Sometimes it’s not the premise that really sells a horror film. Sometimes there are factors that prevent the movie from being as scary as it should be. But then you might have a character that stands out so much that you derive your point of view on the entire film from that character, alone. Technically, they may be minor characters, but they stand out and become what people remember about the film.
Conversely, sometimes a movie works exactly the way it should, but there’s that one element, that one character that pushes it into even scarier territory. You have a film that works, yet at the same time, there’s just some smaller element that people will always associate with it.
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Either way, there are minor characters that stand out, even though they might not be the main focus. Even when they’re not the central antagonist, they’re the image people remember and they’re the ones that stick with us as we leave the theater.
Kiriyama in Battle Royale
Battle Royale is as much an action film as it is a horror picture. In fact, I would actually call it more action than horror. The premise is incredibly scary to think about, and like the best horror movies, it leaves the audience wondering what they would do in that situation. As scary as most of the characters get in the desperate survival scenario of Battle Royale, by far the scariest is the transfer student who signed up for fun. He’s a very different character than the one in the tome on which the film is based, but he’s scarier. He never speaks a single line of dialogue or gives a hint of motivation, he’s just an incredibly sadistic force of nature.
Amy is the damsel in Fright Night. She’s the girlfriend that our young hero Charley is out to save. So, it comes as a bit of shock when she actually gets bitten by main vampire Jerry Dandridge. Amy’s cute, girl next door look shreds away when her full-blown vampire face is revealed. It’s an iconic appearance, easily one of the best vampire makeup designs ever. While she only has a few moments to terrorize Charley during the finale, Vampire Amy is the most frightening and imaginative creature in a movie full of innovative FX work.
The Clown Doll in Poltergeist
Let’s look at some supremely scary moments in Poltergeist: the face rotting scene, the child-eating tree, the pool full of dead bodies. It was already extremely scary, but none of those moments hold a candle to the clown doll that pulls young Robbie underneath the bed. I can’t think of a single more talked about sequence in a horror movie that screwed with so many people when they watched it for the first time. It’s one of the most frightening scenes in cinematic history, yet that evil doll only pops up for a very short time.
Malachi in Children of the Corn
Malachi may be the enforcer, but he’s not even the central antagonist of Children of the Corn. Still, he’s what people immediately bring up when you mention the title. The scary, bellowing redhead who manages to stand out as an absolute psychopath in a village full of psychotic children. There’s something about that intensity, that rage and eagerness to kill that makes Malachi stand out from every other character, even He Who Walks Behind the Rows himself, to be the scariest thing about this film, by far.
Human Freddy in Freddy’s Dead
I know, I know, Freddy is the central antagonist of that movie. But the Freddy we get in the flashbacks is completely different from the cartoonish, fun, power glove-wielding Freddy we’re dealing with for the bulk of the running time. In the flashbacks, we get to see Fred Krueger, serial killer, for the first time—aside from the pilot of Freddy’s Nightmares, I suppose. We see Fred Krueger, husband and father, and that is unnerving as hell. The self-mutilating wife killer, wearing bowling shirts and hiding his secret lair from his family is the only thing that’s actually scary about Freddy’s Dead, as fun and goofy as it may be.
Margaret White in Carrie
We’ve had three different versions of Carrie on the screen now, not even including the underrated sequel, The Rage: Carrie 2. In each version we’ve been given, Margaret White is the scariest character. She’s the true antagonist of the story. But it will always be Piper Laurie’s Oscar-nominated performance in the original that stands out the most. She’s outrageous, but morbidly believable. This is a very smart portrayal that doesn’t need to be explicit to get across an understanding of the character. She’s a deeply unhappy woman, a woman who never wanted a child, who has no control over her life and therefore seeks full control over her daughter.
Zelda in Pet Sematary
Much like the clown doll in Poltergeist, when people talk about this movie—as classic as it is—the first thing they mention is Zelda. She appears in only two scenes, very briefly. She’s not even much of a presence in the film itself and yet she is absolutely crucial to the narrative. Rachel Creed is completely irrational in her inability to accept, talk about or even acknowledge death. Her husband has always known there must be a reason but never wanted to pry. And then she tells him about the sister locked away like a dirty secret, the dying, mean, hateful sister she was forced to take care of at a very young age. It’s a horrifying story and as great as the Zelda makeup and performance are, so much credit has to go to actress Denise Crosby for making that monologue work.