Top 12 Heroes of Horror

They take a lickin' and keep on kickin'!

Just about every horror movie has a hero: Often a lone survivor, usually female, who faces off against an evil antagonist and lives to tell the tale. Then there are those who make it through hell, only to be thrust back into the fire time and time again. Those who can go multiple rounds with horror’s most terrifying fiends, over a span of days or even years, are a special breed: Hard as nails with a highly developed sense of self-preservation.

The heroes on this list have all battled baddies in at least 2 films, often resulting in some intense personal transformations. When the shit goes down, these are the guys and gals you want on your side!


Ashley J. “Ash” Williams (Bruce Campbell): The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness

This is my BOOM-STICK!

This is my BOOM-STICK!

Director Sam Raimi and actor Bruce Campbell are a match made in Horror Heaven; friends since childhood, they’re the duo at the heart of perhaps the greatest cult horror franchise in history—and one of the greatest heroes the genre has ever known. Since I’m sure his inclusion on this list warrants no debate, I’ll now give you a few of my favorite Ash quotes: “Groovy.” “Let’s head on down to that cellar and carve ourselves a witch.” “This is my BOOM-STICK!” “Yo, she-bitch! Let’s go!” “Honey, you got reeeal ugly.”



Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman, John Shepherd, Thom Mathews): Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI







As a child, Tommy Jarvis did what dozens of adults died trying to do: He killed Jason Voorhees. The scene where he buries a machete into the side of Jason’s head is epic. But while triumphant, the experience left Tommy shatter; as a teen he landed in an insane asylum where he was forced to battle past demons. Ultimately, Tommy’s need for closure backfired; as a young man, he inadvertently resurrects Jason and is forced to battle his childhood nemesis all over again. Over the course of 3 films, Tommy goes from being a geeky kid to a bona-fide badass.



Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp): A Nightmare on Elm Street, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare


Freddy Krueger must have an extreme hard-on for Nancy Thomas, drawing this Hero of Horror into battle repeatedly. After besting the Charred One in the first Nightmare, a teenage Nancy took a breather before returning, all grown up, in Part 3. Nancy has dedicated her life to understanding dreams, as a researcher and a psychologist, in order to help the next generation of Elm Street children. In a crazy meta-twist, actress Heather Langenkamp must battle the Clawed Fiend in “real life” in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. The fact that Nancy and Freddy seem to enjoy insulting each other with puns and wisecracks (while trying to kill each other) makes their ongoing struggle extremely entertaining.



Sindey Prescott (Neve Campbell): Scream, Scream 2, Scream 3, Scream 4


In spite of starting off with a bit of a victim-complex, Sidney Prescott packs a powerful punch, besting no fewer than 6 incarnations of Ghostface over the course of 4 films, and becoming one of the greatest Heroes of Horror. Drew Barrymore was originally attached to play Sidney, but scheduling conflicts prevented her from participating in the entire film (hence her opening scene “Intro” as Casey). Lucky for her replacement, Neve Campbell, as this franchise made her the star she is today. Sidney manages to survive multiple tussles by understanding the “rules” of horror movies, and using them to her advantage.



Kristy Cotton (Ashley Laurence): Hellraiser, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Hellraiser: Hellseeker


The Cenobites, an order of sadomasochistic demons from Hell, are some of he most merciless villains in horror making the fact that Kristy came face to face with them and lived, not just in one film but three, a true testament to her poise and prowess. Pinhead, leader of the Cenobites, clearly develops a warped attachment to her throughout their dealings, bordering on flirtation in Part 2 when he chides: “Oh Kristy, so eager to play, so reluctant to admit it.” The third time Kristy meets the Cenobites, she’s become nearly as cunning as the demons themselves, forging a fragile alliance with the Hosts of Hell.



Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis): Halloween, Halloween 2, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, Halloween Resurrection


The term “final girl” was coined by Carol Clover in her 1992 book Men, Women, and Chainsaws, and Laurie Strode from Halloween epitomizes this concept. According to Clover, when viewers watch a horror movie, they first identify with the killer/monster but experience a shift to the “final girl” partway through the film. Battling Michael Myers has become a way of life for Laurie, as the mortal enemies have clashed numerous times over the course of 20-plus years. Throughout, Laurie evolves from a hysterical babysitter into a determined survivor who can more than go the distance.



Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver): Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien Resurrection


Ripley is, hands down, one of the most capable and accomplished Heroes in the entire history of Horror.   Her showdown with the Mama-Xenomorph at the end of Aliens is one of the most epic fight scenes ever committed to film (“Get away from her you bitch!”) and helped secure Sigourney Weaver an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress—years before Silence of the Lambs would legitimize horror on Oscar Night 1992. Time and time again, Ripley outfights and outlives dozens of her male counterparts, making her a real feminist hero as well. Ripley’s suicide at the end of Alien 3 was harrowing and devastating: As she plummets into a vat of molten metal, an Alien bursts forth from her chest—and Ripley cradles it like a baby.



Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) and Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow, Stellan Skarsgård): The Exorcist, The Exorcist 3, Exorcist: The Beginning, Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist


8-karras and merrin8.1-karras8.2-young merrin






The next entry on the list is a 2-for-1: The dynamic Pazuzu-busting duo, Father Karras and Father Merrin from The Exorcist franchise. Alone, each priest is plagued by personal weaknesses, but together, they find the power needed to expel Reagan’s demon, joining voices in a victorious mantra: “The power of Christ compels you!”  While the successful exorcism seems to have resulted in both men’s deaths, we learn in prequels that Father Merrin has a long past dealing with Pazuzu. Father Karras is revealed to be not-quite-dead in the sequel The Exorcist 3, where we learn that Pazuzu has been laying low in the priest’s broken, comatose body—biding his time.



