Back in March, to celebrate Mother’s Day, we took a look at the many different roles that mothers can play in horror movies, and it turned out there was a lot of them! Well, as today is Father’s Day, we thought the best way to celebrate was to study all the different ways dads pop up in horror and how their representation differs from that of mothers.
We’ve got dads, grandfathers, step-dads, adoptive dads, older brothers that have to care for their siblings, and even child-stealing monsters – what more could you ask for?
Let’s start this off by looking at a role which is typically played by the more villainous fathers in horror movies – the leader of the pack. Whether that pack is their actual family members or just a group of angry townsfolk, horror fathers easily slot into the role of directing a gang of nefarious characters in their nasty deeds.
A classic example of this is Papa Jupiter in The Hills Have Eyes (1977), who is the leader of the group of cannibal mutants who live in the middle of the desert. After being abandoned by his own father after he burned down the family home and murdered his little sister in the process, Jupiter kidnapped a prostitute from the local town and populated the desert with a little band of mutants.
While his role in the 2006 remake is significantly diminished, in the original movie, he is the ringleader of the group and the mastermind behind all their plans. Jupiter murders the local gas station attendant Fred, who just happens to be the father who abandoned him and then takes out Bob Cater, thus robbing the Carter family of their own leader. He also organises his cannibal sons so that they can attack the Carter’s trailer, and demands they return to finish the job when they make their escape before finishing off the remaining Carers. He also suggested keeping baby Katy alive to lure Doug and the other family members into their territory, where he thinks they will be easier prey to pick off.
The mutant cannibals are highly organised, and this is in huge part due to Papa Jupiter. While his cannibal sons are only interested in causing as much mayhem as possible, and Ruby is trying to make her escape to a better life, Jupiter recognises that they need structure and patience to survive. Presumably, it’s his threats which have allowed the family to work with his father for so long. They’ve been providing him with supplies and valuables in return for him keeping them hidden, and probably luring unsuspecting victims into their land. When it seems like Fred is going to make a run for it, Jupiter murders him without a second thought. Jupiter does what he needs to do to protect his family, and while he eventually meets his end at the hands of Bobby and Brenda Carter, he was clearly doing an excellent job before that, as he and his family had stayed hidden long enough for him to have four grown-up children.
While we’re talking about cannibalistic families, it would be remiss if we didn’t mention The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and the Sawyer family. The Sawyer family have two father figures in the form of The Cook (the oldest brother in the family) and Grandpa Sawyer, who is basically a corpse but still has a taste for human blood.
Much like Papa Jupiter, The Cook may be a murderous cannibal, but he’s the only member of the Sawyer family who is likely to pass for a regular member of the public and uses his position as a gas station attendant to blend in. He does his best to try and keep control of the Hitchhiker and Leatherface but doesn’t seem to have much luck as both of his younger brothers like causing as much havoc as possible when he’s not around to supervise them. It’s him who manages to recapture Sally when she makes her escape because she trusts him and doesn’t think he has anything to do with Leatherface. He also seems to be the only person who has any control over Leatherface and the Hitchhiker, as they are both quite afraid of him when he returns home to try and inject some control back into the situation. His ominous title of The Cook also suggests he’s heavily involved in the more cannibalistic side of things, even if he doesn’t commit the murders himself.
While Grandpa Sawyer appears dead when we first encounter him, he is actually still alive, sustaining himself on the fresh blood of the family’s victims. Even though he barely moves, and can’t even kill Sally when his grandsons are holding her down for him, he is still very much the leader of the family, with his grandsons having a ridiculous amount of respect for him.
Grandpa Sawyer was apparently an impressive killer in his prime, and it appears his former job in the slaughterhouse is what started the family’s taste for meat, and it is perhaps him who helped the younger generations hone their slaughtering skills. It’s this remarkable past life that allows him to command the respect of his grandsons even though he can do little more than sit and watch the violence play out.
While we’re in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre universe, let’s take a look at Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) and the character of Mayor Burt Hartman. Texas Chainsaw 3D picks up directly after the events of the 1974 movie, with the townsfolk showing up to enact their revenge on the Sawyer family before the police can arrest the family legally. Burt Hartman leads the townsfolk to burn the Sawyer house down, killing the entire Sawyer family. When Heather, who survived the fire as a baby, returns to town years later to reclaim her family home, Burt Hartman enacts vigilante justice once again in a bid to get rid of Heather and Leatherface in the process, this time using his son who is serving on the police force as a pawn in his plan to keep control of the town. Even though his son wasn’t old enough to appreciate what his father did to the Sawyer family the first time around, the fact he has absorbed his father’s prejudices about the whole thing means his father has a terrible hold over him, which makes for an awful and unethical police officer.
