Imagine a horror villain and what do you see: A hulking presence in the shape of Michael Myers? A masked madman grasping a blood-stained weapon a la Jason Voorhees? Perhaps you envision Freddy flexing his bladed leather glove or Dr. Hannibal Lecter pacing behind the thick glass of his grimy cell as he taunts Clarice Starling.
Men have dominated the "killer" role in horror movies for years. Women, meanwhile, often play the "final girl" hero. There is, however, a certain level of dread inspired by the female horror villain that just doesn’t compare to the traditional male approach—as evidenced by the lethal ladies below. We would not want to incur the wrath of the killer characters on this list. Some are fueled by revenge; others are driven by madness or demonic possession. In each case, they make for one badass nightmare. Step aside, Freddy and Jason, here are the best female horror villains in cinema.
Editor's note: This post was written before the release of Us. Consequently, you won't find Lupita Nyong'o's sinister character Red among the female horror villains on our list. That said, have you SEEN Lupita Nyong'o in Us? If not, watch it. Tonight. Invite your Tethered.
1. Mrs. Voorhees in Friday the 13th
Everyone knows it’s Mrs. Voorhees, not Jason, who’s the killer in the 1980s slasher flick Friday the 13th. It’s only natural that Jason’s mom would want to punish the irresponsible camp counselors who failed to protect her son. Only problem is, the counselors she picks off, one-by-one, have nothing to do with his death. Actress Betsy Palmer’s giant grin during the big reveal makes the ending of this movie super terrifying. It also doesn’t hurt that she knows her way around a machete: though not quite well enough, apparently. Mrs. Voorhees makes a cameo in the second film … as a severed head.
2. Marie in High Tension
Who in the world could be after Alex, her friend Marie, and Alex’s family in this French gore-fest from 2003? Spoiler alert [seriously]: It’s Marie! An epic plot-twist ending reveals Marie to be the killer, turning the typical gender-dynamics of horror movies upside down. As we find out, Marie is completely obsessed with Alex, and is determined to make Alex love her no matter what. Marie even exclaims, “I won’t let anyone come between us anymore” after Alex plunges a crowbar into her chest. Talk about a twisted sense of devotion.
3. Asami in Audition
Probably the most brutal, sadistic, and straight-up grotesque killer on this list, Asami terrified a whole generation of men in this 1999 Japanese horror movie. The title refers to the “auditions” that widower Shigeharu Aoyama holds for a new wife. Boy, does it seem like he’s hit the jackpot in Asami. Of course, this is a horror flick, so naturally Asami is not what she seems. Things get particularly ugly when she puts Aoyama through an audition of his own: one that involves needles and piano wire.
4. The Alien Queen in Aliens
An extraterrestrial species from the darkest depths of space? Yes, but a female nonetheless. Sigourney Weaver’s Lieutenant Ripley squares off with the massive Alien Queen in 1986’s Aliens. The creature’s monstrous form and rows of glistening teeth earn her a prime spot on this list. Yet it’s the Alien Queen’s mindmeld control over all other aliens and her ferocious defense of the unborn monster babies in her nest that make her a royal female horror villain. Mother calls the shots here and we understand her motivation—even if it means our certain doom.
5. La Femme in Inside
Think Michael Myers is relentless? You haven’t met La femme from the 2007 French invasion horror Inside. A scissor-wielding maniac terrorizes a very pregnant woman named Sarah in her own home. Sarah’s fighting for her life and the safety of her unborn child. The nameless female invader, meanwhile, is dead-set on ripping Sarah’s baby from her womb.
6. Jennifer in Jennifer’s Body
Megan Fox stars in this 2009 horror romp as a cheerleader who becomes possessed by a demon. The movie satirizes the typical hyper-sexuality of the horror genre, so most of it is just Megan Fox sexily feasting on her male classmates. For the highbrow viewer, the film starts an interesting discussion about the portrayal of women in horror movies. For the lowbrow viewer, well … it’s pretty self-explanatory.
7. Samara in The Ring
Like Naomi Watts’ character Rachel, we were fooled too: We thought Samara was a victim of the Ring, not the vengeful mastermind behind it! This young villain crawled her way into our nightmares in 2002’s remake of the disturbing Japanese horror film of the same name. Just when we thought the worst was over, she came back for more in 2005 in the sequel.
