As children, we rely on adults to make the right decisions to keep us safe. As adults, we soon learn that everybody’s just winging it. Life may be rough, but people try to make the best of it anyway: to find beauty and meaning within its challenges. In a horror movie scenario, the odds are stacked against the protagonist and their family from the start. Decisions aren’t just tough decisions; they’re often life-or-death. From the moment something goes bump in the night, dads in horror – both movies and television – have to start making choices that affect their whole families, whether they’re blood families or found.
For queer kids, the theme of anchors and found family storylines are deeply meaningful. You gain strength from finding something to hold onto and cherish in spite of what life may throw at you. Found families tell us that acceptance is always out there, even if you can’t find it within your own biological family. This one’s for all the dads in horror who fought, despite everything, to keep the people they love safe.
#10 – Frank, 28 Days Later (2002)
In 28 Days Later, Brendan Gleeson plays Frank, a gutsy, upbeat cab driver who escapes London with his daughter, Hannah (Megan Burns) and Jim (Cillian Murphy). In a dire situation like a zombie apocalypse, you need someone like Frank, who can bulldoze through your worries and keep those spirits up. He’ll let you know everything is going to be okay by giving you claps on your back so hard they rattle your skeleton, which is precisely how Danny Boyle cranks the tension up to eleven: by ridding us of the guy who functions as our on-screen emotional safety blanket. Just when viewers think that they can take a breather, Frank gets infected. As the virus takes hold, he yells at his daughter and Jim to get away before he is shot – his last sacrificial act of love. Good ol’ Frank.
#9 – Priest Kau, Mr. Vampire (1985)
As a kid, this was the face that comforted me when things were about to get hairy. This no-nonsense guy with a unibrow and a strange sword made of coins was my hero. Mr. Vampire skyrocketed Lam Ching-ying’s fame. Though his character was not strictly a biological dad, Lam’s Priest Kau saw it as his duty to protect all those under his charge. Even though some may view him with derision, or think of him as some superstitious country bumpkin, Kau doesn’t need you to respect him in order for him to risk his life for yours. In his view, everybody deserves a fair shot at life, not one cut short by hopping corpses with a strange aversion to glutinous rice. In a genre that can be pretty dark, Kau’s moral clarity is compelling – and also hilarious, as when he prescribes dancing for hours on glutinous rice after one of his disciples gets bitten by a geungsi.
Fun Fact: Vampire Cleanup Department (2017) was dedicated to Lam’s memory after his untimely death in 1997.
#8 – Don Thompson, A Nightmare On Elm Street franchise (1984-94)
Don (John Saxon) doesn’t always make the right decisions, even though his heart is in the right place. He wants desperately to believe that his daughter, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), is wrong about Freddy Krueger being responsible for the recent spate of deaths on Elm Street. Don wants to believe that with a gun he can protect his family from anything and likewise shield them from dangerous information. While Don may have made some catastrophic mistakes, he clearly loves his family and eventually dies while trying to help Nancy. This father shows that his commitment to his family is ironclad even if their happy days together under one roof are forever gone.
#7 – Sang-hwa, Train To Busan (2016)
Throughout Train to Busan, father-to-be Sang-hwa’s actions contrast that of Seok-woo’s (Gong Yoo) and give us hints of what he could’ve been like if he wasn’t a soulless husk married to his job. Whille Seok-woo slams the door on survivors, Ma Dong-seok‘s Sang-hwa risks his life for strangers he’s known for mere hours. Before all hell breaks loose, Sang-hwa’s mind is full of thoughts on what to name his unborn child. Meanwhile, Seok-woo’s is so preoccupied with work that he gives his daughter the same birthday present he gave her last year. When these two dads in horror eventually team up, Sang-hwa demands accountability from Seok-woo for his selfish actions. He also teaches him a few things about parenthood. At least the zombie epidemic gave Sang-hwa the impetus to finally settle on his child’s name…before he heroically sacrifices himself for his people.
