What’s in a name? Well for starters the creep factor. When it comes to movie killers and criminals not everyone goes by their actual name. Some hide behind a mask or a fake name to hide who they areor create a legacy without their real identities attached to them. That’s the focus of today’s list in celebration of the forthcoming release of “The Snowman” this weekend. Like the film’s titular killer, many great movie villains have used a nickname or moniker. So whether they are self-described nicknames or ones given to them by a fearful society or overzealous newsroom here are the Top 10 Killer Nicknames in Film.
For this list it’s pretty simple. The criminal has to be a killer or some sort and they have to go by a nickname or moniker that hides who they truly are. The nickname must be officially recognized in the movie, not just a descriptive one handed to them by the audience. That being said no killer going by their actual name was considered for this list so Jason Voorhees, Freddie Kruger, and Michael Myers are all off the table. The nicknames can also be given to them rather than self-imposed.
In addition no killer based on comic books or that is a direct interpretation of a real life killer (such as any cinematic representation of Jack the Ripper by name) was considered for this list although those loosely inspired by real life killers were considered. Those from literature, such as novels, were also fair game. Finally the term “killer” is used loosely here. Even if the criminal didn’t commit the murder by hand, as long as they were directly responsible for the deaths of their victims they count here.
What is your favorite killer nickname in film? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to check out “The Snowman” this weekend.
10. The Thumbprint Killer from “Mr. Brooks”, Real Name: Earl Brooks
A wealthy businessman and celebrated individual in the public eye, Earl Brooks, played by Kevin Costner, lives a double as a serial killer by the name of the “Thumbprint Killer”. An addict to that craft, Brooks manages to keep his tendencies in check for two years through a 12-step program but the film sees him give in to his urges and kill again. Brooks earned his nicknames from his calling card, leaving each of his victims’ bloody thumbprints on a lampshade. Brooks is meticulous and consistent in his killings and his cleanup of the scene, and his nickname and MO are sort of ironically symbolic. Normally fingerprints are the defining part of an investigation into a crime, but here he leaves only the fingerprints of his victims for the investigators to find almost as if implying they brought their fate upon themselves. Regardless, Brooks’ nickname is a memorable one and the identity most came to know him for in the context of the film.
9. The Tooth Fairy from “Red Dragon”, Real Name: Francis Dolarhyde
One of two “Hannibal” characters on this list, Francis Dolarhyde is the antagonist of the “Red Dragon” movie, a prequel to “Silence of the Lambs” and “Hannibal”, and earned his nickname from his tendency to bite his victims, leaving interesting marks due to his abnormal teeth, and his usual process of killing at night. Dolarhyde kills at the request of his alternate personality, the “Great Red Dragon”, and believes his victims to bring him closer to assimilating with the dragon. A man with a dark past that lead to his psychological disorder, The Tooth Fairy is appropriately named not just for his MO, but also for his characters fascination with a fantasy of becoming the dragon within him. This name may seem lighthearted and fun, but it actually describes a pretty despicable and insane human being. Don’t expect a dollar under your pillow if this man comes knocking.
8. Stuntman Mike from “Death Proof”, Real Name: Unknown
The protagonist AND antagonist of one half of the “Grind House” double feature, very little is known about Stuntman Mike including whether or not Mike is his true name. Stuntman Mike spends his time in a vintage car terrorizing and seducing women before eventually using that car to kill them. He even uses the car to kill multiple women at once at a bar, seemingly just for fun. Fast-forward to later events in the movie and he picks up the wrong women, who themselves happen to be stuntwomen who eventually give him his just desserts. Maybe not the most threatening killer on this list, but Stuntman Mike’s nickname has earned him popularity AND infamy for his role in one of Quentin Tarantino’s most divisive properties. His name is a perfect description of a man willing and able to do some pretty dangerous and drastic things for the sake of a thrill and considering his love for cars and his way of working with the steering wheel to keep up with professional stuntwomen I’d say he earned the nickname wouldn’t you?
7. Pennywise the Dancing Clown from “It”, Real Name: Unknown
This could be considered a bit of a cheat, but for all intents and purposes Pennywise is not It’s real name, it’s simply a moniker used to describe one of many disguises the creature transforms into as it prays on a group of young children in Deary, Maine. Pennywise is by far the creature’s most iconic form, and the one he chooses to utilize for more random encounters with the children he targets, and is a fitting name as it has a subtle strangeness and creepiness about it. Pennywise himself looks menacing and intimidating, so when you add in a relatively innocent sounding name his self-imposed nickname seems like a perfect fit. It’s a name that draws in the innocent and creates a sense of trust and calm overshadowing the evil behind his façade. He may not be human and his true title may be unknown, but the name Pennywise will forever live on in horror history as one of the most misleading and creepy titles ever bestowed upon a murderous creature in horror. Even Stephen King himself felt the clown adaptation of his character had a perfect form and name to capture its effect on the children of a small Maine town.
6. Sweeney Todd from “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”, Real Name: Benjamin Barker
A horror iconic of the stage more than the screen, Sweeney Todd is a murderous barber who was wrongfully imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit as the result of a jealous judge seeking Todd’s wife’s affection. Then named Benjamin Barker, he returns to London after his imprisonment seeking revenge, taking a new name to avoid being recognized as Barker. Todd’s revenge expands into a killing spree involving wealthy and forgettable individuals in society before he finally has a chance to take his revenge on the man who did him wrong. Todd is a psychopath to say the least who has let the past and the torture brought unto him by others change him into a monster. It’s only fitting that in changing his name he chose one with a more sinister undertone. Benjamin Barker sounds more welcoming and uplifting. Sweeney Todd helps define the barbers shift from devoted, loving husband and professional to more sadistic and maniacal murderer. It’s a name that cuts like a knife, just like the razors he sees as extensions of himself.
