16 Horror Movie Dads Who Leave Much To Be Desired

Spotlighting the sins of the horror father.

By Mo Moshaty · @MoMoshaty · June 17, 2023, 1:00 PM EDT
larry cotton

Aw, dads. Those lawnmowin,' proud grillin,' lovable curmudgeons that grace most catalogs and AARP ads…..are a myth. At least here. Horror dads have GONE THROUGH IT, messed around and found out, and have gotten caught in the crossfire of the villain, the demon, and sometimes the hellmouth. Most times, these characters mean well. Okay, I lie, most times they don't, and this (by no means exhaustive) list of daddy do's and don'ts is coming from a place of love and a lot of finger-pointing this Father's Day! Let's start with-

The Dead Meat Dads – These dads are the milquetoast extraordinaries. They don't mean well, they don't listen, and most times, they come swinging into action at the zero hour, but bless 'em….I guess.

1. Richard Hall (Richard Armitage): The Lodge

Richard Hall – (Richard Armitage)- The Lodge

Oh, Dick. He's singlehandedly pushed his ex Laura (Alicia Silverstone) to extremes (just a brutal first ten minutes of the film) and left his children in the care of his meek-seeming new young fiancée, Grace (Riley Keough). Look, if you gotta go someplace pressing, you take those damn kids, which seems like a thought Richard held onto for about thirty seconds, to the detriment of everyone because Grace is an ex-cult member with…tendencies. And just when we think ol' Dick's gonna make good, he bites it. Quick. It's a cautionary tale to thoroughly research your new partners and maybe put your kids first.

2. Larry Cotton (Andrew Robinson): Hellraiser

(Andrew Robinson)- Hellraiser

Larry, Larry, Larry. Facepalm. Everyone's favorite oblivious goof is the endearing, sweet dad to kick-ass protagonist Kirsty, and all of her hopes of connecting with her father are derailed by his new wife, Julia. Julia is up to the old diddling biz with Larry's now-skinless brother Frank who's been holing up in the attic, brought back to life by his brother's spilled blood. They figure do it one better by taking poor Larry's skin and escaping. Frank, now walking around in Larry's skin, gives actor Andrew Robinson carte blanche to really flex the duplicity and overall ickiness of Frank's code of conduct, but I can't help but think, what in the hell made Larry think Julia was a good choice? Next up-

The "Not Without My Daughter" Dads – These uber-protectors don't come to that realization at first blush. It's gotta take a miracle, a zombie attack, a paranormal push, and sometimes a haunted hotel room.

3. Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo): Train To Busan

(Gong Yoo)- Train to Busan

What's relatable, albeit tense, is the relationship Seok-Woo has with his ex-wife regarding his daughter, Soo-An. Split custody is tough, and there's always a bad guy (if only felt internally). He's present, but only physically, absentee mentally, and that's well established as we see he's gifted her the same present twice. When she takes a non-negotiable stance on visiting her mother, Seok-Woo realizes their bond grows weaker by the day. As horrific events unfold, his main focus is keeping Soo-An and himself alive. In the most heartbreaking twenty-ending minutes of a horror film, I think he's satisfied his arc. #AlohaOe

4. Steve Freeling (Craig T. Nelson): Poltergeist

(Craig T. Nelson)- Poltergeist

Hoping for the idyllic suburban life, Steve and his wife Carol (Jo Beth Williams) tote up to a new development in Cuesta Verde, CA with their three kids, Dana (Dominique Dunne), Robbie (Oliver Robins) and little Carol Anne (Heather O' Rourke). What had happened was, they bought a haunted house hellbent on connecting with and snatching Carol Anne. The supernatural snatching of Carol Anne is a success, but only after almost sucking her brother Robbie down the trunk of a tree.

Steve tries multiple solutions to regain Carol Anne: paranormal investigators, psychologists, and the like but one near-fatal mistake that he makes (and keeps him from winning Best Dad on this list) is leaving Diane to fight the entity alone and also not really caring where Dana went. This film and its (comparatively not as good) subsequent companions are rife with tragedy, and to this day, it's still quite tough to watch both Dominique and Heather on screen given their real-life tragedies, but it's an incredibly genius film and always holds up.

5. Mike Enslin (John Cusack): 1408


Jaded and perpetually pissed-off writer Mike Enslin makes this list by carrying the unresolved trauma banner. In his quest to expose a haunt-riddled hotel room for his "research" into haunted places (all whilst not believing a shred of it), he checks into Room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel. Dissuaded repeatedly by hotel manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), who he in turn dismisses, Mike sets up for the night as only Mike Enslin can: bitterly. As the night progresses, the echoes of his late daughter come pouring through the walls, and fax machine, crumbling to dust in an instant. He's used his daughter's death as escapism. She hasn't returned or haunted him, so she's disproven his life's work until 1408 comes knocking back. This film has two alternate endings, but the one with Mike suspending disbelief is the best. Onward to-

The Demented Dads – Oooh Boy! These dads disquiet, haunt, stab, and dismember. Some don't make it, but sometimes they come back.

6. Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig): The Devil's Rejects

Sid Haig)- The Devil's Rejects

Introduced briefly in House of a 1000 Corpses, Johnny Lee Johns A.K.A Captain Spaulding's character is fuller and richer here, and with even more batshit than before! Father to Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) and cohort to Otis (Bill Moseley), Spaulding spends most of the film terrorizing, murdering, shtupping, and keeping Baby out of blame. To Spaulding, nobody puts Baby in the corner, or jail, or anywhere near Sherriff Wydell (William Forsythe). And within all of his deranged machinations, he's still a doting dad….and a psycho killer.

7. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson): The Shining

shining jack danny

Having a bad month? Not as bad as Jack Torrance, I can assure you. Jack was already going through it and putting people through it well before he and his wife Wendy (Shelley DuVall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) headed up to The Overlook Hotel. A struggling writer and a violent alcoholic, Jack hopes the change of pace will not only keep him on the straight and narrow and off the juice but also calm the stormy seas of family life. Womp, womp. The spirits of The Overlook like the taste of Jack and they're not letting him out of their teeth anytime soon. His possession leads him on a murderous rampage against Chef Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers), Wendy, and Danny, which proves to be his downfall. Through a labyrinth (ahem) of rage, unable to outrun personal demons, and being the most mentally malleable, Jack Torrance is an incredible horror character study and a pretty shitty dad.

8. Dr. Génessier (Pierre Brasseur): Eyes Without a Face

Génessier eyes without a face

There are about sixteen reasons why Dr. Génessier isn't on the Not Without My Daughter Dads list. Number one, he's a grade-A selfish jerk whose own actions and ego have destroyed not only his daughter's psyche but her face as well. Burdened by guilt for disfiguring his daughter Christiane (Édith Scob) in an accident, the bad Doctor searches for the best facial transplant "donor" for his daughter by murdering innocent women to get them. It sounds caring on paper, if you squint and turn that paper upside down. And he doesn't do it alone. His gal Friday, Louise (Alida Valli), has a gift for luring the ladies to their demise. All the while, Christiane has to pose as dead until he finds "The best face," so she's caught in limbo between a life unseen and being the monster behind the mask.

9. Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford): Get Out

Get Out dean armitage

Hypothetical third-time Obama-voter, Dean Armitage is the most sinister on this list without drawing a drop of blood. I don't know about you, but I get a certain uneasiness around folks who are overeager to be "nice," like you could shank me while alone in an elevator, and Dean brings that, hard. Father to equally odd from the start Rose (Allison Williams), he's quite keen to make her boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) feel at home. Alongside his wife, Missy (Catherine Keener), it's a perfectly warm, welcoming family. When brother Caleb (Jeremy Armitage) is forceful and disruptive during dinner, Chris steps out for a breather, and things begin to unravel quickly and come together all at once. The family is more ominous than perceived, and Chris is fighting for his life. For Dean, being the patriarch of a disturbing, racist, and murderous family's gotta be exhausting. But Chris really sticks it to him, so we're square.

10. Nathan Grantham (Jon Lormer): Creepshow

Creepshow fathers day

Posthumous award for most hated dad goes to Nathan Grantham. His entire family is in quiet celebration of the ol' man's demise instead of his memory this Father's Day, and he isn't going to take this lying down. After having his daughter Bedelia's (Viveca Lindfors) lover murdered, Bedelia retaliates by smashing her father's skull with a glass ashtray while in her care….on Father's Day. Hence the morbid tradition of a hardy party instead of a solemn occasion, as the family quietly cleaned up the murder to spend Nathan's ample assets equally between Sylvia (Carrie Nye), Richard (Warner Shook), Cass (Elizabeth Regan), and Cass's new husband Hank (Ed Harris). This Father's Day Bedelia is quite bereft, getting sauced on Daddy's favorite whiskey and spilling some on the gravesite. Well, that's all Nate needed to pop up and regulate, with a Sylvia head cake in tow.

11. George Lutz (James Brolin): The Amityville Horror

The Amityville Horror

When your realtor tells you about a mass murder in your prospective home, what do you do? Well, if you're anything like George and Cathy (Margot Kidder) Lutz, you hop at the chance to house your new blended family, and these crazy kids can't wait to get started. Bottom line the dumbest idea ever, and Cathy inherently feels this, so being a good safety-ensuring child of God, she enlists Father Delaney (Roger Steiger) to bless the home. When Father falls tragically ill in the home, Cathy realizes what a bad deal this house seems to be. And much like Jack Torrance, George is a pliable instrument for the evil that lies within the home's walls, becoming increasingly despondent, unreliable (unless it's a quick 3 am check of the boat house), and downright frightening. Finally, the Lutz family come to their senses and hightail it out of there, but as a kid, in this short interim with your new stepdad, wouldn't you wonder about the next time he's gonna pop off and get weird?? And bless the little hearts of-

The You Should've Sat There and Ate Your Food Dads – These are the mess around and find out dads, the what if I just__ when I know I should just___ dads. There'd be a hell of a lot more people alive, I'll tell ya that!