- Captain Spaulding in The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
- Tommy in Cabin Fever (2002)
A lot of horror movies see the father figures start out as normal, loving parents, but something happens along the way which transforms them into something darker, which usually has a terrible effect on their family members.
While Jack Torrance in The Shining (1980) isn’t the perfect husband and father before the Torrance family head to the Overlook Hotel for the winter, things go downhill for him pretty quickly once the hotel’s evil forces start to take their hold on him. Just like Charles Grady before him, Jack is encouraged to kill his wife and son, and chances are himself when the job is done, to feed the evil that lives in the hotel. Jack’s family values quickly go out the window, and after attempting to murder his wife Wendy on more than one occasion, he ends up chasing his son Danny through a hedge maze with the hopes of chopping him up with an axe. While Jack in The Shining (1977) novel manages to resist the temptations of the hotel long enough to blow up the furnace, thus killing himself and destroying the hotel for good, movie Jack is nowhere near as noble, and is only stopped because he freezes to death after being outsmarted by a small child.
Geroge Lutz may not be the biological dad of his wife Kathy’s three children in The Amityville Horror (2005), but that doesn’t stop the evil forces at play in the house taking him over and persuading him to kill them along with Kathy. When the same force that caused Ronald DeFeo Jr. to murder his whole family before him overtakes George, the usual caring step-father is turned into a violent figure who, again, favours the axe. George does try to fight his possession, with his true character breaking through in moments of clarity, but by the end, he is intent on murdering his entire family. Luckily for George, Kathy is pretty aware of the horror going on in her house and doesn’t blame her husband for his actions. Instead of killing him in self-defence as her and the children make their escape, she takes him along with them, thus getting him out of the area of control of the house – a rare happy ending in these types of stories.
A final look at the frequent occurrence of possessed fathers in horror movies is the 2013 film Oculus, where we don’t get much explanation for the motives behind the evil mirror, apart from the fact it seems to like absorbing life from innocent gothic home accessory enthusiasts. When Alan brings the mirror into his office, he ends up spending a lot of one-on-one time with it, leading him to be the first victim of its possession. The paranoia of what he’s up to, and the eventual effects of the mirror itself drive his wife Marie mad, and he ends up chaining her to the bedroom wall as he traps his children Kaylie and Tim in the house so the mirror can claim them too. Another common theme with possessed fathers is moments of lucidity, and in one of these moments, Alan shoots himself with a gun Tim is holding in a bid to save his children.
- Josh Lambert in Insidious (2010)
Combining the characters of police officers (usually the sheriff in most cases) and fathers of one of our main characters (usually female) makes sense in horror films. Both of them represent protectors, and the fact the fathers double as cops often makes them overly protective of their children as it is, never mind when a deadly threat comes to town. Combining law authority and parents makes sense, because it gives the fathers a legitimate reason to be involved in the horrible things that are happening as they investigate what’s going on, but it also adds another level of emotional severity to anything bad that happens to the children, as their fathers have to deal with their inability to protect them as both cops and fathers.
In Halloween (1978), Laurie’s best friend Annie’s dad is the sheriff of Haddonfield and spends most of the movie with Dr Loomis as they stake out the old Myers house in a mid to recapture Michael when he returns to his hometown. He is sceptical at first to believe that Michael poses a real threat to the town, and isn’t even sure he’ll come back after 15 years away when there’s no real motive for him to pay Haddonfield another visit. However, while Sheriff Brackett is hanging around with Dr Loomis, Annie is babysitting across town, which is unfortunate considering Michael seems to have a thing for young women babysitting. Sheriff Brackett’s authority is felt throughout the film, when Annie and Laurie have to hide the fact they’re smoking weed from him, and when he tells the girls on more than one occasion to stay safe, but in the end, there’s little he can do to save Annie from Michael’s grasp.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) also gives us another classic cop father in the form of Nancy’s father, Lieutenant Don Thompson. While Don doesn’t really believe Nancy when she claims that the charred and vengeful spirit of the town’s school janitor is murdering her pals in their dreams, he does try his best to protect her from what he perceives as the genuine threats, such as her friend Rod, who everyone believes murdered his girlfriend, Tina. Don’s cop brain is rooted in logic and reason, so when Nancy calls him and begs him to wake her up as she’s nipping into her dream to pull Freddy out into the real world, he doesn’t pay too much attention, and gives another police officer the responsibility of watching over Nancy’s house. Even when Nancy is proved correct, and both she and her father witnessed her mother being murdered by Freddy, it leads to the pair being estranged, as we find out in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987). Much like divorcing his wife after they were both involved in the murder of Freddy all those years previous, Don turns his back on whatever he can’t handle, even if that includes his daughter.
