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 best horror movie characters who died first is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Watching a great horror movie death is an excellent way to start feeling like Lucille Bluth seeing Gene Parmesan. We all know it’s coming, but they get us every time. And in any horror movie, nothing sets the tone like the first death.
But when it comes to characters who die first, there’s a lot more to account for than just how this kicks off the slayings. Seeing who the first is to bite the dust also tells us who in the film is considered disposable. We’ve all heard about the tropes that tell us if a woman has sex or if a man is Black, and they’re in a horror movie, they’re probably the first to go. Now, of course, we can cite instances of this happening, but when you crunch some numbers, it’s certainly not always the case. This doesn’t mean the tropes don’t hold water. When you start paying attention you’ll often see that, for instance, a film’s Black character might not die first, but they rarely make it to the end.
In cataloging and ranking characters, we found some that demonstrated the trope but some that managed to undermine expectations and really surprise us. Sometimes, the first character’s death is impactful because it comes later in the film, at a point when we’ve gotten to know them and have started to root for them. Other times, the ill-fated character in question might have had barely any screen time, but when they go out in a way that is beyond brutal, we can’t help but feel for them. Either way, these are the ones we remember, we wish we saw more of, and that we commend for not going down without a fight. So without further ado, let’s start mourning the first to go, with the best of the best chosen by Rob Hunter, Meg Shields, Chris Coffel, Brad Gullickson, Jacob Trussell, Valerie Ettenhofer, and yours truly.
10. Alice in Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
The whole idea of a horror film’s “final girl” is that she’s a hero who not only defeats the evil – but who gets to go on living. It’s an understood agreement between film and the audience, and sometimes those heroes go on living through a sequel or two as well. While the rest of this list features characters we’re meeting for the first time before they die, Alice (Adrienne King) is someone who has already survived an entire movie and beheaded the “monster.” Bringing her back for round two seems right in line with the likes of Laurie Strode in Halloween, Sidney Prescott in Scream, and Kirsty Cotton in Hellraiser, but the Friday filmmakers had other plans. Part two opens with Alice, still recovering but alive, heading to the fridge for a late-night cat snack only to find the head she lopped off a few months prior staring back at her. She’s grabbed from behind, and an ice pick is plunged into her brain. It’s a throwaway bit for the filmmakers (because are we really supposed to believe that a grown-up, hillbilly Jason knew how to look up her address and then make it there from Crystal Lake?), but for Friday fans, it was an unexpected shock. (Rob Hunter)
9. Philip in Sisters (1972)
Poor Philip (Lisle Wilson). All he really wanted was a date with Margot Kidder’s enigmatic Danielle. Sure, she’s a little odd, but maybe she’s just French Canadian. Or maybe, it’s her mysterious twin sister Dominique. While Philip is just trying to pick up a birthday cake for his new paramour, he ends up with stab wounds courtesy of Dominique. It’s a tragic end, but it’s also the moment that kids off Brian De Palma’s 1972 paranoia-driven horror movie. There’s only one witness to his death, and though no one believes she saw the murder, she’s determined to find out what happened. At least someone is looking out for the justice Philip deserves. (Anna Swanson)
8. George in Ravenous (1999)
[Editor’s note: George is not technically the first to die on screen, but those deaths are anonymous soldiers, so we bent the rules a bit. Forgive us. Or make your own list.]
Antonia Bird’s Ravenous is a frequently-mentioned favorite of the Boo Crew because we never run out of things to love about this offbeat, comedic, cannibal Western. If I had to make a short list of its best qualities, though, the character George, who’s played by Pueblo Native American actor Joseph Runningfox, would be on the shortlist. George is among the most sensible members of the military outpost that serves as the story’s setting, and when he hears about a group of pioneers who resorted to cannibalism, he warns his colleagues to be wary of the Wendigo, saying that consuming human flesh could very well turn a person evil.
In typical white settler fashion, the other outpost members pretty much entirely ignore George’s insights and soon end up on the wrong side of a cannibal’s fork because of it. Unfortunately, George himself is the first to go, killed by the rogue, mad Colonel Ives (Robert Carlyle) when he joins the party responsible for tracking him down. At Ives’ cave, the character makes a quick attempt to take out the assailant with a tomahawk but ends up shot in the gut. Luckily, his sister Martha (Sheila Tousey) fares better and is the film’s last woman standing after a taste for cannibalism and Manifest Destiny tears apart the rest of the camp. (Valerie Ettenhofer)
7. Megan in The House of the Devil (2009)
Don’t sit there like you didn’t rewind and pause to catch the moment Greta Gerwig’s face explodes in one of the most gruesome deaths in Ti West’s Satanic Panic-fueled slow-burn House of the Devil. It’s reminiscent of another rewind-worthy moment of special effects Tom Savini created for William Lustig’s Maniac. The headshot used here acts like an electric shock, upending the thin layers of dread West sewed into the film’s opening scenes, leaving us viscerally aware of the horrors – both natural and supernatural – lurking for our babysitter protagonist in the titular home. (Jacob Trussell)
6. Tina in Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Tina, you hardly stood a chance. Considering A Nightmare on Elm Street went on to become one of the most iconic horror franchises ever, it’s not surprising it started with a bang, but if you haven’t revisited this movie lately, you may still be shocked at what a rip-roaring bang it was. Tina and her peculiarly realistic dreams are how we first meet Freddy, and she figures as the central character for the film’s first few scenes. But then, either because she committed the cardinal horror sin of having sex or just because someone had to go first, Tina meets her end in one of the most impressive and grisly horror death scenes. It’s not enough for Freddy to slash her while she sleeps. She then gets dragged around the room and up to the ceiling, all while gushing blood. RIP Tina, it’s a hell of a way to go, but at least you’ll always be remembered. (Anna Swanson)
This list of the ten best horror movie characters who died first concludes on the next page…
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