Horror Films Where The Main Character Is The Villain

Horror film villains are the central antagonists that drive the horror genre. They are often portrayed as frightening or evil beings, designed to create a sense of fear and tension in the audience. These villains come

While it’s an oversimplification, the way in which a horror movie progresses is usually formulaic; a villain tries to kill the hero. This most basic of premises works well whether it’s a slasher flick, a psychological thriller, or something else entirely, but the line between good and evil is not always so clear.

There have been plenty of times throughout horror history when audiences have come to trust a main character and cheered for them to escape the apparent threat only to be left shocked when they turn out to not be so heroic. Some of these protagonists were tormented and manipulated into becoming the monster while others were bad the whole time, it only took us a little longer to figure it out.

1 ‘The Others’ (2001)

Elevated by Nicole Kidman’s powerhouse performance, The Others is a creepy ghost story rich with gothic atmosphere that re-imagines the traditional haunted house flick. Set in 1945, it follows an English family living in a remote country mansion who begin to suspect it might be haunted by a supernatural entity.

The film never lets audiences settle into any comfort as twist and turns are constantly revealed, and more harrowing questions are raised. The most brutal revelation comes near the end of the film when we learn the paranormal threat were actually humans and that Grace (Kidman) and her family were ghosts the whole time.

2 ‘Secret Window’ (2004)

Based on the novella Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen King, Secret Window is rife with the dreadful sense of creeping evil that the famed author so frequently brings to his stories. It follows Mort (Johnny Depp), an author in the thralls of a difficult divorce who relocates to a cabin in Upstate New York where he is stalked by Shooter (John Turturro), a psychopath who accuses him or plagiarism.

For much of the film Mort seems the innocent victim amid a whirlpool of chaos and violence, but it is revealed that isn’t quite the case. Learning that he suffers from a disassociate personality disorder, Mort uncovers that he was Shooter the entire time and the film ends with him fully embracing the violent, homicidal persona.

3 ‘My Bloody Valentine 3D’ (2009)

Imbued with the 3D technology that was the trend of its time, My Bloody Valentine 3D is something of an underrated ode to old school slashers. It follows Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles), a survivor of a mass murdering miner who returns to the mining town of Harmony 10 years later to sell his father’s mine.

Upon his return however, the murderous miner also comes back to wreak havoc in the small town. While it seems Tom is always under threat, it is revealed late in the film that he was the one behind the miner’s return, having dug up the original killer’s corpse and donned his outfit as the trauma from the attack he survived led him to develop a split personality disorder.

4 ‘Frailty’ (2001)

Considering it was just one of two feature films Bill Paxton directed, Frailty is an impressive achievement of creeping dread and low-key horror. It follows Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey), who comes forward to police to reveal his brother is responsible for a string of serial killings and shares his disturbing childhood in which his father killed people who God told him were demons and forced his sons to join him.

Accompanied by an FBI agent, Fenton returns to his childhood home and shares more about his past, but there is a nudging feeling throughout that something isn’t quite right. In the end it is revealed that Fenton was his murderous older brother all along and that he actually can see the past crimes of the “demons” he kills.

5 ‘Midsommar’ (2019)

Midsommar has become a defining success of modern folk horror. Set six months after her family died in a disturbing murder-suicide, Dani (Florence Pugh) is reluctantly invited to a Swedish midsummer festival by her boyfriend, who is visiting the area with his classmates, with faint hopes of the getaway rejuvenating their relationship.

While the remote village abounds in natural beauty and quaint, communal warmth, it is eerily apparent that something sinister is afoot. Originally it was Dani who was the most eager to leave, but as her longing for emotional support and familial belonging is satisfied, she ultimately aligns with the cultists in an unforgettable final shot of euphoric insanity.

6 ‘The Fly’ (1986)

Coming from the king of body horror David Cronenberg, the 1986 sci-fi horror The Fly focuses on a brilliant scientist who becomes a monster after an experiment goes wrong. Having created a teleportation machine, Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) tests it on himself, but a housefly enters the pod with him and Seth’s DNA merges with that of the insect’s.

As Seth’s transformation unfolds, his appearance becomes monstrously vile, and his behavior grows increasingly primitive and hostile until he is attacking those he cared for in a desperate bid to save himself. While his villainy is more tragic than maniacally evil, Seth still becomes the villain all the same in one of the more underrated character arcs in the genre.

7 ‘Carrie’ (1976)

Villain would be a strong word to describe the eponymous protagonist of Carrie, and it’s hard to deny her victims didn’t have it coming, but massacring the high school prom with telekinetic powers will give one a certain reputation. Having been relentlessly bullied at school and treated even worse by her ultra-religious mother at home, life finally begins to look a little brighter for Carrie (Sissy Spacek) when she is invited to the prom by one of the popular kids.

The prom doesn’t quite go to plan though, as Carrie’s bullies strike again, prompting Carrie to unleash the full might of her power. The shot of her walking off the stage covered in blood while the hall burns around her is as harrowing an image of a horror villain ever put to screen.

8 ‘Us’ (2019)

The second feature film from Jordan Peele, Us took the standard formula of home invasion horror and dismantled it with nightmare-inducing clones and no small amount of social commentary. Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) and her family are intruded upon and hunted by their eerie doppelgängers who, it is revealed, are part of a government experiment long abandoned.

While the bulk of the film functions as a haunting fight for survival, the ultimate twist towards the end of the film reveals that Adelaide was one of the tethered all along. As a child, she forcibly switched places with her real-world counterpart, condemning her to a secluded life of misery in her stead.

9 ‘The Shining’ (1980)

Over 40 years since its release, The Shining remains one of the most terrifying horror movies ever made, following the Torrance family who work at the Overlook Hotel during the Winter. While the young son senses and fears the eerie evil within the Overlook, Jack (Jack Nicholson) gradually succumbs to it, going from the on-edge protagonist trying to fix his life to the ax-wielding psychopath hunting down his family.

Complimented by the film’s horrifying atmosphere, Nicholson’s portrayal of Jack’s descent into madness is one of calculated cynicism and simmering rage. That we see how the Overlook manipulates Jack, and how willing he is to indulge in the dark fantasy, makes The Shining nothing short of a horror masterpiece.

10 ‘Psycho’ (1960

Determining who exactly the main character of Psycho is can be a tricky task in itself, but if it is Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) then the Alfred Hitchcock classic is the pinnacle of good-guy-turned-bad horror. The mild-mannered operator of the Bates Motel seems a gentle soul, and audiences even sympathize with him after the crime, believing his domineering mother is responsible and Norman just gets rid of the evidence to protect her.

As the disappearance of Marion (Janet Leigh) is investigated though, Norman grows increasingly agitated. Even then though, it is shocking when it is revealed that Norman murdered his mother ten years earlier, has developed a split personality ever since, and he was the killer the whole time.

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