In bad horror movies, you can usually tell that a character will die if they are so stupid, irritating and one-dimensional that you find yourself wishing someone would just come along and kill them. In good horror movies, all the characters are likable or sympathetic and have relatable human qualities.
We find ourselves hoping they won’t die, that they can get away somehow. We could easily be them. Empathy is what gives real horror its terror. Here are ten characters that horror movies made us care about before they died and made our pick of the saddest horror movie deaths.
1 Mrs. Kobritz – The Fog
In The Fog, (Carpenter, 1980, US) the dead sailors of a shipwreck return to Antonio Bay on the 100th anniversary of the tragedy to wreak revenge on the ancestors of the townspeople who caused the wreck. The murderous, ghostly sailors travel in the form of a glowing fog.
Little Andy is being looked after by kindly old Mrs. Kobritz when the fog sweep over his house. Mrs. Kobritz tells Andy to hide as she investigates a knock at the door. She is pulled into the fog by the ghost men but Andy is saved thanks to her actions. Her death is tragic because of her sacrifice and the little boy’s distress.
2 Erin – Final Destination 3
A group of students escapes a horrific rollercoaster crash after Wendy has a premonition. Cheated, death stalks the survivors until it gets them all.
FD3 (Wong, 2006, DE/US/CA) makes a genuine attempt to represent the grief and guilt felt by the survivors after the death of their classmates. So when inseparable Emo couple Erin and Ian are torn apart it is emotional.
Wendy arrives at the hardware store where the couple works to warn them about ‘death.’ Ian has an accident and Wendy saves him but her action causes a chain reaction of events that results in Erin getting shot in the head with a nail gun right in front of Ian.
3 Sasha – Urban Legend
In fun 90’s schlock fest Urban Legend, (Blanks, 1998, US/FR) Natalie’s fellow students at Pendle College are bumped off in deaths based on urban legends.
College radio agony aunt Sasha (Tara Reid) is murdered ‘on air’ after a long chase around the studio. Other students listen to her plight over the radio but thinking she is faking they don’t help.
Sasha puts up a good fight during this dramatic set piece which involves falling from a height and an elevator and, as she hasn’t really done anything wrong except befriending Natalie so when she begs for her life we are almost sad to see her go.
4 Dick Hallorann – The Shining
Stanley Kubrick is a genius and The Shining (1980, US/UK) is a masterpiece but Dick Hallorann’s death is the one thing that doesn’t quite sit right.
Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) is a wonderfully sympathetic character and a reassuring force for little Danny Torrance who has ‘the shining’ and will be spending the winter locked in a hotel filled with ghosts.
Hallorann vows to protect Danny if he calls for help. Danny does call and Hallorann travels for miles, using various modes of transport, to reach Danny through a snowstorm only to walk into the hotel and get instantly axed in the back. He does not meet the same sad fate in Stephen King’s novel.
5 Helen Shivers – I Know What You Did Last Summer
Helen Shivers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is a sad figure. At the start of IKWYDLS (Gillespie,1997, US) she wins the town beauty pageant, dates jock Barry and has friends. But, after the gang kill a boy in a car accident and dump the body, they understandably grow apart. Helen ends up back living with her parents and working at a department store.
Helen’s death involves one of the most dramatic chase scenes in all horror. The killer chases Helen through the store but she escapes through a window and runs down an alley towards a fourth of July parade. What makes Helen’s death so sad is her brief glimpse of salvation before death.
6 Dr. Loomis – Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers
The Halloween series is beloved by horror fans and Dr. Loomis, played by Donald Pleasence, is a favorite character. In The Curse of Michael Myers (Chappelle, 1995, US) it is left up to interpretation whether Loomis dies at the end of the film or not.
Donald Pleasence did die in real life shortly after the film was completed. Alternate scenes were shot where Michael’s ‘curse’ is passed onto Loomis (like The Exorcist) but that would have been a sad way of ending the series for the great man. The idea that he gave his life trying to protect the world from the evil of the shape is more poetic.
7 Tatum – Scream
In Scream (Craven, 1996, US) there are so many likable characters, thanks to Kevin Williamson’s remarkable script, that all the deaths are affecting. The overall premise of this technology based horror is that the disconnection of the modern age is leaving kids damaged and driving them to murder.
Sidney’s friend Tatum is a cool, smart and ironic, what she says is callous but how she behaves as a friend is caring. Her death is sad because she is a tough chick but the killer victimizes her, and her mode of death is particularly brutal. We see that Sidney is upset by her death and her reaction impacts our response.
8 Franklin – Texas Chain Saw Massacre
You almost never see disabled characters in any movie, let alone horror movies. In Texas Chain Saw (Hooper, 1974, US) Franklin is in a wheelchair but tries not to let it differentiate him from his teenage friends. He has a bubbly personality.
However, he relies heavily on his sister Sally to help him get around and for general support and he becomes frustrated when the two couples leave him alone which causes arguments with his sister.
Because of his need for assistance, the brother and sister are very close, so when Franklin is chainsawed to death it is a tragedy for them both.
9 Clemens – Alien 3
Ellen Ripley has a tragic life. She survives the alien in Alien only to wake up in Aliens and discover that her daughter has died. She falls for Corporal Hicks, survives more aliens and finds a surrogate daughter in Newt only to wake up in Alien 3 (Fincher, 1992, US) to discover that they both died during an incident that crash landed her ship.
Clemens is the Doctor who looks after Ripley, who is now the only woman in the prison colony where she crash landed. Clemens is sympathetic; they confide in each other and start a sexual relationship so it is numbingly tragic when an alien eats him.
10 Randy – Scream 2
In Scream Randy spoke to the audience, he discussed the conventions of horror movies and guided us through what would happen over the course of the movie. In Scream 2 (Craven, 1997, US) we hope that Randy will ‘get the girl’ which he doesn’t and his death feels preventable.
Randy is talking to the killer, trying to keep him on the phone while Gail and Dewey run around looking for people on cell phones. Randy eventually gets angry and says that original killers Billy and Stu were cowards prompting ‘Ghostface’ to drag him into a nearby van.
Randy is extremely likable so when he dies it is as if we have lost a friend.