We always talk about how scary kids are in horror, but the elderly can be pretty terrifying too...
...And they often know how to hide their villainy better as well!
With IFC Midnight's Relic just a day away from releasing on VOD, a film which follows the terror of a family dealing with a grandmother suffering from dementia and possibly other sinister forces, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the scarier elderly villains in horror, and why younger people should never underestimate their elders.
Check out the list below, and let us know who some of your favorites are!
Mary Shaw, Dead Silence (2007)
Beware the stare of Mary Shaw…She had no children only dolls…And if you see her in your dreams…Be sure to never ever scream. Hot off the success of their revolutionary horror flick, Saw, director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell came out with Dead Silence, a creepy little number about the ghost of an old woman named Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts), her puppet, and her tongue-stealing ways. Overlooked because it wasn’t the masterful shock that Saw was, the film is still an atmospheric scare fest led by a terrifying performance from Roberts that will make your eyes bug out. Just don’t scream, or it could be your last.
Gabriel and Hilary, Dolls (1987)
Another underrated film on this list, Stuart Gordon’s Dolls is unlike his gory Lovecraft adaptations, instead playing out like a childish horror fantasy in which a young girl and her abusive parents find themselves lost and at the door of a creepy house in the woods. Only the occupants inside don’t bare the resemblance of the outwardly frightening witch from Hansel and Gretel…at least, not on the outside. Internally, though, we can see old couple Gabriel (Guy Rolfe) and Hilary (Hilary Mason) calculating with a sinister candor as they stay one step ahead of their “guests” for the night, all before revealing their twisted nature towards the end. These two are scarier than green witches with long, wart-covered noses, because their dark power hides behind warm faces that aren’t at all warm on the inside, especially if you’re an unimaginative adult.
The Blind Man, Don't Breathe (2016)
To put Stephen Lang on an “old people” list feels like a recipe to get my ass kicked by a very buff and very intimidating Lang, but that’s exactly why his character in Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe is here. A spin on Wait Until Dark with a little People Under the Stairs thrown in, the thieves which break into Lang’s home in Don’t Breathe immediately regret thinking of him as anything close to helpless just because he’s blind. Throughout the entire film, Lang is a BEAST of a man that cracks skulls and makes intruders look utterly helpless, with a voice that carries through his dark home like the angry rumblings of a dragon disturbed in its lair. There are two lessons to take from this: just because someone is disabled, does not mean they’re not a badass that can still mess you the hell up. And 50s can be the new 20s. Just do whatever Lang is doing.
Mrs. Ganush, Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Okay, I know I just said with Dolls that inner evil is more horrifying than outward evil, but you know what, there are exceptions and Drag Me to Hell’s pissed off gypsy woman, Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), is that exception. Your standard one-eyed, wart infested, snot-hawking nasty old “witch”, Mrs. Ganush wears her frightening powers on her sleeve, unsettling Christine (Alison Lohman) from the moment she enters her life so badly that Christine at one point throws her off of her, recoiling at the woman’s touch. Well, turns out that’s just the beginning for Christine, as the move opens up a can of cursed whoop-ass on her, leading to a confrontation in a car that may be one of the most intense in horror history. Mrs. Ganush is the “gross” kind of scary, the one that makes you squirm and cringe. There’s nothing quite like a nasty old woman raging and mouthing your jaw with her toothless gums to really make an audience squeal. And that’s before she shows back up as a rotting corpse…
Vincent and Ida, Motel Hell (1980)
Okay, so cannibal couple Vincent (Rory Calhoun) and Ida (Nancy Parsons) may not be all that scary as people (in fact, they’re goddamn delightful through most of Motel Hell), but it takes all kinds of critters to make farmer Matt’s list fritters. It’s what the Smith’s do that makes them a couple of old folks you’d never want to run into. There are people on this list that beat, maim, turn others into dolls, and kill, but you know what they don’t do? They don’t cut out your tongue and bury you in the ground with a sack over your head until you’re ripe for eatin’! The method is what makes the Smith’s so unbelievably terrifying. Plus, the image of ole Vincent running around with a chainsaw in a bloody pig head isn’t exactly the thing pleasant dreams are made of.
