In honour of Halloween, Trespass’ writers have each chosen a Horror film villain category to discuss, picking out some of the finer points and characteristics of their monstrous subjects.
Sarah Ward- ZOMBIES
Traits: Zombies are reanimated corpses hungry for human flesh, as seen in everything from I Walked With a Zombie to the Resident Evil series. However, instances of ambulatory infected – rather than deceased – are also becoming common – think 28 Days Later and its sequel 28 Weeks Later.
Strengths: Zombies are equipped with stamina, strength and determination, with little derailing their quest for flesh. They gather in groups, and are difficult to dispose of, although cricket bats (Shaun of the Dead), pianos (Zombieland) and machine guns (Planet Terror) can be handy.
Weaknesses: They may seek them as sustenance (Return of the Living Dead), however zombies boast few brains of their own. Speed is also far from their forte, and they fail when it comes to fluidity of movement, making their efforts less mobile than their victims.
First filmic appearance: Arguments about the first reanimated corpses in cinema abound, with 1910 effort Frankenstein and 1919 offering The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari bearing similarities. However, Victor Halperin‘s 1932 movie White Zombie is widely considered the first zombie film.
Most hellbent on human destruction: Zombie Nazis. When it comes to feasting upon the human race, most zombies share a common goal. However, the ravenous undead that menace the vacationing students in Dead Snow (2009) are a step ahead of the others, given the fact they’re also members of the infamous fascist political party.
Scariest film appearance: Boasting seven genre features to his name, it is far from surprising that the films of George A Romero offer the scariest zombie appearances. Whilst his budgets and concepts would expand, nothing beats the nightmarish yet nuanced terror of the creatures in his debut Night of the Living Dead (1968).
Least scary film appearance: Comedic instances of zombies abound, however three particularly amusing – and therefore not at all frightening – efforts come to mind. Caper sequel Weekend at Bernies II (1993), attempted rom-com My Boyfriend’s Back (1993), and genre mess Zombie Strippers! (2008) all lack the ability to scare.
Who would win in a highlander-type fight to the end: The rage-infected zombies of 28 Days Later (2002).
Reason: Unlike the majority of their counterparts, the zombies of 28 Days Later boast one key trait – speed. Uncharacteristic for their kind, the virus-afflicted creatures are lightning quick to quench their cravings, making them the most lethal breed.
Sean Rom- EVIL, NON-SUPERNATURAL CHILDREN
Traits: Children who appear normal to the unsuspecting civilian but harbor deep, murderous rage and sociopathic tendencies. They are cute chameleons that are all smiles and sunshine but are only too happy to slit your throat when mummy isn’t looking.
Strengths: Their innocence allows them to fit in, unsuspected for often ridiculous amounts of time.
Weaknesses: They don’t have special powers.
First filmic appearance: The Bad Seed made in 1956 about a housewife who begins to suspect her daughter is psychopathic killer.
Most hellbent on human destruction: Adam (Jeremy Sumpter), in the underappreciated Frailty (2001), is determined to rid the world of demons. The problem is the demons look a lot like humans. However you interpret the twist ending, you can’t deny the boy’s persistence.
Example: When he chops the head off “a demon” with an axe.
Scariest film appearance: The masked kids in the The Strangers (2008) who terrorise a couple who arrive at their holiday home late at night. What makes them so unsettling is the lack of reason behind their motives. When asked why, they respond, “because you were home”.
Least scary film appearance: She may be more of a teenager but Drew Barrymore’s Ivy of the 1992 film Poison Ivy is a little too sexy to be terrifying.
Who would win in a highlander-type fight to the end: Macaulay Culkin in the Good Son (1993).
Reason: He may not be in the best position at the film’s end but in between his drug arrests, Macaulay somehow keeps making films. Someone needs to stop him!
Beth Wilson- WITCHES
Traits: Women (with the odd notable male exception) usually with supernatural powers, who like to dabble in the black arts. For this discussion only witches who use their powers for evil will be considered.
Strengths: Magical powers, pagan rituals, potions, familiars, pacts with Satan, flying monkeys. Witches usually have strength in numbers with their coven forming their core power source.
Weaknesses: Witches seem frequently susceptible to water, fire, christian iconography, their emotions and vanity.
First filmic appearance: There were quite a few Macbeth adaptations, starting with 1908’s Macbeth: Shakespeare’s Sublime Tragedy, in the early Twentieth Century, which would have featured the Weird Sisters. The first film focused on witchcraft appears to be 1922’s Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages, a Danish/Swedish documentary with dramatised reactments. The film looked at the history of witches since the Middle Ages and apparently features some rather gratuitous nudity.
Most hellbent on human destruction: The Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston) from Nicolas Roeg‘s The Witches (1990).
Roald Dahl‘s witches wanted to rid the world of children and we all know children are the future. With her square feet, violet eyes and bald head, The Grand High Witch was a terrifying villain, all the more diabolical for her plans to kill the world’s youth with poisoned chocolate, turning them into mice, which the world’s adult population would then proceed to exterminate. And the reason the witches hated children so, because they found the smell of adolescence revolting.
