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Editorial: When Was the Last Time You Remembered a Horror Movie Protagonist?

RJ MacReady Kurt RussellRJ 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."

  • thefrizz

    Marty from Cabin in the Woods

  • Big V

    Mia from the Evil Dead remake was pretty interesting and of course Alice from Resident Evil. Lastly, Selene from Underworld!

  • Craig Hunter

    Erin from You’re Next!

    • Ryan Walden

      That’s exactly who I was going to say, she kicked major ass.

  • Ron

    Mines over 20 years, but I always liked Nancy and Kirsten from the Elm St. movies. They are the first (and pretty much the only) ones I think of.

  • Joe Humphrey

    Yeah, Mia from Evil Dead was pretty memorable.

  • schlimma

    Doug (don’t remember his last name) from Hills Have Eyes (the remake). Interesting character development. I liked the “I’ll probably shoot my foot of”-bit, when he refused to take a gun in the beginning of the film. That’s something I liked about the movie in general. It starts a bit “slow”, but because one gets to know the characters so well, one cares a lot about them, when the gritty part starts. At least I did.

  • CaptainBlake

    I truly liked the characters in GRABBERS, the two leads in particular. Can’t remember their names, but that’s most likely due to my failing memory. A surprisingly good movie, overall.

  • Polite_Werewolf

    I’ve had this problem for a while, and I might have voiced it on here at some point. But, I wouldn’t call Herbert West a protagonist, though.

  • ki6h

    RACHEL in THE RING is awesome and distinctive and her relationship to her son is fascinating.

    COLE — he sees dead people, remember? — is 100% memorable, and so is his therapist Dr. Malcolm who happens to be …

    [spoiler alert]

    memorable and dead.

  • Edward Burns

    Boone from Nightbreed

  • Dustin

    Marty from THE CABIN IN THE WOODS! He’s just the best of every audience member who is engaged in a horror movie, always shouting, “Why are you doing that? DON’T GO IN THERE!”

  • Kori Batchelor

    I’ve always been partial to Helen from Candyman. Virginia Madsen played the hell outta that role.

  • http://www.28dayslateranalysis.com/ Michael R. Allen

    “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” I am cheating; that is thirty years.

  • J Jett

    mine is and isn’t the protagonist. Cécile De France’s “Marie” from HIGH TENSION for almost the whole movie (we’re shown) is an awesome, smart, badass protag but then in the last 3 minutes of the movie….well….she’s not. LOL.

    i thought Radha Mitchell’s “Rose” in SILENT HILL was a pretty good protag.

    Kate Beckinsale’s “Selene” is an awesome protag.

    Milla’s “Alice” in the RES EVIL movies.

    there are probably more but i can’t think of them now. lol.

  • Steve

    I have to add to the votes for Erin from You’re Next and Marty from Cabin in the Woods. Also, although not as good as those two, I quite like the family from the Insidious films.

    The group from The Descent.

    What about comedies? Tucker and Dale, Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead all had compelling leads.

  • Corey Borger

    The Hobo from Hobo With A Shotgun.

  • Stormr

    tucker and dale !

  • Jake106

    Ellison (Ethan Hawke), from Sinister? Not as memorable as Ash, but I thought he was played VERY well.

    • Matt Aaron Harper

      Agreed. He’s fantastic in that movie, and his character makes realistic (if selfish and unfortunate) decisions.

      • Jake106

        I think the moment I decided I loved the character was when he just said “Screw it, we are getting out of here”.

        Typically they stay until the end, trying to cure the supernatural issue. He had a breaking point. Of course…it was way too late, but eh.

        Oh, and if any of my children had that night terrors problem like the son did, I’d probably commit suicide in terror.

  • drakevonlee

    what about Laura strode and dr loomis from Halloween series. they were very rememorable.

    • J Jett

      Laurie Strode. not Laura. just sayin’.

  • KevinS

    Vin Diesel in the Riddick movies

  • David Kirkwood

    Bill Pardy in Slither
    Joseph Thorne in Hellraiser:Inferno

  • Blake Ranking

    I was going to say Erin from You’re Next, Sarah from The Descent, and Lorraine Warren from The Conjuring.

  • Magnascopics

    Jack Crow

  • Paul S. Pinto

    Mia from Evil Dead (2013) all the way.

  • joel

    I would probably say Marybeth from the hatchet series, definately a character I really wanted to see overcome her antagonist, especially by the time of the seconds movie!

  • joel

    I would probably say Marybeth from the hatchet series, definately a character I really wanted to see overcome her antagonist, especially by the time of the seconds movie!

  • George Henderson

    Arkin from the “Collector” and “Collection’

  • Marcus Pittaluga

    Muthaphuckin Tucker and Dale man

  • Matt Aaron Harper

    Sara Paxton’s Claire in “The Innkeepers.” And, while we’re on the Ti West subject, Jocelin Donahue as Samantha in “The House of the Devil.”

  • RobertoBlaque

    Shaun and Ed.

  • Adam Hopper

    Talahasee (sp?) from Zombieland!