Marvel’s 10 Most Terrifying Horror Characters
It’s October and that means it’s time for monsters, ghosts and all time of spooky stuff to get their just due. For me, that means taking some time to celebrate some of Marvel’s most terrifying characters and, as an additional bit of fun, compare their Magnitude of Terror to some of my favorite horror films.
Much of modern horror cinema relies on the main character making a series of terrible decisions that everyone else in the audience can see coming. Nobody related to Marvel has done a better job of tapping into this mojo than Avi. He’s fortunate enough to have his name attached to films like Iron Man and Into the Spider-Verse and some of Marvel’s best animated series, but his real legacy will always be his inability to strike gold with Marvel’s most popular character (Spider-Man) in the midst of the great comic book movie renaissance of the 2010s. His struggles led to everyone’s gain, however, when Sony struck a deal with Marvel Studios to help produce Spidey flicks but it also emboldened him to go off and make whole new series of horrifying decisions like trying to make an Aunt May spy thriller.
Murphy’s Magnitude of Terror Meter: The Shining. Much like the Overlook Hotel, too much time around Avi will drive you completely insane making you capable of unimaginable atrocities.
Marvel Comics didn’t invent the vampire but Marv Wolfman certainly came up with something spectacular when he thought up Blade. I don’t know enough about the entire history of vampire literature to know if Wolfman invented the idea of the Daywalker or if he was just smart enough to borrow it and incorporate it into Eric Brooks’ story but I do know it made for one of hell of a character. A daywalking vamp that lives to kill vamps and starred in what stands up as one of my favorite Marvel films to this day, Blade has shared the page with big timers like Spidey, Doctor Strange and the Avengers without ever really seeing an incredibly popular solo series. With a Mahershala Ali led reboot/retcon on deck, the character is about to get another chance to bite into the mainstream market.
Murphy’s Magnitude of Terror Meter: The Lost Boys. Frenetic and fully immersed in the terrifying world of vampires but somehow appealing enough to lure you in, Blade absolutely deserves his place on this list.
Of all the classic horror characters adapted by Marvel Comics over the years, Dracula has been used to the greatest effect since Gerry Conway brought him into the universe in 1972’s Tomb of Dracula. In addition to having a handful of other great Marvel characters introduced in his comic (Blade among them) Drac has had some legendary run ins with the X-Men and the Avengers. The transition from the blood thirsty monster of folklore to the calculating, scheming power player he’s become in universe has only added to the character’s legacy and h
e’s back again in Ben Percy’s current Wolverine run proving that much like the legend says, he never dies.
Murphy’s Magnitude of Terror Meter: The Silence of the Lambs. Equal parts intellectual, insidious and iniquitous, Marvel’s Drac can get into your head or your throat with ease. As we all sit around and wonder who the MCU’s next “big bad” is, it’s hard to imagine there won’t be more than one and that Dracula could fill the role of one of them in the future.
The most underrated character on this list, Elsa Bloodstone is Marvel Comics’ version of Buffy the Vampire on steroids. The daughter of the immortal monster hunter Ulysses Bloodstone, Elsa burst out of the mind of Dan Abnett and onto the pages of the comics in 2001 and has, sadly, been an all too infrequent flyer since; however, she’s always made a big impact on me when she’s been on page and seems incredibly well-suited to find her way into the MCU. Say what you will, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a tremendous success in the late 90s and a Bloodstone series would be straight fire on Disney Plus in the 2020s.
Murphy’s Magnitude of Terror Meter: 28 Days Later/Zombieland. Rude, irreverent and deconstructionist, Elsa IS the next generation of Marvel horror even if you don’t know it yet. Like 28 Days Later, Elsa’s story changes the pace of the genre (monster hunter, not zombie, in this case) and produces an underappreciated gem.
When the Hulk first hit the pages of Marvel Comics in 1962, he did so as Stan Lee’s amalgamation of two great horror icons (okay, maybe three): Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde and Frankenstein’s monster. Lee thought the idea of a giant monster who was actually a hero was a winner and the first couple of decades worth of stories explored the duality of Banner and his jade-jawed alter (that duality has since expanded significantly into something harder to desribe) who took over once the sun went down. For quite some time those aspects of the Hulk took a backseat as other creators took over and took the character down other different but often interesting paths (the Maestro says hello), but now Al Ewing has brilliantly brought the character back to his roots while finding ways to expand his mythology along the way.
Murphy’s Magnitude of Terror Meter: The Fly (1986). Jeff Goldblum’s Seth Brundle has at least some commonality with Bruce Banner and the Brudlefly and Hulk certainly both have a problem with controlling their primal urges. Of course there’s not a perfect parallel between the two, but the idea of a science experiment going wrong and creating an unimaginable beast who loses control line up and and put them among one of mankind’s most commonly explored themes: the duality of man and the “beast” within us all.
Cursed from birth, Johnny Blaze’s early life story was horrific enough before he made a deal with the devil (Mephisto) to save the soul of his foster father. Through his deal, Blaze became bonded with the demon, Zarathos, the Spirit of Vengeance, transforming him into the Ghost Rider each night. It’s hard for me to think of a Marvel Comics series that deals more directly with the horror concepts of Hell, the devil and the evil of men than Ghost Rider. Of course there have been several other Riders throughout the years, but Blaze stands out not only as the original but as the archetypal innocent whose life was forfeit through no fault of his own. Now the King of Hell, Blaze has changed a lot through the years but he’s arguably one of Marvel’s most iconic characters and has dealt with all manner of demons, witches, magic and the like.