Scariest film appearance: The neighbourhood coven in Rosemary’s Baby. The thought of having a baby is terrifying enough, but then to find out the overly friendly neighbours helping you out during pregnancy are actually witches, who want you to give birth to the spawn of Satan, it is all a bit too much for Rosemary (Mia Farrow). The horror that comes from the ordinary, or the seemingly ordinary, is always more unsettling than the obvious terror of monsters.
Least scary film appearance: the Blair Witch. I’m aware that I am in the small minority who found The Blair Witch Project (1999) to be less scary than an episode of Bewitched. If you have a fear of camping and twigs then I’m sure this film could have caused some sleepless nights, for me the most horrifying part was the acting.
Who would win in a highlander-type fight to the end: While The Craft (1996) has the terrifying combination of teenagers and wicca, and the Ballet school running witches of Suspiria (1977) have a powerful thirst for blood and wealth; both covens ultimately crumple pretty easily. In the end the witches with the most dangerous magical powers seem to turn against each other, so I’m going to go for the pagan fervour of the island coven in British horror film, The Wicker Man (1973).
Reason: As terrifying as the supernatural is, the devout pagan beliefs of the residence of Summerisle, who work in perfect harmony without a thought that what they are doing is wrong would make them the deadliest opponents.
Glenn Dunks- SERIAL OFFENDERS
Traits: These so-called “serial offenders” tend to be hulking characters that walk slowly and yet are never too far away. With a sharp object in their possession, and (usually) a distinctive mask on their face, they stalk their prey around familiar stomping grounds Elm Street, Crystal Lake, Haddonfield or Texas with the same home field advantage as an elite sporting group.
Strengths:Nobody quite does invincibility like these guys. Between Michael Myers (Halloween), Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th Part II onwards) and Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) they have been “killed” by gunshot, explosion, electrocution, stabbing, drowning and beheading. Multiple times. Yet all of them continue to walk to this day.
Weaknesses:They all lack a certain Olympic spirit when it comes to giving chase. Nevertheless, Michael and co can always count on their targets to suffer from an inopportune case of clumsy feet when it comes down to the hunt. Still, Freddy doesn’t really need speed what with his ability to zip about throughout people’s dreams with the drop of a feathered cap.
First filmic appearance: Michael, Freddy, Jason and Leatherface have appeared in a total of 35 films. Together they have thinned this world’s population by about 400 (Jason alone has nearly 200 kills to his credit) going back all the way to Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974. Michael first appeared in 1978, Jason in 1980 and Freddy, the horribly disfigured baby of the bunch, in 1984. Leatherface and Myers have sequels in the pipeline.
Scariest filmic appearance: The first meeting is always the scariest. Leatherface and the meathook, Jason in the lake, Michael in his closet, and Freddy invading his first dream. Never better, never scarier.
Least scary filmic appearance: Jason on a riverboat cruise in Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)? Freddy doing bad stand-up in Freddy’s Dead (1991)? Michael Myers stalking a reality program in Halloween: Resurrection (2002)? Leatherface donning fishnet stockings opposite Renee Zellweger in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)? I could continue, but I won’t.
Who would win in a highlander-type fight to the end: Freddy and Jason already went at it mano a mano in Freddy vs Jason (2003) and nobody was good enough to win definitely and Leatherface can be a bit useless without his hick family to help him. So, I think Michael Myers wins. No matter how slowly he walks, how many times he gets shot and set on fire or how many mummy issues he has, he always seems to come out on top. And by “on top” I mean “alive after having killed a lot of people.”
Melissa Wellham- VAMPIRES
Traits: I have written about vampires in film before for Trespass (http://www.trespassmag.com/film-column-fangs-on-film/), and the various “species” of vampire depicted on the silver screen has certainly been wide and varied – almost as wide and varied as the quality of the films themselves. However, there are some similarities that most depictions of vampires tend to share.
Strengths: They tend to be, well, strong. And fast. And have heightened senses of smell and sight. Plus, not having to breath and being able to survive the forcible removal of most limbs – it makes them pretty hard to kill. Vampires are, essentially, the perfect predators.
Weaknesses:Despite all the strengths listed above, vampires do have two quite debilitating weaknesses. They can’t go into the sunlight, and a pointy bit of wood can make them dead-dead, not un-dead.
First Filmic appearance: German director F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922)
Most hell-bent on human destruction: Hell-bent on human destruction implies, I think, that a certain self-awareness must be attributed to vampires. They do not merely want to feed off humans; they want to commit genocide. For that reason, I would pick the vampires in I am Legend (2007). The vampires in that film are scared of what humans represent; and want to destroy them.
Scariest appearance: The scariest that I have seen would be the vampires in 30 Days of Night (2007) – the vampires were animalistic and without sympathy. The vampires that would make one the most scared to be “turned” into a vampire yourself: Interview with a Vampire (1994). Eternal life can apparently be pretty lonely.
Least scary appearance: Aside from Twilight (scarily bad, maybe), the least scary depictions of vampires on screen may well be the vamps in True Blood. They’re not scary, they’re deadly sexy.
Who would win in a highlander-type fight to the end: The vampires from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Do I perhaps mean by this that the show Buffy would beat most other vampire productions into the ground in terms of quality? Probably.