Tragedy itself is somewhat of a tragedy. We can’t look away from it, and as much as we say we don’t want to look we do. And we love it. We actively search it out it seems, spending our time watching tear-jerking videos on YouTube and spending hours reading a book we know is going to make us cry. But sometimes we crave more. We want heartbreak, suffering, and sheer emotional turmoil. Not to ourselves of course, just from the safety of the sidelines. And occasionally, we want to be scared too. Oftentimes these two intersect in an interesting way.
How can something be tragic and terrifying? Full of heartbreak and horror? Fortunately for those craving it, horror managed to dig its bloodied fingers into the ideals of heartbreak and hold on tight, never to let go. Modernity has blessed horror fans with more than enough to pick from, with new movies coming out every year promising to break hearts and scare the hell out of you while doing it. But it isn’t a new trend. It’s been going on for years and going back to the beginning proves the most tragic of them all.
Here’s a list of the most tragic horror movie figures and surprise! it’s a Universal Monsters list.
8. The Invisible Man
The 1933 Universal Studios flick is one that often seems to be largely ignored when it comes to thought of the monsters in pop culture, although it was recently announced that Leigh Whannell and Blumhouse Productions will be stepping in to bring The Invisible Man back to life.. After all, it is an invisible man at the helm of horror, not a bloody ghoul or vicious werewolf. But that seems to be where the tragedy lies.
The Invisible Man follows Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) a chemist who, through dabbling with a dangerous chemical known to drive one mad, achieves invisibility. Of course there’s a catch and it turns out Griffin is stuck being invisible and stuck going mad. He revels in his monstrousness, enjoying his new found curse in ways his other monstrous counterparts refuse to. He loves being bad just for the sake of being bad, finding that this new invisibility invites him to strike back at a world that seemingly jilted him. However, this comes at a cost and one he realizes too soon when at the end after a reign of terror, he dies with his fiance Flora at his side, stating that he “meddled with things that man must leave alone”.
It truly pains me to put an absolute dreamboat such as Dracula this far down on the list but it must be done. As much as I like to paint him as a troubled, mysterious Byronic figure, alas he pretty much isn’t. He’s cruel, using his supernatural powers to draw those weaker than him to his will. Doesn’t hurt that he was played by Bela Lugosi, bringing a charm to the character that shaped his story decades to come. Nowadays he’s a full blown tragic figure, hurting and killing all in the name of love.
But that doesn’t mean that Lugosi wasn’t a tragic vampire in any sense. He was the embodiment of Victorian anxiety, the dark underbelly riddled with disease, classicism, and sexual repression. Suddenly Dracula himself doesn’t seem like the bad guy, rather just a forced conception of it. With an amazing cape.
6. The Mummy
No, not the latest reboot and no, not the Brendan Fraser masterpiece. We’re talking the original featuring Boris Karloff. The 1932 classic featured Karloff as Imhotep, masquerading around modern day and recruiting archaeologists to dig up an ancient tomb featuring his long lost love. But soon he encounters a woman striking a shocking resemblance to his past love and he is convinced its truly her. After attempting to bring back his love into this new body the film ends with him dying and crumbling to dust, love-less and alone.
The film is almost shocking in its sadness, a sharp departure from monsters reveling in madness. Instead, he was alone in a new world, desperately attempting to bring back the person he was destined to be with. In the end, he achieved it in a way, rather the reunion is one happening in an afterlife. Or at least we hope.
5. The Phantom of the Opera
Somewhat less sing-songy than one might think. In this silent film featuring Lon Chaney as the Phantom himself, the movie is a whirlwind of emotions. It’s a classic tale and one that seems to resonate even now. With Chaney and his spectacular and frightening acting, you feel the fear and the heartache oozing through every moment.
The tragedy lies on the Phantom, who later introduces himself as Erik. A man desperate for love and devotion, but marred by his outward appearance to the point it has driven him to murder. At the end his cruelty seems to be at its highest, but shows that its truly his humanity that drives him, allowing the love of his life to escape his own clutches unscathed to live a life of love with someone who is not him.
