Fear Has Many Faces
Several things make a horror icon; it’s not just the mask. No, the mask is important, but not altogether necessary. What makes a character iconic is the character. You can often identify the person even if it’s a different actor playing them because their presence on screen is like the loudest alarm that goes unheard, whether they are watching in the background or standing face to face with the protagonist.
Icons of horror don’t come as often as they used to. Oftentimes, they reach massive cult status because they bring something to the table that has yet to be seen. Take the Universal monsters, for instance. Many of those characters rose to prominence because movies, in general, were still new. They depicted things not seen before. The same can be said regarding Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Slashers had primarily been human beings. These two were new entities entirely. Beings that had not been seen before and therefore could stamp out spots for themselves in horror, and all else that followed would only be imitating their success.
To become an icon, a character or entity would have to have not just a new look but would have to come with a different style. Annabelle was conceived of James Wan’s brand of horror that subverted expectations and was in-your-face. Annabelle was the ghost the audience could immediately put a face to. This arguably made the doll the face of the entire Conjuring franchise. The same goes for the Billy doll regarding Jigsaw. The killer spoke through the toy, and therefore, its face became the perpetrator behind what John Kramer would dub his “games.” The following characters on this list commit the most heinous acts in a way that’s unique to them. They either have their style, abilities, or rules of killing. Some are already recognizable, but they haven’t reached iconic status.
Pennywise the Dancing Clown – It
There’s room for argument that this shapeshifter is already an icon. Tim Curry’s outing as the otherworldly child-killer has been known since before the 2017 adaptation, but Bill Skarsgard’s interpretation breathed new life into the character and inspired a wave of clown-based scare tactics. Remember the videos of clown appearances? What made the new films memorable was a combination of two things: The clown and the bond between the core group. They couldn’t have beat him without standing together, and Pennywise’s innate ability to unite characters made friendship important to their success, something that isn’t often seen in any horror film. If this character hasn’t been cemented, he has a firm foot in the door. However, with the news that an It prequel series is on its way to HBO Max, the sinister clown could be set to reach new heights in terror.
Gabriel – Malignant
James Wan may very well be the modern master of horror. The promotional material for the 2021 film was ominous when it came to this killer, depicting him mainly shrouded. It was easy to be deceived that Malignant would be another paranormal film, but it only disguised the slasher that it was. Gabriel’s movements are haunting and unnatural with his backward movements and disfigured face. Coupled with a sinister rendition of “Where is My Mind” by the Pixies, James Wan had done it again by showing audiences something they had never seen before. There has been no word yet if there will be a sequel, but Wan’s addicting storytelling could put this unique psychopath on the level of Wan’s other iconic creations, Annabelle and Jigsaw, if done right.
Sam – Trick r’ Treat
This devious little guy already has a cult following thanks to 2007s Trick r’ Treat and the comics of the same name, but he hasn’t reached the status of an icon just yet. But the impending sequel may be what he needs to put him in the ranks of Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. With his childlike stature and cute yet creepy visage, he’s got the right stuff. Unlike other classic horror characters, Sam doesn’t need to be the center of attention. Trick r’ Treat was an anthology film of multiple stories, with Sam serving as a binding figure to connect each story. He watches from the sidelines to ensure Halloween is respected. Failing to do so earns perpetrators a grizzly fate. In another film, he may show Michael Myers who really rules Halloween night.
Art the Clown – Terrifier
Art earned massive cult status with his outing in 2016’s Terrifier when he too laid claim to Halloween night in the grisliest fashion. Murdering anyone who crosses his path, this mime-like clown does so without ever making noise and takes the utmost delight in his work. His black and white outfit demonstrates the amplification of carnage as he dawns more and more of his victim’s blood. He works against a menacing score, painting him as a man one could meet on any other night. He’s a character that could have easily been blown off as generic, but the haunting performance of actor David Howard Thornton makes Art into one of the most terrifying (pun intended) and memorable killers to date. Terrifier 2 is expected sometime this year, with Arts lore to be expanded upon. Director Damien Leone has also expressed interest in two more sequels afterward, so it looks like Art is here to stay.
The Creep – Creep, Creep 2
The Duplass brothers struck gold when they made this nameless psychopath. These films center around Mark Duplass as an eccentric serial killer, often in black clothing, who gets his unsuspecting victims to video record themselves and him before he takes their lives. He’s creepy as hell, but he doesn’t try to hide it as he takes different identities. In fact, he revels in his target’s discomfort, coming off first as unsuspecting while gradually dropping tidbits to get his objectives second-guessing his character. There’s no music to either of the Creep films, but Mark can go from cheerfully pleasant to ominously unnerving at a moment’s notice. The use of found-footage style has never been utilized as realistically in any other film as what the viewer sees and feels like it could very well be found in someone’s cabinet. A third film is reportedly in the works, but so far, the first two have been exclusive to Netflix. With a wider audience, this killer could be the modern-day Patrick Bateman.
The Grabber – The Black Phone
Although we do not yet know who this man is, it took only the first image of Ethan Hawke in the mask to know that he’s going to be a nightmare walking. The character checks more than half the boxes on what attributes of a horror icon, having a creepy face/mask, long hair, a unique outfit, and strange movements. The Black Phones plot centers on every parent’s worst nightmare: The abduction of children. The child this film focuses on has help from the ghost of victims past, giving him the tips he’ll need to make it out alive. From the look of Hawkes character, that’ll be no easy feat. The Grabber looks both like the man down the road with the dark secret, and a dark figure out of fairy tales. Perhaps there will be a supernatural element to him. Most horror films don’t have the nerve to target kids, so this film may be harrowing to watch. Ethan Hawke’s acting prowess may see the Grabber become a new icon that will remind kids everywhere why they shouldn’t talk to strangers.
The Black Phone (2022) Official Universal Pictures Trailer