5. Buffalo Bill from “Silence of the Lambs”, Real Name: Jame Gumb
The serial killer from the most popular of “Hannibal” films “Silence of the Lambs”, the man nicknamed Buffalo Bill is a self-described transsexual and murders his victims to cut off and wear their skin. Seemingly obsessed with changing into a woman, Bill earned his nickname as he skins different parts from his female victims and leaves them dead in the same way the famed Buffalo Bill claimed to do to American Indians through scalping. It’s an interesting connection many fans fail to make about one of the 90s most iconic cinematic serial killers, but it’s a perfect fit for a man so psychotic that his insecurities with his sexual identity and years of abuse have turned him into a certified monster of a man. Containing aspects of many real-life serial killers in his characterization, it says a lot about Gumb that law enforcement decided to choose a Wild West icon to represent him. Buffalo Bill spent his life acting like someone he wasn’t (seeing himself as a woman in a man’s body acting like a man to fit in) so while the name fits the crime, it also fits the personality and personal struggle of a complex villain.
4. Ghostface from “Scream”, Real Names: Billy Loomis and Stu Macher
The only killer on this list to be represented by TWO people in a single film, Ghostface was a monikor attributed to Billy Loomis and Stu Macher in the original “Scream” film and taken up by other killers in the sequels that followed. A sendup to other masked villains of horror, Ghostface’s mask and image was simple, but satisfyingly creepy and, if you can’t tell, it was his spooky face that earned him the nickname. Loomis was the main portrayer of this killer while Macher played the part when Loomis couldn’t to hide the killer’s identity. Regardless Ghostface’s name was also a slight toward the media who have a fascination with giving intimidating names to serial killers to add to the headlines. Ghostface became so iconic that the costume is still a staple of Halloween parties everywhere and the title has earned its place among the greats of horror as an iconic representation of genre slashers. A bit more literal than many of the nicknames feature on this list, Ghostface is probably the most fitting nickname here. Well almost as fitting as out next entry.
3. Leatherface, The “Texas Chainsaw” Franchise, Real Name: various
Leatherface is iconic as they come. His real name is unknown, although he does receive some actual names in one or two incarnations. Regardless we all know him for one thing, the leather masks he wears that created his nickname. Inspired by the real life killer Ed Gein, Leatherface is grounded in reality and is portrayed as a mentally challenged man with immense strength and a more innocent, child-like state of mind that makes him easily threatened and, possibly, misunderstood. One of the most iconic serial killers in all of film, his name is possibly the most iconic nickname on this list. However, what keeps him from being higher is that his name is more literal while the next two are more symbolic and representative of the personalities and methods these killers embrace in their acts of violence. Still, Leatherface’s moniker is as iconic as they come and for a man whose true name is debatable at best, his nickname still strikes fear into the world of film to this day. In fact, in addition to “The Snowman”, a new film about the murderer is also being released to streaming services this weekend.
2. Jigsaw from the “Saw” franchise, Real Names: John Kramer
The main villain of the “Saw” series of films, Jigsaw, also known as John Kramer the Jigsaw Killer, actually never physically kills anyone in his movies except in self-defense. His name is derived from his calling card, a puzzle piece cut out of the skin of the victims who fail to pass his deadly test traps that are usually poetic to the sins and lack of respect for life that the victims have shown in the real world. Kramer’s approach is well thought out and planned, choosing his targets based on their lack of respect for their own existence or the existence of others and taking the piece out of their skin because they lacked an important piece of their humanity, their will to do whatever they need to in order to survive. It was law enforcement and the media that gave Kramer his nickname, although he himself seems less than impressed because he feels it waters down the point of his hidden message left on each of his victims. A cancer patient who attempted suicide and failed, Kramer has no respect for those without a survival instinct and a will to live. It’s the one piece of humanity he believes should come natural, and yet it’s the missing piece he sees in all his victims. Thus, to him, the name represents his mission, to kills those whose puzzle is missing the most important piece of all.
1. John Doe from “Se7en”, Real Name: Unknown
When it comes to nicknames this one is sheer perfection. It’s fitting of the character, its representative of the media’s need for an identity to a killer, and it’s significant to the character’s motivations as well. Kevin Spacey plays this iconic killer in “Se7en” who kills off his victims using the seven deadly sins as the basis for his crimes. Each victim violates one of the seven sins and is killed in a manner fitting of their sin, sort of like Jigsaw but much better developed and designed. His identity is unknown, as he never says his real name and has removes markings and identifying features like fingerprints from his body. As they do with most unknown victims, the media and law enforcement label him “John Doe” which becomes his permanent nickname. So why is it the best of the best in terms of killer nicknames? Well that’s because John Doe seeks to draw attention to the worst in humanity. By eliminating anything that sets him apart from humanity, he becomes a physical representation of it and commits the most significant sin of them all, envy, by seeking the life other than his. Such a simple nickname makes this character the personification of humanity’s hypocrisy, imperfections, and obsession with violence and self-service and thus when you ask “what’s in a name?” there’s a lot to this simple, but fascinatingly appropriate label that makes John Doe the best killer nickname in film.