The world has its fair share of scary male villains, from The Shining’s Jack Torrance to American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman to good old classic Nosferatu. Some female villains, though, are downright nightmare fuel. The sixteen fear queens on this list are definitely some of the scariest female villains around. Even the classic entries from horror films of yesteryear still somehow remain relevant in how unsettling and spooky they are.
Some of these lady villains may not be the overall greatest female villains of all time (we’ve got a list for that!) but they are certainly the scariest. Some of them torture, some of them haunt, some of them break your ankles with a sledgehammer or try to steal your unborn baby. A couple of entries on this list aren’t really villains at all, but holy crap are they terrifying. There are a lot of spoilers ahead, so proceed with caution.
Check out The 16 Most Terrifying Female Villains We’ve Ever Seen.
16. Amanda Waller from Suicide Squad
Amanda Waller has been an intimidating DC character since the late eighties, but Viola Davis’ portrayal of the villain/anti hero in this year’s much anticipated Suicide Squad is pretty insidious in its own way.
Casting Davis as Waller was a fantastic idea, as she is a very versatile actress and can play the rigid shady government official very well. As a character, Waller may or may not have wanted to just do what was right. What is a solid fact, though, is that Waller believes strongly in leverage, using people, and misanthropy. Her admirable patriotism is clear enough but her desire to force criminals to do what she wants instead of employing willing heroes says a lot about who she is. Her pessimism towards humanity coupled with a sociopathic desire to control people makes her one of the more subversive and subtle terrors on this list. One can only imagine how she will evolve in the Suicide Squad sequel.
15. The Mother from Goodnight Mommy
The 2014 Austrian horror film Goodnight Mommy has quite the twisting and turning storyline. The Mother, credited as Mutter, isn’t necessarily the villain of the film. Something insidious is lying underneath the surface of the story, not underneath her mummy-like bandages. Regardless, the Mother is the presumed evil entity for a good half of the film and she’s a pretty unsettling person.
After moving into a new home, two rambunctious and creative twin boys start noticing very strange behavior coming from their mother, whose head is completely wrapped in gauze following facial plastic surgery. Her behavior is strange at first and then builds into something downright scary, ranging from staring them down from corners with creepy bruised eyes to wandering naked in the woods at night. The twins begin to suspect that the Mother isn’t their mother at all. If you haven’t seen Goodnight Mommy and you’re a fan of psychological foreign films, it’s definitely one to check out.
14. Lola from The Loved Ones
High school rejection sucks, but Lola from the 2009 Australian horror film The Loved Ones went a little overboard with how she dealt with it.
In this horrifying take on cute high school date movies, Lola and her father kidnap young men in order to put on an at-home prom that involves torture, syringes full of bleach, and lobotomization. The unhappy and recently fatherless Brent is her newest victim. Brent does everything in his power to escape the clutches of Lola and her father to save his girlfriend, who may be Lola’s next victim in fit of jealousy.
Lola is particularly terrifying because she is the mousy teen sociopath that ends up being a formidable foe on her own, even without her creepy dad’s help. Think twice before you bully the weird girl at school — you may end up going to a really lame prom at her house against your will.
13. La Femme from Inside
The 2007 French horror film Inside is a stressful ride from start to finish. The film’s antagonist, known only as “La Femme” is terrifying because she is desperate, nameless, and indiscriminately violent.
Sarah is a pregnant young woman just a day away from having her labor induced. Previously, she had been in a terrible wreck that killed her husband. Alone and miserable on Christmas Eve, Sara gets a knock on her door from a woman claiming to need a phone. After telling her off, the stranger begins revealing details about Sarah’s life and punches her glass door. La Femme runs away, the cops come, and they leave Sarah without much assurance. The horrors of the night haven’t even started — La Femme breaks in later that night, wielding a pair of sheers. She makes her intentions to take Sarah’s baby very clear and does everything she can to get her hands on Sarah, ready to murder everyone that comes to the house to check on her. Inside has an interesting ending, too, and it’s definitely worth watching.
12. Jennet Humfrye from The Woman in Black
In this 2012 British supernatural period piece starring Daniel Radcliffe, young widowed lawyer Arthur is hired to handle the estate sale of a creepy marshland mansion. Arthur initially visits the house with the goal of obtaining relevant documents to the sale, but gets sucked into a dark world full of bumps in the night and strange apparitions.
Jennet Humfrye is the eponymous Woman in Black, a ghostly spirit clad in funeral dress that was wronged by her sister, the former owner of the mansion. Jennet’s son was adopted by her sister against her will due to Jennet’s mental problems. The son is killed in a carriage accident, his body never found in the murky marsh that surrounds the mansion. The violently vengeful Jennet commits suicide and haunts the mansion, as well as cursing the children of the village around the estate.
Jennet Humfrye has a startlingly scary appearance, and her powerful abilities as a ghost make her a terrifying foe. Even when the remains of her child are returned to her, the Woman in Black’s rage cannot be extinguished. Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.