12. Wilfred James (Thomas Jane): 1922

thomas jane 1922

Poor Wilfred. He doesn't much like his strong-willed wife, Arlette (Molly Parker). She's crude and domineering and is the sole landowner of their farm. Having had a bit too much of her hot-tempered ways, Wilf has entrusted an ally to kill his wife, his son Henry James (Dylan Schmid). Welp, things don't go as quickly to plan as they'd hoped. And as is often the case with poorly planned murders, things set off downhill quickly, directly resulting in the death of his son and Henry James' young pregnant bride Shannon (Kaitlyn Bernard). As Sheriff Jones (Brian d'Arcy James) and Shannon's father, Harlan (Neal McDonough), catch up to him, he's worse for the wear. But that's not the worst of what's chasing him. Old boy could've left the farm and started anew with his tail between his legs…..now look!

13. Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff): Pet Sematary

Dale Midkiff)- Pet Sematary

I can't imagine what it feels like to lose a child. The grief that permeates every little thing around you seems inescapable, and what we wouldn't give to have it all reversed. Well, Louis does just that with his late son Gage (Miko Hughes), who is tragically killed by a speeding semi-truck near their home. And we all know the score. What's dead isn't gonna come back as fresh as it once was, and all that malevolent soil of the "Sematary" ain't helpin.' Gage comes back a hellion with a sick wrist for ankle-slicing the family's neighbor Jud Randall (Fred Gwynne) and eye gouging his poor mom Rachel (Denise Crosby), and unfortunately, Louis has to put him back down. "SO WHY ARE YOU PUTTING THE WIFE IN THE SAME GROUND?" I shout at the sky. Heavy sigh. Rachel returns, wound oozing, for a little smooch with Louis. A quick study on letting the dead rest.

14. Stan (Tom Atkins): Creepshow

Tom Atkins)- Creepshow

Dear Stan, just let your kid read freakin' horror comics, and you won't die. There, I said it. Stan features in the intro to 1982's Creepshow anthology film, and it's really one of my favorites. Stan is more than disgruntled that his son Billy (Joe Hill), is reading the horror comic Creepshow, which he calls "such rotten crap." Billy retorts by calling him out on his Playboy mags in his underwear drawer, causing Stan to smack Billy and toss the comic in the garbage. Billy's mild-mannered mom, who goes unnamed in the film, questions Stan about his forcefulness with their son. As the parents discuss, Billy is overcome with wonder as the Creeper from his discarded comic book appears outside his window. The following day two garbage men (Tom Savini and Marty Schiff) come to collect the trash and rifle through the comic. They notice someone has cut out the order form for a voodoo doll. Stan stands in his bedroom clutching his neck as Billy gleefully pokes at the voodoo doll. Let's round the slaughterhouse turn to-

We've Taken a Few Wrong Turns Dads –

15. Terrence (Jeremy Davies): The Black Phone

Jeremy Davies)- The Black Phone

This film was a lot for me emotionally. Being torn between Terrence's innate fear in Gwen's (Madeleine McGraw) visions about the kidnappings and her mother's delusion that led to suicide to his brutalization of his children as a byproduct of that unprocessed grief – it's overwhelming. His son Finney (Mason Thames) is missing and thought to be the latest victim of The Grabber (Ethan Hawke), the newest fear to envelop the streets of their quiet Denver neighborhood. His reluctance and delay in believing Gwen is what shifts the movie into a new race against time. Gwen has unreleased clues and proof, and we've seen her unwavering faith throughout the ordeal pull her through and then vanish. Terrance is clearly overwhelmed, abusive, addicted, and traumatized, and this dad simply cannot get out of his own way. Not even in the wake of his son's disappearance.

16. David Drayton (Thomas Jane): The Mist

Thomas Jane)- The Mist

As parents, we like to think we're doing our best to protect our kids. Shielding them from harm, lighting their path in times of danger, which David Drayton surely does…until. Look, this ending was awe-inducing and pretty divisive, pulling a lot of "no forking way's" out of many of us. But it's in David's willingness to know when he's been had and defeated. To him, he's failed, and so the only way to ease whatever horrific suffering he feels is on the horizon is to take matters into his own hands and play God to his son Billy (Nathan Gamble). Game over. Thomas Jane plays incredibly tragic roles so deftly it's not surprising that he's on the list again.

Horror dads kick ass no matter how heinous and humble they can be, and I love to see a good character arc for them, but there's nothing funnier than seeing a bad dad get his and a good dad come out the other side alive and kicking the hell out of evil.