Our last cop dad is Sheriff Brent Marken, dad to Jody in Cherry Falls (2000). Even before the local virgins start getting murdered, Brent is seen to be very strict when it comes to Jody. She mentions having an extremely early curfew, and when she tries to sneak into the house late one night, he’s pretty harsh with her. When the killer starts to strike, Brent also takes the time to teach Jody some self-defence techniques in a bid to keep her safe. However, it’s ultimately the betrayal of what happened in his past that drives Jody right to the house of the killer, her English teacher and as it turns out her half-brother, for some comfort and understanding. Brent makes the ultimate sacrifice for Jody when they’re both locked in Mr Marliston’s basement, by attacking him long enough for Jody to make her escape.
It’s very natural for fathers to take on the role of protector in horror movies when their families are in danger, though this is executed with varying degrees of success. Sometimes in trying to protect the ones they love, they go a bit over the top and end up doing more harm than good.
Let’s take a look at the successful protectors first before we come back to the ones who really could have done a better job.
In The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Doug is thrust into the role of protecting what remains of his family after his alpha-male father-in-law is barbequed while tied to a tree. After his wife is killed and his baby daughter is stolen with plans of being on the lunch menu, Doug has to push his grief and fear aside, and head right into the middle of cannibal mutant country in a bid to save her. Doug does not seem like the type to be capable of any violence. He’s a mild-mannered office worker who hates guns and can barely stand up for himself, but when his daughter’s life is at risk, he knows how to kick ass. Doug gets the absolute shit kicked out of him, gets his fingers chopped off, and manages to kill quite a few terrifying looking mutants along the way before he is finally reunited with his baby with the help of one of the mutants, Ruby. Ruby can see how much Doug cares for his baby, and it’s this that causes her to help him, and sacrifice herself in the process, so she can escape from the family who don’t care for her. Maybe if Jupiter had been as good a dad to Ruby as Doug was to his daughter, she would have been a little more on team mutant.
Being a good protector is all about facing your fears head-on, and no one does that better than Ross Jennings in Arachnophobia (1990). It’s well established that Ross is terrified of spiders, even having to get his wife to remove a relatively small, considering the ones we’ll see later, spider from the house when they first move into their new property. With killer spiders invade the town, it’s not an ideal situation for Ross, but when he finds out the queen spider and The General (the two biggest spiders you’ve ever seen, in case you were wondering) have built their nest in his house, it turns into nightmare fuel pretty quickly. Despite his crippling fear, Ross stays in his wine cellar once his family have escaped to safety in a bid to kill the monster spiders and destroy their nests, so the town isn’t overrun.
In the South Korean zombie movie Train to Busan (2016), we are treated to not one, but two fathers who take on the protector role to save their children. First up we have Seok-woo, a recently divorced fund manager who is travelling on the train with his daughter Su-an to visit her mother in Busan. Then we have Sang-hwa and his pregnant wife, Seong-kyeong. While Sang-hwa is naturally caring and attentive towards his unborn child, Seok-woo has trouble bonding with his daughter due to the fact she prefers the company of her mother and Seok-woo spends most of his time working. However, when zombies overtake the train in a matter of seconds, both men are willing to do whatever they need to save their children. This includes fighting their way through multiple carriages with little more than a couple of baseball bats and some duct tape to protect their exposed flesh. Both men end up sacrificing themselves to ensure their children survive, and their sacrifices are worth it considering Seong-kyeong and Su-an are literally the only people who make it off the train alive.
