FANTASTICA Presents: The Best & Worst Fathers in HorrorFearful Features,Movies/TV Christopher La Vigna
“I took care of it. That’s why God made fathers babe. That’s why God made fathers…”
Father’s Day is coming up this weekend, and we here at FANGORIA thought it’d be the perfect time to dig deep and take a look at the Good, the Bad, and the Downright Demonic of the horror genre’s fathers. First, let’s resist the urge to go straight to the gutter, and examine some of the positive patriarchs inhabiting our favorite fright flicks.
The horror film (as well as most film genres) is so fraught with examples of the evil that men do, it can be hard to think of any helpful papas on celluloid, but here’s a few who do manage to be helpful (or at least not make things worse):
1. Lt. Don Parker (Michael Murphy), SHOCKER
Though he’s not the focus of Wes Craven’s 1989 slasher film, Detective Parker stands out in the horror master’s discography as being a dad who gives a damn about his son and the law. Early on in the film, we find out that Don took his stepson Jonathan (Peter Berg) out from the streets, where he was found nearly beaten to death at age seven. And when we later learn that (SPOILER ALERT AHEAD) Jonathan is in fact the son of the demented Horace Pinker himself (who certainly earns an honorable mention in the downright demonic section), we appreciate Lieutenant Parker’s role as a stable stepfather even more.
Not only does Don’s solid detective work (albeit largely aided by his stepson’s psychic link to Pinker) catch the killer in the first act, his inner strength allows him to resist Horace’s electric possession (If that’s not the name of a forgotten metal band, I’ll eat my hat) and force him into the realm of television, where Jonathan is free to go toe to toe with his devious deranged deadbeat dad. A good father knows when to help, and also knows when to step back and let his child fight his and/or her own battles.
2. Det. William Graham (William Peterson), MANHUNTER
In Michael Mann’s criminally underrated MANHUNTER, Will Graham admittedly doesn’t have much time to be a father, what with his immersing himself in the mindset of the Tooth Fairy in order to catch him. That being said, there is a pivotal scene in the film, wherein the usually withdrawn Graham reaches out to his son so he can understand the pressures of his line of work.
After moving his family to protect them from a potential attack from Francis Dolarhyde, Will takes his son to the supermarket in order to have a man-to-man talk about the trauma he suffered at the hands of Hannibal Lecter, and the toll getting inside a killer’s head takes on him. It’s a lot of big, scary talk put in simple terms for a young mind to understand, and ultimately we see that Kevin is drawn to his father’s openness, rather than repelled by the ugliness that comes with his calling. It’s a quiet and poignant scene that demonstrates the importance of fathers talking honestly with their sons, and being open to the emotional vulnerability that comes with real bonding.
3. Loy Colton (Tim Thomerson), NEAR DARK
You gotta give it to Loy Colton; he’s a minor character, but he’s pretty damn good at improvising solutions. The man’s son up and disappears on him, and when he finally finds poor Caleb shacked up with a bunch of soot-covered vampires in a dirty motel, he wastes no time getting his son out of there, back to the family farm, and (SPOILER ALERT AHEAD) performing an emergency blood transfusion that cures him of his vampirism, much to the surprise of Caleb and anyone else watching the movie who was wondering when they previously established that as a cure, which they didn’t; it’s basically the one glaring flaw of an otherwise brilliant film.
In a genre where most fathers meet the paranormal situations of their progeny with heavy amounts of skepticism or slack-jawed terror, Loy earns himself major points for cutting the BS and getting down to business to protect the one thing he cares about most: his family. Nothing quite like a horror dad who’ll give his flesh and blood for his flesh and blood.
Bear with me for a quick non-horror reference: In an episode of LOUIE, Pam tells Louie that he’s a good father. Skeptical, Louie asks: “Why? Why am I a good dad? Because I show up?” to which Pam responds without missing a beat: “YES!” It’s kind of sad to say that most of being a good father boils down to simply being there (y’know, the most basic requirement of doing anything), but at the same time it’s true, and the horror genre’s a great example of some of the extremes that come with the lack of a father figure.
