Total Recall

Total Recall: Killer Body Counts

We take a fond look back at some of cinema's most prolific psychopaths.

by and | October 22, 2008 | Comments

The leaves have changed colors, there’s a chill in the air, and the kids on your block are already plotting their elaborate revenge for the lousy off-brand candy you’re planning on putting in the bowl next week. It’s almost Halloween, gang, and you know what that means — there’s a new Saw sequel heading for a theater near you!

In honor of the imminent Saw V, your pals at RT decided it would be fun to compile a list of some of the most iconic serial killers in horror film history. You’ll find Freddy and Jason here, of course, but we’ve also made room for a few less obvious choices, and dug up clips of the whole rogue’s gallery in all their gory glory. Let the slashing begin!

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Haunting grounds: The Jaws series
Estimated Body Count: low teens

Most of the slashers on our list are bona fide film icons, but few of them can boast of having changed the entire industry the way Peter Benchley’s great white shark did: Before Jaws‘ 1975 debut, studios actually held their big films out of the summer market, believing the vacation months to be a commercial graveyard. Almost $500 million (and lots of bloody ocean water) later, a franchise was born — and although the third and fourth installments aren’t good for much besides unintentional humor, the original remains a certified classic with a 100 percent Tomatometer rating. And it’s no wonder, really — as Benchley knew, the ocean is scary enough even without a gigantic bloodthirsty shark chasing you around.

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Haunting grounds: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre series
Estimated Body Count: 12

The twisted true-life tale of grave robber Ed Gein has inspired many notable cinematic grotesques, from Norman Bates in Psycho to Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. However, Tobe Hooper may have done the most to immortalize Gein in the annals of perverse pop culture by emphasizing his habit of making clothing out of human flesh. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre introduced Leatherface, a developmentally disabled fellow under the control of his cannibalistic family. Though he started out as a pretty timid guy who was as afraid of visitors as they were of him, Leatherface came out of his shell in the sequel, making up for lost time in liberally employing his Poulan 306A.

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Norman Bates

Haunting grounds: The Psycho series
Estimated Body Count: 15

Has there ever been a cinematic slasher more pitiable than Norman Bates? The poor guy is practically at war with himself, and his mom nags him from beyond the grave. Heck, every time he makes friends, they seem to end up dead. If Psycho exerted a profound influence on the slasher genre (and onscreen violence in general), it wasn’t because Norman was a particularly prolific killer. Alfred Hitchcock’s original (and the sequels) depicted a man in the clutches of inner torment and madness that was so gripping and scary that it didn’t need buckets of blood (or, in one memorable case, chocolate syrup) to be deeply unsettling.

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The Creeper

Haunting grounds: The Jeepers Creepers series
Estimated Body Count: 20

When Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer wrote “Jeepers Creepers” in the late 1930s, they surely never guessed their snappy little pop ditty would go on to provide the theme song for a murderous winged creature who possesses a bee-and-dog-like ability to smell fear and can regenerate body parts by ingesting those of his victims. And that’s not all — the Creeper can also overcome overwhelmingly negative reviews, too! Although critics kept 2001’s Jeepers Creepers from a Fresh certification, the Creeper was back just two years later with a sequel, and a third installment is scheduled for next year. Not bad for a bad guy who’s limited to a single 23-day feeding frenzy every 23 years, right?

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Hannibal Lecter

Haunting grounds:
The Silence of the Lambs,
Red Dragon,
Hannibal Rising
Estimated Body Count: 21

Before 1991, you may not have even known what fava beans were — but after Anthony Hopkins’ first appearance as Doctor Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, nobody ever thought of them the same way again. (Seriously: Google “fava beans,” and underneath a handful of recipes, you’ll see a link to the famous clip where Lecter recalls what has become arguably his most famous dining experience.) Like Jason Voorhees, Lecter doesn’t appear in much of this reboot — he’s only in a little over 15 minutes of Lambs — but audiences had a clear, um, appetite for the flesh-craving serial killer’s brand of mayhem, and he’s since gone on to appear in a number of other books and movies. A fansite dedicated to the good doctor puts his body count at 21 — although it’s been awhile since his creator, author Thomas Harris, has published a new account of his adventures.

James Dale
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The Thing

Haunting grounds:
The Thing From Another World,
The Thing
Estimated Body Count: 22

Human beings have long been fascinated with outer space, and what might be lurking there — which helps to explain the enduring appeal of John W. Campbell’s 1938 short story, Who Goes There?, about a malevolent alien rescued from an icy grave by an Antarctic research team, and goes on to repay the favor by forcibly (and messily) assimilating every living creature within reach, including 22 unlucky scientists and a handful of dogs. Campbell’s creature — referred to as the Thing — has provided rich fodder for filmmakers over the decades, inspiring both 1951’s The Thing from Another World and John Carpenter’s 1982 cult classic, simply titled The Thing. Another remake is currently under development, proving that no matter how things change, audiences will always have room for an extraterrestrial with an axe to grind.

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Haunting grounds: The Scream series
Estimated Body Count: 25

One of the rare slasher antagonists who’s a killer-by-committee, Ghostface terrorizes the self-referntial Scream series with a revolving door of mask-donning, knife-wielding psychopaths. Their motives are different (peer pressure, revenge, etc.), but the results are the same, no matter who wears the Edward Munch-inspired getup: teenagers will turn up dead, following the conventions of horror movies. And, as with other horror franchises, the body count goes up from the original to the sequel; in all, this council of killers is responsible for at least 25 slayings.