11. Hayley Stark from Hard Candy
Like Goodnight Mommy’s presumed villain, Hayley from the 2005 thriller Hard Candy isn’t a villain at all. However, her methods as a champion of revenge are pretty scary.
Fourteen year old Hayley Stark first appears in the film chatting online with a middle aged pedophile named Jeff. They meet up and Jeff takes her back to his place. The rest of the film is a whirlwind of violence and on-the-edge-of-your-seat thrills all under the control of Hayley, who had been tracking Jeff in order to get revenge for the rape and murder of a local girl. Hayley tortures and toys with Jeff before revealing her final intention.
Hard Candy seems like it might end on a note of nonviolence or some sort of realization on Hayley’s part that vengeance isn’t satisfying, but it doesn’t. Maybe we should be kind of glad it doesn’t. The film was such a raw, satisfying journey of watching pedophiles and murderers get what they deserve, because in reality we know that doesn’t happen often. Hayley represents the survivor who is more powerful than the monsters who have hurt her and other girls, and she doesn’t feel bad about anything that she did.
10. Kata-Kata from Unholy Women
Unless you’re the type of hardcore indie J-horror fan that hungrily digs through the internet for a taste of unseen underground Japanese horror films, you probably haven’t had the pleasure of watching the 2006 Japanese anthology horror film called Unholy Women. Keita Amemiya wrote three separate stories in this film that are all very interesting, but the first story “Rattle Rattle” has one of the creepiest female villains ever.
Credited as Kata Kata, the antagonist of the first story is some terrifying kind of yokai creature dressed in all red. Kata Kata barely speaks, but her presence is accompanied by an unsettling rattling noise. Through the story, her appearance becomes more and more horrifying. From her facial expressions to the way she moves, Kata Kata is a gem in the female villain category and is unfortunately not very well known. Let’s not spoil anything — you should go watch Unholy Women as soon as possible.
9. Mama from Mama
The 2013 supernatural horror film Mama was directed by Andrés Muschietti and produced by Guillermo del Toro. The film definitely has some of del Toro’s signature fantastical flair. Mama follows the story of two girls who were brought to a cabin in the woods by their father in the midst of a nervous breakdown. Before he could murder the two girls and then himself, he is killed by a shadowy figure. The girls are then raised by the creature known as Mama for five years before they are found. Mama has no desire to let her now feral children go, and she follows them to their new home and terrorizes their new family.
Mama is just plain creepy — the long limbs, knitting-needle fingers, quick scuttling, smokey aura, startling screeches, and entourage of moths make her worthy of this list. The short film that inspired the feature length movie is also worth watching as well.
8. Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
It is hard to say what exactly is the scariest trait of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest‘s Nurse Ratched. Is it her representation of authority, power, and bureaucracy, coupled with her vehement dedication to order? Is it how she dopes up mentally ill people and forces them to engage in her humiliating personal brand of psychotherapy? Is it those cold, glassy eyeballs? Maybe it’s those strategically shaped pin curls that look like devil horns, or that she is the pinnacle of lawful evil alignment. Nurse Ratched is scary for all of these reasons, but mostly because she is realistic. There are Nurse Ratcheds all over the world right now. Back in the day, there were Nurse Ratcheds at every mental hospital in America, and they generally got away with abusing patients. There’s not a lot of escapism to Nurse Ratched — you have to deal with her through the whole film, and there is no whimsical fantasy to make you feel more comfortable. Let’s just hope we never have to meet one of her.
7. The Queen Xenomorph from Aliens
Villains obviously don’t have to be human or even from this planet. One particularly scary female villain that is neither would be the queen Xenomorph from James Cameron’s 1986 science fiction horror film Aliens.
A Queen is a large type of Xenomorph that exists as the mother and subsequent leader of a Xenomorph hive. Queens differ from other Xenomorphs physically and have large crest-like scull as well as an additional pair of arms in its torso. Queens are big, strong, and very intelligent, making them a formidable and terrifying foe.
While the Queen has been the primary antagonist throughout most of the Alien film series and franchise, Aliens featured one of her more particularly scary appearances. James Cameron specifically used camera angles that left a lot to the imagination, which made the Queen all the more terrifying. The film Aliens also gave us the line “Get away from her, you b****!” and much more Sigourney Weaver as Ripley goodness.
6. Regan MacNeil from The Exorcist
You can’t have a list of creepy female antagonists without mentioning the 1973 classic horror film The Exorcist. Regan MacNeil is the famous pea soup puking demon child that scared the living crap out of literally everyone in the early seventies.
Catholic exorcist Father Merrin becomes aware that a demon he once vanquished years ago has returned to the world of the living for revenge. The demon possesses the young Regan after she innocently plays with a ouija board. What ensues is an escalating affliction that becomes more and more terrifying, along with Regan’s appearance. Beds shake, someone gets thrown out a window, and an exorcism is planned to save Regan’s life as well as the lives of her family. Father Merrin is chosen to help the girl, and is unfortunately reunited with his old foe.
