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10 Great Female Horror Movie Villains

Betsy Palmer as Pamela Voorhees in Friday the 13th
(Image credit: Paramount)

The true heroes of many of the best horror movies of all time are women, such as Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Halloween or Heather Langenkamp as Nancy in the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies. However, not all of the greatest Scream Queens are the ones you want to root for.

While many of the most famous and scariest horror movie villains are male (or even indistinguishable by gender if we are talking about demons), there are just as many amazing female horror movie villains who have left us paralyzed in fear or running from the screen screaming bloody murder. The following are ten of the most essential examples, starting with the “mother” of the slasher genre.

Betsy Palmer in Friday the 13th

(Image credit: Paramount)

Pamela Voorhees (Friday The 13th)

The hockey-masked face of the Friday the 13th movies may be Jason Voorhees, but the magically resurrected drowning victim was not the one slicing up teenagers at Camp Crystal Lake in the original 1980 classic. That would be his mother, Pamela, who seeks vengeance on the young, negligent counselors who were not keeping a close watch on her boy. She is played by veteran actress Betsy Palmer - who, surprisingly, gives a convincingly manic performance for a role she apparently accepted in order to finance her new car

Piper Laurie in Carrie

(Image credit: United Artists)

Margaret White (Carrie)

At least Pamela Voorhees clearly loved her child, unlike Margaret White - played to Academy Award nominated perfection by Piper Laurie in the classic 1976 Stephen King adaptationCarrie. The domineering, abusive religious fanatic believes even natural bodily processes are sinful, which is why her titular daughter (Sissy Spacek in another Oscar nominated performance) had to learn the hard way about menstrual cycles, for which she is punished by being locked in her prayer closet. If only Margaret had tried to help Carrie during her time of need instead of denouncing her telepathic powers as witchcraft, she might not have suffered such a bitter end.

The Queen Mother in Alien.

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox.)

Queen Mother (Aliens)

Perhaps the most vengeful mother in all of horror is the woman responsible for the onslaught of terrifying creatures overrunning LV-426 in Aliens. At the climax of James Cameron’s epic, action-packed sequel, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) risks life and limb when facing off against the Queen Mother, whose eggs she destroyed earlier with her flamethrower, in order to protect her surrogate daughter, Newt (Carrie Henn). At the end of the day, this sci-fi classic is really all about what women go through to protect their young.

Lupita Nyong'o as Red in Us

(Image credit: Universal)

Red (Us)

Also very protective of her young is Red, the creepier of the two characters played by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o in Us - writer and director Jordan Peele’s chilling 2019 thriller. It follows a vacationing family taunted by their oppressed doppelgängers as part of a revolt led by Red - the only one of them with the ability to speak, if not with a hauntingly raspy voice. Red becomes one of the few horror movie villains on this list that earns your sympathies, especially after the shocking twist at the end.

Allison Williams in Get Out

(Image credit: Universal)

Rose Armitage (Get Out)

The main antagonist Jordan Peele’s stunning, Oscar-nominated 2017 debut is someone I have absolutely no sympathy for, however. At the moment of the big twist from Get Out, photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is devastated to learn that his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), and her family are part of a conspiracy to implant the brains of white people into the more youthful bodies of unwilling Black people and he is just the latest victim of her trap. The immediate switch from her loving façade to her remorseless, sociopathic personality after her true colors are revealed makes her especially disturbing.

Daveigh Chase in The Ring

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Samara Morgan (The Ring)

One of the most disturbing horror movie moments ever comes from director Gore Verbinski’s 2001 English-language update of Hiroshi Takahashi’s Japanese horror classicRingu. I am referring to when Samara Morgan (Daveigh Chase) - the star of a cursed video tape that promises death to anyone who watches after seven days - emerges from the freaking television to claim the life of Naomi Watts’ onscreen ex-boyfriend, Martin Henderson. The heart-stopping, climactic scene made The Ring an acclaimed hit and Samara the quintessential example of creepy kids in horror movies (to put it lightly).

Isabelle Fuhrman in Orphan

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Esther (Orphan)

I would call Esther a prime example of creepy kids in horror movies if not for what we learn about her true identity at the end of 2009’s Orphan. Scream Queen Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard play a couple that adopt whom they believe is a charmingly precocious 9-year-old (the brilliant Isabelle Fuhrmann) until they become plagued by increasingly horrifying events that are evidently linked to this girl. Well, as it turns out, she is not a girl at all, but a 33-year-old woman who uses her proportional dwarfism to infiltrate unassuming families and makes their lives a living hell!

Megan Fox in Jennifer's Body

(Image credit: Disney/Fox)

Jennifer Check (Jennifer’s Body)

Also in 2009, we saw the release of one of the most unjustly underrated horror-comedy movies of its generation and one of the best Megan Fox movies, at that. The Transformers star gives, arguably, her finest performance as the title role of Jennifer’s Body - a Diablo Cody-penned, Karyn Kusama-helmed teen satire about a popular cheerleader made into a powerful succubus by a satanic ritual gone south. The otherwise beautiful, but also unapologetically catty, Jennifer Check gives “man-eater” a whole new meaning when she must feed off of her male classmates in order to stay alive.

Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat in Doctor Sleep

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Rose The Hat (Doctor Sleep)

Someone who can relate to Jennifer Check is Rose the Hat, the lead antagonist of Doctor Sleep - writer and director Mike Flanagan’s masterful adaptation of Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining. She and the rest of the psychokinetic members of The True Knot achieve immortality by literally ingesting the life out of other gifted individuals like them, including children, as seen in the 2019 film’s most harrowing sequence featuring Jacob Tremblay. Rebecca Ferguson gives an unforgettably chilling performance as this unforgivably cruel, power-hungry, telepathic maniac.

Kathy Bates in Misery

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

Annie Wilkes (Misery)

Perhaps the best-known female villain from a Stephen King adaptation would be Annie Wilkes in director Rob Reiner’s Misery. Kathy Bates won an Oscar for playing this nurse who takes in her favorite novelist (James Caan) after a car accident leaves him immobilized and refuses to let him leave until he rewrites his latest, unpublished book to her liking. This intensely overdramatic, delusional, “cock-a-doody” villain is one the first great metaphorical representations of toxic fandom, but could still easily be the scariest of them all so many years later.

I originally considered including Regan MacNeil from The Exorcist, until I realized that this 12-year-old girl played by Linda Blair is as much a victim of the demon Pazuzu as anyone else in William Friedkin’s terrifying possession thriller. However, the women above are in control of their actions, which, arguably, makes them scarier, but, inarguably, some of horror’s greatest standout antagonists for using more than a creepy mask and a deadly weapon to strike fear into the hearts of several generations of horror fans. 

Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.