8. Annie Wilkes in Misery
There’s nothing scarier than a crazed super-fan, and this super-fan takes the cake. We meet Annie as the lucky gal who rescues one of her favorite authors from a horrible car wreck. It soon becomes apparent that Annie has no intention of ever letting him go, even if that means she has to tie him up and break his legs with a sledge hammer. In her Oscar-winning performance, Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes goes down in history as the most terrifying fan of anything or anyone, ever.
9. Madame Blanc in Suspiria (2018)
All those uninitiated to this witchy cinematic world should begin with the original: Dario Argento’s 1977 supernatural masterpiece Suspiria. But when it comes to exceptional female horror villains, Tilda Swinton’s turn as Madame Blanc in the 2018 remake is a nightmare to behold. Spoilers abound with Swinton’s role in Suspiria and her spellbinding performance as Madame Blanc, the head director of an elite dance school in Berlin. So we’ll stop here and say simply that we hope you enjoy her deeply terrifying work.
10. Kayako in The Grudge
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned … and Kayako was seriously scorned. Not only did her husband murder her in a jealous rage, he also killed their son and the family cat. Though the whole family comes back as vengeful ghosts intent on destroying the lives of the new family who moves into their home, it’s the ferocious Kayako who stands out as the most terrifying among them.
11. Regan in The Exorcist
Though it certainly isn’t Regan’s fault that she’s possessed, she sure does manage to inflict a whole lot of damage. Whether she’s cursing at priests, throwing her mother across the room, or murdering a family friend, Regan is the single most notorious victim of demonic possession in film history. Though in the end she’s finally freed from her demonic prison, we might think twice about inviting her over for a slumber party. Jeez.
12. Esther in Orphan
Terror comes in many forms. Case in point? Little Esther from Orphan, whose innocent appearance masks a sinister soul. Shattered by the loss of their unborn child, Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) decide to adopt. At the orphanage, they meet a nine-year-old girl named Esther (played by Isabelle Fuhrman) and soon take her home. At first, Esther is a happy new addition to the family. But she soon reveals herself to be one very bad seed. While the creepy kid is a familiar presence in horror, Fuhrman’s chilling performance and the flick’s shocking twist makes this one worth the watch.
13. Lola in The Loved Ones
Robin McLeavy, who plays Lola in this epic 2009 torture porn movie, shows that female villains can be just as sadistic as male villains. With the help of her demented dad, Lola wields a power drill like she got an A+ in shop class, which is rather unfortunate for the object of her affection, Brent. This overlooked horror gem from 2012 had us all rethinking those creepy classmates of ours who just wanted a date to the prom.
14. Deborah Logan in The Taking of Deborah Logan
A film crew sets out to make a documentary about Alzheimer’s patients. They find their focus in Deborah Logan (Jill Larson), an elderly woman diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease. But there's something different about Deborah, and as her behavior grows more bizarre, the crew unearths the dark and sinister truth about her condition. Larson casts a terrifying spell as Deborah Logan in this found footage horror flick, keeping you locked in place until the film’s gory finale.
15. Annabelle in The Conjuring and the Annabelle movies
Never trust a doll in a horror movie—especially one as dead-eyed as Annabelle. This lil’ terror first swiveled her creepy doll head in 2013’s The Conjuring. She has since spawned two Annabelle-focused features: 2014's Annabelle and its prequel, Annabelle: Creation, released in 2017. A third Annabelle movie is slated for release this year. What keeps filmmakers and fans coming back? Well, Annabelle's supremely unsettling presence plays a major part. And the fact that the character is based on a real-life doll said to be demonically possessed only adds fuel to the frightening fire.
16. Mrs. White in Carrie
We suppose one could include Carrie herself on this list, though that doesn’t exactly seem fair. She was, after all, the victim of years and years of bullying, and had an entire bucket of pig’s blood dropped on her head. No, we don’t blame Carrie for snapping. We hold her mother, Mrs. White, accountable. If only Mrs. White hadn’t taken to locking Carrie up in the closet and berating her for all those years, maybe things would have turned out differently. So thanks Mrs. White, for being the ultimate horror movie villain.
Related: The 6 Scariest Stephen King Books
Featured still from "Suspiria" via Frenesy Film Company