13 Fearless Horror Movie Dads
Article By: Tony Timpone
Horror movie dads run the gamut from the neglectful (in Son of Frankenstein, the Baron ignores his real kid to resuscitate his man-made monster) to the possessed (The Amityville Horror) to the downright psychotic (The Shining, The Stepfather). We know who they are (see here), but what about the unsung family heroes? To celebrate Father’s Day this weekend, we instead raise a glass to toast those courageous movie dads, the ones who battle evil in all its forms to protect their loved ones. Meet many of the actors themselves (and their movie friends) as they discuss Fearless Horror Movie Dads for the Friday 13. (Titles arranged according to year of release.)
1. Village of the Damned (1960)
In this creepy classic, Russian-born actor George Sanders plays Gordon Zellaby, the father of a telepathic child sired under supernatural (or extraterrestrial) circumstances. But when his platinum blonde son David and the town’s other mutant offspring become a danger to humankind, Professor Zellaby makes the painful decision to kill his evil kid, the other children and himself to preserve our race. British actress Barbara Shelley told Fangoria she loved working with Sanders, who took his own life in 1972. “Wonderful!” she said of the actor. “He had the reputation of being a cad because of the sorts of parts he played, but he was a perfect gentleman and I loved working with him. He had a great, dry sense of humor.”
2. Jaws (1975)
In the original summer blockbuster, New England Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) saves his town and tight-knit family from the Jaws of a Great White shark. “Brody’s a former New York City police detective who got tired of being inundated in a rising tide of urban lawlessness,” says co-writer Carl Gottlieb. “He has moved to Amity to ‘make a difference.’ In the closed island society, Brody is a cop-with-a-conscience, and happy to be part of a family that can grow up in a bucolic small-town setting, free from the tensions of city life, and eager to maintain a threat-free environment for his wife and children.
“As an actor,” Gottlieb continues, “Roy would improvise and ad lib bits of dialog and business (consistent with our shared vision of Brody) to satisfy his need to present a completely defined character. And he would ask me to incorporate his ideas into the scripted dialog. If the occasion arose, he would add things during filming, which was encouraged by Steven Spielberg. That’s how we got the priceless dinner table pantomime between himself and his younger son, and how the line ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat’ became a classic.”
3. The Brood (1979)
Divorce never comes easy, but in David Cronenberg’s excellent film, Frank Corveth (Art Hindle) fares even worse when his ex-wife births a flock of killer kids pulled from her hateful id. “I could relate to Frank on a couple of levels,” Hindle says. “Having a child (at the time I had four children) and having to go through a divorce. The only difference was Frank’s situation was a whole lot messier. I actually never thought of Frank as a hero per se; just an ordinary guy trying to get himself, his kid and his wife through a very difficult situation. That’s why I played the character very low-key. Practically every other situation and character was bizarre.
“As for working with [screen daughter] Cindy Hinds, that was the easy part,” the actor adds. “She was terrific, and we hit it off right away. She claims to this day that I helped her with an early scene where she had to cry. We have remained friends to this day.”
4. Gremlins (1984)
Dads don’t get any nicer than Randall Peltzer. He’s a struggling breadwinner who remains good-hearted and gives his son the ultimate pet for Christmas: a mogwai. You just have to follow those pesky rules…“We saw a lot of people for the part of Rand Peltzer,” recalls director Joe Dante, “some of whom gave terrific, even Saroyanesque readings: Pat Hingle and Pat Harrington Jr. especially. But nobody had the folksy charm of [the late] Hoyt Axton, who had impressed me as the doomed dad in The Black Stallion. His innate likability was a major factor in selling the failed inventor aspects of the character, plus he was good with comedy and liked to serenade the crew at lunch! What’s not to like?”