#6 – Hugh Crain, The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
What if you have to protect your family, but they can’t know what you’re doing? What if that knowledge alone is so dangerous that you have to protect them from it? In The Haunting of Hill House, Timothy Hutton and Henry Thomas both play Hugh Crain, a man whose dilemma stretches across decades and forces him to make the painful choice of leaving his children in their aunt’s care. In effect, Hugh alienates himself from his children to protect them. They then have an uneasy reunion when tragedy strikes, as the evil entity within Hill House, their former family home, awakens. In the end, Hugh makes one final promise and sacrifices himself for his children. Journey ends in lovers’ meeting.
#5 – Sheriff Hassan, Midnight Mass (2021)
John Winchester could learn a few things from Midnight Mass’ Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli). Hassan accepts a post on tiny Crockett Island because of the torrential downpour of racism he’s subjected to after 9/11. All he wants to do now is to be sheriff of a little nowhere town where nothing ever happens. Unfortunately for Hassan, lots of strange things are happening on Crockett Island these days – things so strange that they make his son’s keenness to explore Christianity look as dull as dishwater. Though he doesn’t find it easy, Hassan tries to give his teenage son the space to grow and the freedom to make important spiritual decisions for himself. He is definitely not a dad who would disown his son for going to university in lieu of joining the family business.
#4 – Jim Hopper, Stranger Things (2016-Present)
Years after losing his only child to cancer, Jim Hopper (David Harbour) takes up the task of raising Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), a girl who grew up in a lab. Though the experiments gave her incredible powers, they also stunted Eleven’s vocabulary and her knowledge of social mores. Jim does get a little annoying when he tries to break Eleven and her beau up, but his sturdy presence and his devotion are unquestionable. Whether it’s Stranger Things‘ mysterious government agents, shady Russians, or some kind of inter-dimensional hell beast, no thing is strange enough to keep Jim from protecting Eleven and her friends. After Eleven’s disappearance in Season One, Hopper leaves Eggos out in the wild for Eleven, confident that one day she will return.
#3 – Andy, Cargo (2017)
In Cargo, Andy (Martin Freeman) waits out the zombie apocalypse on a house boar with his wife and his baby. Unfortunately, Andy soon loses his wife to an accident and then becomes infected himself. He must race against time to find someone to take care of his baby in a society he no longer recognizes. Andy’s dedication and devotion to his family, along with his desire to help those he meets during his frenzied quest, show us that in the worst of times, goodness can still prevail. It also shows us that sometimes, in order for things to work out, we need to know when to let go.
#2 – Sherman Hollis, Carmilla (2014-16)
Enrico Colantoni, who plays Carmilla‘s Sherman Hollis, doesn’t think his character is overprotective. Instead, he calls Sherman “proactively concerned.” After all, his daughter, Laura Hollis (Elise Bauman), attends Silas U, where supernatural activity is an all-day, every-day thing. In this context, signing Laura up for krav maga lessons and mailing her bear spray seem pretty chill. Laura is in a relationship with a vampire – but Sherman’s only concern is whether the vampire treats her right.
Fun fact: Colantoni also thinks Sherman is a better dad than Keith Mars, revealing that “Sherman says everything that I wish Keith got to say to Veronica.“
#1 – Rupert Giles, Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
He was never meant to care for the slayer, but he refused to see her as just a killing machine. That’s how Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) gained a father in Rupert Giles, a man hired by the Watchers’ Council to supervise Buffy as she trains and patrols nightly to rid Sunnydale of all evil. Rupert is also tasked with teaching Buffy about the many creatures and beings attracted to Sunnydale thanks to the Hellmouth, an infernal gateway that lurks beneath the town. And Rupert is later dismissed by the same Council when he refuses to comply with their instructions, upon sensing that they are doing more harm than good.
Still, Rupert never falters in what he sees as his true duty: to care for Buffy and teach her everything he knows. Through Anthony Stewart Head’s stellar performance, Buffy the Vampire Slayer shows us how much his duty and the people of Sunnydale have come to mean to Giles. Interestingly, the now-defunct Slayerettes podcast attributes Giles’ steadfast Englishness to the show’s fanbase’s great love for the character. Just try to picture an American Giles drinking coffee with the Scooby gang.