There are iconic horror villains like Michael Myers, Ghostface, and Pinhead who fans reference when waxing about their favorite films. But there are other horror villains, be they monsters or people, that often fall by the wayside. When it comes to horror, the ’80s and ’90s delivered some supreme films that went in unbelievable directions with villains who deserve more recognition and shine. So, let’s celebrate some of the most underrated horror villains of the ’80s and ’90s!
Note: Some films on this list do not disclose the villains’ identity until the climax of the film, so please proceed with caution.
John Ryder – The Hitcher (1986)
The Hitcher takes the familiar cautionary tale about picking up hitchhikers and ratchets it up. John Ryder—a.k.a. The Hitcher (Rutger Hauer)—plays a cat-and-mouse game with Jim (C. Thomas Howell), the young man who gives him a ride. Even when Jim realizes his mistake and escapes, Ryder is unavoidable. Smiling, creepy, and downright sadistic, Ryder instills terror to the point that dying becomes less a fear and more a blessed relief.
Harry Warden/The Miner – My Bloody Valentine (1981)
Sometimes, celebrating a holiday has dire consequences. The Miner (Peter Cowper) might not talk under the mask, but his blood-soaked rampage speaks louder than words. Few horror films combine small-town mine terror with an urban legend and a holiday. Plus, his laugh at the end is the stuff of nightmares. This ’80s horror movie might be B-horror and camp, but they knew how to stick the landing with this underrated horror villain.
Horace Pinker – Shocker (1989)
It’s unfair when villains get a paranormal payback buff. An underrated Wes Craven gem, Shocker is a supernatural serial killer flick. Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi) is a terrifying murderer with a high body count before his execution. After his death, he returns, seeking vengeance against the young man who turned him in. While the effects do not age well, Pinker inspires chills and laughs like another Craven villain.
Pumpkinhead – Pumpkinhead (1988)
“Keep away from Pumpkinhead unless you’re tired of living.” You don’t have to tell us twice. But giving this summoned beasty a wide berth is easier said than done if it gets called up to kill you. If you’re not the target, Pumpkinhead gives peak “mind the business that minds you” energy. Tall, lanky, and ghastly pale with a tail, this beast is nigh undefeatable with a chilling smirk. Not only does Pumpkinhead deserve more love, but we want to see it in Dead by Daylight.
Angela Baker – Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Considering the portrayal of summer camps in horror films, it’s surprising they still exist. Watching Sleepaway Camp again with the awareness of who the killer is adds a layer of surprise each time. While some know the series, few mention Angela Baker (Felissa Rose) by name and it’s time that changed. She’s burned someone with scalding water and beheaded another. And Angela achieved all this while being a teeny teenager. The original film even spawned four sequels thanks to that unforgettable ending, so put some respect on Angela Baker’s name.
Sandman – Sleepstalker: The Sandman’s Last Rites (1995)
The Sandman’s story is as creepy and tragic as his supernatural invincibility. To maintain his sand-resurrected body, Sandman has to sever the link to his mortal world. So, he goes on a murder spree searching for that link, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. With his body made of sand, he can transform parts of himself into a weapon, like his arm into a spear. Otherworldly killers abound in cinema, but thanks to a creepy song and his distinct features and abilities—sand gets everywhere—the Sandman earns a spot on this list.
Patrick Channing – The First Power (1990)
Before he played the mentally unstable vampire, and later the magic-dealing warlock on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jeff Kober was Patrick Channing—an erratic and violent supernatural killer on a violent murder spree after his execution. I am sensing a trend here. Jeff Kober always nails the disturbing murderer role. Patrick’s power set is actually overpowered—resurrection, teleportation, and possession—and that makes him pure nightmare fuel. Murderers who massacre from sheer enjoyment are in a different league.
Stewart Swinton – Wolf (1994)
If smarmy, yuppie killers had a runner-up to Patrick Bateman, Stewart Swinton (James Spader) fits the bill. He takes his mentor’s position at work and has an affair with his wife. But when he fails to hold the job, the claws come out literally as he delves into payback. Wolf is a slasher horror with practical effects that still hold up well; Swinton is the beast that’s greedy and hollow, who wants what others have. He’s a villain you despise before he even kills anyone.
Alex Hammond – Prom Night (1980)
There’s something about slashers that make you question the villain. Alex (Michael Tough), in his glittery mask towing an ax, is one of those. Creepy calls and a murder spree in one night make for superb killers. The clincher is he is not otherworldly or one of those villains who keep getting up after being stabbed, bludgeoned, or anything else. When he attacks, he puts his weight into wielding his weapons. He is mortal in every sense and one of the few sympathetic villains on this list.
Candyman – Candyman (1992)
Another character who should be in Dead by Daylight, Candyman, is a graphic killer, and Tony Todd’s voice adds a layer of charisma amidst the blood-curdling terror. Yes, we are all familiar with what happens if you say his name five times in a mirror or a reflective space. But Candyman doesn’t often make the list of great/iconic horror villains like Ghostface and Jason Voorhees, so that’s why he’s on this underrated list. The way he butchers characters is artful, and he does not hesitate to arrive when summoned. This is a killer to avoid, even with a tragic backstory, because he’s into exquisite pain. Don’t expect a quick death.