It’s Father’s Day! What better way to celebrate dad than spending the day together watching movies? Movies have long explored the paternal bonds between father and child, and the emotional terror and madness that raising children often brings. Horror has given us an extensive roster of terrifying fathers that were never fit for the title, as well as many dads willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their child.
In salute of fathers everywhere, we revel in horror’s worst and best dads:
Don– 28 Weeks Later
Don (Robert Carlyle) demonstrates what kind of father he is before his kids even enter the film. When a group of survivors holed up in a rural cottage let in a boy being pursued by infected, he pleads with his wife to abandon the boy and make a getaway. She refuses, and he barely hesitates in making his decision to abandon her and the boy as the infected descend. When Don is reunited with his kids, he lies about their mother’s fate and the part he played in it. Don is already a terrible father, but then his guilt leads to him getting infected. When most infected with the Rage Virus are content to shred anyone in their path, Don prefers to stalk his children the entire rest of the film.
Daddy – The People Under the Stairs
Anyone who prefers to go by the name “Daddy” is one you should probably give a wide berth. In Wes Craven’s The People under the Stairs, Daddy (Everett McGill) is one half of an incestuous brother and sister duo that have very high standards for their children. Mommy and Daddy have a tendency to raise a child up until the point where they deem the child too flawed to continue, cut out their offensive body parts, and then dump them in the basement where the child then has to resort to cannibalism to survive. Both are unhinged, but Daddy is far crazier and a bit more dangerous. His leather gimp outfit clearly proves it.
Jerry Blake/Henry Morrison/Bill Hodgkins – The Stepfather
Operating under many aliases, the eponymous Stepfather shares a lot in common with The People under the Stairs’ Daddy in that all he wants is the picture-perfect family. Unlike Daddy, this guy doesn’t just settle for dumping the kids in the basement when they fall out of line. He looks for vulnerable single mothers, woos them, and assimilates himself into their makeshift family. When it doesn’t work out, he slaughters them. It’s creepy enough, but when the Stepfather is played by an intense Terry O’Quinn it’s downright terrifying.
Chris Cleek – The Woman
It takes a lot to paint the feral, cannibalistic Woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) as the empathetic one. Enter Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers), a lawyer that initially comes across as charming and put together. He captures the Woman and brings her back to his home so his family can attempt to “civilize her.” It reveals just how dysfunctional his family is thanks to his ruthless sadism. His son is following in his footsteps, observing dad rape the Woman and knock mom unconscious when she threatens to leave. Verbally and physically abusive to older daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter), it becomes painfully clear that there’s not a single redeeming quality about this father.
Jack Torrance – The Shining
Jack continues to be the standard by which all horrible fathers are measured. His previous dalliances with alcoholism resulted in dislocating his son Danny’s shoulder, a move that would earn any dad a Worst Father Ever award. When he relocates his family to the Overlook Hotel for a job as hotel caretaker, his paternal instincts go from bad to zilch as his mounting frustrations become more violent. Jack Nicholson nails Jack’s descent into madness, and the breaking point that drives Jack to murderous intent toward his wife and child remains an all-time high (or low) point in horror.
Lt. Donald Thompson– A Nightmare on Elm Street series
I know what you’re thinking; how did Nancy Thompson’s father earn this spot? Divorced from Nancy’s alcoholic mother and caught up in his police work, he not only refuses to really listen to his daughter but he even uses her as bait to capture suspected killer Rod. Even still, it’s clear that he loves his daughter and was very worried over her perceived declining mental health. Also, out of the two parents, he’s the most stable option Nancy has. Lt. Donald Thompson exemplifies that all dads make mistakes; sometimes because they’re blinded by thinking they know what’s best. He makes amends for his mistakes in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, having finally realized Nancy was telling the truth to the point of losing his career. He ultimately loses his life in his contribution to stop Freddy Krueger once and for all, and his relationship with Nancy remains one of the most touching in horror.
Captain Spaulding – The Devil’s Rejects
Sure, he may be a bit of a homicidal maniac, but Captain Spaulding sure loves his kids. It’s primarily through his fatherly love that the Firefly clan winds up being the anti-heroes of the film. When Sheriff Wydell raids the Firefly house, Baby and Otis run to their dad, Spaulding, for shelter; mind you, it’s unclear if Otis actually is Spaulding’s child, but Spaulding nevertheless acts as a father figure to him. Baby, Otis, and Spaulding are betrayed and captured by Wydell, who intends to torture them slowly out of vengeance. Dear dad Spaulding consistently tries to bring Wydell’s attention back to him so that Baby will be spared the torture and shows visceral response at her suffering. Even more heartbreaking is when the two fall into each other’s arms after reuniting. Sure, the Firefly family might be a bunch of psychopaths, but their strong family bond, love, and loyalty stems from patriarch Captain Spaulding.
Jesse Hellman – The Devil’s Candy
Jesse (Ethan Embry) is instantly relatable as the dad struggling to provide for his family. A painter often forced to paint art that goes against the grain of his personality for the sake of buying his wife and teen daughter a house, Jesse feels like an everyman. His strong bond with his daughter over music demonstrates a depth of love. What makes him one of horror’s finest fathers, though, is that his love for her overrides everything, including the strong lure of the Devil. Even when literal temptation from the Devil distracts him momentarily, he walks through fire and injury for his daughter.
John Collingwood – The Last House on the Left (2009)
This remake changed a key detail from Wes Craven’s 1972 original; the Collingwood’s daughter Mari survives her harrowing encounter with Krug and his gang. It heightens the stakes in that her injuries mean a race against the clock. Under the shock and realization of what Mari’s endured, he’s forced to give her an emergency tracheotomy using household items. He also knows he needs to get the key to the boat to get her to a hospital ASAP, with Krug’s gang staying in the guest house. With fierce determination (and rage), John gets the key by any means necessary. Including a lot of well-deserved death toward those that were responsible.
Seok-woo – Train to Busan
If you only get to choose one film to watch with dad this Father’s Day, make it this one. A divorced workaholic, and therefore absentee father, Seok-woo has made many mistakes along his journey in fatherhood. So much so that his daughter wants him to take her back to her mother’s for her birthday. So they board the train to Busan. The only problem is that his daughter’s birthday seems to coincide with a zombie apocalypse, making their trip a horrifying fight for survival. Seok-woo may not have been the ideal father, but he quickly proves he’s there for his daughter when it matters the most. Fighting tooth and nail (and zombie) to protect her during onslaught after onslaught, Seok-woo rebuilds his relationship with his daughter in the process. This is a rare horror film that will pull at the heartstrings (or rip it out) simply for its portrayal of the daddy-daughter relationship.