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32 Horror Movie Villains Whose Motives Are Kind Of Understandable

 Kane Hodder as Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.
Kane Hodder as Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.

We know that it is customary to root for the more resourceful and heroic horror movie characters, but there have been a number of times when we could not help but feel sympathy for the maniacs and monsters they came at odds with. You could even argue that what makes some of the best horror movies so great is when they involve an antagonist whom you can actually identify with, or at least have some understanding of why they became the way they are.

Now, to be clear, we are in no way justifying the heinous and horrifying actions of any of these iconic horror movie villains, but by taking a deeper look at their back stories, you may never be able to see them in quite the same light (or, more accurately, darkness) again.

Sissy Spacek in Carrie.
Sissy Spacek in Carrie.

Carrie White (Carrie)

In Brian DePalma's 1976 adaptation of Stephen King's Carrie, Sissy Spacek's title character uses her telepathic powers to cause an explosive massacre on prom night. However, after facing unwarranted torment from her merciless classmates, constant judgment from her fanatical mother, and getting pig blood poured on her on stage, it is easy to interpret her as the hero of the story.

Tobin Bell as John Kramer in Saw
Tobin Bell as John Kramer in Saw

John “Jigsaw” Kramer (Saw)

Despite the deadly nature of his homemade traps, it is not really John Kramer's (Tobin Bell) intention to actually kill anyone in the Saw movies. The terminally ill criminal — otherwise known as Jigsaw — wants to give his "subjects" a new appreciation for life by bringing them dangerously close to death.

Betsy Palmer in Friday the 13th
Betsy Palmer in Friday the 13th

Pamela Voorhees (Friday The 13th)

Jason Voorhees drowned to death in Crystal Lake because his camp counselors were too busy indulging in debauchery. Therefore, while there are better answers than violence, you cannot blame his mother, Pamela (Betsy Palmer), for attempting to put an end to such behaviors in the original Friday the 13th.

Richard Brooker entering a room as Jason Voorhees in Friday The 13th Part III.
Richard Brooker entering a room as Jason Voorhees in Friday The 13th Part III.

Jason Voorhees (Friday The 13th Movies)

As we discover in Friday the 13th Part 2, Jason Voorhees never actually died (Or was resurrected as immortal, maybe?), but is still mad about his counselors' neglect. Throw in the fact that his mother is dead — at the hands of another teen — and he has more than enough reason to be Camp Crystal Lake's worst nightmare.

Quinn Lord in Trick 'r Treat
Quinn Lord in Trick 'r Treat

Sam (Trick 'R Treat)

Not enough people see Halloween as the sacred time of year it deserves to be treated as — a mistake that Sam (Quinn Lord) intends to correct in the 2007 cult favorite anthology, Trick 'r Treat. The mischievous trick-r-treater may go a little too far in his attempts to teach people a lesson in honoring All Hallow's Eve traditions, but his passion for the holiday is unmatched and, for that, we believe he should be recognized as its official mascot.

One of the monsters in Pan's Labyrinth.
One of the monsters in Pan's Labyrinth.

Pale Man (Pan's Labyrinth)

Who likes to share food anyway? Doug Jones' grotesque ghoul from Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth certainly does not, as seen from when he catches Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) stealing some of his grapes.

Georgina Campbell in Barbarian at door of attic
Georgina Campbell in Barbarian at door of attic

The Mother (Barbarian)

In Zach Cregger's 2022 horror favorite, Barbarian, Georgina Campbell's Tess discovers her accidentally double-booked Airbnb is also hiding a revolting mutant woman (Matthew Patrick Davis) who takes her prisoner. When you think about it, though, she was born into a world of isolation and abuse and grew up to be the kind of person who just wants someone to care for (hence the credited name of "The Mother"), which is an undeniably admirable quality to have.

Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford in The Cabin in the Woods
Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford in The Cabin in the Woods

The Facility (The Cabin In The Woods)

Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins' characters in the clever horror-comedy movie classic, The Cabin in the Woods, work for an organization tasked with preventing the apocalypse. It is not their fault that the only solution is letting deadly creatures loose on a group of five young, archetypical vacationers to appease the gods.

Peter Maloney in The Thing
Peter Maloney in The Thing

The Thing (The Thing)

In director John Carpenter’s 1982 paranoia-driven alien invasion movie classic, The Thing, a group of researchers are forced to question which one of them is still human when a shape-shifting alien infiltrates their base in the arctic. While the creature’s imitation of multiple characters does suggest that its ultimate goal very likely could could have been a global takeover, at the end of the day, it seems that it just wanted to survive. Quite often, the most effective method is blending in.

Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Sweeney Todd (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street)

Anyone who has seen director Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (or the Broadway musical it is based on) knows that Johnny Depp's titular hairdresser is not just some natural born killer. He was falsely convicted of a terrible crime by a judge (Alan Rickman) who wanted to steal his wife, leading him down a vengeful path.

Jaws invading boat.
Jaws invading boat.

The Shark (Jaws)

Like any animal, a shark has to eat and, sometimes, humans just happen to be around when the aquatic apex predator from Jaws is hungry. In fact, as many fans of Steven Spielberg's 1975 blockbuster agree, the story's true villain is the greedy Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton), who keeps Amity Island's beach open despite the warning signs.

The alien queen in Aliens
The alien queen in Aliens

Queen Xenomorph (Aliens)

Out of all the different Xenomorph variations seen in the Alien movies, few would disagree that the Queen is the most terrifying by her appearance alone. Yet, how truly threatening is she when unprovoked? In 1986’s Aliens, she is merely minding her own business laying some eggs until Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), after rescuing Newt (Carrie Henn), takes a flamethrower to her children. Would that not get you pretty riled up?

The Candyman in Candyman, 1992.
The Candyman in Candyman, 1992.

Daniel Robitaille (Candyman)

Tony Todd's titular urban legend from Candyman was savagely murdered over his romance with a white woman, igniting a vengeful fury that allowed him to live beyond death. The Clive Barker-inspired 1992 thriller's themes of racial discrimination were expanded upon in the 2021 requel, which suggests that people who die unjustly are resurrected as part of the "hive."

Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction
Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction

Alex Forrest (Fatal Attraction)

They say that love makes people do crazy things, even boiling the pet rabbit belonging to the family of the man you had a one-time fling with. Of course, you could argue that Manhattan editor Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) was already mentally unstable before crossing paths with Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) in 1987's Fatal Attraction, but the married lawyer should have known better than to toy with a woman’s feelings in the first place.

Lupita Nyong'o in Us
Lupita Nyong'o in Us

The Tethered (Us)

Jordan Peele’s 2019 thriller, Us, comments on classism, as represented by The Tethered — a group of people who really want nothing more than to live a life of their own beyond their underground home, like they surface-dwellers they resemble and have been forced to mimic. Not to mention, the central antagonist, Red (Lupita Nyong'o), absolutely deserves her revenge, given what we discover about her true identity at the end.

James McAvoy in Split
James McAvoy in Split

Kevin Wendell Crumb (Split)

In M. Night Shyamalan’s 2016 hit, Split, James McAvoy gives a transcendent performance as Kevin Wendell Crumb, who takes three teenage girls captive in his home. However, the real Kevin — a patient with Dissociative Identity Disorder — actually had nothing to do with the kidnapping, which was really orchestrated by the more villainous personalities living inside him that manifested out of him being subjected to years of abuse.

Ross Noble in Stitches
Ross Noble in Stitches

Stitches (Stitches)

It is very rare to find a creepy clown movie with a sympathetic antagonist, but the horrifying harlequin from the Irish slasher, Stitches, comes closest. It stars comedian Ross Noble in the title role — a birthday clown who falls prey to a fatal joke and, years later, returns to exact revenge on the pranksters who caused his death.

Belial from Basket Case
Belial from Basket Case

Belial Bradley (Basket Case)

The grossly deformed Belial was separated from his twin brother, Duane (Kevin VanHentenryck), against his will, forcing him to be kept hidden in a basket — hence the title of Frank Henenlotter’s 1982 cult classic, Basket Case. If the doctors who performed the procedure had respected the siblings' wishes to remain conjoined, they would still be alive.

William Finley in Phantom Of The Paradise
William Finley in Phantom Of The Paradise

Winslow Leach (Phantom Of The Paradise)

In Brian DePalma's 1974 musical horror comedy movie, Phantom of the Paradise, Winslow Leach (William Finley) is a talented musician whose compositions are stolen by record producer Swan (Paul Williams). After an attempt to stop the situation leaves his face disfigured, he is forced to haunt Swan's concert hall, the Paradise, where he seeks vengeance against him.

Killer from Prom Night
Killer from Prom Night

Alex Hammond (Prom Night)

One of the few teen slashers with a somewhat sympathetic villain is Prom Night, which stars Jamie Lee Curtis and follows a group of teens targeted by a masked killer during the big school dance. Their assailant is actually Alex Hammond (Michael Tough), who wishes to punish the teens in question for causing the death of his sister years earlier.

Clover looks down at the camera menacingly in Cloverfield.
Clover looks down at the camera menacingly in Cloverfield.

Clover (Cloverfield)

Imagine being a lonely, helpless, confused child prematurely woken up from a nap. It seems that a temper tantrum would be the natural response, right? Well, according the creators of 2008's found footage horror favorite, Cloverfield, that is the reason why New York falls prey to a strange monster, and not for any malicious intent.

