When we think of “psychopaths”, our brains immediately jump to evil villains and killers in horror movies with sinister faces, unsettling makeup, or eerie masks. However, there are psychopaths all around us, most of whom look nothing like the creepy characters we see in movies. You may use psychopath, psychotic, and sociopath interchangeably. However, they are each unique mental disorders.
Psychopaths lack empathy and do not feel remorse after causing someone harm, whether it’s on a small or large scale. Sociopaths are similar to psychopaths in several ways and don’t have a moral code, which can cause them to hurt others.. Despite that, a sociopath may feel guilt or remorse, whereas a psychopath wouldn’t. Someone who is psychotic has psychosis, an acute and treatable condition that affects roughly 15 out of 100 people. A person having a psychotic break may experience delusions with or without hallucinations and may be genetic or brought on by stress.
It’s easy to assume every serial killer is a psychopath automatically. Oddly enough, a study by Columbia University professor Michael Stone shows that only 86% of serial killers meet the requirements for an official diagnosis. There are several traits of someone with this personality disorder, like narcissism, antisocial behavior, lack of empathy, and impulsivity – to name a few. Psychopathy is terrifying because, in addition to the negative traits they possess, they’re often charming and manipulative. You could bump into a psychopath and leave feeling like they’re one of the nicest people you’ve met and perhaps even feel attracted to them. (For example, Ted Bundy.)
Some of these monsters are based on real-life serial killers like Ed Gein and Alfredo Ballí Treviño, while others are entirely made up. Thankfully, only 1% of the population is considered to be a psychopath, and not all of them become murderers. Still, you may be peeking over your shoulder and keeping your doors locked after watching any of the movies starring those listed below. Some of the character descriptions required spoilers, so avoid reading those you haven’t seen.
Some people think of the sport when envisioning a hockey mask, while many horror fans will quickly picture Jason Voorhees. He’s well-known for wielding his iconic machete and how he brutally slays his victims with it. Although his predecessor, Michael Myers, seems to avoid killing young children, Jason avoids killing kids, animals, or even adults who aren’t involved in his mission. Additionally, Jason Voorhees isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. True psychopaths are clever and cunning in ways Jason is not. While he certainly has a lot psychopathic tendencies, like lack of remorse, he doesn’t have quite what it takes to be considered a true psychopath.
Michael Myers is a well-known antagonist and serial killer in the slasher film series Halloween. Unsurprisingly, he exhibits several psychopathic traits, including impulsivity, lack of empathy, and lack of remorse. While many psychopathic characters have tragic backstories that offer some explanation for their mental disorders, Michael seems to have been born evil. His story began after a night of trick-or-treating when he stabbed his older sister, Judith, to death. While the exact number of victims is unclear, it’s easy to estimate he has 100+ killings under his belt. However, despite lacking empathy for his victims, he seems to have a soft spot for children, even sparing them when it’d be in his best interest not to.
Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the most well-known slasher movies from the 80s. Freddy Krueger is a true villain who murdered 20 children but wasn’t imprisoned due to a technicality, so the parents of Springfield murdered him. He targeted the children of the parents who burned him in Springwood by visiting them in their dreams. If he’s able to murder them in their nightmares, they die in real life. Deemed the “The Springwood Slasher,” he has murdered at least 60 children without an ounce of remorse. It’s clear he has psychopathic tendencies like a lack of guilt, empathy, and boldness. However, he lacks other traits like superficial charm.
Leatherface is the antagonist in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films. Initially, he was depicted as a mentally ill character in a family of cannibals. His crimes were inspired by the serial killer Ed Gein, who turned his victims’ body parts into furniture, clothing, and other accessories. At first, it seemed Leatherface committed his brutal acts at his family’s demand. However, in later films, he seems to grow to enjoy the violence and perhaps continues to torture and kill his victims as a way to express anger over his mistreatment growing up. Leatherface has several psychopathic traits like lacking empathy, lack of remorse, and exhibiting impulsivity.
Psychopaths can kill a person simply because their curiosity outweighs the value of a human life. This rings true for the three masked killers in the 2008 psychological horror movie The Strangers. In this film, a couple stays at a remote vacation home and is disrupted by strangers who torture and eventually kill them. The Manson family Tate murders, the Keddie cabin murders, and director Bryan Bertino’s personal experiences inspired his depiction of the strangers’ characters. The killers had no motive, lacked empathy, and felt no remorse for their crimes. We don’t know much about the strangers, whether they’re narcissistic or superficially charming. However, we’ll hopefully learn more details in The Strangers trilogy in 2024.
Ghostface has been among the most well-known slasher characters for nearly three decades. The famous Ghostface mask disguised teenagers Billy Loomis and Stu Macher in the horror franchise Scream to conceal their identities when committing murders. Although the mask is menacing, Ghostface is often charming and flirtatious at first. However, the conversation quickly turns confrontational, with him taunting and toying with victims before killing them. Each Ghostface has slightly different characteristics, depending on who wears the costume. While most slashers only have some psychopathic traits, Ghostface’s charisma gives him a few extra points.
Mexican Serial Killer Alfredo Ballí Treviño was the inspiration for the antagonist Hannibal Lecter in the horror film Silence of the Lambs. Many theorize Hannibal Lecter has antisocial personality disorder, which is one of the tell-tale signs of a psychopath. When he was a child, he suffered a series of traumatic events. Germans bombed his family home when he was a child, causing them to seek refuge in a cabin. The Nazis killed his parents in front of him and his sister, then held them hostage. Once they ran out of food, they murdered his sister and cooked her into a stew, forcing young Hannibal to eat her. Initially, Hannibal preyed on those who harmed his sister and predators to seek revenge for her death. However, in later films, it seemed like he’d slaughter and eat anyone he merely disliked. So, it’s possible he developed a taste for human flesh. In total, he murdered nearly two dozen victims throughout the films.
Josef Heiter, better known as the evil scientist in the splatter horror movie Human Centipede, is a retired surgeon known for his ability to separate Siamese twins. After retirement, he determined that he no longer wanted to separate twins but to create them. His experiment started with conjoining three rottweilers by attaching their mouths to their anuses, creating a Siamese triplet. Once his experiment succeeded, he kidnapped three humans to create “the human centipede.” Heiter was aware of the pain, mental distress, and potential for death he inflicted upon his victims. However, he certainly thought his desires were more important than human life. He didn’t feel empathy for his test subjects or guilt for what he had done. In fact, in later movies, conjoins a dozen and then 500 humans together.
Esther Coleman claimed to be a 9-year-old Russian child whom Kate and John Coleman adopted in the movie The Orphan. In reality, she was a 33-year-old Estonian woman named Leena who had a disorder that made her appear younger than she was. According to the doctor from the mental institution that held Leena, she was a mass murderer who killed the last family she tricked into adopting her. While institutionalized, she was a violent patient who would hurt the staff. Once adopted by the Colemans, she murders a nun, Sister Abigail, and repeatedly attempts to kill the family. Leena has several psychopathic tendencies, like being charming and manipulative. She’s also a pathological liar, lacks empathy, and feels no remorse for anyone she hurts.
Patrick Bateman is the main character in the film American Psycho and is the poster child for psychopathic personality disorder. Bateman is a successful investment banker, but he’s also a serial killer who tends to kill those who upset him or are competitors in his mind. Not only does he lack empathy and feel no remorse for his crimes, but he also rounds off other psychopathic traits. Bateman is a narcissist obsessed with his appearance, thinks highly of himself, and believes he is better than everyone. While some of the 80s slasher characters look terrifying, villains like Bateman are even more chilling because he’s attractive, charming, and overall seems normal.