Though the chance might be statistically low in a horror film, it is possible to escape a masked killer/hellspawn/alien entity and stay alive until the end credits roll. For some, tragedy can be eluded with a pure heart, ingenuity, and a bit of luck bestowed by the film gods. But then there are others, for whom tragedy isn’t something that can be avoided. It’s just a part of who they are. When the bloodline has been infected by evil, what else is there to do but embrace the monster within?
The following are ten of the best characters who inherited their horror genes. Crazy families have been excluded so don’t expect to see The Sawyer family, the Firefly clan, or any inclusion of a violently nutso family unit. Warning: Spoilers Abound. If Necessary, Read Carefully.
10. Jamie Lloyd – Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
The Halloween franchise had previously toyed with bringing a bloodline element in the second installment with the revelation that Laurie Strode was Michael Myers’ sister. The fourth installment in the series introduces Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) as Laurie’s daughter, a scared six-year-old girl dealing with waking nightmares of a masked killer stalking her. Jamie fails to notice her violent connection to Michael (George P. Wilbur) until the police and a group of local good ol’ boys seemingly destroy him. But poor little Jamie is unable to deny the evil hiding in the dark shadows of her heart. Donning the same clown costume that her uncle wore all those years ago, Jamie kills her foster mother in the bathtub. It’s a shocking act that turns the Myers family horror into a trademark.
9. Martin Brundle – The Fly 2 (1989)
Following David Cronenberg’s Oscar-winning reimagining of the Vincent Price classic was never going to be an easy task. Creature maker turned director Chris Walas turned director focused on unpleasantness and gore instead of another heartbreaking. The Fly 2 chronicles the short life of Martin (Eric Stoltz), the son of Seth “Brundlefly” Brundle who was born in a larval sack, but otherwise appears to be an average boy. An average boy with high intelligence, rapid aging, and no need for sleep. Held captive by Bartok Industries and forced to continue his old man’s work on teleportation, Martin is emotionally manipulated and used for the company’s gain. What’s interesting about Martin is that once his monstrous human/fly form is revealed, he uses his unique abilities (corrosive vomit, anyone?) to exact revenge on the soulless, greedy corporation that has been using him for years. Martin might be a monster, but he’s not the villain.
8. Lady Margaret – The Legacy (1978)
The pacing of the ‘70s is on full display in this not-quite-weird-enough horror(ish) film. Margaret (Katherine Ross) and her boyfriend Peter (Sam Elliott), two American interior decorators, cross the pond to visit an expansive estate in England. There’s a strange gathering of sinister people at the estate’s sprawling manor (including a rather goofy character played by Roger Daltry from The Who) who all seem to have been expecting Margaret’s arrival. But then the cast of odd miscreants start dying in unexpected ways- a swimmer drowns and Daltry’s character chokes on a chicken bone, even though he wasn’t eating chicken at the time! As it turns out, Margaret is not just any ordinary interior decorator, but the great-granddaughter of the black magic practitioners who own the estate (and family fortune). Bestowed with powers by Satan himself, Margaret inherits all that is rightfully hers, and becomes the true lady of the manor.
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7. Adam Meiks – Frailty (2001)
Demons live among us, in human form, and they must be killed—so the father (Bill Paxton) learns in a vision late one night. He assures his two young boys, Adam (adult version, Matthew McConaughey) and Fenton, that the people he captures are not really people at all, and that they’re doing the lord’s work with each bloody strike of the axe. As it should be for anyone undeluded by religious paranoia, the demon slayings are an immediate moral dilemma for Fenton. Children can really be stubborn, and Fenton’s lack of faith lands him on his father’s list of demons-in-disguise unless he proves his faith and accepts that they have been charged to kill the unholy. Like father, like son, Adam grows to be a man driven by a righteous obligation to become a demon slayer.
6. India Stoker – Stoker (2013)
India’s story is one of sexual awakening and self-realization, which is all fine and good, until that self-realization brings violence. When India’s father dies on her eighteenth birthday, her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) appears from faraway travels, so far away that his existence was until then unknown. It’s Uncle Charlie who stirs the dormant cruelty in India, prodding her into adulthood with a curious smirk while seducing her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), in plain sight. Revelations are queried of a dark past in the family, one that doesn’t include world-traveling so much as it does murder and institutionalization. In the end, it doesn’t come as a surprise that certain tendencies have been buried in India’s demure posturing, and that with a taste of arousal and blood acquired—and a pair of killer stilettos—her transformation into something formidable ultimately comes to light.
