In most horror franchises, the main draw is the monster/murderer/mysterious thing that goes bump in the night. You watch a Friday the 13th movie to see Jason brutalize dumb idiots around Camp Crystal Lake. You watch a Nightmare on Elm Street movie to see Freddy Krueger ridicule people before slaughtering them in their dreams. You watch a zombie movie to see hapless, faceless nobodies get torn apart by the undead. On the other end of the equation, it is actually quite difficult to pull off a true horror hero—one who really connects with the audience.
But it does happen. There are definitely series that have heroes who go toe-to-toe with the evil lurking in the shadows. These are people we’d want in our corner if something supernatural came to our town. What separates a lasting, likable hero from the usual horror movie protagonists is personality, brains, and style. Some rando good guy who just happens not to get killed does not a compelling hero make; we need someone who can hold the frame and possess the wherewithal and gumption to bump back.
For the purposes of this list, we’re focusing on horror movie heroes who appeared in three or more films (thus constituting true franchise players) and who are the proper protagonists of each of their outings. So while there are great horror movie heroes out there who appeared in one or two movies, or heroes who were in three movies but maybe died early on in one of them, they’re all sadly out of contention. Also, this is for movies only, so while Buffy is easily the best horror hero, she’s really more a TV character than a movie one.
Ashley J. “Ash” Williams
The reason the Evil Dead franchise exists at all is because of Bruce Campbell’s goofy braggart with perhaps the worst luck of any character in film history. After starting out as a massive coward who trips into being the destroyer of the Book of the Dead, Ash went on to be a raving lunatic, and later an arrogant Errol Flynn wannabe, all with his trusty chainsaw hand and boomstick at his side.
The slasher movie trope of the “final girl” is a well worn one at this point, but we can’t forget really where it started as we know it — in the heroine of John Carpenter’s seminal knife-and-mask flick, Halloween. Laurie Strode, as played by Jamie Lee Curtis, survives because she’s smart, savvy, and pays attention to her surroundings. Unlike her oblivious friends, who shirk responsibility (and common sense) to go bone in empty houses, Laurie manages to save two little kids and herself by not being helpless. She went on to star in Halloween II and later kicked mondo ash in Halloween H20.
Note: Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Sam Loomis was in more movies than Laurie Strode, and is truly excellent, but he was never the main character, more the keeper of the lore. The Ahab, if you will.
Known to Tall Men everywhere as simply “Booooooy!” A. Michael Baldwin portrayed Mike in all but one of the Phantasm movies (in Phantasm II, Mike is played by James Le Gros), and he became the de facto hero along with Reggie Bannister’s slightly more unhinged Reggie. Mike lost everything because of the Tall Man and his grave-robbing alien toadies, and had to run from his fair share of large silver brain-drilling balls, so he’s got an ax to grind. And anybody who spends their entire adult life chasing after monsters deserves a place on this list.
Ellen Ripley certainly had herself a bone to pick with the xenomorphs discovered on planet LV-426, and spent three movies trying to get rid of them. After being simply one in an ensemble in 1979’s Alien, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley ended up being the last survivor of the Nostromo and truly came into her heroic own in 1986’s Aliens in an effort to save a group of marines and scared little girl. She may have died heroically in the third flick, but our love of all she stands for will never die.
In order to fight monsters, it sometimes doesn’t hurt to be a monster, too. In the inexplicably continuous Underworld franchise, Kate Beckinsale plays the cool as ice Selene, a vampire who starts by leading the war against the Lycans (or werewolves), but later realizes the whole war was spurred on by the vampire rulers who are super racist. Through the course of the series, she’s alternately helped and fought humans, but despite her bloodlust, she’s usually ended up on the side of the angels.
In the Laurie Strode mold, but with a distinct spin all her own, Scream‘s constant final girl, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) starts out as the typical somewhat helpless lead and one would expect her to just barely come out on top, but at a certain point in the first film, she very clearly becomes less a victim and more a warrior. As the series continues, and other characters get killed off, Sidney remains the steadfast puncher of Ghostface’s lights. Even in the fourth movie, where you’d assume the old guard would die off, she still somehow remains the victorious one. Maybe go hack and slash another woman.
Dr. Van Helsing
Abraham Van Helsing was the vampire hunting expert and scholar of the original Bram Stoker Dracula novel, but he was far from its hero. It wasn’t until Hammer Films’ first Dracula film, which cast Peter Cushing as a much more dashing, much more capable Van Helsing, that the character truly stepped up to hero status. Cushing played Van Helsing in a total of four pictures, the final two playing the modern day descendant of his Victorian original, and with each one, the horror icon offered up vampire slaying with a mix of erudition and courage.
NOTE: There have been other good Van Helsings over the year, but avoid the Hugh Jackman version like the plague. Cushing or go home.
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Images: Warner Bros, Hammer Films, 20th Century Fox, Dimension, Universal, Moustapha Akkad, Renaissance Films