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Recognizing the Good, the Bad and the Ugly Dads of Horror

Blogger Stacie Ponder’s horror columns appear every Wednesday.

Way back in the faraway, magical month of May, I wrote in praise of those horror movie moms who protect their children to the ends of the earth, to celebrate Mother’s Day. Seeing as how Father’s Day is upon us, it seems only fitting I explore the world of horror movie dads, no? Yes! However, I’ve discovered that horror movie dads are elusive creatures. They’re generally underrepresented and when they are featured in a film, they don’t tend to get the best shake. Most range from jerk to wicked jerk. But there’s gotta be some good guys out there, right?

The Good
Why are there so few strong father figures in horror? Really, the genre could use a few more. Imagine how Norman Bates would have turned out if he’d had a dad to get him out of the house and away from his cuckoo nutso mom once in a while. Marion Crane, for one, might have had a happier life.

Norman certainly would have been served well by having a dad like Frank Carveth (Art Hindle). In David Cronenberg’s twisted 1979 film, The Brood , Frank battles creepy snowsuit-clad, mutant-child dwarf-things to protect his daughter from her mother (Samantha Eggar), a woman so cuckoo-nutso, she literally gave birth to her own psychoses. Cronenberg reportedly wrote the film while he was embroiled in a tumultuous divorce and custody battle with his ex-wife. Hmm… tell us how you really feel about her, David!

Another dad going all out to fight for his daughter’s life — and his own — is Frank (Brendan Gleeson) in 28 Days Later . What is it about dudes named Frank? Apparently they’re the go-to guys if you’re looking to get stuff done. Anyway, Frank manages to keep his daughter Hannah safe until, in one of the film’s more heartbreaking sequences, he gets infected with the rage virus and a group of soldiers put him down.

The Bad
I gotta say, dads really shine as the bad guys in horror, albeit in varying degrees of badness. In 28 Weeks Later , the featured pop couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to Frank from 28 Days if his name was Knarf. Okay, maybe that doesn’t make sense, but come on: Don (Robert Carlyle) was one useless dad. To start with, he wimps out and leaves his wife to her doom at the hands and teeth of a whole slew of ragers. When he’s finally infected himself, Don relentlessly pursues his children around London — not because they’ve forgotten their lunches on their way to school, but because he wants to kill and perhaps eat them.

One horror movie father who’s a bit less… murderific, but equally jerky, is Stan (Tom Atkins) in Creepshow .
What kind of a dad calls comic books “crap” and takes them away? A dad
who ends up on the receiving end of some voodoo doll pin action,
that’s what kind. Stan isn’t the worst dad in Creepshow,
however (and I’m not just saying that because I loves me some Tom
Atkins) — that honor undoubtedly goes to Nathan Grantham,
featured in the appropriately-titled “Father’s Day” segment. A
righteous hardass in life and a zombified righteous hardass in death,
Nathan infamously digs his way up from six feet under to make sure he
gets his damn Father’s Day cake. I know how he feels — I’d probably
come back from the dead for a slice of red velvet cake.

Before he ended up stranded on some weirdo island on Lost,
Terry O’Quinn was a hardworking family man. OK, he was a hardworking
family man with a quick temper and a nasty tendency to kill when things
didn’t go his way. Yes, folks, Terry O’Quinn was the stepfather from
hell in The Stepfather and its sequel, Stepfather 2 .
All he wanted was a perfect family — was that too much to ask? The Stepfather movies are perfect Sunday
afternoon schlock, carried along nicely by O’Quinn’s
performance. I’ve yet to see the third film in the series with Robert
Wightman doing what I assume is his best to fill O’Quinn’s shoes; both
actors play the same character, Keith Grant, a man who seems to have a
really tough time finding that special lady and kids to settle down
with long-term.

While Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) made my
awesome horror moms list, her husband Jack (Jack Nicholson) is another
matter entirely. You could argue that the big villain in Stanley
Kubrick’s The Shining
is actually the haunted Overlook Hotel, but Jack is the cipher through
which the Overlook gets its dirty deeds done… and boy oh boy, does Jack
do some bad deeds. He sucker-axes Scatman Crothers in the back (guess
his shinin’ didn’t see that one coming!), he terrorizes his wife and
son with baseball bats, axes and weird faces, and as if these evil
acts weren’t enough, Jack blatantly wastes a whole lot of
paper. While purportedly “working on his book,” the guy fills up ream
after ream with useless “All work and no play” nonsense. How many trees
had to die so you could procrastinate, Jack? Hmm? How many?

The Ugly
know it’s not fair to judge a man (or his family) by the way he looks,
but sometimes you really just have to. Case in point: Pa (Ken
Kirzinger) in Wrong Turn 2 .
The dude is a mess — an inbred, deformed weirdo mess. And a mess who also
kills and cannibalizes so, therefore, I have no qualms about calling
him plain old ugly. There are several lessons to be learned from the
story of Ugly Pa: Don’t kill, don’t cannibalize, and for the love of
Pete, don’t inbreed.

And if that’s not a topic of discussion fit for Father’s Day dinner, then I don’t know what is!

sp.jpgA fan of horror movies and scary stuff, Stacie Ponder started her blog Final Girl so she’d have a platform from which she could tell everyone that, say, Friday the 13th, Part 2 rules. She leads a glamorous life, walking on the razor’s edge of danger and intrigue.

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