Last week we looked at my favorite antagonists from movies best fit for Halloween. Whether the films were psychological thrillers or frightening horrors or somewhere in between, they all featured great “villains.” This week, I’m turning that around and looking at my favorite “Halloween Heroes,” the best of the best protagonists from films best experienced in the Halloween season.
I’m going to follow the “Gozer Rule” again for this countdown. Last week I let Gozer stand in for all of the antagonists of the film Ghostbusters because it was too hard to narrow it down. This time, I’ll let the most memorable representative cover the entire group so that I’m not struggling to fit all four Ghostbusters in a ten issue countdown.
NADA – They Live (1989)
He came to kick ass and chew bubblegum, but now he’s all out of bubblegum.
TALLAHASSEE – Zombieland (2009)
This is Woody Harrelson’s best role since Woody on Cheers, even if Billy Murray stole the show.
BEN – Night of the Living Dead (1968)
In a time when you’d very rarely see an African American hero, Ben broke the mold.
CLARICE STARLING – Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Even if Hannibal ruined the character (in my opinion), Jodie Foster was brilliant in this role.
LB JEFFRIES – Rear Window (1954)
While not a horror film, Jimmy Stewart elevated this thriller with his panicked, paranoid performance.
SETH GECKO – From Dusk ‘till Dawn (1996)
In another movie, Seth Gecko would be the villain (and would have been just as awesome).
The Thing (1982)
In my opinion, the best film heroes are the ones that never set out to be one; they just end up in an extraordinary situation where the fate of others ends up in their own hands. I feel this is at the center of MacReady in The Thing—he is just a helicopter pilot thrust into a bizarre situation, but in the end, he ends up having to take charge of the survivors as they make a stand against the bizarre creature, with the consequences of the situation potentially affecting the rest of the world. The Thing is far from perfect, but MacReady elevates the film (and sets the stage for another John Carpenter/Kurt Russell hero that will appear later in this countdown).
09. EDGAR FROG
The Lost Boys (1987)
Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys is filled with memorable characters, both good and bad, but the characters that stood out to me the most when I was a kid (watching this film when I was way too young) were the Frog Brothers (under the Gozer rule, Edgar gets the slot for both brothers). The bizarre apocalypse-ready teens were outlandish comic book fans that taught us all the importance of proper preparation when dealing with vampires in southern California. They were nerds, but their geekiness is what saved everyone in the end and so that made their singular obsession with vampires and comics totally ok. (Though, to be totally honest, the vampires were supposed to be “cool” and are incredibly dated now, so maybe we shouldn’t take this film’s idea of “cool” too seriously.)
08. NANCY THOMPSON
Nightmare on Elm Street franchise (1984-1994)
As long as there have been horror movie monsters, there have been horror movie victims—young, pretty, vapid girls and their meathead boyfriends that commit all sorts of sins before being cut down by a vicious killer. It’s a trope that has been done to death, but coming out of a film franchise that mastered the cliché is one character that shattered the mold. Nancy Thompson, played by Heather Langenkamp, was Freddy Krueger’s first survivor—a smart and capable female that outwitted the dreamland monster when all others fell victim—that later went on the offensive (in the vastly underrated Nightmare on Elm Street 3) and even fought him in the ”real world” (in New Nightmare when Freddy went after Langenkamp). Nancy is the polar opposite of every other scream queen of the era, which made her the most heroic and the most memorable. She becomes the only character in Nightmare on Elm Street that really matters and the only character that could carry on a storyline of her own, which earns her a spot on this list.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
When Shaun—the breakout character for actor Simon Pegg—titular character of Shaun of the Dead—the breakout film for director Edgar Wright—shows up at #7 on a list, you know there are good things to come. Shaun is an everyman bumbler met that has to deal with very real problems in a very unreal situation. While most characters in a zombie apocalypse have to deal with survival and survival alone, Shaun has to patch up things with his estranged girlfriend, look after his mother, reevaluate his relationship with his stepfather, and find a way to act like an adult without alienating his manchild best friend…while surviving a zombie apocalypse. Shaun is the most relatable horror movie lead I’ve ever seen despite how surreal his situation may be.