Let’s take a look at some of the less successful attempts to protect children, starting with David Drayton from The Mist (2007). Now to be fair to David, he does a decent job of protecting his son Billy, to begin with. Not only are they locked inside a supermarket while all manner of hideous creatures from another dimension attempt to break in, but they’re also locked up with a religious nut who wants to sacrifice Billy. After fighting off various monster attacks, going on a spider-infested supply run, and escaping the pitchforks and flaming torches mentality that’s spreading in the supermarket, David and Billy manage to make their escape in a truck with a few of the others. When they run out of gas, and the mist hasn’t abated, David decides the only way out is suicide rather than being munched by monsters. With only enough bullets to kill four of the car’s passengers, David makes the noble choice and leaves himself alive, killing everyone else, including his son in the process. Unfortunately, this means that David is the only one left when the army rocks up a few minutes later. Maybe don’t be so trigger happy next time, David!
Sometimes the pressure to protect your family becomes too much, which can lead to fathers committing some pretty horrible actions under the guise of keeping their family safe. In It Comes at Night (2017) a mysterious infection has taken over the world, wiping out most of the population, and leaving the rest of them fighting for their lives. Paul lives in the woods with his wife Sarah and their son Travis. When another family made up of Will, Kim, and Andrew seek refuge in Paul’s home; things quickly spiral out of control. When Paul believes that Will’s son Andrew is sick with the infection, though we never get confirmation either way, he refuses to let them leave, and end up murdering all three family members when they try to make their escape. However, it turns out it was all for nothing, as Travis had the infection all along and dies. Paul is left with the guilt of murdering an entire family, the hurt that he couldn’t save his son, and the knowledge that Sarah and himself are most likely infected and about to die themselves.
- Gabe Wilson in Us (2019)
- Jacob Fuller in From Dusk till Dawn (1996)
- Graham Hess in Signs (2002)
- James Sandin in The Purge (2013)
- Park Gang-du in The Host (2006)
- Tony in Await Further Instructions (2018)
- Lee Abbott in A Quiet Place (2018)
- Martin Brody in Jaws (1975)
- Tom in Bird Box (2018)
It wouldn’t be a horror movie if there wasn’t a load of death involved, and dads are just as likely as anyone else to bite the dust when it comes down to it. Fathers are often used almost as cannon fodder in horror films, usually to set off the events of the movie in the first place.
This is the case in films like The Descent (2005) and Sleepaway Camp (1983) where the father figures are killed in the opening minutes, but the effects of their deaths are felt throughout the rest of the film. Sarah’s grief at the death of her husband and her daughter in The Descent is the whole reason her and her friends end up on a group holiday to try and help her get over it, and finding out Juno was having an affair with her husband when he died is what gives Sarah the strength to leave Juno for dead and make her escape from the creatures. Similarly, in Sleepaway Camp, Angela’s father dying at the beginning of the film nudges her life in a whole different direction, where she ends up living with her less-than-stable aunt who decides to raise Angela as a girl to fit her idea of the perfect family. No doubt her upbringing, teamed with the trauma of being the only person who survived the boat accident that killed her family is what causes her to murder so many of her campmates.
Perhaps the best example of a dead dad setting off the events of a movie is The Babadook (2014), where Oskar is killed in a car crash while driving his wife Amelia to the hospital to give birth to their son, Samuel. While we follow Amelia and Samuel years later, when Samuel is six years old, the death of Oskar and the grief that both Amelia and Samuel feel over the situation, as well as their unwillingness to accept it, are what causes Mister Babadook to come into their lives.
Another less than pleasant fate for horror dads is the last act death. Just when you thought it was safe and the patriarch of the family was going to make it through, bam – they die! A super-shocking death that we definitely didn’t see coming was Noah in The Ring (2002). After showing the cursed video to Noah in a bid to help her understand what was going on, Rachael pretty much doomed him to death, but as we rock into the final act of the movie, it seems like she’s broken the curse and saved not only Noah but her son as well. However, while Rachael avoided her death because she made a copy and showed the tape to someone else, Noah wasn’t as lucky, and Samara crawls out of the TV to do…well, whatever it is she does that leaves people looking like slack-mouthed ghouls. Rachael rushes to come to Noah’s aid but is too late, and the shot of his disfigured body is one of the most chilling of the whole movie. While she loses her ex-lover in the process, him dying does give her the information she needs to save Noah, so his death wasn’t entirely in vain.
Technically, another last act of death is that of Edward Ashen in Dead Silence (2007). I say technically, because Edward actually dies at a much earlier point, even before the events of the film begin, but we don’t discover he’s dead until the last couple of minutes of the movie. When Jamie returns to his hometown, which he left in the first place after a particularly difficult relationship with his father, he has many interactions with Edward as he tries to solve the mystery of his dead fiance and a ventriloquist dummy. However, much like Rachael in The Ring, when Jamie thinks he has broken the curse and everything has returned to normal,he discovers his father has been a giant ventriloquist puppet all along, merely being manipulated by his step-mother, who is also possessed by the vengeful spirit of a woman who was murdered by the townsfolk and is killing off certain family lineages. Writing down the plot like that does it no favours, but trust me, the film is good fun.
