Ever since someone first figured out that the medium of film could be used to tell scary stories those stories have been populated by iconic villains and monsters. Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and the Mummy paved the way for Jason, Freddy, Pinhead, and Michael Meyers. Each type of horror character can be seen as a legacy of the times in which it rose to fame and the new millennium is interesting times indeed. New horror antagonists have emerged in the years since 2000, launching new film franchises that play to modern fears and anxieties. Here are some of the most well-known of the new breed, along with some that deserve to be.
10. The Strangers (The Strangers)
In 2007 director Bryan Bertino brought us the horror community something truly frightening – reality.
The Strangers featured 3 psychopathic ‘strangers’ that show up to a house in the middle of the night and terrorize a young couple who are having relationship problems. The film relied heavily on atmosphere and sound design that had you on the edge of your seat. No crazy special effects, no over the top gore scenes but it turned creepy up to 10 and made you feel uneasy.
Sometimes things set in reality tend to scare us the most – and those 3 masks will be burned in horror fans memories forever.
9. Sam (Trick R’ Treat)
Michael Dougherty created the little film that could when Trick R’ Treat had a modest release in 2007 with VERY few if any theaters carrying the film. But the film became a cult classic when it was released on DVD and Blu-ray. With the simplistic design of a felt onesie and a burlap sack mask (homage to Jason in Friday the 13th Part II) Sam became one terrifying little son of a bitch. Carving up heads like a pumpkin and sucking on his signature lollipop.
The Trick R’ Treat universe bled into Christmas when Dougherty released Krampus this past year. Now Trick R’ Treat II is in the works and we can only assume Sam will be causing mischief once again very soon.
8. Toby & Katie (Paranormal Activity)
Paranormal Activity became a pop culture phenomenon in 2007 due its clever premise, good acting, and the way it made shockingly good use of a shoestring budget. The film did so well that it burgeoned into a mythos that currently consists of six films.
The frightening tale of a young woman named Katie haunted by a literal specter from her childhood is noteworthy for its villain, the demonic Toby, which it never directly shows. Once it gets its hold over Katie, however, she acts as its relentlessl proxy and pops up at the least-expected times to carry out the demon,s demands and aid the coven of witches who serve it.
It’s easy to forget about the beings responsible for the terror in this series because of how understated it is. But given how the “scientific” ghost hunting shows that Paranormal Activity draws influence from continue to remain popular, it is likely that Toby and his favored vassal will remain in pop culture memory for years to come.
7. The Collector (The Collector/The Collection)
Most horror movie slashers find their arch enemy in the form of a “Final Girl” – an innocent young woman who must use her wits to overcome the physically superior killer when other opponents have failed.
In 2009’s The Collector and 2012’s The Collection, it’s actually a male career criminal named Arkin who runs afoul of the truly devious serial killer known as the Collector. The Collector goes on to subvert several other tropes of the slasher genre. Given his ludicrous methods of killing entire buildings full of people and his seemingly limitless financial resources for doing so, he’s actually more like a terrorist than a serial killer. Then there’s his personal tic of leaving one victim alive at the end of every spree: an artistic flourish that gets him in trouble more than once. And while he’s no slouch in hand-to-hand combat, the Collector much prefers to slay his prey with elaborate booby traps worthy of a Saw film. Appropriate, given that the franchise originally began life as a rejected Saw script.
The Collection ends on a cliffhanger that leaves the future of the black-clad brute unknown. There has been no word of any further films in the franchise. But even if it ends there, the terrorist mayhem and medical horror of the Collector provide a fine snapshot of early 20th century anxieties and doubts
6. ChromeSkull (Laid To Rest)
Despite emerging in the ghetto of low-budget, direct-to-video horror films, 2009’s Laid To Rest stood out with some truly phenomenal special effects courtesy of director/FX artist Robert Green Hall and on account of its memorable villain, ChromeSkull.
In a nod to the iconic slashers of the 80’s ChromeSkull is an unstoppable juggernaut of a man whom bullets do little more than annoy and he dishes out gruesome kills with massive serrated knives. But he’s also a psychopath of the modern era, taunting authorities with videos of his crimes captured on high tech equipment and using text messages to toy with his victims. His only real weakness is his obsessive-compulsive need to glue his silver skull mask back onto his face whenever it becomes dislodged in a struggle.
Laid To Rest features some great characters whom you hate to see go, incredible gore effects, and an amnesia plot about a woman who wakes up in a coffin. (Also, don’t blink or you’ll miss Lena Headey slumming it between the demise of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and the rise of Game Of Thrones.) The 2011 sequel, Laid To Rest 2: ChromeSkull expands the film’s universe by revealing the rest of the criminals whom ChromeSkull leads and also a brief glimpse into his home life.
