I devour horror regularly, as motherhood, birth, and gender are the subjects of my Master’s thesis. Another passion of mine is exploring the connections between horror and heavy metal music. Needless to say, when I am not a work or in class, I am either reading, listening to, or watching something horror-related.
In the spirit of celebrating Halloween (the Season of Scares, if you will), I have compiled a list of some of my favorite horror movie characters in no particular order. I freely admit that I enjoy monster films more than slashers, so this explains the conspicuous absence of characters from that genre of horror. I also wanted to include some more obscure choices (although Ripley will still be number one in my heart).
Light some candles, turn off the lights, and brace yourself. It begins.
Pinhead/ Lead Cenobite, Hellraiser (1987)
Hellraiser and The Hellbound Heart (the novella it was based on) are some of my favorite works, as Clive Barker is one of my favorite horror authors and directors. I have written extensively on Barker’s work, and therefore have developed a familiarity with all of Barker’s characters and creations.
The second I watched Hellraiser, Pinhead staked his claim on my heart, as if he was drawing it out of my chest with a hook and chain. Pinhead’s command of the screen is why he lands in the list of my favorites. Masterfully brought to life by Doug Bradley, Pinhead is eloquent, intellectual, and has loads of onscreen presence.
R.J. MacReady, The Thing (1982)
R.J. MacReady is a character in John Carpenter’s The Thing, and dons one of the most impressive hats in cinema. A tale of suspense, science fiction, and horror, The Thing touches on our most innate human fears. Who do we trust? Is everyone who they say they are? How does humanity cope with isolation, fear, and paranoia? Who goes there?
MacReady is one of my favorite characters ever because of his resilience and dark sense of humor. Throughout the chaos of crazed Norwegians, psychological breakdowns of coworkers (including Wilford Brimley), and a malevolent alien life form running amok in an Antarctic research base, it is MacReady who keeps it together while managing to crack a few clever quips along the way.
Lucy Westenra, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
I love Dracula in all forms, whether on the screen or in text. I love Lucy Westenra because I am a feminist. The character that is the most feared in Dracula, (arguably, even more dreaded than the titular count himself) is the vampire version of Lucy Westenra. This could be because Lucy transforms from a beloved woman into a mutation of what Victorian patriarchal society wants her to be. Instead of being chaste in public, vampire Lucy begs for kisses and her fiancé's arms. Instead of nurturing children, Lucy drinks their blood and callously tosses them aside.
Notably, out of all of the vampires, it is Lucy that has the most violent death in the entirety of the novel. Although the human Lucy witnessed by viewers of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is different than the human Lucy featured in Dracula (film Lucy is more lascivious and blatantly licentious than book Lucy), the film’s vampire Lucy is still a badass who refuses to adhere to traditional gender roles.
Lord Summerisle, The Wicker Man (1973)
I personally describe The Wicker Man a fascinating case study on what is truly terrifying to humanity. Upon viewing the film, it can be ascertained that in a patriarchal society, there is nothing more terrifying than a woman who has autonomy over her body and who is complete control of her sexuality.
Regardless of this, my favorite character in The Wicker Man is Lord Summerisle, brought to life by the iconic (and dearly missed: may he Rest in Power) Christopher Lee. Summerisle is the best for several reasons. First, Summerisle is charismatic and articulate. Second, Summerisle has no problem dressing up as a woman for a huge fertility ceremony, and does so with pride, not shame. Third, Summerisle has an impeccable 70’s wardrobe that I want to steal and wear.
Selena, 28 Days Later (2002)
28 Days Later's Selena is a realistic badass. Selena has no qualms about slaying formerly beloved infected individuals with a machete. Selena is on this list because I admire her grit. She is a consummate survivor, quickly adapting to the new reality of life in a post-Outbreak Britain.
Although the term “stiff upper lip” is one that is typically tied to hegemonic masculinity, it can be reframed perfectly in Selena’s case.
Peter Washington, Dawn of the Dead (1978)
George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is an undeniable classic, and the star that shines the brightest within it is Peter Washington. Peter has it together, and prevents the group of survivors he is with from falling apart. Peter has some of the most memorable lines in the entire film. Additionally, it is Peter who comes up with essential survival plans, as he is the one who decides to make the shopping mall the group’s home base. Peter survives the final zombie assault and soars off into an uncertain future. He's is a favorite of mine for being the epitome of the phrase “cool under fire.” That’s it for this list. Readers, feel free to chime in with your favorite characters in the comment section below!