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Sunday, December 31, 2023

Best of 2023: The 10 Most Memorable Horror Movie Villains of the Year

2023 was a good year for villains. With social media discourse at an all-time low, public figures taking constant swipes at each other, and A.I. poised to render all news meaningless, it seems like the year was filled with nefarious people coming out of the woodwork to make our lives a little more stressful.

But no matter what nightmares we saw playing out in real life, we could rest in the knowledge that something equally evil or maybe even worse would be showing at our local cineplex or streaming platform. The horror genre is filled with larger-than-life foes from centuries-old monsters to futuristic killers and this year gave us villains in spades.

Some are humorous, some tragic, some pulled from reality, and some difficult to pin down. But regardless of their stories, the following ten villains made our lives just a little more terrifying – and if we don’t honor them here, they may just show up in our nightmares tonight ready to exact their bloody revenge. 

Honorable Mention: John Kramer and Amanda Young – Saw X


Before we begin, let’s address the elephant in the room. One of the year’s most anticipated film’s, Saw X, featured the return of legendary villain John Kramer (Tobin Bell) and his protégé Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith). Set between the first film and its sequel, Kevin Greutert’s latest installment follows Kramer on a quest for revenge as he falls victim to a scam that promises a miracle cure for his inoperable brain tumor. While Saw X arguably represents a franchise high and returns to the basics that made Jigsaw a household name, Kramer feels more like an anti-hero than the villain of the story. With Amanda’s help, he plans and executes a string of grisly traps, but only for those who’ve made themselves rich by preying on the sick. Still claiming to abhor murderers, Kramer and Amanda risk their own lives to save a little boy who’s inadvertently fallen into their deadly games. The overall ethics of Jigsaw’s sadistic tests may be a discussion for another day, but Saw X solidifies a gradual turning point in the franchise as Kramer and Amanda officially become the heroes of this dark and twisted saga. 

10. Dracula – Renfield

Renfield VOD

Just when we thought we’d seen everything the vampire genre had to offer, Nicolas Cage emerges to offer his own spin on a timeless trope. Cage plays the legendary Dracula in Renfield, an action horror twist on Bram Stoker’s classic novel. After centuries of service, R.M. Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) has finally had enough of his master’s manipulation. He longs for an end to the mind-numbing murder that keeps Dracula fed, the bugs he must eat to increase his power, and the constant messes he’s forced to clean up when Dracula once again spirals out of control. Though the story is told from Renfield’s point of view, Cage takes his own playful stab at the iconic character, having a blast with one of the most famous villains of all time. A master of the strange, Cage finds the razor-sharp line between horror and comedy and manages to create an engaging villain who keeps us in stitches. We can’t decide whether to laugh or scream as he rises into the air and prepares to kill us all. 

9. The Voice – Skinamarink


One of the most terrifying cinematic villains in years is also one of the most ill-defined. After a sleep-walking accident, four-year-old Kevin (Lucas Paul) comes home from the hospital to a waking nightmare. Objects appear suspended from the ceiling and the windows and doors have all disappeared from their darkened house. As their parent’s also vanish, Kevin and his six-year-old sister Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault) begin to hear a sinister voice commanding them to venture further into the darkness. We never find out exactly who this voice is or what is happening in this mid-90s house and Skinamarink is all the more terrifying for its lack of concrete answers. Inspired by collective nightmares of an evil presence, Kyle Edward Ball’s film unfolds with non-linear logic that feels like watching a hellish trip through a black hole. Whether a mysterious monster lurking in the shadows or an allegory for growing up in a troubled home, the all-consuming darkness of Skinamarink is a villain that won’t soon be forgotten. 

8. CW – Influencer

While Kurtis David Harder’s tale of murder and deception was technically screened in 2022, this slick psychological thriller shook the horror landscape with its Shudder debut in May of 2023. Influencer follows Madison (Emily Tennant), a social media pro struggling through a solo trip to Thailand. When she befriends a glamorous fellow traveler named CW (Cassandra Naud) the two become fast friends and it seems that Madison’s luck may finally be turning. But an overnight excursion to a deserted island reveals a darker side to CW’s intentions and the mysterious woman attempts a shocking plan to take over Madison’s life. As A.I. continues to dramatically shift our understanding of reality, characters like CW pose an increasing, but intangible threat to our concept of autonomy. Harder’s stylish thriller examines the fine line between perception and reality as we try to decipher CW’s true motive – and wonder if we have any online friends just like her. 

7. Chris – The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster

Many creators have tried to put their own spin on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but Bomani J. Story’s film debut adds a progressive and poignant twist to the classic story of a myopic scientist and their doomed creation. As a child, Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes) lost her mother in a drive-by shooting and has been looking for a way to cure the disease of death ever since. Now a brilliant teenager, this headstrong girl has been sewing together stolen bodies in an attempt to reanimate the corpse of her recently deceased older brother Chris (Edem Atsu-Swanzy). When her experiment proves successful, Vacaria realizes that not only has she created a being she cannot control, but Chris’s presence in their fragile community may put her entire family at risk. With his long locs, oversized hoodie, and hulking physique, Chris would be viewed as a monster by authority figures whether dead or alive. Story’s fantastic film challenges us to question the lens through which we view our villains and to examine the culturally accepted definition of monstrosity.