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Haunting grounds: The Final Destination series
Estimated Body Count: 28

Remember the old margarine commercials that said you can’t fool Mother Nature? Well, according to the Final Destination series, you can’t cheat Fate, either. It’s often said that revenge is a dish best served cold — but for the unseen hand of Fate, it tastes even better when garnished with a series of incredibly brutal (and, it must be said, very morbidly entertaining) booby traps. According to the Final Destination Wikipedia entry, the series’ unseen antagonist has dispatched 28 victims, using everything from the mundane (death by falling brick) to the cleverly rewind-worthy (shower cord strangulation, ladder through the eye, death by falling cherry picker). With a fourth installment scheduled for 2009 (in hi-def 3-D, even!), audiences can expect to see even more attractive young people cut down in their prime in fiendishly inventive ways.

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Haunting grounds: The Child’s Play series
Estimated Body Count: 30

Chucky may have devolved into a pint-sized Tony Clifton at this point, but the original Child’s Play was a superior genre piece — creepy, suspenseful, and blessed with an insidious sense of humor. Child’s Play riffed on the idea of innocence gone horribly wrong, with a quasi-Cabbage Patch Kid embodied by a vicious serial killer with the help of a voodoo ritual. Subsequent sequels have delivered more camp than scares, but Chucky’s left a trail of more than 30 corpses in his wake — and probably didn’t enamor himself to Teddy Ruxpin.

Merkin Muffley
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Haunting grounds: The Hellraiser series
Estimated Body Count: 35

By the late 1980s, the slasher genre was starting to feel a little stale — and then along came Pinhead, the sadomasochistic leader of the extradimensional pack of hooligans known as the Cenobites. The spike-headed hook fetishist wasn’t featured heavily in 1987’s Hellraiser, but Pinhead’s combination of creepy appearance, selective taste for victims, and clear fondness for gruesome torture stole the movie; throughout the eight-film series (four of which were released straight to DVD), Pinhead has remained the only constant. And for good reason: Although his body count may be relatively low — Joe’s Little Horror Place puts it at 35 “so far” — no one else can match his way with a sharp, well-placed hook.

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Haunting grounds: The Saw series
Estimated Body Count: 40

John Kramer must be a huge fan of Se7en. As the Jigsaw Killer, he specializes in setting elaborate Rube Goldberg-style traps for those he feels take life for granted, and then tasks them with attempting to escape, with regularly grisly results. Dressed like a carnival barker and often confined to a wheelchair, Jigsaw uses his wits more than sharp objects, but the results are often bloodier as a result — he’s perhaps the preeminent slasher antihero for the torture-porn era.

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Freddy Kruger

Haunting grounds: The Nightmare series
Estimated Body Count: 42

Perhaps the 1980s’ most recognizable movie monster, Freddy Kruger may not be able to compete with other horror icons for killing in bulk. But the dermatologically-challenged Elm Street resident certainly wins points for style; in addition to his expert use of claw-tipped leather gloves, Freddy is adept at shape-shifting, strangulation, and generating geysers of blood from the bodies of future heartthrobs. The whimsically-monikeredHead Injury Theater provides an incomplete but still perversely engrossing rundown of Freddy’s ghastly work, and charges Mr. Kurger with 42 counts of homicide.

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Haunting grounds: The Leprechaun series
Estimated Body Count: 45

The Leprechaun series is the embodiment of the finest that Irish culture and letters has to offer, easily surpassing the works of James Joyce and Oscar Wilde. The titular antihero is murderously committed to acquiring a pot o’ gold, an undertaking that prompts travel to such exotic locales as Compton and outer space. The fanpage Connie’s Warwick Davis Fanpage and Leprechaun Center has a remarkably detailed chronicle of the little green guy’s deadly exploits; despite his diminutive stature, the Leprechaun’s super-sharp claws and teeth have helped him tally 45 onscreen fatalities.

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Michael Myers

Haunting grounds: The Halloween series
Estimated Body Count: 56

The best-known escapee of Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, Michael Myers has never been a big fan of babysitters, nor is he particularly fleet of foot. He digs Blue Oyster Cult, and makes special use of Star Trek paraphernalia and kitchen cutlery. Since the release of John Carpenter’s landmark Halloween, Myers’ legend has been told in a number of sequels, and if his reasons for killing are obscure, he’s still coldly efficient at the task; he’s racked up 56 notches on his belt, according to

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Jason Voorhees

Haunting grounds: The Friday the 13th series
Estimated Body Count: 146

Rocking facial protection that would do Jacques Plante proud, Jason Vorhees terrorized Camp Crystal Lake with cold precision and an ability to avoid death that rivals Rasputin’s in Friday the 13th. Occasionally breaking out of the bucolic confines of the countryside to wreak havoc in the big city (Part VI: Jason Takes Manhattan, Hades (Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday) and the future (Jason X). According to the absurdly detailed website, Jason put 146 unfortunate souls on ice (with another 42 self-inflicted or accidental deaths within the series). Pretty impressive for a cat who died from drowning in 1958.

Still feeling spooky, and all together a little ooky? Read our Total Recall article on
movie ghosts or
explore the full column archive.

And finally, here are some words of wisdom from Ice-T and his band of merry pranksters, Body Count:

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