13 Most Fiendish Fathers
Article By: Tony Timpone
Father may know best, but in horror films, sometimes dad doesn’t always have the best of intentions. Last month Chiller celebrated Mother’s Day with a countdown tribute to the Most Monstrous Movie Mothers. With Father’s Day around the corner (Pop’s hoping for that new set of golf clubs!), today’s Friday 13 welcomes the head of the family as we unveil the movies’ Most Fiendish Fathers. (Titles arranged according to year of release.)
1. Eyes Without a Face (1959)
Talk about your unconditional love! When the face of his attractive daughter (the ghostly Edith Scob) is maimed in a terrible car crash, her surgeon father (Pierre Brasseur) starts a shocking campaign to restore his child’s beauty. Dr. Dad, with the aid of assistant Alida (Suspiria) Valli, kidnaps pretty women and graphically slices their faces off with a scalpel in failed transplant attempts. In this poetic French masterpiece, director Georges Franju paints a haunting portrait of twisted domestic devotion.
2. Peeping Tom (1960)
This sumptuous arthouse horror show (a forebear of the slasher genre) nearly destroyed the career of classical British director Michael (Red Shoes) Powell when critics reacted with revulsion and protest to Peeping Tom’s extreme and unflinching scenario. Handsome photographer Mark (Carl Boehm) gets off on photographing women at the moment of death, which he orchestrates himself by impaling the victims with his camera tripod. In the movie’s disturbing backstory, we witness the origin of this evil: Mark’s sadistic scientist father (played by Powell himself) filmed his own son as the guinea pig in a series of fear experiments. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree…
3. Grave of the Vampire (1972)
The amorous couple making out in the cemetery should have found a cheap motel in this sleazy grindhouse gem, written by Sopranos creator David Chase (!). Vampire Caleb Croft (Michael Pataki, who also narrates the trailer) attacks the lovers, slaughters the guy and rapes the girl. She survives, only to give birth to a half vampire/half human boy. In the film’s twisted nursing scenes, mom breast feeds mother’s blood to her fanged baby, who grows up to be veteran screen heavy William Smith. The son vows vengeance on his vampire/rapist father, now moonlighting (literally) as a professor of the occult. Sound like fun? You betcha. Grave of the Vampire scores as a groovy ’70s-era fright flick.
4. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Though the film never mentions if the Cook (a.k.a. Drayton Sawyer; played by actor Jim Siedow) is the father of the powertool-lovin’ cannibal clan, he certainly serves that purpose in Tobe Hooper’s unrelenting tale of rural terror. The Cook lords over brothers Leatherface and Hitchhiker with strap and ladle, but when a group of teenagers stumble upon his home/slaughterhouse, he’s got bigger fish (and people) to fry. Siedow’s a delight as Texas Chainsaw’s irascible father figure, and the actor later admitted to actually beating the heck out of game co-star Marilyn Burns in their brutal fight scene.
5. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
This much-loved Wes Craven movie shares some thematic similarities with the aforementioned Chain Saw, but delivers its own unique gory gonzo charm. A Cleveland family makes the mistake of taking that ominous shortcut when their RV breaks down in the desert. As night falls, a freakish clan of cannibals preys upon them, setting up a vicious struggle between the civilized and the savages. The grizzled and imposing James Whitworth plays flesh-eating leader Papa Jupiter, who enjoys nothing more than the taste of a newborn babe. Craven himself produced Hill’s Have Eyes superior 2006 remake, one of the rare ones that topped its predecessor in most respects, especially in the scares department.
6. The Amityville Horror (1979)
The “true story” (since debunked) of a Long Island haunting details 28 days of paranormal panic when the Lutz family move into a home where multiple murders once took place. But rising real estate taxes aren’t the main problem here; supernatural forces bedevil the place in the form of swarming flies, a demonic pig face at the window and the requisite cold spots. Things really get hairy when bearded dad George (James Brolin, a.k.a. Mr. Barbra Streisand and father of Josh) becomes possessed by the suburban entity and turns on his family with violence in mind. Brolin gives a piercing performance, and his gravitas helps ground some of the overacting going on around him (I’m looking at you, Rod Steiger). Beware the plethora of cheesy sequels and the godawful 2005 redux with Ryan Reynolds.
