The 13 Days of Halloween: Psycho Killers

I watch a lot of horror movies, even bad ones.  Sometimes, especially bad ones because I’ve found that even a terrible horror movie is still more entertaining than a good romantic comedy.  Nothing frightens me more than the prospect of sitting through another Jennifer Aniston Rom-com or pretty much anything with Julia Roberts, for that matter.  Terrifying!

Over the years, I’ve consumed hundreds, if not thousands, of horror movies.  Even the bad ones can offer something unique or interesting to take away.  Much like Hamlet’s line, “The play’s the thing…”, in horror, the killer’s the thing. Without an interesting killer, your movie is ultimately doomed.

I have watched some horrible films over the years that have interesting or unique killers, and I find that I’ll watch them again just for that element, despite the fact that I know the movie itself, frankly, sucks.  It’s sorta like listening to an album with two or three good songs but sitting through the lesser 10 anyway just because the good tunes are worth it.

So, here are seven of my favorite horror movie killers from over the years.  Some of the films they were featured in were pretty good, but some were admittedly lousy.  It doesn’t really matter, though, because, as I said, the killer’s the thing.


Yeah, I know, everybody’s sick of the Saw franchise, myself included.  Besides, the guy died, like, four movies ago.  But think back to the original, do you remember that it was actually a very good film, and unique for its time?  I know sequels can sap the life out of a movie, especially a horror movie, but let’s not forget how cool the original concept was.

How can you not love a killer who turns people’s weaknesses on themselves but gives them a possible chance at redemption and survival, albeit with sometimes horrifying sacrifices?  Jigsaw wasn’t so much a mass murderer as he was a psychologist.  But rather than simply having his patients drone on endlessly about their problems hoping to stumble onto an epiphany, Jigsaw gives you 60 seconds to cut the key out from behind your eye before the apparatus strapped to your face tears your head in half.  Now that’s what I call therapy!

John Doe

What’s in the box?  Can anyone ever forget the immortal words of Brad Pitt in Seven when first suspecting that his wife has become a victim of a nameless, religious minded serial killer acting out the seven deadly sins to “turn each sin upon the sinner”?  John Doe was somewhat like Jigsaw in that respect, with one key difference:  there was no redemption in Doe’s machinations, even for himself.

Kevin Spacey played the role to perfection, and the intricately plotted out series of killings was as impressive for their inter-connectedness as for their sheer brutality.  The best part is, he won in the end.  Doe led the police by the nose throughout the entire film, and his plan worked out precisely the way he wanted it, down to the very minute.  And how can you not love a guy who gave Gwynneth Paltrow the most emotionally affecting moment of her career, as a head in a box?

Victor Crowley

Unlike the first two killers on this list who were obsessive and intricate planners of elaborate, meaningful deaths, Victor Crowley was a straight-up force of nature.  The movie Hatchet wasn’t a great film, but it was an awesome horror movie.  Crowley reportedly died as a deformed boy when he  accidentally took a hatchet to the face from his father when he was desperately trying to save Victor from a house fire.  Now he’s back, living in the family home in the secluded Louisiana swamps, and woe be unto anyone who crosses his path.

Crowley wasn’t creative or thoughtful with his prey.  He pretty much just tore people apart with his bare hands, ripping off limbs, snapping necks, breaking people in half across trees, all while groaning and growling indecipherable sounds from his horribly deformed face.  Yeah, it’s not great acting work, but it was certainly entertaining.

Jason’s Mom

The original Friday the 13th movie didn’t have Jason as the undead, unkillable monster as protagonist, it was his mom.  An otherwise sweet looking older woman, dressed in a nice sweater, stalking Camp Crystal Lake slaughtering the teen-age counselors to get revenge for a group of horny teenagers letting her son drown at camp years earlier because they were too busy drinking, smoking weed and hooking up to pay attention. 
This woman was flat-out nuts, going around spouting “kill her mommy” in her best squeaky five-year-old-boy voice.  This movie was truly great, combining horror with murder mystery.  It was like a psychopathic version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.  Not to mention a very young Kevin Bacon getting skewered through the throat with an arrow.  In the end, Jason’s mom lost her head, quite literally, unleashing a 30 year rampage of Jason’s vengeance that took him to Manhattan, Hell, outer space and back again.  Talk about influencial!

Anton Phibes

The Abominable Dr. Phibes was a Vincent Price take on the intricately planned revenge murder sequence.  Phibes was in a horrible car accident that disfigured him and killed his beloved wife.  Years later, Phibes comes back to kill everyone involved in allowing his wife to die on the operating table.

What makes this great is that Phibes didn’t just kill them, he planned each death to correspond to one of the biblical plagues on Egypt.  Brilliant!  To wrap it up, he created a very Jigsaw-like challenge for the lead surgeon to remove a key from near the heart to free his son before having his face eaten off by acid.  Phibes definitely had style.


Pazuzu was the demon who took up residence in sweet little Reagan in The Exorcist.  Not only did he twist people’s heads around and toss them out windows, but he turned a nice little girl into a drunken, foul-mouthed sailor, and made projectile vomiting cool.

Pazuzu really came into his own in the Exorcist III, though, when he possessed a patient in an asylum.  During that film, he bounced from patient to patient, sending them out to lop off people’s heads with those giant, stainless steel clipper things morticians sometimes use.  Has anyone ever invented a perfectly legitimate tool that looks more like something from a homicidal maniac’s Christmas list than those things?  They’re spring-loaded hedge clippers from pruning people’s limbs.  Totally creepy!


Death is the ultimate psycho killer.  And if you’ve seen any of the Final Destination movies, you know that he also sports a creative side for taking out his victims.  Death doesn’t just toss a little cancer at you, he creates a freaky chain of events, sort of like a gory version of the game Mousetrap, that culminated in his intended victim being disembowled, crushed, exploded, impaled or otherwise dismembered in new and interesting ways.  Has there ever been a series of films with more moments where viewers have to turn their heads suddenly and shout “whoa!” at the sudden carnage than these movies?

You also can’t beat death, no matter how hard you try.  In all these movies, the group of survivors desperately try to defeat death’s plan, but everyone ultimately ends up dead anyway.  It’s the ultimate exercise in futility.  And say what you want about Saving Private Ryan, but I’ll take the opening car crash scene in Final Destination 2 as the pinnacle in awesome movie-opening carnage and mayhem.  Death is a total bad-ass killer, and he definitely has his plans in order.

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my earlier collection, Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween concludes…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

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