While there are many good answers as to what makes a great film, nothing is as universally loved as a great villain and the horror genre is chock full of iconic villains. Unfortunately, many of these beloved villains are not exactly the loquacious type. In fact, many lean more to the strong, silent type like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, or they simply do not possess the human elements that give them motive or a need to speak with their victims, like many supernatural entities or demons. Luckily for us, there is another group that simply cannot stop talking, making for great moments where you can’t help but love to hate them (or just plain love them… we don’t judge).
In this article, we’ll be counting down ten of the greatest monologues by some killers who just can’t keep their mouths shut. The dictionary defines a monologue as “a prolonged talk or discourse by a single speaker, especially one dominating or monopolizing a conversation”. The important bit is the second half because some of these choices are not literal monologues as there are minor interruptions, but it’s a continuous through-line in the scene. Work with me here, I promise it will be worth it. And of course, WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.
10. “I Want to Play a Game” – Saw (2004)
How can the iconic lines from James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s first endeavor possibly be all the way down at number ten? There are so many unique monologues within the franchise that it’s impossible to pick one and would then be impossible to rank them. That could be its own complete list. With that in mind, I chose the tape Jigsaw directed to Amanda from the breakout first film (and who later becomes an interesting villain herself). Hearing the iconic “I want to play a game” for the first time while simultaneously introducing one of the most notorious traps in the history of the franchise, the reverse bear trap, makes this a speech that set the tone for Jigsaw. This was the speech that launched a thousand sequels and soon a Chris Rock starring spin-off.
9. “Setting the Example” – Se7en (1995)
Se7en, directed by David Fincher, is the story of Detective Mills (Brad Pitt) and Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman) tracking a serial killer who bases his murders on the seven deadly sins. At the end of the film, they’ve captured the killer, played with menace by Kevin Spacey, he gives them a speech that is an elevated version of the classic “Why I Did It” from other films. He tells them why each person was chosen and how they fulfilled the sins, challenging the detectives to disagree with him. He finishes by saying how he is setting the example for what punishments these sins should be met with. The very last sentiment he says is one that rings eerily true in modern times: that he will be studied, hated, revered, and will have fame within history. We’ve heard similar thoughts from many assassins and nowadays, many mass shooters.
8. “His Name was Jason” – Friday the 13th (1980)
Who could possibly forget the twist at the end of the first Friday the 13th franchise, and what better way to deliver it than to have Mrs. Voorhees, played by Betsy Palmer, lamenting to young Alice about the fate of her beloved only son, Jason? The delivery of the monologue is dripping with sickly sweet malice as she is barely able to retain her mask of sanity before losing it completely, all while the famous score plays in the background. The ingenuity to launch a franchise and introduce a character and main antagonist by not even having him be the bad guy in the first film is still one of my favorite things about showing this franchise to newbies. You know what they say: a mother’s love knows no bounds.
7. “She Wouldn’t Harm a Fly” – Psycho (1960)
Speaking of mothers, the closing shot of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho gives the viewers exactly what they’ve been longing for throughout the film: a peek inside the mind of Norman Bates. In this monologue, we hear exactly how the personality of his mother Norma has taken over. It shows how his mind is truly fractured into two distinct personalities, while showing a complete lack of remorse for his actions. Plus, it is just plain creepy. This is and was considered one of the greatest twists in cinema history and is considered a seminal film within the slasher genre, giving Anthony Perkins‘ quiet, menacing, and deranged performance a place in horror history.
6. “I Simply am Not There” – American Psycho (2000)
One of the most iconic of many iconic monologues in the film, this opening speech details Patrick Bateman’s morning routine in order to keep his appearances up. As he details his routine, he delves further into the nothingness he feels inside. In a film full of famous lines, it was difficult to pick out a single piece for this list, but I always believe the first instance is the most important as it sets the tone for the character and what a character Bateman is. He’s a soulless, superficial psychopath who has no discernible emotions that don’t stem from murder and is only capable of speaking in quotes because he has no opinions of his own. He is best encapsulated in one of the closing lines of his first monologue: he simply is not there.
5. Wendy, Darling” – The Shining (1980)
One of Jack Torrance’s most menacing moments comes before any axes go through any doors. When Wendy confronts Jack with a bat and he backs her up the stairs, voice oozing false affection. We knew before this scene that Jack had totally lost it and was about to go full Grady on his family, but it’s only in this moment that Wendy (Shelley Duvall) finds out and there is nothing like seeing that fear come over her face as she realizes. I actually think this is actor Jack Nicholson’s shining moment in the film as he plays restrained insanity before being able to really go nuts and break down some doors.
4. “What’s Your Favorite Scary Movie?” – Scream (1996)
While not technically a straight monologue, this great opening scene to a now iconic franchise had to claim a top spot. In terms of killers who talk to their victims, Ghostface is a prime example. Our first introduction to the Ghostface killer through a phone call as he stalks Drew Barrymore inside her home is a near-perfect piece of horror-comedy filmmaking. The meta dialogue that is hinted at here permeates throughout the rest of the film and while the scene is funny, the phone call turns sour, quickly ramps up the suspense, and ultimately delivers the scares. Ghostface is a bold young killer who has seen a scary movie or two himself, so he had to cement a place on this list.
3. “Rats” – Inglourious Basterds (2008)
It’s hard to imagine a more evil group of killers than the Nazis and there is almost no better Nazi portrayal than Christoph Waltz’s charming, Jew-hunting Colonel Hans Landa. He sets the tone for the whole film in the opening scene upon a dairy farm where he interrogates a French family about whether or not they are sheltering Jews. This speech is almost delivered educationally as if he doesn’t expect the French farmer to be aware that he has done anything wrong. It’s delivered with such scientific plainness that you would think he was talking about what he ate for dinner last night, not comparing an ethnic group to rats. The speech is done in such a good mood and humor that it is simultaneously devoid of any humanity or empathy. It is this matter-of-factness that makes it so terrifying and Colonel Landa such a lovable character.
2. “Rube” – The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
How can anyone discuss monologuing killers without mentioning Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter? Easy, you can’t. Although he does not exactly monologue, his rapid fire questions, bizarre intonation, and piercing insight allow his moments to feel like a monologue as he barely allows Clarice time to answer. This speech is his only true monologue in the film and in it, he breaks down Clarice in no time at all during their first meeting. This shows us as the audience Lecter’s ability to profile and everything from the words, to the delivery, to his unblinking gaze creates a deep sense of unease. What makes him one of the greatest characters in this list is that even though he’s the most famous serial killer from the film, he is not the antagonist, in fact, he’s arguably a good guy. Who doesn’t love liver with fava beans and a nice chianti?
1. “Wanna Know How I got These Scars?” – The Dark Knight (2008)
A list of killer monologues would be remiss without the number one slot going to Heath Ledger’s Joker. While there isn’t much more to say than has already been said about this performance, I maintain that this is the best portrayal of the Joker of all time, with much of that excellent characterization exhibited in this scene through the well-crafted dialogue. This monologue is a master class in acting, writing, and murder; the callousness, the narcissism, the charisma and the tongue in cheek manner in which he tells this story as the whole room is rapt in fear, while the audience and the characters don’t know whether or not he’s telling the truth, is as chilling on the first watch as it is on the hundredth. Like a levy about to burst, the Joker is barely keeping a lid on his anger here. Ledger’s Joker is dark, sick, and twisted, with no qualms playing cat and mouse before committing mass acts of violence.