Here for a good spooky time, not a long spooky time.
October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the most memorable horror characters with very little screen time is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Not all prompts on Film Twitter are created equal.
“Who is a character that had roughly 15 minutes or less screen time in a film but had a huge impact on it?” Now that right there is a question made for horror fans. When it comes to engaging, unforgettable side characters with way too little screen time, horror simply can’t be beat. One and done monsters tug at our hearts. Third-act scene stealers abound and prosper. Throw a brick at the genre and you’re liable to hit any number of charismatic goofballs and wondrous walk-ons.
As you can imagine, the cutting room floor for this article could easily have made up four whole other lists. For gosh sakes our rejects include the likes of Brad Dourif’s weepy-eyed exterminator in Graveyard Shift, the titular Bride of Re-Animator, and Samantha Eggar’s feral, wild-eyed performance as Nola Carveth in The Brood. The B-Sides of this album slap. So you can only imagine the greatness of the main event.
In celebration of all the unforgettable characters who are here for a good (spooky) time, but not a long (spooky) time, we compared notes and assembled the definitive ranking of the horror characters who outshine their sparse scenes. Keep reading for a look at the top ten horror characters with barely any screen time as voted on by Anna Swanson, Brad Gullickson, Chris Coffel, Jacob Trussell, Rob Hunter, Mary Beth McAndrews, and myself.
10. Sutter Cane in In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
John Carpenter’s ode to H.P. Lovecraft doesn’t fully engage with the author’s penchant for cosmic horror. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Carpenter smartly chooses to focus on the fever dream aspect of Lovecraft’s tales to spin a yarn about an insurance investigator, John Trent (Sam Neill), who’s tasked with finding renowned horror author Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow) after he disappears with the manuscript for his new horror novel on the eve of its publication.
Most of the runtime is dedicated to Trent’s descent into (what else?) madness. So we don’t meet Cane until midway through the film. But he’s spoken about at such length that we practically know him before his first appearance, and definitely by the time we realize he has a monster growing from the back of his head. As Cane, Prochnow oozes sensuality to such a degree that he doesn’t need hours of screen time to convince the audience that he has some supernatural power of attraction that has made the world go crazy. We get that all from one look at his steely gaze and lusciously flowing locks. (Jacob Trussell)
9. “God” in God Told Me To (1976)
A series of random murders rock New York City. NYPD detective Peter Nichols (Tony Lo Bianca) is stumped when he discovers that the seemingly unrelated crimes are all carried out by assailants that say “God told me to.” As Nicholas begins to investigate, all signs point towards a man named Bernard Phillips. Richard Lynch stars as Phillips, the God-like figure controlling people via psychic powers in Larry Cohen‘s cult classic God Told Me To. The film never explicitly tells the audience that Phillips is God, but all the signs are there. He’s a hermaphrodite born from a virgin birth with plans to create a new species. Phillips doesn’t get much screen time, but like the real big fella upstairs, Phillips doesn’t actually need to be seen to pull the strings. Just one of the many perks of being God, I suppose. (Chris Coffel)
8. The creature in Possession (1981)
Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession has a hold on the collective horny subconscious of film lovers everywhere. Yes, it’s a devastating film about the horrors and trauma of divorce. But it’s also a piece of cosmic horror involving a tentacled creature and Isabelle Adjani’s character having a love affair. For the majority of the film, Adjani’s Anna is having a prolonged mental breakdown. She leaves her husband Mark (Sam Neill) and child with barely an explanation: she’s met someone else. After Mark hires a private investigator to find out the truth about his wife, the horrific truth is revealed as the camera reveals a massive, tentacled monster writhing on top of Anna in the desolate, rundown apartment where they have their sexual trysts. The actual creature is only briefly on screen, but its inclusion elevates this divorce drama into something infinitely gooier. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
7. Tristana Medeiros in [REC] (2007)
At its crescendo point, right when you’re pretty sure things can’t get any more horrific, [REC] drops a bomb. And by bomb, we of course mean Tristana Medeiros (Javier Botet). Keeping the source of its violent viral infection a secret until its final heart-pumping moments, our frantic journalist protagonists, Ángela and Pablo, take refuge in the (supposedly) abandoned penthouse at the top of the apartment. There, barely visible in the pitch-blackness, they discover unsettling photographs, lab equipment, and a tape recorder. On it, they find a confession from the penthouse’s owner, a Vatican agent charged with isolating an enzyme carried by a young, demonically possessed Portuguese girl. During his experiments on Tristana, the enzyme mutated and became contagious. And through guilt-ridden sobs, the agent describes how he has done his best to isolate Tristana within the penthouse to let her die of starvation.
But, as we’re about to find out, that didn’t quite go as planned. After Pablo’s camera light breaks (!) he must resort to night vision. And sure enough, clambering through the penthouse, an emaciated, ghoul-like Tristana emerges in search of food. Which is to say: Ángela and Pablo. Yum yum. A simultaneously pitiful and terrifying figure, the gaunt, slack-jawed figure of Tristana needs very little screen time to make an impression. She is a huge “nope, nope, nope” if ever there was one. (Meg Shields)
6. Hallorann in The Shining (1980)
Dick Hallorann is a lifeline; a glimmer of kindness and solidarity in the frigid wastes of winter. Like Danny, he too possesses telepathic abilities, “the shining” that allowed him and his grandmother to carry out wordless conversations. It’s Hallorann who warns Danny: those sensitive to the impressions of the past are liable to notice the dark secrets of the Overlook Hotel. An expository messenger, Hallorann could have easily saved his own skin; clocked out as the Hotel’s head chef for the winter and never looked back. But Danny, perhaps unintentionally, pulls Hallorann back; his father has fallen prey to the influence of the Overlook and Hallorann can tell that they need help.
In Stanley Kubrick’s cruel machinations, Hallorann swiftly meets with the wrong end of Jack’s axe. An unjust tragedy for several reasons, least of all the indelible fact that Hallorann is, undoubtedly, a rare glimmer of bravery in the world of The Shining; a man willing to face down cruelty… no matter the cost. Portrayed with calm and care-filled intensity by musician Scatman Crothers, Hallorann is a horror hero. Rest in peace, legend. (Meg Shields)