5. Near Dark (1987)
It takes a father of true grit to help rescue his wayward son (Adrian Pasdar) from a pack of nomadic vampires. Character actor Tim (Trancers) Thomerson fit the bill as the stalwart Loy Colton. “We can probably all agree that one thing all the best fathers have is an unconditional love for their kids,” says Near Dark screenwriter Eric Red, who also penned The Hitcher. “Not all dads do; things go wrong in families. But when a son knows his father loves him unconditionally in that force-of-nature kind of way, knows his dad believes in him no matter what, will be there for him always, it’s the greatest gift a kid can have…something that becomes part of a son’s emotional DNA that builds self-confidence and character to last a lifetime. I was lucky to have a father like that.
“Those who don’t wish they did,” continues Red, whose werewolf Western The Wolves of El Diablo comes out in August. “In Near Dark, Caleb’s father Loy was your basic audience wish-fulfillment character: the heroic dad viewers root for to save the day. As portrayed in the warm, down-to-earth, manly performance by Tim Thomerson, Loy is a father who loves his son to the ground, always has his back and never quits on him; a normal working-man who loves his boy, expresses it plainly, will do anything for his kid and put himself at any kind of risk to save Caleb’s life and give him the guidance to be the best man, not vampire, he can be. Doesn’t matter to Loy that Caleb exercises poor teenage judgment and falls into bad—OK, very bad—company, runs away from home, it doesn’t change anything that Caleb becomes a vampire and develops some seriously nasty behaviors; in the end, Loy is going to bring Caleb home and find a way to fix things, which he does. That’s the kind of role model father some of us all had to look up to and the rest wish they did…and with all of Caleb’s bad role models in this flick, he needed all the good ones he could get!”
6. Frailty (2001)
Widowed Texan “Dad” (Bill Paxton, who died unexpectedly in February) wants his boys to follow him in his mission from God: killing demons hiding in human guise. “Since Frailty is shown mainly from the child’s perspective, it made sense to never actually give the Dad character a name,” explains screenwriter Brent Hanley. “In the script and in the movie, his name is only what his children call him. He is simply Dad.
“It was always written that the character of Dad was truly a good father to his sons,” Hanley continues. “He genuinely cares about them; he helps them with their homework, listens to their problems, and stays involved in their lives, all as a single father. Yet he is given this horrifyingly dark task to do from God. And Dad truly and unquestioningly believes that he and his sons have to perform this task. Even when he is told by an angel that his own son is a demon, he can’t believe it, and tries his best to save his son and make him believe. He doesn’t do this to torture or hurt his son, though it certainly appears that way. He does it out of pure love. It is so tragic. And Bill Paxton captured this all perfectly both as an actor with his honest and heart-breaking performance and as a director with his beautifully nuanced and masterful direction.”
7. 28 Days Later (2002)
British character actor Brendan Gleeson exudes pure geniality on screen, from lighter fare as Harry Potter’s Alastor Moody to darker roles in the likes of The Guard and Calvary. In this postapocalyptic story of a rage-infected England, Gleeson portrays cabbie Frank, staunchly defending his daughter Hannah in a world literally gone mad. “He’s got a lump of lead pipe that he batters people with,” Gleeson told Fangoria. “It’s a bit like Horatio at the bridge. He stands square on the stairwell and nobody can get through. There’s all this food in the flats [that] he’s been living off, and it has been working up ’til then, but it’s not tenable any longer.”
8. The Woods (2006)
Who wouldn’t want Bruce Campbell for a dad! In the opening moments of this stylish Lucky McKee movie, Campbell drops off daughter Agnes Bruckner at a remote boarding school that just so happens to be a haven for a tree-worshipping cult of witches! Just when things look dire for his teenage girl, Dad shows up with an axe to save the day.
“In The Woods, my character Joe Fasulo did what any father worth his salt would do—defend his daughter,” Campbell notes. “Joe did this to the best of his abilities, which seemed to be ‘enough’ at the end of the day. Dads, here’s to doing ‘enough.’”