Jeffrey Combs in Re-Animator
Jeffrey Combs in Re-Animator

Herbert West (Re-Animator)

While we do not particularly agree with the idea of cheating death, the idea of giving people a second chance at life or the chance of a longer life is an admirable goal. Thus, we cannot deny that Dr. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) created his resurrection serum with good intentions in Re-Animator.

Alice Krige in Ghost Story
Alice Krige in Ghost Story

Eva Galli (Ghost Story)

In 1979's Ghost Story, four elderly men are reminded of a terrible mistake from decades earlier when they become a acquainted with a woman named Alma Mobley (Alice Krige). However, they come to realize that Alma is really the spirit of Eva Galli — a woman from their past who has returned to avenge her death.

Christopher Lee in The Wicker Man
Christopher Lee in The Wicker Man

Lord Summerisle (The Wicker Man)

At the infamous, shocking conclusion of 1973's The Wicker Man, we discover that Sgt. Howie (Edward Woodward) was duped into coming to Summerisle as a sacrifice for the island’s crops. While the idea of murder magically benefitting agriculture is obviously ridiculous, we can at least admire the community's leader, Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) for going to far lengths for the sake of his people, even if his methods are horribly misguided.

Blaire's desktop screen in Unfriended
Blaire's desktop screen in Unfriended

Laura Barns (Unfriended)

In the surprisingly scary "video call horror" favorite Unfriended, a group of teens hanging out over Skype are taunted and killed one by one by an unwanted visitor.  It turns out to be the vengeful spirit of Laura Barns — a student who took her life after they embarrassed her with a viral video a year earlier.

Vincent Price in The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Vincent Price in The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Anton Phibes (The Abominable Dr. Phibes)

One of the most overlooked characters played by horror icon Vincent Price is the tile role of The Abominable Dr. Phibes, who seeks revenge on the doctors responsible for his wife's untimely death. To punish them, he takes inspiration from the Bible, setting rats, locusts, and other unusual curses on them.

Felissa Rose as Angela Baker In Sleepaway Camp
Felissa Rose as Angela Baker In Sleepaway Camp

Angela Baker (Sleepaway Camp)

After losing his father and sister in a skiing accident, Peter Baker was sent to live with his aunt, who forcibly raised him as her daughter under the name of his dead sibling, Angela. When "Angela" (Felissa Rose) was sent to the eponymous Sleepaway Camp, her fellow campers' merciless torment and inappropriate advances by some adult employees was the final straw, driving her to murder.

Victor Crowley's silhouette in Hatchet
Victor Crowley's silhouette in Hatchet

Victor Crowley (Hatchet)

While we are certainly not justifying the sadistic, indiscriminate murder streak of Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), we cannot help but feel a bit bad for the antagonist of 2006’s Hatchet and its sequels. Because of his grotesque facial deformity, he was hidden from the public against his will until the day he died and was resurrected as an undead vessel of vengeance.

Rusty Nail's truck from Joy Ride
Rusty Nail's truck from Joy Ride

Rusty Nail (Joy Ride)

In 2001’s Joy Ride, Paul Walker, Steve Zahn, and Leelee Sobieski’s characters are stalked by a mysterious trucker referred to as Rusty Nail after pranking him over a CB radio. In Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead, another group of travelers feel his wrath after stealing a car from his house. In Joy Ride 3: Roadkill, he is lured by a young couple intending to rob him. In conclusion, this killer trucker only messes with people who mess with him first.

Bruce Davison in Willard
Bruce Davison in Willard

Willard (Willard)

Bruce Davison plays the title character of 1971’s Willard — a lonely, poorly treated young man who finds unexpected kinship in a litter of rats. When his cruel boss (Academy Award winner Ernest Borgnine) ends up killing one of his new friends, named Socrates, he and an army of furry vermin retaliate.

Mama from Mama
Mama from Mama

Mama (Mama)

The eponymous, mysterious entity from 2013's Mama becomes the guardian to two young girls she saved from their own father, until they are discovered in the woods and taken in by their aunt and uncle five years later. So, it makes perfect sense that "Mama" would feel her adoptive children were stolen from her and want them back.

Angela Bettis stars at May in this 2002 horror cult classic.
Angela Bettis stars at May in this 2002 horror cult classic.

May Dove Canady (May)

Due to her awkward personality and lazy eye, the titular character from May, played by Angela Bettis, had no friends but a twisted doll named Suzie, until she becomes broken. We cannot blame her for wanting to find a replacement for Suzie, even though her solution is creating a new friend out of an assembly of human body parts.

Next time you watch a horror movie, instead of immediately writing off the villain as irredeemable, try to see things from their perspective. However, we also recommend trying to deal with your own problems in a calmer and more mature manner, as well.