The last narrative use of a murdered father is to spur a character on to face their demons and do what needs to be done to defeat whatever is threatening them. In the 1979 miniseries version of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, Mark Petrie is a quiet teenager who loves horror movies and building models. When a particularly nasty vampire, Kurt Barlow, moves to town, Mark manages to avoid getting bitten by one of his recently-turned school friends, but his parents, unfortunately, meet their end when Barlow smashes their heads together. He doesn’t even drink their blood! He’s just a dick. This leads to Mark seeking revenge for his parents’ murder and eventually helping Ben Mears kill Barlow when they discover his coffin. Facing down the hideously-toothed vampire is something Mark would have unlikely had the confidence to do had he not wanted to seek revenge for the death of his parents.
- Larry Cotton in Hellraiser (1987)
- Mike in The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018)
- John Coleman in Orphan (2009)
- Harry Cooper in Night of the Living Dead (1968)
- Chase Porter in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
- Ian and Nica’s father in Curse of Chucky (2013)
Being a dad in a horror movie can mean your life goes from relatively normal to horrifying in the blink of an eye. When things happen to those that you love, sometimes the only thing for it is to concoct an elaborate revenge plan.
In 1988’s Pumpkinhead a gang of city teenagers didn’t mean to kill Ed Harley’s young son, but after a nasty dirt bike accident which saw all but one of the teens fleeing to avoid repercussions, that’s precisely what happened. Finding his son dead, Ed does what any reasonable parent would do, and heads into the hills to find a witch, who summons the local revenge demon Pumpkinhead. However, Ed realises all too late that revenge isn’t a healthy approach to life, and with him and Pumpkinhead linked with each other, he decides that the only way to get rid of the demon is to die himself. It sounds like Pumpkinhead and the Babadook would be good pals, to be honest.
If you’re looking for a revenge spree where the father didn’t feel any guilt afterwards, then look no further than The Last House on the Left remake (2009). While remake Mari survives, unlike her counterpart in the original movie (1972), it doesn’t do anything to quell the rage in her father, John Collingwood. Unfortunately for the group that attacked Mari and her friend, they choose to seek refuge in Mari’s house, meaning they are all the easier for John and his wife to pick off. In arguably one of horror’s most ridiculous scenes, John uses his medical training to sedate the leader of the bad guys so they can shove his head in an open microwave, leaving him to cook and eventually explode. Maybe the Mythbusters would have an issue with this scene, but on the things you would like to do to someone in revenge scale, it’s pretty awesome.
We’re back with our cop dads (they do crop up a lot), and this time it’s a revenge-seeking cop dad in the form of Sheriff Hartman from Leatherface (2017). The opening kill of Leatherface sees a young couple driving down a country road when Betty Hartman is lured from the car by a baby Leatherface (Jedidiah Sawyer) pretending to be injured. Back at the Sawyer family farm, Betty is murdered, and her father arrives at the crime scene shortly after. In revenge for the Sawyer family’s actions, Sheriff Hartman takes baby Leatherface into custody where he ends up in Gorman House Youth Reformery. However, these actions set off a chain of events which see Leatherface become the deranged, deformed monster we all know and love. Hartman even gets the pleasure of being the first person Leatherface rips apart with a chainsaw for his trouble.
Our final revenge-killing dad is the Jigsaw Killer himself, John Kramer from the Saw (2004) franchise. When we first meet Jigsaw, we understand that his killer traps are designed to make people fight for their right to live and come out the other side of the encounter with a newfound appreciation for the life they were perhaps squandering before. We come to find out in later films though that the event that set Jigsaw on this path in the first place was the death of his unborn baby. When Cecil, a patient at his wife Jill’s drug clinic robs the clinic and causes Jill to have a miscarriage, John becomes angry and despondent, which eventually leads to him divorcing Jill. Later finding out he has cancer is what finally seals his journey as Jigsaw, and Cecil gets the honour of being the first person placed in one of Jigsaw’s traps, though ultimately fails and dies.