5. Irena Dubrovna – Cat People (1942)
Though not as sweaty and lurid as Paul Schrader’s ultra ‘80s remake, Jacques Tourneur and Val Lewton’s original low budget classic is still a beast of a horror film that revels in sexuality as the impetus for revealing a character’s true nature. It’s kind of like a werewolf film, except that taking the place of the struggle to find balance with a man’s animalistic nature are sexual anxieties from the point of view of a modern woman in the ‘40s. Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) is a withdrawn fashion illustrator in New York who fears that she’s descended from a Serbian tribe of Satan-worshipping cat people, and that if she were to ever become aroused, would physically change into a black panther and kill her male prey. Such a curse proves problematic when she meets a suitor and falls in love. Refusing to commit to affection as innocent as a kiss, Irena does eventually relent and accept a marriage proposal. But then, upon consummation, the horrific truth of her bloodline’s curse is revealed—and, yes, she’s a freaking cat!
4. Dr. Frederick Frankenstein – Young Frankenstein (1974)
Laugh all you want, but Dr. Frederick FrahnkenSTEEN (Gene Wilder) is the epitome of a character doomed by horror in his bloodline. Perpetually haunted by the grisly stories of his grandfather’s experiments, the mild-mannered, yet still prone to fits of rage, Frederick refuses to even pronounce his surname in a way that people might recognize from the tragedy all those years ago. But everyone knows, and his tarnished name torments him wherever he goes. Inheriting the family castle, Frederick discovers the secret laboratory hidden deep with the stone walls. There within, perusing his grandfather’s dusty science journals, Frederick falls helpless to the ego of a mad scientist. “It could work!” Mel Brooks’ classic comedy might parody the Universal Horror telling of the Frankenstein story, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t real pathos and a genuine descent into madness on display as Frederick inevitably comes to embrace his heritage and gloriously reclaims the family name, FRANKENSTEIN.
3. Roderick Usher – House of Usher (1960)
When the curse of a family’s bloodline is so pervasive that the miles of gloomy swampland surrounding their foreboding mansion have long ago fallen into desolation, perhaps there’s a problem. Roderick Usher (Vincent Price) is dreadfully aware of the family’s curse of madness, and he lives a mostly solitary life in the Usher mansion because of it, hoping that the madness will die out with him and his sister, Madeline (Myrna Fahey). It’s a surprise, then, when Madeline invites her fiancé to the mansion. How could she be so careless as to fall in love? So pervasive are Roderick’s fears that the family curse will be propagated if Madeline marries, he confronts her, and then buries her seemingly lifeless corpse (after she falls into catalepsy—c’mon, this is the tragedy of a self-fulfilling curse, not a story about murder) in an attempt to deter her fiancé from having a reason to hang around the mansion, and thereby mitigate the spread of Usher madness. Of course, Madeline isn’t dead, but she is mad enough when she awakens to break free of her subterranean coffin and burn the mansion down, with herself and Roderick in it.
2. Fenix – Santa Sangre (1989)
It makes sense for Fenix (director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s sons, Adan and Axel) to end up in a mental hospital after witnessing his parent’s violent deaths, His father died with acid burned genitals and a slashed throat, and his mother had both of her arms cut off at the shoulder. Years after their deaths, his mother appears to him outside a hospital window. She beckons him (even though she’s missing upper limbs) to leave the hospital and stand close behind her so that he can funnel his arms through her dress and complete her. What follows his escape is a surreal horror film with an overt Oedipal complex, religious symbolism, and Freudian imagery running wild through Mexico City. There isn’t a monster or a curse, but the childhood trauma of a truly dysfunctional family that proves inescapable for Fenix, and deadly for anyone who might attempt to lure him away from the specter of his mother.
1. Annie Graham – Hereditary (2018)
There’s nothing more horrifying than the realization of inescapable genetics, whether it’s madness or disease. Consumed with sorrow, Annie’s family is sent into a spiral of misery that continues to get progressively worse until the truth of her family’s demon worship is undeniable. Revelations often surface after a death, though seldom do they provide clarification that the tragedy of the family bloodline isn’t mental illness but instead, the demented need to cut off your head with piano wire before levitating into the backyard tree house where a King of Hell and his followers await. Hail, Paimon… and embrace your family’s dark beliefs!
Maybe you have your family to thank for high blood pressure or male pattern baldness, but have the sins of your ancestors tainted your existence with an inevitable nastiness? Therapy begins now, with the Nightmare on Film Street Community on Twitter, Reddit, and in The Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!