For many, the scariest part about horror films is the gore, but they might be mistaken. It’s the blood they should fear most. Family is one of the most sacred functioning themes when it comes to the horror genre. Family connection is the multifaceted impetus that drives so many beloved, successful and effective films to date and is an ongoing legacy that will continue to be inherited from one generation to the next.
The scariest parts about being a family unit in a horror movie are countless. Motivated by transmitted terror and congenital chills, family horror runs the gamut of both carnage and emotion. Looking closer at the variety of moving parts, when it comes to narratives and characters, it’s easy to see that no matter the level of genre or rung of horror they fall on, familial themes are all relative. Get it?
The Family That Preys
The family that kills together stays together, right? When it comes to analyzing bloodlines in horror, one of the most horrible groups to fear are the families themselves. Whether it’s for food, like in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Parents, and We Are What We Are, or for fun, like in House of 1000 Corpses, The Hills Have Eyes, and Mother’s Day, these dangerous families bring a whole new meaning to the term “dysfunctional”. It’s scary enough to deal with one murderer, but a whole house filled with them is the ultimate kind of horror genre attack. While you may be glad you’re not a relative of Leatherface or The Fireflies, it might be a whole lot safer if you were.
When tragedy strikes hard, where better to turn to than the comfort of your family? When circumstances turn to sheer horror and despair, the love of family should be the force that drives one through to the realm of positivity. However, when it comes to the horror genre, tragedy is the all-encompassing mark of terror that can will gauge our threshold for emotional trauma. For films like Hereditary, Don’t Look Now, Pet Sematary, and Lake Mungo, instances of loss and how they effect a family become a playground for potential scares. Circumstances of suffering and mourning ignite real feelings within viewers making the narratives, and fears, all too relatable. What makes these stories so disturbing, among so many others like them, is a harsh reminder that we are all mortal. Our significant others, parents, and even our children, can be taken from us at any moment and the pain we are left with is, perhaps, the scariest thing of all.
Father, Mother, Son, and Daughter
They brought you into this world and they can take you out just as easily. When it comes to family matters being scary, not many situations can hold a candle to your average, beloved parents fulfilling their bloodlust. Finding out that the ones you trust and depend on most are murderous monsters is not only disappointing but a true nightmare. Films like The Clovehitch Killer, Serial Mom, Bloodline, The People Under The Stairs, Mom and Dad, Frailty, Clown, and Friday The 13th all paint parental figures in the darkest of lights with the most lethal of intentions. It’s easy to fear other families, but so much more complicated when it’s your own that keeps you up at night. Some of these parents maintain their nurturing role while burying bodies in the backyard, while others let their freak flags fly out in the open. By curse or passion, homicidal mothers and fathers are terrifying simply because they go against everything natural when it comes to parenthood.
If your parents don’t scare you, your kids sure will. Similarly to the elder group, what makes children in horror such worthy character content is their inability to perceive their behavior as evil. The innocence of young ones attracts the malicious intentions of the supernatural while also acting as a very effective cover-up for those with the male intentions. The genre mercilessly surrenders child characters like those in Insidious, The Sixth Sense, and The Ring to external evils. Others, like those in Brightburn, The Good Son, The Omen, and The Prodigy, and even Halloween, are just born bad. It’s impossible to tell which would be scarier: your child being haunted or your child doing the haunting.
Spouses and Siblings
You know your partner, don’t you? While not tied in blood (usually), the closest a stranger can get to someone is through a romantic relationship and even marriage, becoming their partner in creating a family. When you think of “for better or for worse” the last factors that would come to mind are lies, deceit, betrayal, and murder, but in the horror genre, that’s just the beginning of “happily ever after”. What’s scarier than finding out that the person you chose, and in turn chose you, to be your greatest support system is the complete opposite of the illusion they’ve fronted? The scenarios that play out between significant others like those in What Keeps You Alive, Ready Or Not, The Stepfather, Get Out, The Shining, The Invitation, mother!, and Rosemary’s Baby will make you think twice before laying your head down next to your partner at night. Sometimes, even sleeping with one eye open may not be enough.
The bonds between family members are strong, but none can be stronger than the ones that bind siblings. Brothers, sisters, twins, friends or foes, siblings give horror a trusted hand to hold when it comes to torment, dependency, strength, jealousy, and love. You know, all the great things that come with having siblings. Films like Ginger Snaps, Cursed, A Tale of Two Sisters and The Uninvited, The Endless, Marrowbone, Goodnight Mommy, Mama, and Alice, Sweet Alice all slice through layers and layers of rivalry, camaraderie, and survival. The dynamics and chemistry, or lack thereof, contribute complex feelings that serve the greater, much more scarier elements nipping at their heels. If you’re going to face frightening parents, escape a cult, or turn into a werewolf, it’s always so much easier to do with your closest family member by your side. Unless they’re the ones who want to kill you.
Not all families have to exist by nuclear standards. The hardships and stigmas of raising a child alone create more intense situations of fear, making these specific characters ideal genre participants. The unique isolation of being a single parent provides horror with a multitude of both allegorical opportunities and wicked narratives. Supernatural films like Under The Shadow, Train To Busan, Child’s Play, The Exorcist, and even Carrie, place single mothers and fathers in perilous environments to persevere out of love for their children. Psychological narratives like The Babadook, The Others, Freaks, The Monster, and Pyewacket utilize the peril and characters to provide a deeper meaning to the horror at hand. One thing almost all films of the single parent family structure have in common is that the protagonist ms often prove they do not need a partner present in order to protect their children… it’s just a bit scarier facing ghosts and killer dolls alone.
If you think that the odd families are the ones to watch out for, you’re thinking right. The horror genre is full of some strange characters, obviously, but relishes in a range of scares when it comes to family units, from the downright bizarre to lovable creeps. Weird comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and perceptions. Disturbing sorts of families like those in The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, We Need To Talk About Kevin, and Dogtooth inspire feelings of repulsion, awkward intensity, and severe discomfort. Kooky kinds of families like those found in The Loved Ones, Dark Shadows, and The Addams Family illicit laughs, gasps, and, oftentimes, some disgust. When there is something off, something you can’t quite put your finger on, that family is bound to provide some great scares. Fear depends on your individual preference: the cringey type of family or the eccentric type of family. Both are of the menacing kind.
We’re All In This Together
Family unit survival, whether it’s against the damning distress of the paranormal or the unnerving formidability of reality, is the ultimate silver lining around the creepy clouds hanging over every potential victim. As an enormous source of both vulnerability and strength, the blood that binds us flows through the veins of chaos, destruction, death, and evil, but also ultimately pumps the beating heart with compassion, loyalty, and love. The families in films like Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror, A Quiet Place, The Witch, The Conjuring, Us, and The Purge let us know that no matter what the consequences or circumstances are, sticking together will help us make it to the end. However, don’t forget this is horror. An ending is guaranteed, but it might not be a happy one. Terror is transmissible and that is scary.
What do you think is the scariest part about family? Do the bonds of blood make things more or less terrifying? Let us know your thoughts over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!