- Charlie Grimille in The Gallows (2015)
- Eric “Daddy” Stone in The Loved Ones (2009)
While it’s every parent’s worst nightmare to have their child die, it’s quite a common occurrence in horror movies for fathers to kill their children themselves, for a number of reasons. Whether they’re trying to take down a monster or it merely happens as a result of their actions, the outcome is the same.
In Pet Sematary (1989) Louis Creed not only has the honour of bringing his song Gage back from the dead but also of being the person who had to kill him again when things got out of hand. The Creed family are devastated when Gage is killed on the road outside their house by a large truck. Despite the fact their cat came back to life a horrible shadow of its former self, Louis decides he’s still going to bury Gage in the burial ground beyond the pet cemetery in the hopes of making his family whole again. Unfortunately, Gage is a tiny nightmare when he returns, promptly killing their neighbour Jud and Louis’ wife, Rachel. Louis realises what he has to do to try and right the wrongs he has committed and makes the emotional decision to inject Gage with drugs and have him die in front of him again.
Sometimes, however, the death of a child comes about because of a father’s actions, rather than him having to actual murder them himself. In another visit to Stephen King, the movie Thinner (1996) follows Billy Halleck, an overweight, horrible lawyer who gets cursed by a gypsy called Tadzu after he runs Tadzu’s daughter over while his wife is giving him a blowjob. He gets off with the crime, and the curse is placed on him, which makes him lose weight rapidly, almost to the point of death. Billy eventually convinces Tadzu to help him lift the curse, and the curse is transferred to a strawberry pie. While Tadzu tries to persuade Billy to eat the pie himself and die with dignity, Billy proves he’s still a shitty human and goes home to feed to pie to his wife, who he thinks is having an affair. Sadly for Billy, karma is a bitch, and he wakes up in the morning to discover his daughter has also eaten the pie and is soon going to die a horrible death. Billy’s selfish desire to avoid the repercussions for his actions result in him killing his whole family, and Billy ends up dead anyway, as he prepares to eat the rest of the pie due to his guilt.
- Jeffery Desange in Mama (2013) attempts to murder his daughters before Mama kills him.
- Harold in Evil Dead (2013)
If your father is a monster or has monstrous qualities then sorry kids, but chances are you’re going to end up a monster yourself as well!
When Seth Brundle in The Fly (1986) accidentally melds his DNA with that of a housefly, things start to go wrong for him pretty quickly. But before he starts shedding body parts and scuttling across his ceiling, he manages to squeeze in a lot of sex with his girlfriend, Ronnie. When Ronnie finds out she’s pregnant, she decides an abortion is the only course of action to avoid giving birth to what will likely be a part-fly baby, but Seth is determined for Ronnie to have the baby, as it’s the only human part of him left in this world. The whole climax of the film is Seth trying to desperately save his child, but when he reveals he plans to mesh himself with Ronnie and his baby into one probably nightmarish lump of flesh, Ronnie fights back, and Seth ends up dead.
While the threat of being born a giant maggot is at the extreme end of the scale, there are more subtle ways characteristics are passed on to children via their fathers. In The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999) we find out that our main character Rachel is the half-sister of Carrie White from the original Carrie (1976) movie, as they both share the father, Ralph White. While it’s never fully explained where either girl got their powers from, it’s highly likely that the shared blood from their father is what gave them the telekinetic powers which result in both of their deaths.
Similarly, Freddy Krueger more than likely has his father(s) to thank for his less-than-desirable character traits. Freddy’s mother was a nun, who unfortunately found herself locked in by mistake with the inmates of an insane asylum. When she was eventually rescued, she was pregnant, and Freddy earned himself the nickname “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs”. Even Freddy’s foster father was horribly abusive to him. In fact, Freddy himself had a daughter, which we discover in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991). When Maggie Burroughs finds out she is actually Katherine Krueger and was adopted after her father was arrested for murdering children, she decides she’s the only one who can go into the dream world and stop him once and for all, eventually stabbing him through the chest with his own glove.
In Storm of the Century (1999), a small island community is terrorised by a mysterious stranger, Andre Linoge. Linoge enchants all of the town’s children, rendering them unconscious but they believe they are flying. He threatens to make the children fall to their death if the townsfolk don’t give him one of their children voluntarily, as he is unable to take one by force. The town participates in a lottery to see which child will be taken, and eventually, Linoge leaves with his chosen child, saying one day they will come to call him father.