The Tall Man, Phantasm (1979)
Booooooy, you know why this one’s on the list. Probably the most well-known villain mentioned here, Phantasm’s The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) is an iconic image of lanky terror. Maybe it’s not factual to list this extraordinarily tall, yellow-blooded, dimension hopping, corpse crushing grave robber as an “old timer”, but that doesn’t stop him from being the very visage of America’s strict grandfather slapping hands with rulers in the name of obedience, or in this case…wherever he’s from. Is The Tall Man a dream, or are he and his blood-sucking spheres an all too real embodiment of our fear of old age and death? Whatever the case, The Tall Man has been giving us nightmares for over forty years now.
Kane, Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)
If there’s anyone on this list who can rival The Tall Man in iconicism, it’s Reverend Kane (Julian Beck) from the not nearly as good sequel, Poltergeist II, one that’s remembered almost entirely for how insanely unnerving Beck is in the role. While most others on this list appear relatively normal at first glance, Kane is the cackling face of bastardized religion, skin stretched back so we can see the rot of his soul underneath more clearly. Ask anyone which “old person” in horror terrified them as a kid, and nine times out of ten, you’re going to hear Kane’s name mentioned.
Grandpa, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
When you think of what makes Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre “scary”, it’s often the gritty, unclean atmosphere of the film. The raw visualization of depravity and a failed economy turning Americans against one another, as shown through the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen). Hell, this film is so well-directed and emotionally revolting, it had audiences thinking they had just seen a gorefest, despite containing very little gore at all. But at the heart of all of that, one of the most disturbing elements of it all is the brief appearance of Grandpa (John Dugan), an empty husk of a man left mute and near catatonic by old age. Why? Aside from the stomach-churning moments of Grandpa trying to knock Marilyn Burns in the head with a hammer while she screams her head off, Grandpa is the source of the madness in the Sawyer family. His madness, his cruelty, his evil, created them. And they went with it. Because human beings tend to “respect thy elder” to a point of blind obedience. And men like grandpa use that obedience to twist the beliefs of any who would follow.
Deborah, The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
Most of the characters mentioned so far have been ones that reflect the dread of old age that we all feel, but very few of their stories are actually about age. Not the case in The Taking of Deborah Logan, which is quite possibly one of the most gut-wrenching horror flicks out there when it comes to this subject. Deborah (Jill Larson), allows a film crew to document the progression of her Alzheimers, a terrible disease which I’ve witnessed first-hand. Over the course of the film and through Larson’s brilliant performance, Deborah is found wandering in the dark. She has sudden outbursts of rage. Her body begins to take on a more decrepit, almost inhuman appearance. All to the point where others wonder if it’s the disease, or if Deborah has actually become possessed. The terrifying thing about the film is that nearly everything Deborah does is a symptom of Alzheimers. The Taking of Deborah Logan and the character of Deborah fall squarely into that category of “real” horror that strikes too close to home for comfort.
Nana and Pop Pop, The Visit (2015)
Following a downward slope in which The Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan saw increasingly negative feedback with releases such as The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening, and The Last Airbender, many fans and studios seemed to have given up on the creative but flawed filmmaker. And then came The Visit. Many overlooked this story about a couple of kids who go to stay with their grandparents, only to find that they’re behavior is anything but ordinary, but for those that did give it a chance, they were given one of the better found-footage horror flicks of the last few years, and the introduction to creepy grandparents Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie). Another film which begs the question throughout of are the grandparents suffering from dementia or is there something more sinister going on, this frightening portrayal of the elderly also forced audiences to face the unsettling truth of old age in a nightmarish and underrated gem from Shyamalan.
By Matt Konopka