There are certain things you come to expect when you watch horror. Characters are typically isolated in remote areas, cornered in buildings or rooftops, and even sometimes sent off to unworldly places, far far away from the land of rationality. Audiences love seeing characters dealing with tuff situations because its entertaining, and sure, we’re twisted, but its a part of why horror is fun; environments are the foundation of suspense. Another aspect common in horror are character tropes, such as: jocks, deviants, stoner, promiscuous, doubting Thomas, know-it-all, curious, investigatory, überpious, bigots, pranksters, nerds, and (sadly too often killed) not-the-white-guy. Out of these familiar character tropes, heroes tend to emerge; however, heroes in horror are not the same as heroes in action films, comedies, or dramas…well…sometimes dramas. The heroes in horror often become the martyrs in horror. These aren’t the characters who end their life because they simply cannot go on, such as when Dr. Jenner & Jacqui, during The Walking Dead’s season one finale, decide to allow the CDC’s safety protocol system to detonate the building with them inside. No, these martyrs of horror sacrifice themselves for some “greater good,” that helps, in some way, the surviving characters. These martyrs of macabre are as close to saints as horror movies can get. The following are my top ten horror movie heroes turned martyr!!
10. Michael (Dawn of the Dead, 2004):
Michael was without a doubt one of the most selfless characters through the entire film. Not surprisingly, when we find that our hero was bitten during the armored escape, in his attempt to save Ana, he casts the remaining survivors and stays behind as an army of undead feverishly search for a way unto the docks. Michael is a typical type of martyr in a zombie movie, but it doesn’t make it any less a tear jerking moment for cinema.
9. Gorman & Vasquez (Aliens, 1986):
When Burke’s betrayal hits its cataclysmic conclusion, more than half of the Colonial Marines sent to planet LV-426 were put in a serious pickle, and for more than a few, it was “game over, man.” The last marines to go were Gorman and Vasquez, who, as the remaining survivors were crawling through the colony complex air ducts, became trapped. Instead of going out by being impregnated by some facehugger or simply being thrashed by the aliens themselves, Gordon & Vasquez, hand-in-hand, detonate a grenade. Arguably, one could say this was a similar situation mentioned above with The Walking Dead; however, Gordon and Vasquez were not suicidal, these marines knew they had run out of options and if they we’re going out, they were going to take as many of the aliens out along with them, semper fi!
8. Childs, MacReady, Garry, & Nauls (The Thing, 1982):
For the remaining survivors of the American Antarctic Research Station, when Blair is MIA, the last one who could be infected, things become a bit precarious. The Thing plans on going back on ice until rescue comes. Knowing this, the guys decide to burn down the camp, in hopes of destroying the Thing. With sub-freezing temperatures, they know this is a death sentence and still willingly go out and set the complex ablaze. In the end, only MacReady and Childs remain alive to watch the camp burn and while the flames flicker, you can’t help but feel some glimmer of hope for humanity. In the face of death, these men’s sacrifice to keep the alien from reaching a larger population was beyond the call of duty.
7. Sheriff Eben Oleson (30 Days of Night, 2007):
When the sun is due to rise at the end of the polar-night cycle, the vampires, wanting to remove all evidence of their month long buffet , and to kill any remaining survivors still in hiding, decide to burn down the sleepy town of Barrow, Alaska. Sheriff Eben Oleson knows he cannot face them as a blue collared mortal and injects himself with some vamp blood and faces off with the vampire ring-leader, Marlow. With surprise on his side, the good sheriff wins the fight and the remaining vampires flee. Knowing what he has become, Eben decides to stick around and watch the sunrise with his estranged wife, Stella, sacrificing himself to keep the town safe from…himself.
6. Capt. Miller (Event Horizon, 1997):
When the rescue vessel Lewis and Clark is dispatched to answer a distress signal received from the Event Horizon, an experimental ship with a gravity drive which generates an artificial black hole and then uses said gravitational power to bridge two points in spacetime(makes sense, right?), they soon after discover that the Event Horizon has been to another (not so sunny) dimension. In the face of horrible hallucinations coming from the Horizons core (gravity drive engine thingy) and Dr. Weir (the ships creator) completely out of his gourde, Captain Miller decides to detonate the Event Horizon and use the forward section of the ship as a lifeboat. During the conflict with two very unpleasant manifestations, Miller is forced to set off the explosions while still on the rear end of the ship. As the near end (ha!) of the ship floats away, the gravity drive activates, sending Miller and his nightmare friends back, assumingly, to hell.
