And while those movies typically encapsulate the “slasher” genre, many movies of their ilk have been made containing reasonably realistic killers. These killers are 100% human, meaning they can be stopped, they can be killed, and they most certainly don’t have the power to invade people’s dreams. Does that make them scarier? Who’s to say?
10 Pamela Voorhees
The Friday the 13th series is widely known for Jason, but the first movie actually concerns his mother, Pamela. A fact that Casey Becker, unfortunately, goofed on in Scream. Unlike her borderline supernatural son who can survive, well, anything, Pamela is 100% human.
She has an understandable and grounded motive for doing what she did – that being revenge against the camp’s negligence, even though those particular people had nothing to do with Jason’s “death”. And best of all, she actually dies at the end of the movie. Being decapitated will do that.
9 Billy Loomis & Stu Macher
Speaking of Scream, the first movie contains the wonderful, if psychotic, duo of Billy and Stu. The Scream mythology would get increasingly complicated throughout the series, with Scream 3, in particular, being a complex piece of work. But the first is just a simple story of a vengeful teenager and his psychotic buddy.
They both have grounded motives (revenge and psychopathy, primarily), their kills are relatively simplistic and realistic (simple stabbings), and they die in completely normal ways (crushed by a TV and shot in the head).
Texas Chain Saw Massacre remains one of the scariest films ever made. Despite being completely bloodless and tame by today’s standards, the movie leaves an indelible and lasting impression thanks to its creepy setting and horrific antagonist.
Some aspects of the movie may be a little “out there” (like the blood-sucking mummy of a grandpa), but Leatherface makes for a convincing murderer. In fact, he was largely styled after Ed Gein, a man who killed two people and dug up graves to steal human skin and bones.
“Billy” is the name given to the unseen antagonist of 1974’s Black Christmas. To this day, Black Christmas remains one of the eeriest and most realistic slasher movies ever made. While the story of a man hiding in a house and slaughtering its inhabitants was inspired by an urban legend, it remains threateningly realistic and possible.
In fact, writer A. Roy Moore based the story on a supposedly true Montreal murder case that saw a 14-year-old boy killing his entire family. There’s nothing scarier than a home invasion – especially one involving a serial killer.
6 Jigsaw/John Kramer
Saw is one of those movies that toe the line between realism and complete absurdity. The first remained relatively realistic and convincing, but the series obviously grew more elaborate as time went on. And while the traps are obviously outlandish and completely ridiculous, Jigsaw himself remained a convincing and grounded antagonist.
He had a unique and original motive (torture those who don’t appreciate their own lives), and he wasn’t unstoppable. If anything, Jigsaw was nothing but a sick, pathetic, and vulnerable old man.
5 Sweeney Todd
Sweeney Todd is one of the more unique slashers in movie history. Serving as the villain protagonist of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Todd kills his victims by slashing their throats with a straight razor and baking their remains into a pie, which are sold out of Mrs. Lovett’s meat shop.
The concept is of course completely ridiculous, but Sweeney Todd himself makes for a fantastic character. They should really make more slasher flicks set in the 19th century. It’s a setting and time period woefully undeveloped and unexplored within the genre.
4 Norman Bates
Like Leatherface, Ed Gein and his criminal exploits also helped inspire the creation of Norman Bates. Bates serves as the antagonist of Psycho and is widely regarded as one of the first slashers in movie history. Played pitch-perfectly by Anthony Perkins in one of cinema’s most iconic performances, Bates is a deranged serial killer who likes to dress as his deceased mother.
He also makes for a compelling and realistic psychopath; utterly uncaring, unsympathetic, and outwardly charismatic to those he meets. There have been many Norman Bates’ throughout the years.
3 Stuntman Mike
Death Proof is a different kind of slasher movie. Directed by Quentin Tarantino, the movie spends the entire first hour building up to the “climactic” killing before shifting narrative focus onto a new group of characters.
Stuntman Mike is a roaming psychopath who deliberately crashes his car into others’ at high speeds, causing their immediate and grisly deaths. Kurt Russell plays Mike with a psychopathic and menacing air – that is, until the final five minutes when he whines and cries like a baby. It’s refreshing to see a serial killer actually show pain and emotion for once.
2 Hannibal Lecter
It was also refreshing to see a serial killer so utterly charming, intelligent, and well-spoken. Anthony Hopkins, and by extension Hannibal Lecter, took the world by storm in 1991 following the release of The Silence of the Lambs.
Here was a complete psychopath who liked to eat people, yet he proved so charismatic and well-spoken that audiences literally couldn’t keep their eyes off him. Psychopaths are typically very smart and manipulative, and this is perhaps best represented through the character of Hannibal the Cannibal.
1 Buffalo Bill
And for that matter, Buffalo Bill – the primary antagonist of The Silence of the Lambs – was another realistic slasher with multiple shades of reality. The Silence of the Lambs is unique, and uniquely intelligent, in providing its psychotic antagonist with a mental evaluation via Hannibal, allowing audiences to understand his motives and psychoses. And, like many mentioned on this list, he was partly inspired by the story of Ed Gein.
In fact, Bill was fashioned after seven real-life psychopaths – Gein, Jerry Brudos, Ted Bundy, Gary Heidnik, Edmund Kemper, Gary Ridgway, and Alfredo Ballí Treviño.
NEXT: 10 Best Slasher Films Not From North America