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The 18 Scariest Horror Villainesses, from Pearl to Carrie to Jennifer

Bathed in blood or sucking up souls, these wicked women fostered the fear for epic horror films including "Misery," "Friday the 13th," "Titane," "Us," "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?," and more.

18 Scariest Horror Villainesses

The Scariest Villainesses in Horror Movie History

For too long, horror movies have put women on the wrong end of the butcher’s knife. Since even before the days of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode, genre actresses have been regularly relegated to damsel-in-distress acts or, worse still, assigned sexist victim statuses that rob their characters of not just their autonomy but too often also of their common sense.

Sure, we’ve come to celebrate Final Girls as the genre’s beating heart: scrappy survivors who best their foes and more often than not kick some serious ass. But it definitely wasn’t Sally Hardesty with the power tools in “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and, though suspense and spy films have boasted female antagonists for decades, the horror genre has only just begun to position women as the villains with the same balanced frequency as men.

The scariest horror villainesses weaponize the misogynistic tropes that allow audiences to underestimate them: challenging viewers to reconsider how they perceive women, girlhood, and femininity via blood-soaked rampage.

Pamela Voorhees stunned slasher fans in 1980’s “Friday the 13th” as the unassuming answer to a whodunnit rooted in grief and motherhood. Megan Fox’s offbeat mean girl Jennifer Check seduced as the centerpiece succubus in “Jennifer’s Body”: lambasting apathetic rape culture with a searing satire from screenwriter Diablo Cody. For October 2022, “Hellraiser” enjoyed its first leading Lady Pinhead as brought to sadomasochistic life by actress-turned-priestess Jamie Clayton.

In honor of IndieWire’s Seven Days of Scream Queens, we’ve arranged a line-up of the 18 most menacing villainesses in horror movie history: from the titular antagonists of “Carrie,” “Pearl,” and “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” to the veiled villains of cryptic titles such as “Misery,” “Titane,” and “Hereditary.” Below you’ll find both the premise for the women’s terrifying tales — specifically, who they were hunting down and why — as well as a spoiler-ific second category laying out their scariest scenes.

Note: This list isn’t — and given the finicky nature of fear couldn’t be — comprehensive. It instead represents a collection of performances, images, and concepts too petrifying to leave in the horror archives whenever the topic of spooky women inevitably bubbles up.

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