9. The Host (2006)
In this terrific creature feature, dim-witted father Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) and his ragtag family must come together to free the man’s kidnapped daughter from a giant, chemical-spawned river monster. Korean director Bong (Snowpiercer) Joon-ho told Cineaste he preferred emphasizing heart (as represented by the bumbling but devoted Dad) over horror. “It’s easy to lose your sense of humanity making any film, not just monster films,” he said. “With The Host, what kept this film human was the quality of the characters and the acting. In monster films you typically have a scientific reason for why the monster came to be and what their weaknesses are. Most of the story focuses on the monster. But in this film the monster comes out right at the beginning and then it’s mainly about the family, what each character is about, the details of their stories. That’s why the film retains a human aspect…It’s all about the family coming together and what they overcome.”
10. The Mist (2007)
In this underappreciated monster movie adapted and directed by Frank Darabont from the Stephen King novella (now a summer series on Spike), Thomas Jane stars as David Drayton, a committed father who gets trapped in a supermarket with his 8-year-old son when otherworldly critters invade their town. He makes a tragically hard decision at the end when things turn especially bleak.
“Drayton was an artist who worked at home, which the kids always like because they can bug them indiscriminately,” Jane says. “As for fatherhood, David would do anything for his kid, even shoot him when the monsters got too close. Is that a good dad? I dunno. Not the best film to watch on Father’s Day.”
11. Insidious (2010)
Patrick Wilson has essayed his share of villains (Hard Candy, The A-Team and the upcoming Aquaman), but in James Wan’s Insidious and The Conjuring franchises, he’s the Good Dad. In the former, as Josh Lambert, he even becomes possessed by an evil entity in the Further to bring his trapped adolescent son home.
“When I wrote the character of Josh Lambert, father to two young sons, in the original Insidious, I was years away from being a father myself,” reveals screenwriter Leigh Whannell, who also plays Specs in the film series. “Before I had my daughter, I definitely loved the child-free lifestyle I was living, so it was difficult for me to understand the sacrifices a parent makes. At the time that I wrote Insidious, I wasn’t making many sacrifices—if I wanted to spend the day going to the movies and then getting day drunk with my friends, I did just that (quite often, actually). So I made my best guess at the daily life of a parent and the agony a father feels when his child is taken away from him.
“After my daughter was born, I felt that unbelievable love you keep hearing about,” Whannell continues. “I know that I would give my life for hers without a second’s hesitation. And it keeps me up at night to think of something bad happening to her. Suddenly, I am very easily able to access the pain Josh Lambert felt when his son fell into a coma. Yet when I read the script for Insidious, I feel that all the pain and frustration and joy of being a parent is in there. It makes me realize that you don’t need to be something to write about it. You don’t need to be a surgeon to write about surgeons. Or be a cop to write about cops. And I didn’t need to be a father to write about them. It’s just that now, the film has a whole new resonance for me.”
12. The Purge (2013)
In this franchise spawner, Ethan Hawke’s patriarch James Sandin must defend his kin during a night of government-sanctioned murder and chaos. “Well, the family-in peril-trip is kind of obvious, in that it’s everybody’s biggest fear,” Hawke told Collider. “There’s a moment in the movie where you see the husband and wife loading guns, and he teaches her to take the safety off. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. Nightmares are a strange thing. Your worst fear is sometimes something you enjoy thinking about, for some strange reason. I don’t know why that is, but it’s some kind of fantasy that people play out. ‘What would I do to protect my children? I’d do anything.’ And then, you watch it play out. I’m petrified of such a thing. I don’t really enjoy thinking about it.”
13. Maggie (2015)
As buff Midwestern Walt, cast-against-type Arnold Schwarzenegger struggles to do the right thing when his teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin) gets bitten by one of the undead and begins to progressively transform. The former Governator relished the opportunity to take on a more real, emotional role instead of the usual shoot-’em-up action hero that he built his career on. “Under normal circumstances, [Maggie] should have been quarantined, but as a father you can’t let that happen,” Schwarzenegger said during the film’s Tribeca Film Festival premiere. “You can’t just send someone to quarantine to get this painful shot and then she dies slowly. I could not let that happen as a dad. Therefore, I protect her as much as I could.”
Dread Central blogger Tony Timpone interviewed Deliver Us director Federica Di Giacomo here