06. ELLEN RIPLEY
Alien Franchise (1979-1997)
Who says that all action heroes have to be dudes? While, like most men of my age group, I was raised on a healthy dose of Stallone, Willis, Arnold, and Van Damme, one of the biggest badasses of my youth was none other than Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley. Ripley fought against the xenomorophs throughout the Alien franchise for nearly 20 years, never missing a step as battles alien monsters, bumbling bureaucracies, and an overzealous military industrial complex. Even when the films themselves began to falter, Weaver, and the character of Ripley, remained totally awesome. When the most memorable thing about the franchise isn’t the HR Giger-designed creatures, you know you have an amazing character on your hands.
05. WINSTON ZEDDEMORE
Ghostbusters franchise (1984-Present)
Still following the “Gozer rule,” Winston stands in for all of the Ghostbusters though I do have to note that the blue-collar every man just looking for a paycheck is my favorite character in a film absolutely overflowing with memorable performances. Surrounded by academics of all varieties, Winston remains grounded and is the perfect POV character for viewers as all hell breaks loose in New York City. Though in praising Winston I am certainly not discounting Ray, Egon, and Venkman as the group dynamic of the characters is ridiculously fun. Ghostbusters holds up tremendously well compared to other films of the era and I believe that comes entirely from the heroes. There is a reason we keep coming back to these characters nearly 30 years later and will continue to do so for years to come (even if we never get that long-awaited Ghostbusters 3 we’ve been asking for!).
04. JACK BURTON
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Coming back to John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, you can’t have a list about memorable characters battling memorable monsters without mentioning the protagonist of the cult hit Big Trouble in Little China. This bizarre, spastic pulp adventure maybe thin on plot but Kurt Russell’s performance as Jack Burton has kept my interest for all these years—extending the shelf life for what could have been a very forgettable film. His sarcastic demeanor and unwavering self confidence is everything you’d look for in a “bad boy hero.” Watching Russell in this film is like getting an entire film about Han Solo if you traded Tatooine for Chinatown, the Millennium Falcon for a Big Rig, and both Chewbacca and Princess Leia for a surprisingly hot Kim Cattrall (remember when she wasn’t so frighteningly masculine?).
03. MARTIN BRODY
Police Chief Martin Brody, played by screen legend Roy Scheider, is a truly fascinating character—something you wouldn’t expect to see in a film about a giant man eating shark. Brody is a complex and tortured character that is faced with protecting the wellbeing of Amity Island on two fronts. There is the obvious threat of the shark, but also the very real threat of economic collapse, which would undoubtedly happen if the island’s beaches are closed due to the shark attacks. Brody is given multiple opportunities to choose to protect the community from one threat or the other, but in the end (after nearly losing his son), he knows that he must take both on, even if it could potentially cost him his life. There is an incredible depth to the character that is often overlooked because of the spectacle of the film, which is unfortunate as Brody is far more interesting than the titular shark.
02. FATHER DAMIEN KARRAS
The Exorcist (1973)
Speaking of films known more for their spectacle than the surprising depth of their characters, Father Damien Karras of The Exorcist makes a strong case for the top spot on this list of Halloween Heroes and nearly takes it. Played by Jason Miller, Father Karras is introduced in The Exorcist at a crossroads in his life. Karras is having a crisis of faith that has pushed him to nearly give up on the existence of God, despite his Jesuit teachings. Suffering from guilt over his mother’s death and his own misgivings about his faith, Karras is far from being emotionally prepared to exorcise the demon Pazzuzzu from Regan McNeil, but finds himself tackling the demon one-on-one after the death of Father Merrin mid-exorcism. The struggle is fought on numerous levels before Karrass eventually sacrifices himself in order to stop the demon—an act of extreme faith that he could not have been capable of at the beginning of the film. Sure everyone else wants to talk about spider-walks and projectile vomiting, but to me, Karras’s battle against both his own personal and Regan’s very real demons are what really make The Exorcist interesting.
01. ASHLEY J. WILLIAMS
Evil Dead franchise (1981-Present)
Was there any doubt that Ash would top this list? If there is any character you want to see battle Halloween horrors, it’s Ash! From his humble beginnings in the innovative horror film Evil Dead to his repeated actions in the less horrific yet more amusing Evil Dead 2, to his flat-out comedic performance in the slapstick third installment Army of Darkness, Ash’s penchant for creative violence and one liners propels him into the top spot. Ash is as funny as he is capable in his battle against the Deadites. Plus there is that whole kick-ass chainsaw hand thing!
What are your favorites?