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Why Do We Need Horror Icons?

by Jenika Enoch 3 months ago in pop culture

Villains give us a different insight — quite literally, a killer perspective — and can either terrorize us as viewers or give us something to root for.

'A Nightmare on Elm Street' [New Line Cinema]

For those of us who love horror movies and TV shows, there are a multitude of reasons as to why we are drawn to this expansive genre. Whether we are attracted to the high stakes, gore, or the stories of survival, it all boils down to one thing: We all love horror villains and icons.

Villains are a staple of the horror genre and are almost always the reason for the horrific things that happen to the protagonists. Villains give us a different insight — quite literally, a killer perspective — and can either terrorize us as viewers or give us something to root for.

Why Is The Villain The Most Interesting Character To Watch?

'Saw II' [Lionsgate / Twisted Pictures]

It's human nature to be intrigued by darkness. Most of us have morality ingrained in us from an early age and we don't really think about breaking those codes. If we do, there are consequences we must face, such as criminal charges, death or eternal damnation.

Horror movie villains give us that taste of the darkness without actually endangering our own lives. They also challenge the audience by allowing us to question the morality or reasoning for the characters' actions. The antihero gives us the opportunity as the viewer to explore both sides of the spectrum; we know what they're doing is wrong, but understand that they have their own twisted reasons for doing it. It can be quite fun to watch them and think: "What would I do in their shoes?"

Do Villains Even Believe They're The Bad Guys?

The conscience of a villain is a rather subjective thing. For the most part, it would appear that villains know they are evil and are well aware that what they are doing is wrong. And yet they continue on for multiple reasons:

  • They feel there is a purpose to what they're doing
  • They are seeking revenge
  • They simply don't care about humanity

Awareness of their wrongdoing often adds to a villain's menacing behavior, but some act out of sheer delusion, believing that they are being completely normal in their own right. We as viewers are not only left with the uncertainty of what mindset each villain possesses, but we are confronted with a choice to either root for their cause or fight alongside the protagonist.

Are Villains Changing From Being Simply Evil To More Complex Characters?

'Halloween' [Compass International Pictures]

The simple answer to the question is yes, modern villains are changing. Classic bad guys like Freddy and Jason will always hold a special place in our hearts and within the genre. After all, no matter how many times studios try to update or remake horror films, the core elements remain to influence future movies.

Yes, modern villains are changing. But while a scary villain brandishing a knife used to be enough to frighten people, society has changed and audiences demand more shock value, and consequently the role of villain had to evolve. The necessity for more original, more modern villains has become increasingly apparent since the mid-'90s.

'Friday the 13th Part III' [Paramount Pictures]

As this necessity has grown, filmmakers have developed elements, such as psychological horror, paranormal entities, mental illness and basic everyday behaviors, all of which have become common subjects of torture within the genre.

What Exactly Has Caused These Changes?

Have you ever wondered why older horror movies often seem super tame or cheesy?

Perhaps it's because wider news coverage has turned the plots of the classic horror films into scarily normal situations. The bottom line is, nowadays, seemingly normal people have become real-life antagonists and as a result audiences have become desensitized and are a lot more difficult to scare.

'The Nun' [Warner Bros. / New Line Cinema]

In a world where we see tragedy daily on the morning newscast — terrorism, school shootings, mass murder — the film industry has been forced to create a newer wave of villains and situations to get under the skin of the viewer. We wanted more gore, more murder, more psychological thrills.

In the mid to late-'90s, the film industry's answer to the lack of shock value was to release movies like Scream, The Blair Witch Project, The Craft and I Know What You Did Last Summer. While some filmmakers still followed the classic path of slashers, an increasing number of their work took seemingly normal people and twisted the narrative upside down by revealing them to be the true villains. This updated standard lasted only for a short while. Audiences lost interest and wanted more bang for their buck; we want more gore, more murder, more psychological thrills and bigger risks. What was Hollywood's answer? Even more new and shocking villains.

'The Blair Witch Project' [Artisan Entertainment]

While it could be argued that a lot of horror offerings since the year 2000 have been subpar or have been reboots/remakes of classic horror stories, there have been a decent amount of villains that have really demonstrated how the film industry has changed the genre. Although not all of them could be considered original, the portrayal of villains over the past 16 years in film and television has definitely given them a resurgence and gifted audiences something to love or hate.

Why Do We Need These Villains?

'The Human Centipede: First Sequence' [Bounty Films]

Malefactors exist primarily to challenge the protagonist(s) and to scare the viewer, but it's not quite that simple. These modern villains have continuously shaped our culture and our minds and although they might not scare everyone, they have definitely given us something to mull over. Villains challenge the psyche by pulling us into their world and twisting our reality, even if only for 90 minutes. Without these characters, horror movies would be boring, and we wouldn't have any incentive to root for characters to survive and grow.

Modern villains have continuously shaped our culture.

What the modern horror genre has taught me is that although things might seem hopeless, something will come along to challenge you. Whether you're being put to the test with a villain who is out to hurt you, destroy you or put you face to face with your own inner demons, there is something to be learned and something to think about. Without these characters, all of that would be lost. I don't know about you, but that's not the horror genre I want.

'IT: Chapter Two' [New Line Cinema]

pop culture

Jenika Enoch

I love movies, music, sci-fi, and art. I'm a certified graphic designer and create my own art. Things that fuel me include equality, respect, and anything weird. ⨺

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Jenika Enoch
Read next: Shadows Never Sleep

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