A phrase as old as time, “more than meets the eye” has been the calling card of M. Night Shyamalan’s filmography. Glass looks to continue this trend: is it a superhero movie with a genre twist, is it a genre movie in a superhero universe? Genre film is great because it can be literally anything it wants to be, much more than what’s reflected (glass puns, let’s go) on the surface. So in the vein of genre bending and ambiguity, I’ve whipped up a quick list 5 horror movie characters who are basically superheroes.
For this list, my criteria is simple: are superpowers involved, is the character’s origin rooted in trauma, and does the character use these powers to perform heroic deeds/get revenge. And I’m excluding genre movies that aren’t necessarily superhero movies, but came out of a comic book (no Blade or Hellboy movies). I’m also gonna be loose the term “superhero” here, considering every movie’s main character on this list is a murderer in one way or another. So without further ado; let’s have a little fun, shall we?
5. Carrie White – Carrie (1976)
First up is the Brian De Palma classic, Carrie. We all know the story here: poor little Carrie is tormented at home by her hyper-religious mother and at home by cruel students, she gets revenge when her telekinetic powers manifest. In many superhero movies, you’re rooting for the underdog. Throughout Carrie, we all root for the titular character and it’s satisfying when her abusers get their comeuppance. Just like in Unbreakable and Split, Carrie’s powers manifest through trauma and suffering. You know who also develops their powers under traumatic circumstances? Mutants. Surprise, Carrie White faked her death and is actually hiding out at Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. I hear she also started going by another color-related name, what was it, Jean…
4. Grey Trace – Upgrade (2018)
Another guy who could be ripped from the comics is Grey Trace in the techno-thriller Upgrade. After a traumatic accident, Grey is left a quadriplegic widower. Hell bent to get revenge and take his life back, Grey undergoes an experimental treatment to receive a spinal chip (STEM) that would give him control of his limbs again. The chip gives him superhuman physical abilities complete with an AI system for control. Or to put it in other terms: his super power is kicking ass, among other things. Grey then goes on a revenge-fueled rampage, taking out those responsible for his pain…at least until STEM takes over and changes the agenda. Upgrade has body horror, it has action, and if you give Grey a mask, he’d definitely feel like a superhero. His origin is also a cross between Captain America and Doc Oc, which is neat because Grey kind of is the hero and villain at the same time if you think about it.
3. Ash Williams – Army of Darkness (1992)
Our next film stars an iconic face in horror, Bruce Campbell grooving his way through the Evil Dead trilogy. Hero Ash Williams goes through a lot of changes over the course of the franchise, where it’s not until the third film Army of Darkness where he begins to embrace his identity as a hero. Ash is the classic reluctant hero, only providing his services for selfish gain and convenience. After going through hell twice in the previous films, who could blame him? No powers per say, but he does have a chainsaw for a hand and some degree of time travel. Throw in a shotgun during the middle ages, he is immediately treated like a hero when seen killing a deadite. As Ash searches for the way back to his own time, he protects the people of the kingdom and has a classic hero showdown against his evil counterpart. By the end, Ash would accept his hero status and would go on to continue fighting evil in his spin-off TV series, Ash vs The Evil Dead.
2. Ellen Ripley – Aliens (1986)
Coming in hot, our next superhero is a queen of horror fronting 4 films in its franchise: we’re talking Ellen Ripley of the Alien series. But we’re gonna focus on the sequel Aliens, as Ripley didn’t really step into the spotlight until the end of Alien. After awakening from a 57 year stasis, Ripley is recruited finish off the creatures that killed her crew. Ellen has no superpowers, but she’s like the Black Cat of horror movies armed with nothing but attitude and the will to survive. Though she may not be super, Ellen is in fact a hero, serving as Newt’s protector throughout the film. Her most super moment comes in the most iconic scene of the film, when Ripley faces-off against the Xenomorph queen in a makeshift mech-suit. Iron Man vibes, anyone?
1. Joe – You Were Never Really Here (2018)
Start stretching for this last example, because it is quite the reach. In my opinion, one of the best films of 2018 is the extremely somber and violent film You Were Never Really Here. Joe, played spectacularly by Joaquin Phoenix, is a tormented ex-forces vet who rescues kidnapped girls. His whole life is nothing but trauma, fueling his silent bloodthirst. Armed with nothing but a hammer and the fear of God, Joe sets out on a warpath after a job gone wrong. So how does this film feel like a superhero movie?
Let’s see: a highly-skilled man with a traumatic childhood, he stealthily takes on his enemies with brute force, and violently punishes those who prey on the innocent. Operates exclusively at night…sounds a lot like Batman to me. Hear me out, if you replace Joe’s ailing mother with his father (let’s call him…Alfred), You Were Never Really Here could easily be a post-Batman Bruce Wayne left broken following his vigilante career. This film is a grueling character study and would be an amazing way to close the story on an iconic character, if any superhero movie was daring enough to do so. I told you it was a reach, but you gotta admit it’s a pretty cool idea.
Superheroes, villains, and everything in between, those are my superheroes in disguise. Just like horror movies, superheroes can come in many different shapes and sizes. Hopefully you enjoyed this list, as a horror fiend and comic book nerd, I know I did!
Like Split, did I shatter (one more for the road) your expectations? What are some horror icons you’d consider to be superheroes? How excited are you for Glass? Let’s talk about it on Twitter and Facebook!