The most memorable villains in horror-movie history are almost impossible to evade. More than frightening physical features, otherworldly abilities, or unusual weapons, the truly terrifying antagonists are characterized by their close-to-infallible capability. They pose a genuine threat to the lives of their victims, stumping audiences as they struggle to form full-proof plans for survival.
Curiously, some horror films depict villains who are insufficient killers. Sometimes these characters are successful on account of skilled partners, luck, or even sheer force of will. Other times, they simply fail in their objectives and experience defeat. Lacking in cunning and capability, these often-comical antagonists might ruin a movie’s chance to scare—but they also upset expectations in the most entertaining of ways.
10 Grant Grant
Grant is not the true antagonist of Slither (2006), but rather the host of an alien parasite. Before his possession, he is still something of a villain, with a tendency to control, neglect, and disrespect his wife Starla. He is not overly intelligent; gaining respect from his small-town community through wealth and status alone. Grant becomes grotesquely deformed and strong under the influence of the parasite, transforming into an almost unstoppable beast. Despite his strengths, Starla easily manipulates him, taking advantage of his intense attachment to her.
The beginning of a hilarious series of horror films, Leprechaun (1993) leans into the silliness of its strange premise. Following the general slasher format that was popularized in the 1970s and 1980s, this film depicts a group as they are hunted by a maniacal killer. What sets this narrative apart from others is that the villain is short-statured, stupid, and seeking stolen gold. The Leprechaun fails to kill any of his primary targets and never collects his lost coin, solidifying himself as one of the least successful horror villains in history.
8 Steve Hadley and Gary Sitterson
In 2012’s Cabin In The Woods, coworkers Steve and Gary suffer dire consequences when they fail to fulfill their homicidal duties. At the beginning of the film, the pair appears to be experienced and competent killers, with a confidence that borders on carelessness. Targeting a group of young adults, they manipulate their victims and successfully facilitate their deaths one by one. The cavalier attitude they have towards their work is their downfall, however, and they eventually prove themselves to be ineffectual killers.
Chucky, who is also known as Charles Lee Ray or the Lakeshore Strangler, transfers his soul into a children’s doll at the beginning of 1988’s Child’s Play. From this moment on, the bloodthirsty killer faces the challenge of committing murder as a child-sized plastic figurine.
Chucky is easily enraged and utterly bloodthirsty, never hesitating to attack whomever he pleases. Though this relentless need to kill makes him incredibly dangerous, Chucky’s recklessness and unwillingness to plan ahead can mean that he fails to get what he wants.
6 Richard Strickland
The antagonist of Guillermo del Toro’s 2017 film The Shape of Water is Colonel Richard Strickland, the abusive and power-hungry head of the Occam Aerospace Research Centre. Strickland captures the protagonist’s love interest; an amphibious humanoid creature native to the rivers of South America. This man is skilled in inflicting pain onto others as a result of his status and unflinching cruelty, but he does not possess the brains required to succeed in his task. Despite desperately looking for the amphibious man, he is only able to find him through the use of torture and intimidation, and ultimately fails to finish the job.
Inspiring a series of ridiculous rip-offs, Gremlins (1984) was one of the first horror films to depict a slew of small mythical creatures wreaking havoc on a nondescript town. This light-hearted horror movie has minimal gore and violence, with the gremlins themselves only successfully killing a handful of people. Above all else, these creatures are looking to be entertained, and this trait makes them ineffective killers. Easily distracted and constantly outsmarted, the gremlins fail to overrun the town for longer than an eventful Christmas Eve.
4 Stu Macher
Fans of Wes Craven’s 1996 slasher Scream will know, for this film at least, there are two faces behind the iconic Ghostface mask. The first is that of Billy Loomis, the vengeful boyfriend of protagonist Sidney Prescott, and the second is that of their friend, Stu Macher. Stu has a lot of qualities that make him an ideal candidate for committing homicide. He is bloodthirsty, egotistical, and unsympathetic, as well as a convincing actor when he bothers to try. Unfortunately for him, it is obvious that he is too reckless and idiotic to be the brains of the operation, and would never have gotten so far without Billy in Scream.
3 Henry Bowers
In the 2017 film It, the titular villain—which is often referred to as one of its favorite guises, Pennywise the Clown—manipulates a local bully into committing a series of murders. The bully, Henry Bowers, is already accustomed to violence, cruelty, and intimidation, having spent his life as both a victim and perpetrator of abuse.
Henry struggles to fulfill his duty and murder the members of the Losers Club, even when he tries again in It: Chapter II (2019). Particularly as a teenager, Henry is physically strong and tireless in his attempts to torture the Losers, but he doesn’t have the capacity to outsmart any one of them.
Appearing in both The Babysitter (2017) and its sequel, The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020), Allison is the stereotypical high school cheerleader seen in many teen movies. She is unapologetically vain and one of the more useless members of an already subpar satanic cult. Allison fails to murder the protagonist, Cole, even when the perfect opportunity presents itself. It is clear she would not have much success in ritual sacrifice without her psychotic group of friends; particularly the elusive and intelligent Bee.
1 The Le Domas Family
The unusual array of villains in Ready Or Not, known collectively as the Le Domas Family, are superstitious and pompous socialites who owe their wealth to a deal their ancestors made with a “Mr. Le Bail.” In order to avoid untimely deaths, the Le Domases must perform a satanic ritual whenever a family member is married. The protagonist and bride, Grace Le Domas, is initiated into the wealthy family by participating in a fatal game of hide-and-seek. Fortunately, the dysfunctional Le Domas clan are clumsy and talentless killers, and Grace secures her survival till the game’s conclusion.
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