Bad Dads and Ferocious Fathers

The character of the evil parent in horror has almost always been filled by the mother. Be it in Hitchcock’s Psycho or DePalma’s Carrie, the mad mother has been a staple of horror cinema for generations. However, what about the proverbial yin to the yang? Often a throwaway character used for a laugh or to boost the body count, fathers in horror, unless it’s the devil himself, are rarely given the respect they deserve in the genre which strikes me as odd. Throughout modern history in film, books or even sometimes in real life, fathers have been the disciplinary figure that steps in when a serious transgression has happened. “Wait until your father gets home.” or “I’m calling your father.” truly may be some of the scariest words a young man or woman can hear. With that sentiment and the upcoming release of the Nic Cage, bad parents flick “Mom and Dad”, I’d like to take a quick look at 10 of the best “bad dads” of horror.

10) Don from “28 Weeks Later”

Played by the extremely underrated Robert Carlyle, Dons introduction in the extremely solid follow-up to 28 Days Later paints him as a coward. As the home he and his wife, amongst others, is besieged by the rage infected horde, he runs away to make his escape in a boat leaving his betrothed to be viciously attacked. Fast forward in the story and Don is being reunited with his young son and daughter in a newly formed, military protected safe haven. Through a series of crazy events, Don ends up becoming infected with the rage virus and goes from schlubby coward to efficient hunter who for reasons unknown forgoes the killing of anyone he comes across in order to stalk his own children through abandoned London. A masterful example of switching personalities mid-performance, Carlyle breaths every bit of rage induced breath into bad dad Don.

9) Grandpa Sawyer from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” franchise

What can be said about the “nuclear” families from Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece and its sequels that hasn’t been said? You have the hitchhiker, you have Chop-Top, you have Drayton Sawyer, you have Leatherface and then you have Grandpa. The clear matriarch of the Sawyer clan, Grandpa demands respect. Bound to a chair and in some cases, well, dead, Grandpa is fed the blood of young women, often from wounds owed to a sledgehammer hit to the head and usually over a bowl of some sort, he is also often encouraged to make the killing blow himself which he cannot do because he is so old and feeble or, well, dead. Played in the original and the recent 3D sequel by John Dugan, Grandpa has always had a cemented role in the Sawyer family, regardless of the members surrounding him.

8) Nathan Grantham from “Creepshow”

“Where’s my cake, Bedelia?!”. Creepshow is arguably the greatest anthology film of all time. It scared the piss out of me as a young man and there are parts in the movie that still creep me out to this day. One such part is the segment “Father’s Day” and in particular, Jon Lormer as Nathan Grantham. This guy is such a vile, shady, evil scumbag piece of hot garbage. Rich in less than legal dealings, bootlegging is a possible one, Grantham used his money for several heinous reasons, assassinating his daughter’s boyfriend being chief among them. It’s this vile act that ultimately leads to Grantham’s murder and subsequent resurrection. All responsible and all in his path are on the chopping block as Grantham crawls from the grave with one purpose. Get his annual Father’s Day cake. Necks are snapped, skulls are crushed and cakes are eaten.

7) George Lutz from “The Amityville Horror”

I’m not going to speculate on or assume to know what actually happened all those years ago on the coast of Long Island. I am simply going to comment on the two movie versions of George Lutz that we’ve been given, played by James Brolin and Ryan Reynolds respectively. George and his new family feel as if they’ve just been given the deal of a lifetime, they’ve found a big, beautiful home that will accommodate all the members of the rag-tag family and at a too good to be true price. The only catch is, the previous family were all murdered in their beds by a family member who claims the house made him do it. No big deal for George as he doesn’t believe in such shenanigans, the house, however, believes in George. Almost instantly George has violent mood swings, his eyes become bloodshot and his overall appearance resembles a sort of Charles Manson. George begins to believe that his family is against them and that they are becoming evil, so he does what he thinks is right. He attacks them with a shotgun or an ax. Fantastic performances from both actors in their films, but for me, it’s Brolin from the original that seals the deal as one of the best horror dads out there.

6) Dad Meiks from “Frailty”

Not only do I personally think Frailty is one of the most underrated horror films out there, I also feel it is one the most underrated movies period. Most of this is due to the amazing performances from the child actors as Fenton and Adam, it’s the performance of beloved genre icon Bill Paxton as their unnamed father that endeared this film to me. Serving as both director as well as co-lead actor, Paxton delivers a wonderfully nuanced and severely disturbing performance as a man who believes he has been handed a mission from God. That mission is to seek out demons that have taken the form of humans and exterminate them using his three weapons delivered to him. A pair of old work gloves, an old steel pipe and a rusty ax named Otis. His method for finding these “demons” is to pick out names in a phone book, kidnap them and take them back to his work shed where he makes his two young sons watch as he hacks them to pieces in the name of the lord. Eventually, God tells him that his oldest son is now a demon and instead of killing him he tortures and starves him until he is delivered his own holy message. Truly not a film to miss if for the performances or the bait and switch ending.

