If you’re reading a horror book, it’s almost guaranteed that there’s someone (or something) making trouble for the protagonist. Because what’s the point if he or she isn’t being threatened by a truly malicious villain? The more evil the villain, the more we find ourselves drawn into the tale … and the harder we root for our hero to triumph.
Most of horror literature’s most famously evil villains have made it to the big screen, but we hold a special place in our hearts for their original literary iterations. From Bram Stoker’s Dracula to Stephen King’s Annie Wilkes, the villains from our favorite horror books continue to terrify … even if we’ve read the book so many times we’ve lost count. Here are eight of the scariest horror villains in books.
1. Dracula from Dracula, by Bram Stoker
Though Bram Stoker’s Dracula was not the first vampire to appear in literature, he is certainly the most iconic. Suave and charming, Count Dracula is first introduced to readers through his encounter with solicitor Jonathan Harker, in the Count’s Transylvania castle. That his grace and charm belies such a thoroughly evil nature is what makes Dracula such an iconic villain, and what laid the groundwork for nearly every vampire character who would follow.
2. Tamar from Harvest Home, by Thomas Tryon
Said to have inspired Stephen King’s Children of the Corn, Harvest Home follows Ned and Beth Constantine and their daughter Kate, who flee New York City for the idyllic New England village of Cornwall Coombe. But as the Constantine family integrates into country life, dark and terrifying secrets emerge about their small town and fellow townsfolk—including an ancient festival called Harvest Home. The villain at the center of this horrifying ritual is the shockingly evil Tamar, the town postmistress, who is dead set on making sure she gets exactly what she wants from the Constantine family … at whatever cost.
Related: Harvest Home: Don’t See, Don’t Tell
3. Charles Chazen from The Sentinel, by Jeffrey Kovintz
When troubled and reclusive model Alison moves into a beautiful brownstone in New York, she thinks she’s hit the jackpot. Of course, her new home is not what it seems, and Alison soon begins experiencing horrifying dreams, delusions, and other terrifying symptoms. Perhaps most frightening of all the terrors that Alison encounters in her new home is her neighbor Charles Chazen, an unfriendly—to say the least—man who has dark plans for the unsuspecting Alison. Chazen is a villain who will stay with you long after you finish this horror novel.
4. Carmilla from Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Carmilla is one of the earliest works of vampire fiction; the Gothic novella even predates Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Narrator Laura tells of a horrifying event in her past, during which a mysterious and beautiful young woman named Carmilla came to stay with her and her father in their large and lonely castle. Carmilla befriended Laura, much to Laura’s delight, though Carmilla’s advances soon became overly aggressive and sinister. Of course, the beautiful Carmilla was hardly what she seemed. The quiet, deceptively loving way in which she stalked Laura, her prey, makes her one of horror’s most terrifying villains.
5. Unknown Evil from Bird Box, by Josh Malerman
Is there anything more terrifying than an unknown evil you can’t see or hear? The protagonist of Bird Box, Malorie, must protect her young children from this sinister presence, one that strikes at random and drives all those who encounter it to insanity and violence.
6. Annie Wilkes from Misery, by Stephen King
When writer Paul Sheldon is rescued from a car wreck by his “number one fan,” a reclusive former nurse named Annie Wilkes, it momentarily seems like everything may be ok … but this, of course, is a Stephen King novel. Annie turns out to be one of the most iconic villains of all time. Psychotic and violent, she goes to extreme lengths to try and prevent Paul from ever leaving her home. Of course, no one embodies Annie quite like Kathy Bates , who won an Oscar for her terrifying portrayal of the demented woman.
7. Marjorie Barrett from A Head Full of Ghosts, by Paul Tremblay
Marjorie’s status as “villain” may be controversial—is she merely a vessel of the devil?—but she is undoubtedly horrifying, and the vehicle for most of the terror that pervades the pages of A Head Full of Ghosts. Narrated by Marjorie’s younger sister Merry, this eerie tale recalls teenage Marjorie’s possible possession, and the subsequent reality show based upon her ordeal. In the vein of The Exorcist‘s Regan MacNeil, Marjorie curses, vomits, threatens, and attacks her way into the annals of “scary young possessed woman” history.
Related: 10 Creepy Books to Read Right Now
8. Margaret White from Carrie, by Stephen King
Like so many before us, we refuse to name Carrie White the villain of the novel that bears her name. Sure, Carrie uses her telekinetic abilities to destroy her school and everyone in it, but she was clearly pushed to the brink by her horrifying mother Margaret. When the school bullies torment Carrie, Margaret refuses to provide her with any comfort, choosing instead to lock Carrie in the closet, deride her as evil, and even attempt to murder her with a kitchen knife. The villainous Margaret White is unquestionably the driving force behind the horrific events of Carrie.
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Featured still from "Misery" via Castle Rock Entertainment