7. The Shining (1980)
Stephen King hated director Stanley Kubrick’s icy adaptation of his best-selling novel, but the positive rep for this much-debated film continues to grow. With psychically adolescent son Danny in tow, frustrated writer Jack Nicholson and wife Shelley Duvall take over the winter caretaker duties at off season Overlook Hotel, but unfortunately for them, the ghosts forgot to check out. Kubrick’s camera prowls through the cavernous lodge and captures the horrors of boredom, crippling writer’s block and a man coming apart at the seams. Nicholson has a field day as the deranged dad, swinging his ax and exclaiming, “Here’s Johnny!” (Adlibbed by the actor.) Shine on, you crazy diamond.
8. Creepshow (1982)
“Where’s my cake?!” bellows the cantankerous corpse of Nathan Grantham in “Father’s Day,” the first segment of this demented and morbidly entertaining anthology from horror heavyweights Stephan King and George Romero. Creepshow pays tribute to the gruesome EC comics that King and Romero grew up with, and that influence really comes through here, where the murdered patriarch returns from the dead to exact revenge on his greedy relatives. Plus Tom Atkins, the mean dad in Creepshow’s wraparound segment, gets his own nasty comeuppance for not allowing son Joe King to read comic books. Serves him right!
9. The Stepfather (1987)
Lost’s Terry O’Quinn will kill for the perfect family (and we do mean kill) in this sophisticated slasher entry directed by Joseph Ruben. Mystery writer Donald E. Westlake based his screenplay on the true-life case of John List, an unassuming New Jersey man who murdered his wife, mother and kids, then remarried in another city and escaped undetected for decades. O’Quinn’s faultless as the ultimate family-values proponent who woos and marries divorced women, but goes mental when his authority gets questioned. Skip the 2009 reboot.
10. The People Under the Stairs (1991)
Nightmare master Wes Craven admits to having a rocky relationship with his parents as a religiously-sheltered child, and he exorcised these early traumas in films like this one. A dark fairy tale right out of Grimm, People reunites Twin Peaks castmates Everett McGill and Wendy Robie as sick siblings who kidnap impoverished local children and imprison them in their booby-trapped house. De facto Daddy rules with an iron fist to keep his ragamuffin charges in line, and in the role McGill chews the scenery—and the meaty parts of burglar Ving Rhames when he foolishly breaks into the foreboding nut house.
11. Frailty (2001)
Widowed Texan Dad Bill Paxton (who also directed) pressures his young sons to join the family business in this moody horror drama. Said family business, however, turns out to be murdering strangers who Pops claims to be demons in disguise. See, he’s on a mission from the Almighty and wants his kids to follow in his bloody footprints. They dutifully do just that until the grown-up older son (played by future Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey) confesses his crimes to police. As the God’s Hands Killer, Paxton displays a sure hand as Frailty’s divine vigilante. And as a novice director, he keeps the terror at a slow burn until a wicked twist ending that out-Shyamalans Shyamalan.
12. Seed of Chucky (2004)
When it comes to raising children, father knows worst in this fifth installment of the Child’s Play series, this time directed by series creator Don Mancini. Chucky the killer doll (voice of Brad Dourif) and tiny squeeze Tiffany (squeaky Jennifer Tilly) can’t agree on the proper rearing of gender-confused offspring Glen (voiced by Billy Boyd), leading to much familial turmoil. Should Glen be a mass murdering toy like Papa or a sweet-natured mama’s boy? The conflict sets the stage for the blackest of horror comedies that even finds time to skewer Hollywood itself. Chucky fan John Waters cameos as a tabloid photographer who suffers the ickiest of death scenes.
13. 28 Weeks Later (2007)
In this surprisingly effective follow-up to the international smash 28 Days Later, London is slowing putting itself back together after the first film’s rage virus left the city in ruins. But in the still-infected countryside, Dad Robert (Stargate: Atlantis) Carlyle cowardly abandons his family when the pseudo-zombies attack. Later reunited in London, Carlyle grabs a smooch with his carrier wife, and soon the former Begbie begins bugging out big time. The contagious man goes on the hunt for his missing children, while the metropolis again descends into frenzied chaos. As one of the infected, the usually intense Carlyle dials it up even more as an all-too-human man troubled by the hard choices he has made and his eventual loss of humanity.
FANGORIA editor emeritus Tony Timpone wrote about the rerelease of William (The Exorcist) Friedkin’s Sorcerer here.