4. The Wolfman
The Chaney blood ran strong as we can see with Lon Chaney Jr.’s brilliant performance as Larry Talbot. After hearing of the death of his brother, Talbot travels back to his home to grieve and attempt to reconnect with his father. At his ancestral home he connects with Gwen Conliffe, which naturally throws a bit of romance into the mix. Unfortunately for Talbot, it soon goes south after he saves Conliffe’s friend from, you guessed it, a wolf.
Talbot learns that it was actually a werewolf and now that he is bitten, he is cursed to the same fate. After killing the town gravedigger Talbot manages to retain some of the horrific memory and attempts to overcome his fate. Instead, he is bludgeoned to death by his father after attempting to attack the woman he loves and both are horrified to see the once deadly creature morph back into the familiar face they know. The tragedy here almost smacks you in the face, it’s so depressing. It just goes to show that, no matter how good of a man one can be, a cursed fate could be just right around the corner. Or waiting for the next full moon.
3. The Bride of Frankenstein
One of the few horror sequels that managed to stand strong enough on its own two legs, The Bride of Frankenstein is a timeless, horrific beauty. The movie holds near to the original novel, showing Dr. Frankenstein running from his sins and attempting to leave playing God to, well, God. However, his creation and mentor have different ideas and wrangle him back to create a mate for the creature. The deed is done, the doctor having created a monstrous beauty.
Instead of responding the way the creature would have liked, ignoring his excitement as he approaches her saying, “Friend?” she screams, proving to the creature the fate he already knew. He was destined to die alone, and they belonged dead. Few scenes tug at the heart like this does, an excited abomination almost relieved to know he’s not alone in his eternity before his worst fears are confirmed. But the bride herself suffers in this movie. Her creation alone was not for her, or even for her creator. She was to be nothing more than a mate, something to soothe an aching loneliness.
Poor guy just can’t catch a break. Before the worst heartbreak of all time, Frankenstein’s creature had other problems. Mostly that of being alive. After being hobbled together with stolen body parts, the creature comes alive only to be completely startled by a flaming torch. His frightened outburst is perceived to be an attack and he’s locked away in a dungeon. He manages to escape after a ill-formed attempt by his creator Dr. Frankenstein to destroy him, he goes on the run and gives us one of the most heartbreaking scenes of all time.
After encountering a small girl who shows no fear, they toss flowers into a lake to watch them float. After running out of flowers, the creature assumes she will float as well and is confused and upset when she instead drowns. The film ends with the creature and Frankenstein reuniting in a windmill before it quickly burns down, trapping the creature and allowing Frankenstein to escape. The film is a testament to the aching loneliness of the creature, being created and subsequently abandoned. The science gone wrong trope plays into our fears that are still relevant today, and we see it paired here with the other side of the coin. What happens not to us when things go wrong, but to the thing wronged by science?
1. Creature from the Black Lagoon
The Creature From The Black Lagoon was the first Universal Studios monster flick I ever rented. It was what started it all, and rightfully holds itself at the top of this list as the most tragic in horror history. The movie and its star, the Gill-Man, show two different tragedies. One, that of ecological disturbance and what humans mean for our natural cohabitants. Gill-Man resides undisturbed in the Amazon until a geology expedition arrives and causes his subsequent death after disturbing his habitat. But perhaps the more disturbing tragedy is something far more relatable.
The Creature From The Black Lagoon is an almost otherworldly creature, pining for a human connection. But instead of a dashing vampire or a slick and suave werewolf he’s a strange creature complete with gills and webbed hands. He doesn’t have the wiles of mind control or tragic backstory. He simply is what he is and after living a life undisturbed is thrown off track by a beautiful woman in a world he can never belong to.
Tug at your heart strings a little? Who do you find to be the most tragic figure in horror? Be sure to let us know on Twitter, in the official NOFS Subreddit, or on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club.