- Belial in Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1991)
- Don in 28 Weeks Later (2007)
- Chucky in Seed of Chucky (2004)
While we’re talking about monstrous dads, it would be remiss if we didn’t touch on abusive fathers and how their actions can profoundly affect their children.
In IT (2017), our only female Loser, Beverly Marsh, has to deal with a terribly abusive father. Apart from treating Bev like a glorified slave, Al beats her when she doesn’t do what he wants and assumes she’s engaging in sexual activity with the rest of the Losers when he hears she’s been hanging out with them. Pennywise is more than aware of how Bev feels about her father and uses him to try and terrify her. However, her courage to eventually confront and attack her father is ultimately what saves her from being killed by Pennywise, and she realises she’s not afraid of him anymore after taking on her dad with a toilet tank lid.
In the teen witch classic The Craft (1996), Nancy’s life is awful, and a lot of it is down to her abusive step-dad. They live in a trailer, don’t have a lot of money, and her mother seems unable to leave him behind because he threatens her. When Nancy and the rest of the witches perform a spell to help them with their desires, Nancy asks for power, and her seemingly increasing powers result in her stepfather’s death one night when he attacks her mother. Luckily for them, he has a massive life insurance policy, allowing her mother to get away from her current life, and fulfil her dream of owning a jukebox full of nothing but Connie Francis. Hopefully, this gives her mother some comfort when Nancy ends up in a hospital for attacking Sarah.
- Mitch Toblat in Big Bad Wolf (2006)
- Butch Bowers in IT
In a horror film, if you get the hint that there is something nasty going on around you, it’s probably quite good advice to just make a run for it and not stick your nose in. However, this is a lesson dads in horror movies are yet to learn, and they commonly play the role of the investigator, which very rarely produces good results for them or their family.
Sinister (2012) follows the story of Ellison Oswalt, a true-crime writer who had a big hit years ago and is desperate to write something else that will put him back in the spotlight. He decides to move his family into the house of a family who has recently been murdered, where there’s no trace of who killed them and the youngest child in the family has gone missing. Ellison is determined to crack the case by himself and claim the fame and doesn’t initially share the grisly history of the house with his wife and two children. When Ellison discovers a box of films in the attic of the house, he starts to uncover a demon called Bughuul at play who is the cause of these mass family deaths. Ellison really shouldn’t have got involved, and he certainly shouldn’t have moved his family into that house, as them leaving to live somewhere is the trigger which sets Bughuul’s next death tape in motion. Ellison, his wife, and his son are murdered by his young daughter before Bughuul carries her into his world with all the other dead children of the past families. His desire to solve the whole thing by himself is what put his family in danger in the first place, and thinking he was helping by moving them out of the murder house is what sealed their fates.
While he only ends up getting himself killed, the investigator role is similarly unfortunate for John Baxter in Don’t Look Now (1973). John’s young daughter accidentally drowns at the beginning of the film, and sometime later he and his wife head Venice so he can take on a job restoring a church. When John spots what appears to be a small child running about Venice in a coat very similar to one his daughter died in, John becomes slightly obsessed with trying to figure out what it all means. After a couple of run-ins with the red jacket child, John eventually follows her down a dark alley, only to discover it is actually a small woman, who has been killing people all over Venice the whole time John has been in town. John realises he’s been having visions of his murder the entire time, and nothing he has seen has any connection to his daughter or her death. Perhaps if he’d dealt with his and his wife’s grief a little better, he would have able to push aside the vision of the girl in the red coat, rather than setting in motion the events which led to his own murder.
- Robert Thorn in The Omen (1976)
Dealing with Grief
We’ve already touched on grief when we talked about The Babadook, but it is a common theme in horror films. Frequently our main characters already have a past where something terrible has happened to them before they are forced to face whatever current horror is after them.
Grief is something that evil forces can easily use to manipulate people into doing what they want. In Thirteen Ghosts (2001), Arthur and his children are still mourning the death of his wife Jean when they find out they’ve inherited a house from Arthur’s uncle, Cyrus. Unfortunately for Cyrus, the house isn’t quite what it seems, and is actually a machine that is powered by the dead to enable the owner of the device to see into the past, present, and future. Because each ghost needed to power the machine must match a sign from the Black Zodiac, Jean’s spirit has been imprisoned as she represents the Withered Lover. When Arthur’s children are kidnapped and placed in the centre of the machine, Arthur believes he must sacrifice himself to save his children, and when he becomes the thirteen ghost himself, it will stop the machine. However, it turns out Cyrus is still alive and is manipulating Arthur’s love for his children as well as his guilt for not being able to save his wife from the house fire that killed her. Cyrus needs Arthur to sacrifice himself, and become the thirteenth ghost that will bring the machine to full power, and tries to emotionally manipulate him into fulfilling his grand design.
