In the hierarchy of intelligence, the victims generally rank lower than the smart horror movie villains they face with very little deviation from that formula. Sure, there might be a final girl who figures out how to best the villain and end the movie, but the antagonist always tends to come back for more in the next installment. The smartest horror movie villains even manipulate their prey into helping them further their cause, as in the case of Samara Morgan in The Ring 2. Others perfectly set up their traps and narratives to span years of deadly games for a growing circle of targets, just like Jigsaw.
When these scoundrels step up their game from lumbering single-mindedly towards a randy teenager to instead playing mind games that leave both their opponents and the audience in awe, it's a triumph that should be celebrated and singled out. It's no coincidence that the most likable movie villains tend to be among the most erudite and cunning as well, especially since they both dazzle and horrify viewers with their sharp wits and weapons.
Not only does Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) stay several steps ahead of special agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) and the other FBI agents throughout Silence of the Lambs, but he uses them to facilitate his own escape from confinement while still shedding light on the identity of Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine).
Of course, one should never forget that Lecter managed to live among normal people for many years without detection, preying on patients, rude associates, and census takers, then serving them to high-society guests at dinner parties.
- Appears In: The Silence of the Lambs
- Photo: Saw II/Lionsgate Films
Smart is too small a word to use for John Kramer/Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) when one considers the amount of ingenuity, labor, and intelligence required to set up multiple tests for people to redeem themselves, train numerous apprentices, and leave a legacy that allows him to live on well after his demise.
Kramer not only built his original traps by hand, he orchestrated circumstances to bring together specific people in his life to afford them the opportunity to make amends in one of his games.
- Appears In: Saw Franchise
Portrayed by multiple actors over likely hundreds of adaptations, Dr. Victor Frankenstein is an intelligent villain who uses science to bring dead body parts back to life without regard for ethics or consequence.
Frankenstein's ability to overcome the biological certainties of life and doom in order to reverse or engineer them at will makes him a demented genius among horror antagonists for the ages.
- Appears In: Frankenstein
Pinhead (played originally by Doug Bradley, then Stephan Smith Collins and Paul T. Taylor, respectively) is the Cenobite leader in Clive Barker's Hellraiser film series, possessing the ability to psychologically antagonize his targets while also recognizing a good bargain when it comes his way.
Articulate and cerebral, Pinhead knows exactly how to manipulate his prey into giving in to him and his fellow Cenobites for eternal misery.
- Appears In: Hellraiser Franchise