RJ MacReady. Nancy Thompson. Sidney Prescott. Ash. David Kessler. Herbert West. Seth Brundle.
Names we know. Protagonists we love. Some of them final girls. Others tortured protagonists or men asked to step up against horrific scenarios. We recognize the faces. Maybe we can quote them. The important thing is: They're memorable.
The examples I used here are just some incredibly well-known genre characters. They're some of my favorites. Horror is populated with a bunch more. But when you look back at the last 20 years, who do you think of? It's kind of a problem, because I have a hard time thinking of anyone (save for Sidney Prescott).
This question was inspired by a recent movie-watching experience. The film – which I won't identify because it's not out yet – had a great idea. The concept was there, but its protagonist hardly had any set-up and was simply being pushed through from one creepy scenario to the next. And I felt nothing. I couldn't care if this husk of a human being lived or died because I had no idea who she was. It made me reflect on an on-going problem in the genre and that is: We're not getting enough characters.
Don't get me wrong, we're getting horror films with people who walk, talk and have names, but do any of them stay with you long after the film experience is over? Probably not. And, before I go any further, let me explain something: I'm not talking about villains or boogeymen like Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Hannibal Lecter, the Creeper, Captain Spaulding or Jigsaw. I'm looking at the characters who face them, or, ultimately take some path from light to dark.
And, man, is it difficult.
John Trent from In the Mouth of Madness? (Hey, I did say the last 20 years and this reaches back.) Played by Sam Neill, Trent had some discernible qualities that made him stand out. Brigitte or Ginger from Ginger Snaps? Twisted sisters who certainly pop off of the screen with their grim outlook and sibling dynamic. Jim from 28 Days Later? Hmmm, not so sure. I can offer a missed opportunity from this year: Gerry Lane from World War Z. Who the hell was that guy? Family man, sure. I get that. Talk about needing some personality. So much could have been done there.
Help me out, guys, because when I look back at two decades of horror films, I can hardly find anyone that stands up to those examples I mention at the very start of this.
I think the issue here is that so many horror films are concerned with the concept that the characters take the backseat. Nothing new, but something I'm seeing now more than ever. Today, it's: "Is the film a contained thriller? Sold!" But if it's contained, shouldn't you make sure at least someone within this scenario is at least memorable? I'm not going to get on a platform here and dish screenwriting 101 tips, there are better men that can do that. All I can do is draw attention to the problem. Maybe inspire or nudge you writers out there to keep this in mind as you sit down to pen your horror script.
So, I ask you readers: Are there any characters of the last 10 or 20 years that truly resonated with you and that you look back fondly on and think "That was a good character."