In Devil (2010), it’s surely no mistake that the policeman that ends up assigned to the case of an apparent suicide at an office building is Detective Bowden, whose wife and son was killed after being hit by a drunk driver five years ago. When a group of sinners are trapped in a malfunctioning elevator, the Devil starts to pick them off one by one, eventually leaving only Tony alive. Tony decides to confess to his sin because he believes he deserves to be taken and reveals that he was the drunk driver that killed Bowden’s family. The Devil probably expects Bowen to want revenge against Tony, and see him suffer, but Bowden instead chooses to forgive Tony now that he has confessed. With Tony having repented for his sins and been forgiven, the Devil is powerless against him and has to leave him alive.
The Invitation’s (2015) central theme is that of grief, as Will and his ex-wife Eden try to come to terms with the death of their young son. Eden has joined a grief support group where she met her new husband and invites Will and a bunch of their friends over the house for a dinner party. Being back in their marital home doesn’t have the best effect on Will, as he starts to have flashbacks of his son, his death, and Eden suicide attempt afterwards. Will’s increasingly erratic behaviour due to his grief means that when things start getting weird at the party people are pretty quick to dismiss his suspicions as part of his inability to deal with his son’s death. This means that the party guests are literally at the drink the poison punch stage of the evening before they realise Will was right.
- Arthur Kipps in The Woman in Black (2012)
- Dr Campbell in Freddy vs Jason (2003)
- Mike Enslin in 1408 (2007)
Seeing as we are talking about horror movies here, let’s take a look at what happens when a father figure becomes a killer!
Dean Armitage is the head of a seemingly all-American family in Get Out (2017). However, we soon find out he is part of a wider plot, started by his father before him, that transfers the conscious of wealthy people into the bodies of African-American people. As Dean is a neurosurgeon, his part in the process is to remove the consciousness from the old body and place it in the host body, killing the old body in the process and condemning the original consciousness to life in the Sunken Place. It’s quite the family-run business, with Dean enlisting his charming daughter Rose to lure potential replacement bodies to the family home.
If characters like Dean’s murderous tendencies come as quite a surprise to audiences, fathers like Daddy from The People Under the Stairs (1991) and his love of violence is probably less of a shock. Daddy and Mummy aren’t like regular parents, mainly because they’re brother and sister, but also because they’ve chosen to steal children from around neighbour to build up their family. Daddy has no problem killing intruders who try to enter his house, taking children to begin with, or punishing those children by removing body parts and chucking them in the cellar.
- Dad in Mum & Dad (2008)
Perhaps playing into the sexist notion that women are hysterical, a common role for fathers to embody in horror movies is that of the disbelievers. When the women in their lives suggest that perhaps something terrible is going on, whether it’s an escaped serial killer returning for revenge or a witch cult their mother-in-law was the leader of, more often than not the men explain there must be a rational explanation – usually right before they are brutally murdered themselves.
When Rose and Christopher Da Silva’s adoptive daughter, Sharon, starts behaving strangely and sleepwalking, Rose is keen to investigate to see how she can help, but Christopher is less enthusiastic about the endeavour. When Sharon starts mentioning a place called Silent Hill, Rose wants to take her there to see if it will kick-start her memory, but Christopher is against the idea, leading to Rose and Sharon sneaking off to find the town alone. Maybe if Christopher had been more supportive from the beginning, he could have accompanied Rose to Silent Hill and helped them actually escape at the end.
Ray Nelson in Halloween (2018) did not know what he was in store for when he married Karen, the daughter of the only survivor of the 1978 Babysitter Murders, Laurie Strode. Laurie is profoundly affected by her past trauma, and she is pretty much under the constant opinion that Michael is coming back for her. This behaviour has put quite a strain on her relationship with her son-in-law, and when Michael really does escape from the hospital, Ray is dubious about believing Laurie’s claims that he’s returning to Haddonfield. Even when she takes Ray and Karen to her compound-style house to try and keep them safe, Ray still isn’t believer, and his distrust of Laurie ultimately leads to Ray being one of Michael’s many victims.
- Steve Graham in Hereditary (2018)
- Daniel Rey in Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)