5. Rhoda Penmark What a sweet little 8-year-old kid! Too bad she's a cold-blooded murderer. Patty McCormack gave her all as Rhoda in the film version of The Bad Seed, but during the mid-'50s Hollywood was in Full Prude Mode, and the movie is oddly lifeless. For true malevolence, you have to go to William March's novel.
4. Voldemort Good God, he tried to kill Harry Potter and all his friends! Do I have to say more?
3. Sauron Probably the prototype for Voldemort, but even scarier. And with bigger ambitions. Bloated with the power (and the evil) of the Great Ring, the villain of Tolkien's trilogy wants to destroy everything. Great Evil Minions, too. (And a side note: In a battle between Darth Vader and Sauron, can you doubt that Vader would be screaming for mercy after, oh, I'm gonna say 30 seconds?)
2. Pazuzu The demon who possesses Regan in William Peter Blatty's 1971 novel, The Exorcist. Linda Blair's portrayal of the haunted little girl was frightening, but the demon who lives in the pages is far scarier.
1. Count Dracula Bram Stoker's courtly, sinister creation is still literature's greatest villain, and although he's been portrayed on the screen by a dozen actors Christopher Lee is surely the best of them none can equal the one in the book. And Stoker's most amazing achievement? After the first 100 pages, the sanguinary count mostly lurks off stage. It's a lesson for all of us: Villains are scarier in the shadows.
Not satisfied? Here are a few that didn't make the top 10:
Tom Ripley (from the novels of Patricia Highsmith), Frederick Clegg (who tires of mounting butterflies and kidnaps a girl in John Fowles' The Collector), Cora Papadakis (the amoral sexpot in The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain), Drake Merwin (the psycho teenager in Michael Grant's extraordinary YA novel Gone), Jaws (from the Peter Benchley novel), Norman Bates (from Psycho, by Robert Bloch), Miss Havisham (from Dickens' Great Expectations)...and, of course, Thomas Harris' signature creation, Hannibal Lecter.
Others? Dozens. For instance, there was this dog named Cujo...