The secret to a great slasher movie or TV show is to have a memorable villain.
I am a sucker for a great slasher movie or TV show. Slashers take the best parts of a "whodunnit" and turn up the energy. Instead of solving one murder, you're solving several. And instead of collecting clues, you're usually running for your life.
I find slashers to be so satisfying because they really rely on plant and payoff to work.
You are dropping hints, red herrings, and raising your body count.
They are so fun to write, a blast to see, and a joy to work on when you're on set.
Still, the best slasher movies and TV shows are not memorable for their plot or even their twists... they're part of film history because of their villains. Slasher villains are mysterious, dangerous, and usually surprising.
It's a genre where truly everyone is a suspect. So how can you create a memorable slasher villain? One that stands out in the hearts and minds of viewers all over the world?
Let's work it out together.
How to Create a Slasher Villain
Creating any kind of villain is hard. As the old adage goes, you want to think of them as the protagonist of their own story. What is their internal drive? What will they accomplish by killing all of these people?
These are the general questions, but first, let's think about worldbuilding.
What kind of world are we in? Is this a high school? A college? A small motel on the outskirts of town?
Got that out of the way?
It's time to go a bit deeper into the creation and character development of a slasher villain.
A Scary Costume
You probably rolled your eyes at this heading, but I think it has to be one of the most talked-about things. How does your slasher hide their identity? Is it dressing up like their dead mother? Is it by wearing a mascot costume or something they bought at a Halloween store?
Is it their youth hockey mask or a generic white face?
Come up with something original. You want to take your time here, even going back to adjust the costume later. Sure, the studio and director will have a say, but for now, in the script, give us something we can both visualize and something that really terrifies us.
Someone to Blame
One of the better things about many slashers is that there is always someone you think did it.
And you're usually wrong.
In the first Friday the 13th, campers think Jason Voorhees is terrorizing them. In reality, it's his vengeful mother. In Scream, we have not one killer, but two.
You want to have built in these red herrings to keep people guessing. If you can genuinely surprise people as to who did the deed, you're already one step ahead of the game.
But for our real killer... you need something very powerful.
You Need a Motive
Slicing and dicing a bunch of people is really hard work. You need something powerful driving the murderer. It can't just be hate and anger, it has to be something really tied into a psyche. Maybe they are getting revenge for a family member, or maybe they are trying to get rid of the people standing in the way between them and their success.
Regardless of the point of all of this, they need to be motivated, and they need to say those motives out loud so the audience knows why.
Let's dig deep here.
Slasher Villain Examples in Film and Television
Slasher movies have been around for years, with the originals being Peeping Tom (1960) and Psycho (1960). Over the years, we've had crazy popular franchises like Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Scream, and now Happy Death Day to spice up the stories.
These are movies that became hits because of their villains. They transcended the stories and became part of our cultural lexicons.
Jason was a kid who drowned.
Norman Bates was an abused son.
Freddy Kreuger was the bullied son of a thousand maniacs who grows up to get burned to death by his victims' parents.
These original stories were important to the creation of the character and to the movies.
The Scream adaptation had a ton of success on television, and Netflix had a show called Slasher that toyed with the genre. Both of those shoes played on the original idea of the movies and had big reveals for who lived and died within them.
Their killers were motivated and carried some heritage of the genre.
We've seen comedy mashups like Hot Fuzz and Tucker and Dale vs Evil, but they still had excellent villains. I love the movie Tragedy Girls, which makes the villains the hero of their slasher story. And even an immensely popular trope of the final girl came to light... in a comedy horror movie called Final Girls. The film uses the lore around the killer to subvert the expected tropes.
The straightforward horror genre is more of a thriller. It pits a group of people against the person who will eventually kill them. Other common tropes involve small towns, local sheriffs, and usually younger characters.
These kinds of movies are so much fun for audiences and can grow in popularity over decades. When these stories are a hit, they are a huge hit. They're attractive to buyers because they also have smaller budgets. Even when Jason went to space, it was mostly done on a soundstage.
Slasher films have ruled every decade. Sure, they have gone through their cheesy and sleazy straight-to-video phase, but they're always lurking, ready to spring back up.
So when you are developing your killer, try to see how you can turn these tropes on their head and do something the audience feels like they've never seen before.
Summing Up Slasher Villains
When you take the view from ten thousand feet, slasher villains just look like generic people with knives, but I hope this post unveiled the real effort that goes into creating stories with this kind of pull. You not only need someone with a motive to kill but an intricate plan of how to get it done.
Now that you have these tips and tricks, I want to hear from you in the comments.
What are some of your favorite slasher villains?
And what are things you think make them so entertaining?
Write it out below... in blood... or just on your keyboard.