Top 10 Most Horrifying Smiles in Horror Movies
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
It may take less muscles to smile than it does to frown, but in these horrifying cases, we'd rather they worked a little harder. For this list, we're looking at the creepiest instances of characters smiling in scary movies. Our countdown includes Freddy Krueger, Pennywise, Norman Bates, and more!
Top 10 Most Horrifying Smiles in Horror
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Most Horrifying Smiles in Horror.
For this list, we’re looking at the creepiest instances of characters smiling in scary movies.
Did any of these smiles creep you out? Let us know in the comments below!
#10: Freddy Taunts Tina
“A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)
Most slashers are of the silent, stalking type, but not Freddy Krueger. Usually one to have fun with his victims, Freddy laughs, jests, and smiles his way through his kills. And no smile is scarier than when he’s chasing Tina. First, he tells her to watch him mutilate his own hand, and he does so with an eerie sense of pride and glee. But Freddy’s not done giving unsettling facial expressions, as Tina grabs his burnt face and exposes what’s underneath. What results is a nightmarish concoction of visuals and sound, as Freddy apparently finds the whole thing hilarious. It is disgusting, it is horrifying, and it perfectly establishes the character of Freddy Krueger.
#9: Henry Kane
“Poltergeist II: The Other Side” (1986)
While the movie itself has received a less-than-stellar reception, “Poltergeist II” is notable for its memorable villain. Reverend Henry Kane is a dead and malicious preacher who seeks the young Carol Anne for his own nefarious purposes. Julian Beck is thoroughly creepy in the role, and he has a wonderful smile that sends shivers down the spine. He grins numerous times throughout the film, like when speaking to Carol Anne and when he meets the family on the front porch in the rain. It’s a very wide smile that’s accentuated by his skeletal face, and despite his kind words, there is a ton of menace behind it.
#8: The Pale Lady
“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” (2019)
This movie had a lot of great visual material to work with, as it closely mirrors Stephen Gammell’s illustrations from the iconic book series of the same name. The Pale Lady debuted in the story “The Dream,” which is included in “Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones.” Gammell’s artwork is brought to horrifying life through the pitch-perfect costume design. The creepiest part about the Pale Lady is her permanent smile, which suggests a certain playfulness in her actions. With little lips and a long, pencil-thin smile line, the face is ripped straight from our nightmares. Or, more accurately, straight from the book our nightmares came from.
#7: Patrick Talks to Paul
“American Psycho” (2000)
Christian Bale gives a mesmerizing performance as serial killer Patrick Bateman, and in the process, displays one of the fakest smiles in movie history. Identity is one of the biggest themes of “American Psycho,” and throughout the movie, Patrick is compelled to hide his true one and display a fake, overly-enthusiastic yuppie version of himself. This is best displayed in the scene with Jared Leto’s Paul Allen. Patrick wants nothing more than to kill Paul, and as he prepares, he puts on a really goofy show as he talks in clinical fashion about Huey Lewis and the News. The fakery could not be more obvious, and lying just underneath the pseudo-friendliness is a killer waiting to be set free.
#6: If It’s in a Word or a Look
“The Babadook” (2014)
You can’t get rid of the Babadook. But you might wish you could after getting a gander at this nighttime visitor. A horrifying meditation on grief and depression, “The Babadook” follows single mother Amelia Vanek as she struggles to raise her son. The movie is filled with startling imagery, including a nightmare grin from an alternate Amelia. But you really can’t compete with the titular creature when it comes to being creepy. Granted, the Babadook is mostly shrouded in shadows throughout the runtime, but when we do get a look at that haunting face, you better believe it sends a chill down our spines. From the blackened lips to an abyss of a mouth, this is one face we never want to see after bedtime.
#5: Jack Huffs & Puffs
“The Shining” (1980)
Throughout “The Shining,” we watch Jack Torrance slowly lose his mind inside the Overlook Hotel. He snaps for good after getting locked in the pantry and tries to attack his wife Wendy with an ax. Jack Nicholson is disturbingly perfect at portraying Jack’s complete loss of sanity. He walks through the family’s room with a big smile on his face, clearly relishing the moment and what he plans to do. He playfully taunts Wendy as the Big Bad Wolf. And of course, his cracked-door smile is probably one of the most famous visuals in movie history. One look at it tells the viewer all they need to know about Jack’s complete loss of control.
There’s no getting around it - clowns are terrifying. Between Pennywise and (xref) Art the Clown from “Terrifier,” we’ve seen enough made-up smiles to last us a lifetime. With the intent of luring and scaring children, Pennywise takes the physical appearance of a clown. And like all clowns, It’s forced to put on a smile. However, the painfully fake one often betrays Its menacing motive. That is, when It’s not smiling in an intentionally creepy way to scare the children. Bill Skarsgård is delightfully menacing as Pennywise, with his smile being one of a particularly, and literally, alien nature. Pennywise loves playing with Its food, and Its contrived smile is a big part of that.
#3: Starling Meets Lecter
“The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)
Regarded by some as the greatest movie villain of all time, Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter is an icon of pop culture, and what an introduction he was given. FBI trainee Clarice Starling is sent to interview the cannibalistic madman to glean information about another serial killer. Lecter is polite and courteous, and it’s obvious that he is dangerously smart. But he’s also just dangerous. While Lecter smiles throughout the interaction, it’s largely of a performative nature, and Hopkins expertfully conveys the sinister cannibal lying just below the surface. Lecter is testing Starling and seeing what she’s capable of, and he’s doing it all with one of the creepiest smiles ever put to screen.
#2: Regan Taunts the Priests
“The Exorcist” (1973)
A legendary horror film that more than lives up to its reputation, “The Exorcist” is full of haunting makeup work and masterful acting. Young Linda Blair is exceptional as the possessed Regan MacNeil and earned herself an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.; the Academy probably took one look at her smile and said, “Give this girl a nomination!” The third act of this film is iconic, with Regan fully falling into her possession and combating Fathers Karras and Merrin. The demon loves toying with the priests, and it often does so with a malicious smile on Regan’s face. Even underneath all that makeup, Blair’s malevolent facial expressions are crystal clear.
#1: Norman’s Smile
What could very well be the horror genre’s most iconic image is not a killer wielding a knife or a ghost haunting a family, but a handsome man smiling into the camera. It speaks not only to the fantastic characterization of Norman Bates, but also the timeless and iconic performance from Anthony Perkins. After his psychology is explained, the scene famously cuts to Norman inside his jail cell, thinking in the voice of his deceased mother. It’s then that he looks into the camera and gives what is easily the most famous and sinister smile in movie history. It is a magnificent ending to a magnificent film.