5. Pam Voorhees from Friday the 13th
The 1980 classic Friday the 13th is one of the most memorable slasher films of all time. Spoilers: Mrs. Voorhees is the antagonist that terrorizes and murders the counselors at Camp Crystal Lake. The film only shows the well-known psycho Jason, her son, in memories and hallucinations.
Many horror films portray the mother whose baby was taken from her as a vengeful spirit or ghost, but Friday the 13th took a very different route. Pam Voorhees’ son Jason presumably drowned in the camp’s lake due to the negligence of some frisky camp counselors that were getting it on instead of keeping an eye on the camp residents. Mrs. Voorhees returns to the camp and begins slashing the various new camp counselors there, starting with a couple having sex in a storage barn instead of doing their job.
Mrs. Voorhees is the scary mom that gets revenge on some of the young camp counselors that were much like those who let her son die. The big reveal that the killer was her all along is pretty terrifying in its good old eighties campy way, and earns her a spot on the list.
4. Margaret White from Carrie
Carrie is a famous 1976 horror film based on the Stephen King novel of the same thing. The film had a remake in 2013 that was an interesting take on the classic film.
Margaret White is the mother of Carrie in the film. Margaret is a troubled woman obsessed with purity and sin. Before Carrie was conceived, Margaret was so deeply disturbed about having premarital sex with her fiancee that she induced her own miscarriage. After the two were married, Margaret’s husband vowed they would never engage in pleasures of the flesh again. Regardless, he drunkenly assaulted her later on, resulting in the conception of the eponymous Carrie. Carrie’s mother abused Carrie from birth and threw the girl in a “prayer closet” when she would do pretty much anything at all. Margaret’s abuse continues until Carrie begins to harness her telekinetic powers and they face off against each other at the end of the film.
Piper Laurie’s original portrayal of Margaret White was unsettlingly good, and Julianne Moore’s revival wasn’t too bad either. Margaret White could make some people out there appreciate how chill their moms are.
3. Annie Wilkes from Misery
Kathy Bates has that sort of sweet cool mom demeanor that is hard to be scared of, even in her more villainous recent roles in American Horror Story. However, after watching the classic 1990 psychological thriller Misery, you might be surprised at how freakin’ scary Bates was when she was younger. Her portrayal of Annie Wilkes was absolutely amazing.
Annie Wilkes is an initially sweet woman who rescues novelist Paul after a serious car wreck. Annie, a former nurse, tells Paul that she is his biggest fan and takes him to her remote home to recuperate from the crash. After learning that Paul is changing the way he writes and is killing off some of her favorite characters, Annie becomes more controlling, insidious, and violent. Misery is your typical fangirl-gone-wrong horror flick, but Bates’ Annie Wilkes is the kind of twisted villain in a denim jumper that if you haven’t seen, you need to. Your ankles will feel vulnerable for a while.
2. Asami from Audition
In the 1999 Japanese horror film Audition, a widower attempts to find a new spouse and move on with his life. Shigharu and a friend stage a fake audition for a film in order to find a woman suitable for Shigharu. Asami catches his eye and his heart. For a while she doesn’t seem to be too terrifying, though she does lives in a solemn apartment with just a burlap sack and phone and just kind of sits there waiting for it to ring.
Shigharu’s friend is suspicious of Asami after he is unable to validate most of the references she provided on the resume for the fake audition. Even more suspicious is the fact that one reference, a music producer, has been reported missing. Shigharu is already in love with Asami and pledges his love to her after they sleep together. Asami goes from the perfect girlfriend to the most terrifying, vindictive villain in a film we’ve seen in a long while.
Asami is a victim of child abuse, which taught her that love and pain are literally inseparable. Without spoiling anything further, if you have an empty stomach and a love for horror films, you should watch Audition.
1. Samara/Sadako from The Ring
Everyone’s got that one film that they lay their eyeballs on for the first time and suddenly the course of their life is changed. Your taste for cinema has officially been defined; you’ve found your gateway drug. Over-dramatic? Maybe, but the 2002 horror film The Ring was the mix of terror and storytelling that this writer had been waiting for, and watching the original 1998 Japanese version was an equally satisfying treat.
Samara/Sadako is a character that pulls from classic villainy and mixes with something that was very new at the time she was created. The creepy little girl trope had run its course, but Samara/Sadako had bridged the gap between traditional horror and modern technology in a very specific way. An inescapable curse that follows you for seven days after watching a really bizarre video? That’s an almost claustrophobic kind of terror. The kind that really gets to you because mysticism and technology have combined in an impossible way, you aren’t being pursued by something you can run away from, and the inevitable death isn’t quick. Samara/Sadako is in complete control and the aftermath she leaves behind is disturbing.