay out-cages Nicolas in this berserk 1965 Italian exploitation film. He plays a former actor who loses his marbles and fantasizes that he’s a legendary murderer; pity the stable of dumb models who end up trapped in his mansion. A crazed performance that has to be seen to believed.
Ray Wise launched 1000 nightmares when he was revealed to be the incestuous demon possessed killer patriarch in David Lynch’s cult TV series Twin Peaks. He expanded that role in Lynch’s terrifying feature film prequel, which allows Wise to freely wax evil incarnate.
The kate, great Sheila Keith appeared in almost all of British director Pete Walker’s horror films and Frightmare offers her most memorable performance. She plays seemingly meek country housewife Dorothy Yates, a compulsive cannibal whose madness is hereditary and bloodlust insatiable. Keith is unforgettable in this chilling film.
Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver is the ultimate portrait of a disenfranchised man succumbing to his accelerating mental illness. The scary thing about Robert De Niro as Bickle is that he is convinced he is righteous, that his actions are for the greater good. It’s an endlessly fascinating performance and a haunting American classic.
The measure by which most move maniacs are judged, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is both a masterpiece of style and shock and a deft, jet black comedy. Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates is terrifying because he passes for a regular guy, a mother’s boy whose twitchy smile conceals slobbering, wide-eyed murderous madness. The final shot is as iconic as the heart-stopping shower scene.
Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom came out the same year as Psycho and is a much darker, horrifying vision. Carl Boehm stars as Mark Lewis a photographer/serial killer who gets off on taking photos of his victims as they die. A shattering horror film and portrait of madness with a wild final act.
Wings Hauser is the most terrifying lunatic of the 1980s in Gary Sherman’s Vice Squad. His Ramrod is a totally unsympathetic sociopathic monster pimp who punishes his “girls” with a coat hanger and doesn’t take kindly to being double crosses. Hauser’s intensity turns this crime drama flick into a full blown horror movie.