Quick, think of everything you know about Jason Voorhees’ dad. Nothing? Okay, how about Norman Bates’ pop? Nada? Anybody remember Carrie White’s bible-thumping daddy? It may take a village to make a monster, but in the case of the father, their absence seems to do a fine job of laying the groundwork for the rage dwelling within a madman’s brain.
THE DOWNRIGHT DEMONIC
1. Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson), THE SHINING
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Of the many troubled fathers that have occupied the tales of Stephen King, none are more notorious than frustrated writer/alcoholic father Jack Torrence. King objected to the casting of Nicholson in Kubrick’s classic film adaptation, citing his history of playing mentally unstable characters in prior films (King envisioned Torrence as an ostensibly normal guy who went mad), but Nicholson’s portrayal is truly sinister sight to behold, as the paranormal presence of the Overlook Hotel preys upon his lesser nature, Jack goes from merely being an abusive father and unstable husband to an axe-wielding maniac willing to chase poor little Danny through the snow in order to “correct him.”
A good father is meant to be a protector and a guide, but Torrence abdicates his duties, and leaves his son Danny with scars that will follow him well into his adult life. But that’s a tale for DOCTOR SLEEP to tell.
2. Nathan Grantham (Jon Lormer/John Amplas), CREEPSHOW
It’s tough to be the most memorable part of an anthology film that features waterlogged zombies and killer cockroach swarms, but Nathan Grantham, the demented patriarch prominently featured in CREEPSHOW’S opening segment FATHER’S DAY, pulls it off with ease. Murdered by his bitter, eccentric daughter Bedelia, the rotted remains of Mr. Grantham rise on the eponymous holiday, and soon the creeping corpse is picking off family members one by one, until he gets his father’s day cake. In a stylized, EC Comics sort of way, Grantham is another example of a man whose greed renders him incapable of being a good father; he is a destroyer rather than a nurturer. But hey, every now and then even the bastards get to have their cake and eat it too.
An honorable mention goes to Tom Atkins as Stan, the deadbeat father in CREEPSHOW’s prologue who pays the ultimate price for slapping his son (played by a young Joe Hill) and tossing his horror comics in the trash. He wasn’t demonic, but he was a grade-A jerk, an avatar for every narrow-minded, booze-swilling dad that stomped on his kid’s individuality. Someone should’ve told you Stan: never give a comic nerd cause for revenge.
3. Jerry (Terry O’ Quinn), THE STEPFATHER
Well, not bringing up this film in a Father’s Day column would be like writing a Halloween article without a single mention of Michael Myers (not impossible but c’mon, why do it?). Jerry, in spite of the front that he tries to put out as a wholesome father right out of a LEAVE IT TO BEAVER reboot, is mess of a human being; a warped, frustrated soul whose obsession with the ideal 1950’s nuclear family has left him without any real sense of self.
“Who am I here?” he says to himself, and the audience shudders to realize what this means, the kind of violence and destruction that Jerry uses to shape his reality into the version he desires. Perhaps even scarier than Jerry himself is the domineering patriarchy he represents; the white heteronormative ideals that have had a stranglehold on American culture since its inception; it shows in everything about Jerry, from his conservative dress and chirpy little sitcom slogans (“father knows best!”) to the lovely little birdhouse he forces into his new family’s property, a nice little totem of his power as the Man of the House.Jerry couldn’t give less of a damn about actually being a good father, it’s all about appearances, and when anything on the surface slips, that’s when the blood starts pouring out.
No one ever said fatherhood was an easy gig; and as the old saying goes, it doesn’t come with an instruction manual. So if you’re a dad in doubt, feel free to take a gander at this column and see where you fall on the spectrum, then adjust accordingly. Happy Father’s Day, and make sure they get you your cake.
[Ed. NYC! Don’t forget to check out tonight’s screening of THE STEPFATHER at Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers, hosted by none other than FANGO’s Mike Gingold! You can find tickets here.]