Sarah Carter (Shauna Macdonald): The Descent, The Descent Part 2


The Descent focuses on young widow Sarah Carter, and her journey from victim to victor is one of the most profound transformations in all of horror. Having recently lost both her husband and her young daughter, our protagonist seems half-dead herself, unable to cope with the past or move on with her future. She’s stuck, figuratively and quite literally in one especially claustrophobic scene. But between battling blind, cannibalistic humanoids and revelations of personal betrayals, Sarah morphs into a capable and powerful survivor, one motivated by both self-preservation and vengeance. But while she was strong enough to return for a second round underground, her experience leaves her weary soul completely shattered, making her one very tragic Hero of Horror.



Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster, Julianne Moore): Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal







When Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins won Best Actress and Actor respectively at the Academy Awards in 1992, “Clarice Starling” and “Hannibal the Cannibal Lecter” became household names. Their relationship, while adversarial, is extremely complicated and nuanced; both maintain a professional respect for each other, working towards common goals in spite of their vastly differing agendas. While we were all disappointed that Foster chose not to reprise Starling in the 2001 sequel, Julianne Moore did a great job filling her shoes, bringing Starling’s relationship with Hannibal to terrifying new levels. Dinner anyone?



Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein): Poltergeist, Poltergeist II: The Other Side, Poltergeist III.


Even though Tangina Barrons hardly fits the “final girl” prototype, this little old lady with the voice of a Muppet was brave and powerful enough to face down an army of angry souls over three different Poltergeist movies. The role turned actress Zelda Rubinstein, who had only acted in one film prior to Poltergeist, into an unlikely horror icon. Her final role was a cameo in the cult horror Mockumentary Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, where she appears alongside iconic heavyweights Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) and Kane Hodder (Jason Voorhees). When it comes to Heroes of Horror, Tangina proves that big things come in small packages.



Alice (Milla Jovovich): Resident Evil, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Resident Evil: Extinction, Resident Evil: Afterlife, Resident Evil: Retribution


This Hero is the only one on the list without a last name—and the only one who’s not quite human. Cloning and genetic manipulation by The Umbrella Corporation has transformed Alice into a zombie-annihilating machine. While no one on this list is butt-ugly, Alice is the only one with mad crazy sex appeal, a departure from the “final girl” prototype that usually portrays female heroes as virginal or sexually unavailable. The fact that the Resident Evil franchise is based on a video game tends to make the action and characters feel cartoonish at times, but Alice is so over-the-top powerful and acrobatic she’s simply a joy to behold. A 6th chapter of Resident Evil is in the works with an expected release date in 2016.



Did I omit your favorite hero of horror? Remember, we’re talking about those who appear in more than one movie. Sound off in the Comments Section!

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8 Comments on this post.

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  • Evan A. Baker
    11 December 2014 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    Two of my absolute favorites did not make your list.

    Peter Cushing’s incarnation of Dr. Van Helsing from the Hammer Dracula movies (okay, technically he played two incarnations, since he appeared as his own grandson in a couple of the movies) is a stern, authoritative, but at the same time gentle and caring soul who offers not just his wisdom and leadership, but also a lot of energy and physical stamina, engaging in some really rough play with his opponent.

    And then there’s the team of Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale) and Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) in the original Fright Night and Fright Night 2. In the first movie, Charlie believes in what no one else can accept, and his struggle becomes Peter’s redemption. In the second, the roles are reversed, and it is Peter who must save Charlie by convincing him that the enemies they fought together were real. It’s a great role reversal!

    Jeepers, do you have some specific OBJECTION to including vampire hunters? 😉

  • Evan A. Baker
    11 December 2014 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    Oh, I’m also surprised by the absence of Sarah Connor, although I for one would prefer to pretend that there were no Terminator sequels dragging down the original, and that she only appeared in the one movie.

  • Josh Millican
    11 December 2014 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    Now how did I know Evan was gunna mention Van Helsing?!? You know I considered it, but I was stuck on the fact that Dracula isn’t a true villain, but rather an anti-hero. In this regard, Van Helsing can actually be considered the bad-guy, motivated by vengeance, while the Count just wants to be loved. Obviously, I’m stuck in a Bram Stoker mindset, being rather unfamiliar with Hammer’s canon.

    Would you hate me if I admitted I haven’t seen Fright Night 2?

    • Evan A. Baker
      11 December 2014 at 2:41 pm - Reply

      Hmmm… I don’t see Stoker’s version of Dracula as an anti-hero, but as a pretty pure villain. The first version of Dracula I can think of that really presents him as an anti-hero is the John Badham version from 1979. But certainly the Hammer version is a flat-out, hissing, demonic villain.

      Honestly, with Fright Night 2, you’re not missing much. There are some fun performances, but it’s far from a classic.

      • Josh Millican
        11 December 2014 at 2:52 pm - Reply

        I was thinking about the film “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” more than the book (which I have read, but hardly remember). Gary Oldman’s Vlad struck me as completely sympathetic; lonely and lovesick. As for his evil deeds, I didn’t consider his action any more despicable than a wild animal that hunts. Maybe it’s just me, the consumate outsider, attaching personal emotions to the character. I certainly never felt sorry for the rodent-like Nosferatu!

        • Evan A. Baker
          11 December 2014 at 3:26 pm - Reply

          Oh, no argument about “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” painting the Count as possibly its most sympathetic character.

  • Josh Millican
    11 December 2014 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    Never considered Terminator horror. But that’s just me.

    • Evan A. Baker
      11 December 2014 at 2:43 pm - Reply

      I don’t consider the Terminator sequels horror. But, then, as indicated above, I generally just don’t consider the Terminator sequels.

      But the first one is, to my eyes, in many ways a high tech slasher movie.