Here's Johnny

The 4 Types of Parents You’ll Find In Every Horror Movie

Are you the dad from Pet Sematary? Are you Jack Nicholson? Let's get into it.

Originally Published: 
Warner Bros.

Around Halloween, we always like to think about all the archetypes of fictional parents in horror movies. Yes, the demon spit is about to hit the fan and we are aware that our readers might slay us because we left out your favorite mom or dad or that evil step-parent. But, the reality is there’s more than a century of horror movies to consider and someone’s favorite is going to get left out.

No offense, but if you didn’t see your favorite horror movie parent here — TOUGH! But feel free to complain about it later!

So, let’s take a stab at it, or multiple stabs at it! Here are the four types of parents in every horror movie, and clues to which one you might be.

4.Nutso/Possessed Parents

Stand-out example: Jack Nicholson in The Shining

Nutso movie dads begin and end with Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) in The Shining. He’s already a jerk of a husband and father as the Torrance family heads to — and then settles in at — the Overlook Hotel, but he turns full-on, ax-wielding madman toward Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and Danny (Danny Lloyd) once the sinister spirits within the place get the better of him. It’s actually a major flaw in the movie, as Jack’s descent – scary as it is — might have carried more emotional weight if we cared for him first. On the nutso mom front, our vote goes to Margaret White (Piper Laurie), whose outrageous religious zealotry sets off her telekinetic daughter, Carrie (Sissy Spacek) in Carrie. A close second to Margaret White is Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) in Friday the 13th. Pamela loved her boy, Jason, and interestingly, was perfectly sane (if a bit overprotective) until she lost her head over his death and took out her rage on the camp staff. Other memorable unhinged parents: George Lutz (James Brolin) in The Amityville Horror, Mommy and Daddy (Wendy Robie and Everett McGill) in The People Under the Stairs, Julia Cotton (Claire Higgins) in Hellraiser, the father (Bill Paxton) in Frailty, Jerry Blake (Terry O’Quinn) in The Stepfather, Drayton Sawyer (Jim Siedow) in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Don (Robert Carlyle) in 28 Days Later, and Norma Bates (played by… a skeleton) in Psycho.

You can stream The Shining on Max right here.

Paramount Pictures


Kickass Parents

Standout examples: Emily Blunt and John Krasinski in A Quiet Place

Mom and Dad – or Mom or Dad – coming to the rescue raises the stakes in many a horror movie. The Abbotts (Emily Blunt and John Krasinski) in A Quiet Place, for instance, will stop at nothing to protect their family. Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) contend with an evil entity that invades their home in Insidious, with Josh even losing that battle (at least in the first film). But the award for Most Kickass Parents in a Horror Movie must go to Steve and Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams) in Poltergeist. They rock – and still elicit cheers – as they take on The Beast, lots of gruesome angry spirits, and Steve’s hiss-worthy boss, Mr. Teague (James Karen), in order to save their kids, Dana (Dominique Dunne), Robbie (Oliver Robins), and Carol Ann (Heather O’Rourke).

You can watch A Quiet Place through Sling right here.

Where are their parents? EXACTLY.


Totally Absent Parents

Standout examples: Most parents in most horror movies.

Now, it’s a key trope in horror movies, especially teen-centric flight flicks, to have the parents out to dinner, off on a trip, screwing at a hotel, sleeping really, really, really soundly, or just otherwise away so that the killer can do some killing in peace. Let’s go with films rather than characters for this entry: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, I Know What You Did Last Summer, the Scream series and many, many more come to mind. It’s worth noting that, in many of those outings (Last Summer being a notable exception), it’s the sins of the parents that come back to haunt their kids, sometimes literally. In some cases, the parents take action later, as evidenced by Don Thompson (John Saxon) finally supporting his daughter Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. But if we must choose an actual character, we’re picking a couple of them that are there but not really there. In Sinister, Ellison Oswald (Ethan Hawke) makes the tragic mistake of ignoring his family after he discovers a snuff film in his new house, with awful results. The worst of all, though, is Wendy Torrance. How the fuck does she not see what’s going on around her for so long in The Shining?

I Know What You Did Last Summer is streaming on Peacock.

You’re this guy deep down.


Sympathetic Parents

Standout example: The Dad from Pet Sematary.

Annie Graham (Toni Collette) in Hereditary is both victim and villain, spewing love and hate in near-equal measure, and scaring the crap out of her kids — and audiences. Does Annie deserve our scorn or sympathy? Director Ari Aster leaves that up to you to decide. Then there’s Amelia (Essie Davis), an emotionally fragile widowed mom who becomes obsessed by the dark children’s book figure known as the Babadook in the movie of the same name. The malevolent spirit eventually possesses Amelia, and she/it kills her dog and attacks her young son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). It takes Samuel’s love, and a well-timed caress, to save his mom, but can she ever really be free of the Babadook? David Drayton (Thomas Jane) does everything humanly possible to save his family when killer creatures emerge from the horrors of The Mist, and the decision he makes in the film’s final moment is utterly heartbreaking. It’s also heartrending to look on as Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) calls in Team God to help save her daughter, Regan (Linda Blair), in The Exorcist. And let’s not forget poor Lewis Creed (Dale Midkiff or more recently, Jason Clarke), who, in Pet Sematary, makes an ill-fated attempt to restore his family to normal.

OK, so, what other parents did we leave out? How about the cannibal mom and dad (Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt) in Parents? Get your own examples. But, remember, these are the only categories.

The 2019 Pet Sematary is streaming on Paramount+. The 1989 Pet Sematary is streaming on Max.

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