5. Karen White (The Howling, 1981):
After burning an entire Colony of werewolf’s to the ground, the traumatized news anchor decides to warn the world of these creatures existence. Surprising everyone in studio, Karen decides to “turn,” having been bitten during her Colony burning exploits, and subsequently shot live on television. Differing from the way Sheriff Oleson went out, Karen uses her death as a warning to the greater world, giving some kind of meaning to her demise. Unfortunately, people are great deniers and ignore her stunt, rationalizing the transformation as a stunning special effect.
4. Dean Winchester (Supernatural Season 3 finale):
Obviously, Supernatural is not a horror movie, but the sheer sacrifice of character Dean Winchester has moved me to ignore such litigation’s. At the conclusion of Season Two, Dean had sold his soul to a Crossroads demon in order to bring his brother Sam back from the dead. The Winchester’s are no strangers to self-sacrifice, but Deans event seemed so much more epic. As Season Three drew to a close, when Sam and Dean attempt to take out Lilith, Dean’s “time” runs out and a hellhound tears him to shreds. The scene closes with a frightened and distraught Dean hooked on chains in hell. Normally, i’d stick to my horror movie formula, but, as far as television goes, this was one of the most disturbing episodes i’ve ever seen!
3. John Constantine (Constantine, 2005):
Failing to prevent Gabriel from using Angela in unleashing the son of Lucifer on earth himself, John, knowing his soul is the one soul on earth the devil would collect himself (long story), he decides to slit his wrists. Bleeding out, an overjoyed Lucifer arrives. John tells the king of hell about his sons exploits and the devil, grudgingly offers John an “extension.” John refuses and asks the devil to release the soul of Angela’s sister from the pit instead. Lucifer happily agrees, but as he attempts to drag John to hell, Constantine begins to float upward toward heaven. Lucifer ends up, having run out of options, restoring Johns life to give him ample time to make more mistakes that could send him to hell. Constantine is a catch-22 martyr because, in the end, he survived. However, for a time, he was technically dead and gave up his “free pass” to save the soul of his friend.
2. David Allen (Evil Dead, 2013):
Davids loyalty to his sister was definitely put to the test in this remote little cabin in the woods. After childhood friend Eric unleashed a forest demon, who ended up possessing Mia, Davids sister, the survivors discover the only way to stop the nightmare is to kill the demons host. In the end, David finds a way to kill the demon and save the life of his sister. Unfortunately, there are corpses-a-plenty for the hellbound heart to possess and David, in an act of love, decides to set the cabin ablaze with the demon and himself trapped inside, because nothing says: “I’m sorry I let you turn into a junky,” like burning yourself alive. I’m sure his screams will have no ill-effect on Mia’s future recovery.
1. Father Damien Karras (The Exorcist, 1973):
After Father Merrin fails to expel a demon from sweet Regan and dies from a “heart attack” during the exorcism, its up to Father Damien to save the sweet innocent girl and send the demon back to hell. Fighting the possessed Regan, Damien implores the demon to enter him instead of remaining in the child. The demon agrees, but while Damien is still, somewhat, in control of his own actions, he throws himself out the window, falling down several flights of stone stairs and breaking his neck in the process, sacrificing himself to save a girl he hardly knew.
Honorable Mention. Theodore Douglas (aka. T-Dog, The Walking Dead, season 3):
You have to wonder how T-Dog survived as long as he did, considering his clumsy and non-commonsense nature. However, he was always well intentioned and looked out for the other survivors in the group. Several times he could have ducked out and left, but decided to stay and fight. In the end, even this muscular fellow couldn’t withstand the power of a zombie bite. But he refused to go out as just another victim and so, sacrificed his life to save Carol… For his actions, giving himself to be eaten alive, Theodore most certainly earns honorable mention.