5) Man from “The People Under the Stairs”

Oh Everett McGill, you underrated gem. From Twin Peaks to Silver Bullet to Under Siege 2, McGill always turns in a menacing and imposing performance filled to the brim with the nuance of a man on the fringe of psychosis. However, in Wes Craven’s cult favorite the People Under the Stairs, McGill is giving reign to go off the rails and turn out a brilliantly over the top and manic performance as “Man”. Wedded to his as we find out sister, McGill and his incestuous wife keep there what we are led to believe his inbred offspring in a cellar dungeon and punish them for there various projected sins. All but the perfect Alice, which we are also led to believe is subjected to various perversions at the hands of McGill. Let’s also not forget the various scenes of McGill in a full-blown gimp suit armed with a shotgun blowing holes in his walls trying to kill the evasive Roach or the main character Fool. McGill chews up the scenery and the meat of those killed in his home even spitting out the buck-shot from his shotgun as he eats his dinner. This movie has to be seen to be believed and for all of its ludicrous and zaniness, McGills “Man” earns its spot on this list.

4) Captain Spaulding from “House of 1000 Corpses” and “the Devil’s Rejects”

Say what you will about Rob Zombie films, but there is no doubt that Sid Haig’s Captain Spaulding has become a modern-day horror icon. Crass, crude, foul-mouthed, unwashed, racist and sex-crazed, Haig makes the script sing with his performance. Not revealed to be a member of the Firefly family until the Devil’s Rejects, the father of Sheri Moon’s “Baby” to be exact, Spaulding becomes a major character in the sequel to Corpses and we the audience are better for it. Haig cuts an imposing and frankly scary figure to sort of becoming the muscle of our titular group. Known for having the visage of a clown, about halfway through the film Spaulding loses the face paint and it’s all serious business after that. Armed with a mouth of gingivitis and a killer attitude, there is no level of depravity this reject won’t sink to and no victim he won’t delight in the killing of.

3) 100 Maniacs from the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series

I mean, I know this is a bit of a stretch, but the core idea behind this is so preposterous and perverse that it HAD to be included on this list. Let me set the stage for you. Amanda Krueger is a nun that works in an asylum that is home to all sorts of psychos and maniacs. One night Amanda is locked in the common area with an even hundred of them and they all go nuts. Apparently, Amanda is sexually violated by each of them until a perfect mixture of their…stuff forms and impregnates Amanda with the Dream Demon himself, Freddy Krueger. Simply because of the outcome of said violation these maniacs deserve a spot on this list. Without them, we would never know the icon and the man responsible for so many nightmares that is Krueger. Now, I don’t know a lot about a lot, I ain’t the book-readin’ type, but I’m fairly certain that not only could someone be the son of 100 different people, but I’m also fairly certain that Amanda would be decreased after that horrid ordeal. However, watch for a Robert Englund cameo as one of the maniacs in Part 5.

2) Jack Torrance from “The Shining”

I’m gonna go ahead and get this out of the way, I am not a huge fan of Kubrick’s film. I find it long and Shelley Long grates on my nerves like no other, that being said, Nicholson as Jack is absolutely terrifying. We watch as Jack slips deeper and deeper into his own personal possession and begins to alienate himself from his wife and young son. Isolated from civilization due to an insane snowstorm, Jack begins to wander the halls of the Overlook Hotel in search of a drink and finds companionship instead. You see, the Overlook is haunted and they want to add others to their ghostly ranks. Filling recovering alcoholic Jack with booze makes it all the easier to implement the idea that his family not only resents him but hates him as well. This takes Jack from “dull boy” to murdering matriarch. What is witnessed is a violent descent into madness and paranoia that causes the husband to a terrified wife and father to an issue-laden son to attempt to murder them in heinous fashion all while verbally abusing them. Through the final chase through a hedge maze, Jack resembles less of a man and more of hellish hound with the scent of blood in its nostrils. Literally and figuratively chilling by films end.

1) Jerry Blake from “The Stepfather” (1987)

There is no way in hell that this movie is given the credit it is due. A master class on suspension building and inducing dread, unfortunately, this film gets lumped in with the slasher films of the 80’s when it is truly anything but. A thriller of the grandest order, it also boasts one of the most chilling, disturbing, sick, and dangerous dads in the history of film. Terry O’Quinn as the titular character is truly unnerving to watch. He slips in out of psychotic madness from a loveable family man in the blink of an eye. All Jerry wants is the perfect family, and he will repeatedly kill in order to get it. We begin the film with Jerry cleaning the gore and blood from his face and body as we are shown shots of the rampage that just occurred as he was clearly let down by his family. Jerry moves on to the next home where it seems like his dream of the perfect family may have finally come true, that is a nosy neighbor and rebellious daughter begin to ask too many questions. Que murderous rampage. I challenge you to find a more chilling scene than “Who am I here?”. Followed by a few sequels and a bore fest of a remake, the original film is still an undiscovered gem of the genre, one that should be unearthed and appreciated alongside the best of them and it’s all thanks to Terry O’Quinn as the most ferocious father ever put to celluloid.

Adam Thomas
Adam Thomas was born and raised in the greater metro Detroit area of Michigan where he still resides with his wife and new baby girl. A mig welder by trade and a fan of all things fantastic and macabre. 80’s slasher movies are his main bag, but he doesn’t shy away from anything. Craft beer connoisseur, struggling podcaster and failed male model, he lives for the horror and will die by the sword.