6. The Clown – Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor

In 2009, a group of friends moved into the crumbling Abaddon Hotel in upstate New York, to create a unique haunted attraction for the Halloween season. Their doomed attempt resulted in a terrifying found footage film that drags the viewer to the very brink of hell. After two lackluster sequels, writer and director Stephen Cognetti takes us back to basics with a found footage nightmare that deepens the lore of this mysterious event. Margot (Bridget Rose Perrotta) is an internet sleuth spending the week in the infamous Carmichael Manor when she stumbles upon a connection to the Abaddon Hotel. Not only do we find disturbing home videos connecting the two locations, but a familiar face – the sinister clown with the bloody, black eyes – keeps appearing in the manor’s rambling halls. Cognetti’s newest franchise entry gives the formerly stoic clown a cryptic backstory along with terrifying powers of mobility. No longer content to merely appear in menacing positions, this frightening clown moves on camera, follows his victims down darkened hallways, and acts as a demonic force determined to drag them back through the portal to hell. 

5. John Carver – Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2023 box office - Thanksgiving PVOD

When Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino first released their 2007 exploitation extravaganza Grindhouse, fans of holiday horror were overjoyed to see a faux trailer for the pilgrim-themed slasher Thanksgiving. Now sixteen years later, Eli Roth has finally served up the full length feature and it’s every bit as gritty and graphic as we hoped it would be. One year after the deadly Black Friday riots at the RightMart superstore, a killer dressed as John Carver – founding father of Plymouth and the town’s unofficial mascot – has returned to slice and dice his way through anyone connected to the unfortunate event. Donning a pilgrim’s costume and a buckled hat, Carver makes full use of seasonal iconography and kills with various tools of the kitchen as he prepares to serve a hellish meal. Taking scenes from the original trailer, Roth has created an instant holiday classic and a terrifying villain who invokes the essence of the holiday while slowly roasting his victims alive. The only downside to this gruesome slasher is that its grisly kills may just put you off your leftovers.                


4. Mia Goth – Infinity Pool

Infinity Pool VOD

The past few years have seen Mia Goth cement herself as one of horror’s reigning scream queens. After star-making turns in both X and Pearl, Goth helms the mind-bending Infinity Pool from visionary creator Brandon Cronenberg. When floundering writer James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) attempts to break his writer’s block with a luxurious vacation, he bumps into Gabi (Goth), a femme fatale with a tiny voice and a powerful ability to bend others to her will. Guided by Gabi’s intoxicating persona, James finds himself pulled into a world of depravity where anything goes as long as you’re wealthy enough to pay the price. With a seductive smile, Goth dazzles as a glamorous housewife blowing off steam with illicit parties and sadistic crimes. A fascinating commentary on excess, privilege, consumption, and identity, Cronenberg throws us headfirst into a nightmare of decadent chaos then refuses to let us come up for air. 

3. Ellie – Evil Dead Rise

Evil Dead Rise Digital

Since the dawn of narrative horror, few archetypes have frightened audiences as much as the murderous mother. We view cinematic moms as sacred – for better or worse – and some of the most upsetting horror films shock audiences by turning the concept of maternal love on its head. Though the Evil Dead franchise has always trafficked in explicit violence and grisly gore, earlier films have mostly targeted coeds on vacation in an ill-fated cabin in the woods. Breaking with tradition, Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise not only takes place in an L.A. high rise, but his version of the Necronomicon targets Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), a mom trying to support her three children while separated from her husband. Possessed by the titular unholy spirits, Ellie transforms into a soul-crushing nightmare as she first dies in front of her kids then tries to rip them apart with innocuous household objects. Certain to become a Mother’s Day staple, Ellie shocks the audience and her children alike with upsetting quips like “Mommy’s with the maggots now” as one by one she turns her own children into soldiers in an undead army.

2. Cocaine Bear

In 1985, a mysterious cargo plane dropped a large shipment of illegal drugs onto Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forest. While most of the parcels were recovered – along with the body of the ill-fated smuggler – one brick of cocaine was found by an American black bear now immortalized in a Kentucky mall. Dubbed “Pablo Eskobear,” this unfortunate animal has become a local curiosity along with the mysterious events of his untimely death. Elizabeth Banks’s horror comedy Cocaine Bear attempts to flesh out the details of this ursine adventure as a drug-fueled bear fills her snout with Coumbian marching powder then brutally dispatches the large cast of humans who happen to cross her path. The blood flies, the bodies sore, and the unlikeable characters scrape across concrete in one of the most visceral but hilarious horror films of the year. A late stage reveal adds a touching twist that causes us to question who the true villains of the story are. Is it the bear? Is it the cocaine? Is it the 80s? Is it us? Few films can ride the line between horror, humor, and heart so effectively, making Cocaine Bear a hero we can root for while frantically trying to remember our bear facts and covering our eyes to avoid the carnage of her brutal kills.            

1. M3GAN


With A.I. breathing down our necks, what better villain to top this list than a childlike concoction of murderous metal. M3GAN is a revolutionary toy designed to bond with your child and help them work through life’s more challenging moments. Kind, compassionate, and funny, this synthetic playmate will delight youngsters with soothing renditions of pop songs interspersed with empowering life lessons and artificial compassion. The only downside is a dangerous streak of self-righteousness and a willingness to kill. When toy designer Gemma (Allison Williams) becomes the guardian for her sister’s orphaned daughter Cady (Violet McGraw), she decides to outsource some of her parental duties by test-driving this radical new invention. Unfortunately, M3GAN has strong ideas about what’s best for Cady and will kill anyone who tries to separate her from her child. Brought to life by voice actor Jenna Davis and dancer Amie Donald, M3GAN skewers the uncanny valley with a humanoid appearance that grows more sinister and disheveled as the film unfolds. Gerard Johnstone’s shocking horror comedy manages to thread a tricky needle exploring themes of grief, responsibility, and surrogate caregiving, while creating one of the most enjoyable horror films of the year and birthing a dynamic new villain for the ages.

The post Best of 2023: The 10 Most Memorable Horror Movie Villains of the Year appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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