5. Clover (Cloverfield)
J.J. Abrams created one of the most successful viral marketing campaigns ever with the 2008 kaiju-style epic Cloverfield. It began with a trailer that didn’t even show the title of the film and continued with a series of cryptic websites that slowly teased out the film’s backstory of a juvenile sea monster accidentally provoked into attacking New York City.
Unfortunately, this juvenile – more-or-less officially known as Clover at this point – is the size of a skyscraper and his rampage is caught on the video cameras of a group of doomed partygoers who struggle to escape the confused beast’s thrashing rage. The film became a success for its unique approach and breathed fresh life into the found-footage horror genre. When a new film in the franchise, 10 Cloverfield Lane, abruptly appeared in 2016, many hoped for Clover’s return.
10 Cloverfield Lane’s ambiguous connection to its predecessor proved frustrating for some, but given that the film contains clues linking John Goodman’s character with the corporation that first encountered Clover in the ocean, it is possible the leviathan’s story may be resumed at some future point.
4. Bughuul (Sinister)
Children having long had a fear of a boogieman: some nebulous creature from beyond that enters their home at night to them and their family harm. But what if the boogieman were actually an outcast Mesopotamian deity responsible for massacring countless families in antiquity and who is continuing his crimes with a modern serial killer’s flair? This is the premise of 2012’s Sinister and 2015’s Sinister 2 which shows the ancient supernatural being Bughuul memorializing the deaths he causes with a chilling series of snuff films.
At first he seems like a standard enemy that’s out to terrorize children, but it’s worse than that: Bughuul actually grooms children to be the ones who carry out murders on his behalf! Bughuul is noteworthy in the new millennium for speaking not only to age-old fears about keeping children safe from physical harm, but also parental anxieties about what sort of people they will eventually become.
3. Kayako (The Grudge)
At the beginning of the 2000’s it seemed like Asia was set to completely take over the horror genre for all time to come. One of the biggest icons to emerge from that influx of quality horror from the far east was Kayako, the vengeful ghost with the distinctive moan.
Although Kayako is drawn from a long tradition of murderous undead from Japanese folklore, she was something new to western audiences with her animate black hair, bone-cracking contortions, and guttural growl. With her equally undead son Toshio serving as her harbinger, Kayako relentlessly destroys anyone who dares set foot in the house where she and her son perished at the hands of her abusive husband. But with each murder she grows in power and soon it seems like the entire world may not be safe from her wrath.
The various Grudge films from Japan spawned a successful remake and sequel starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, but then Kayako’s infamous death rattle fell silent on Western shores for many years. Now with the launch of the Japanese-produced Sadako Vs. Kayako which sees her pitted against the famous villainess of the Ring film series it looks like Kayako is ready to make a comeback.
2. The Firefly Family (House of 1000 Corpses/The Devil’s Rejects)
Director Rob Zombie’s ultra-violent-yet-decidedly-retro take on the trope of a sadistic rural family of killers gave us the inimitable Firefly family. Led by the hilariously wicked Otis Driftwood and Captain Spaulding (played by iconic actors Bill Moseley and Sid Haig respectively,) the Fireflys have come a long way since their inception under the guidance of a mad scientist and rack up quite a body count over the course of two films.
Despite being a throwback to classic films such as The Hills Have Eyes and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Zombie’s films featuring the Firefly characters nevertheless set a new standard for modern films in terms of both style and substance and also established their creator as one of the preeminent leaders of the modern school of horror film making.
1. Jigsaw (Saw)
The killer whose shadow hangs longest over horror films of the 2000’s is without a doubt John “Jigsaw” Kramer of Saw fame. When the first Saw film emerged in 2004 it was different: a closed-room mystery with two trapped men trying to figure out how they got there and given a limited time by their unseen captor to find their own way out or die. It was different and the levels of cruelty displayed in the booby traps truly frightening, with each death machine tailored to a particular flaw that Jigsaw sees in each different victim’s character.
Gradually the franchise reveals Jigsaw to have been a benevolent man until a series of personal tragedies left him cancer-ridden and full of vengeance for the world he felt had wronged him. Over the course of seven films Jigsaw’s conspiracy grows and grows, filling up with betrayals, accomplices, and plot twists.
With his vicious judgments against a sick society and the weak people which it spawns, it’s easy to see why Jigsaw’s appeal endures in an era where technology seemingly has done nothing to stop societal decay.