Murphy’s Magnitude of Terror Meter: Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Johnny’s soul was a bit more pure than Vlad’s when he struck his deal with the devil but they both remain men cursed to be monsters by night because they made deals to save the souls of people they loved. While Dracula himself feeds off the blood of others, Johnny’s bonded to a demon who feeds on the souls of sinners and stands as one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe.
At first glance you might not think that Ilyana Rasputin belongs on this list but a deeper look into her character reveals someone who has gone through Hell. The mutant sister of one the X-Man Colossus, Ilyana’s mutation gifted her the ability to teleport but that’s about the most boring thing about her. As a child, she was taken to the dimension of Limbo by the demon Belasco gained power while he corrupted her soul. Though she initially escaped, Belasco found a way to bring her back which eventually led to her transformation into the demonic Darkchilde and her ascending to the throne as the Demon Queen of Limbo. Also a powerful sorceress, Magik has teamed up with Doctor Strange and other mystics over the years to take on some formidable threats.
Murphy’s Magnitude of Terror Meter: The Babadook
Magik’s childhood trauma would rip the soul from any of us but ‘Yana, with some help from her friends and family, found a way to pull through and become stronger even learning to use her own life force to create her formidable magic blade, the Soulsword. Magik, for the most part, has learned to control the monsters that sought to use her and has become one of the X-Men’s most fierce warriors.
“Whoever knows fear burns at the touch of the Man-Thing!” A terrifying creature created from the minds of Marvel legends like Stan Lee, Steve Gerber, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway and Gray Morrow, the Man-Thing is another victim of a science experiment gone wrong. The man that was Ted Sallis became the Man-Thing after working on, among other things, a new version of the Super Solider serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America. Though he survived an attack by A.I.M. on his lab, Sallis crashed into a swamp where the combination of the serum he injected into himself and the mystical properties of the swamp (it was later revealed to be the Nexus of All-Realities) collaborated to turn him into the monstrous Man-Thing. The original Man-Things stories saw the creature take on the role of hero by accident as criminals often found themselves up to no good in his swamp. Drawn to the violence through relatively confusing means, Man-Thing’s body would manifest a physical (maybe mystical) reaction to those who fear him and causing them to burn if he touched them. If you’ve never read through these early 70’s gems, do yourself a favor and check out a few on a cold, rainy night this October.
Murphy’s Magnitude of Terror Meter: Halloween (1978)
Emotionless but inexorably drawn to violence and impossible to stop, the Man-Thing has much in common with Michael Myers. His body count, while comprised almost entirely of bad people doing bad things, is probably higher than Michael’s but he remains silent, inhuman killer nonetheless.
One of Marvel’s most conceptually chilling villains, Nightmare has been mostly known as a thorn in the side of Sorcerer Supreme Doctor Strange but has caused plenty of problems for the rest of the Marvel Universe as well. A demon and one of the ancient Fear Lords whose power comes from the fears of other beings, Nightmare carved out his own chunk of the Dream Dimension to lord over and from there he used his power to capture and torment the astral forms of beings while they slept. Given that he draws his power from dreams, he’s essentially indestructible as he’ll continue to exist as long as people dream. His ability to torment sleeping souls doesn’t always end when they wake up either and he’s been proven to be powerful enough that those he torments take their terrors into their waking hours forcing them to question whether they’re asleep or awake.
Murphy’s Magnitude of Terror Meter: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The only horror film that ever truly traumatized me was Wes Craven’s OG Nightmare film. The idea of someone like Freddy Krueger who could haunt your dreams, kill you in your sleep and drive you the the brink of insanity while you were awake honestly kept me up at night for months after I first watched the film. Like Krueger, Nightmare loses much of his power outside of his own dimension, but can still provide a formidable threat. Done well, Nightmare could almost be TOO scary for the MCU.
Some recent horror films such as Scream and Cabin in the Woods have successfully gone meta by having the characters aware of horror movie tropes only to have some of those characters ignore the established source material and drive head first into disaster. That pretty much sums up Kinberg’s tenure with the X-Men films which culminated in him somehow making a worse Phoenix film than the original dumpster fire that was X-Men: The Last Stand. Despite having the ability to work with some of Marvel Comics deepest and richest source material, Kinberg seemed to continue to shoot from the hip and never really hit the mark. In addition to whiffing on Phoenix twice, he also managed to screw up Apocalypse, hire Miles Teller to play Reed and turn Doctor Doom into a computer hacker…it’s hard to imagine anything more horrifying than his tenure with these characters.
Murphy’s Magnitude of Terror Meter: Night of the Living Dead. Despite moving at what seemed to be a snail’s pace, Kinberg found a way to make his mark on almost everything you held near to your heart and morph it into something completely unrecognizable and devoid of life through his relentless and unyielding assault on these IPs.
As tough as it was to limit it to 10, I think I nailed it. What characters are in your top 10? Let us know in the comments.