The horror genre has been one of the most popular with cinemagoers since projectors first started rolling films. Over the past century, huge volumes of memorable and impressive horror films have adorned our screens and as such horror villains and their character victims and settings/locations have often become implanted within popular culture, transcending the boundaries of the cinema screen to become familiar to those who haven’t even seen the films in question.
The following are what we consider to be the 10 most iconic of these images… those moments in horror cinema that have been ingrained in our soul and what he have come to know as the 10 defining moments of horror.
10. HELLRAISER (1987)
Clive Barker’s Hellraiser series and lead character Pinhead are undisputed icons of British horror. This grotesque and freakish image of the devilish character actually scared me so much as a child back in the 90s that the poster alone was enough to give me nightmares for a week! Today, whilst it may not keep me up at night any longer, the image remains one of the most memorable from 1980s horror cinema.
Actor Doug Bradley brings a menacing vulgarity to the image, which is both attractively mysterious/seducing and unnervingly horrific. The Pinhead character has gone on to become one of the most iconic within horror cinema and this image of him is certainly the one most associated with the franchise. Hell, he is the franchise.
09. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
Although Robert Englund’s horror villain, Freddy Krueger, eventually became more of a comic character – even a parody of the typical evil pariah’s in such horror films – at the very beginning he was an extremely unsettling and horrific character. The hideous scaring from being burned alive makes Krueger grotesquely horrific, his vile charred face something many viewers probably did see in their nightmares.
This iconic image above is one of the early close-ups of Freddy as he knowingly poses for a close-up with knives as fingers. Sickening!
Today, Freddy has become a horror hero and images of him can be found adorning everything from posters and books on the genre, to all kinds of merchandise (including figurines, mugs and other weird and wonderful stuff!) for kids. The longevity of the popularity of the image means that its one of the most memorable within horror cinema history.
08. HALLOWEEN (1978)
One of horror cinemas most terrifying villains, this image of Michael Myers still sends shivers down my spine. The cold, expressionless face on the white mask makes the super-villain look even more horrific and grotesque, whilst the inability to see his eyes gives him an eerie, inhuman quality. The high angle shot also emphasises Myers’ size – he’s a tall and extremely imposing chap – and the ridiculously huge butcher’s knife heightens the fear within audiences (we know he means business with a knife that size…).
Perfect as a costume this Halloween if you really do want to scare the living daylights out of your mates…especially seeing all you need is the mask and a rather dirty blue boiler suit!
07. SCARS OF DRACULA (1970)
Arguably in England, Christopher Lee’s image of Dracula is more notorious and iconic than that of Bela Lugosi’s. Lee played the character in a series of films for Britain’s Hammer Productions, whilst Lugosi only donned the cape once for Universal’s classic adaptation. In Scars of Dracula, Lee had perfected his portrayal of the character and the imagery surrounding the production has become some of the most iconic in the studio’s series of films.
The blood red eyes hint at the disease that flows through his body and the intense stare is chilling to say the least. Little can be seen of the costume, but the customary black cape and formal attire hinted at adheres to the traditional image of Dracula and Lee manages to create a truly hideous and menacing image here. With his victim limp in his arms, this is an iconic image of the vampire Count and one that most audiences would associate with the character.
06. NOSFERATU (1922)
The terrifying image of Count Orlok in the 1922 classic silent horror film, Nosferatu, needs to be nothing more than a shadow on a wall (although seeing the figure in the flesh is equally as horrific – see picture below) to be effective. Managing to induce sheer dread for audiences in only his shadow form, the distinctively deformed silhouette of the vampiric Count is the stuff of nightmares.
The elongated fingers, hunched back, large nose and oddly shaped head combine to create a memorable and unnerving image of a horror film villain. The fact that contemporary audiences are just as aware of the character as those around at the films release stands testament to the power of the image.
05. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)
If the original 1940s Wolf Man film is merely humorous today, An American Werewolf in London is quite simply grotesque and disgusting. The graphic transformation sequence is truly the stuff of nightmares, but the impressive special effects have made this image one of the most iconic within the horror genre. The realistic make up effects make the image very successful, as actor David Naughton realistically transforms into his werewolf counter part. The mangled mouth, elongated snout, pointy ears and thick mane of hair all hints at the werewolf aspect, but there’s still something monstrously human about the face. This makes the image incredibly disturbing and one that is not likely to be forgotten for a long time…
04. THE EXORCIST (1973)
This hideous image is definitely one of the most easily identifiable in horror film history. The demonic eyes, scarred complexion and rotting teeth immediately scream of possession and it’s obvious that the image comes from the seminal film on the matter, The Exorcist. The image is incredibly grotesque and rather chilling, but it’s the almost hypnotic quality of the eyes that makes it so disturbing. The intense stare on Linda Blair’s face seems to be able to penetrate viewers’ very souls, making then feel violated to a certain extent.
This is certainly the most powerful aspect of the picture and what makes it so creepy. This image has cropped up in a variety of places, but the most hilarious (and well known) has to be at the end of the ‘Scary Maze’ prank…and the umpteen videos of unsuspecting and massively overacting victims of it available on YouTube!
03. THE SHINING (1980)
I’d like to propose that without this sequence (and the subsequent image) Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining would not have become the legendary masterpiece of horror that it is widely regarded as being today. Many of you will disagree I’m sure, but the notorious moment where Jack Nicholson hacks through the door is undeniably the most iconic part of the film. The image can be found on all manner of merchandise relating to the horror genre, from t-shirts to coffee mugs!
The crazy expression on Nicholson’s face is unsettling, perfectly capturing the intensity of the moment on screen. Despite being parodied and spoofed countless times, this image remains as eerie today as it did upon the films release and will undoubtedly remain a staple of the genre forever more.
02. PSYCHO (1960)
Janet Leigh’s Psycho scream shot is literally everywhere! As horror images go, its one of the most memorable and long lasting cinema has ever produced. Instantly recognisable, fans of the genre – and cinema as a whole, alike – know exactly who this is and what the image is from. Finding its way on to a host of tie in merchandise, as well as almost anything that relates to horror films, the Psycho scream sparked a whole wave of similar imagery during 1960s horror film advertising (Strait-Jacket, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte [both 1964], I Saw What You Did  and Berserk  are four prime examples).
However, despite a host of imitations, this remains the quintessential image of 1960s horror and has forged its way into both popular culture and the memories of numerous generations of film fans…
01. FRANKENSTEIN (1931)
If you’re still stuck for a Halloween costume then, a) you’re a fool, you should have had it planned weeks ago, and b) look no further, as you can’t go wrong with a turn as the classic Frankenstein’s Monster! Known the world over and immediately identifiable for virtually anybody who’s ever heard of the word horror, Boris Karloff’s classic portrait of the monster is as much ingrained within popular culture as Janet Leigh’s scream. From the flat head, through the bolts in the neck, right down to the bulky footwear, Karloff created a character that remains well known and easily identifiable 80 years later.
This full body image of Boris Karloff has used in a variety of merchandise surrounding the film and the wider horror genre, as well as having undoubtedly inspired virtually every Halloween Frankenstein’s Monster costume ever to be produced! The classic portrait (pictured below) is probably even more iconic and has been used even more: most recently I noticed it on a poster advertising a club night! There’s no two ways about it, in my mind these are the most iconic horror images to have ever been seen by audiences!
As with all of these ‘Iconic’ lists, 10 is never a big enough number and there’s huge room for debate. What I consider worthy of this Top 10, others may not…so let us know what you think, what your own choices are or which you don’t think should have made the cut. To get things started, here are some additional images that would have charted had the list being compiled of a bigger number of entries…
THE MUMMY (1932)
STEPHEN KING’S IT! (1990)
This article was first posted on October 31, 2011