Critics have always had a rough relationship with horror movie plots and characters. And while it would be tough to convince people that there is any amount of complexity in someone that exists to yell, "Who's there?" before taking an ax to the face, I will say that, overall, horror movies have the most interesting characters in the entirety of film. They're just not where most people look.
See, the greatest horror protagonists aren't the horny 20-year-olds or the frustrated police chiefs. They're the actors in the background that we get only a glimpse of before we go back to the main story about unsafe summer camp conditions.
5The Chainsaw Shop Owner In Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
The dialogue in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series is 90 percent screaming and 10 percent inbred giggling. This is no more true than in director Tobe Hooper's beautiful ode to tastelessness and penis metaphors, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. It's been well established that an impotent man-child chasing girls around with sharp objects might have something to do with dicks, and TCM 2 does everything that it can to reinforce the fact.
This movie is my Casablanca.
There is a scene where Leatherface thrusts his crotch into the back of a chainsaw while rubbing the blade on a lady's inner leg for nearly three straight minutes. In any other movie, that would be overkill, but I swear to god, it's the most subtle three minutes that this batshit movie has. And it isn't just the men wearing skin masks that are made of other men that get to enjoy all the symbolism. The background characters get in on the action as well, with the most notable of these being the owner of the Cut-Rite Chainsaws store. Dennis Hopper, who does the acting equivalent of an '80s wrestling promo, steps into the store while the owner exasperatingly argues with someone over the phone. It establishes that the owner feels put upon and helpless. He is not a strong or passionate man. Not in this situation, anyway.
But he's about to have the best time of his life.
Hopper buys a huge chainsaw and two smaller backup chainsaws and exits the store, trying out the big one on a log out front. As he swings it down dramatically, the owner watches from the porch, but over the next few seconds, all of the hesitation and anxiety drains from his face. "OH, MY ACHIN' BANANA," he says to himself, which again would seem out of place in a different film but might be only the fourth- or fifth-most obvious erection reference in this one. Something inside of the owner has been awakened. Years of living in a world that doesn't understand him has tamped down his true nature.
"I wanna know what love issssss
I want you to show meeeee"
As Dennis Hopper wallops the wood with his saw, the Cut-Rite owner gestures excitedly, his face twisting into a look of pure, thoughtless joy. Does his wife know about this secret pleasure? How many nights did she ask him, "What's wrong?" only to have him respond with silence? Did his children go through life wondering what impossible thing would make their father happy? How could they not? How many relatives and friends have wondered about and pitied this repressed, timid man? They'll never see this glimmer of ecstasy. He'll die being known as the sad man that owned the chainsaw shop.
4Miss Lonelyhearts In Rear Window
In Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, asshole Jimmy Stewart spies on the other people that live in his apartment complex. He comes to suspect another resident of a murder, and when his girlfriend and maid decide to help him investigate, he is very willing to possibly let them get killed if it means solving the case. Meanwhile, he talks down to everyone around him, despite the fact that they all really want to help him do anything but wallow in self-pity. By the end of the movie, he doesn't complete any huge character arc. The moral of Rear Window is that if you refuse to act like less of a jerk, eventually everyone will stop trying and will be totally satisfied when you become slightly less of a jerk at the end.
"I'm not a bad guy. I just force the world to work around me."
On the opposite end of the character spectrum and the apartment courtyard is a woman that Jimmy Stewart dubs "Miss Lonelyhearts," because even complete strangers are not safe from his dickishness. When we first see Miss Lonelyhearts, she is making a dinner for two, even though she lives by herself. She talks to someone that isn't there, lights some candles on the table, and eventually breaks down into tears. This movie is based around a simple mystery, and a floor below we have a woman who is so lonely that she spends time interacting with and cooking dinner for people that aren't there. That's like having Psycho's Norman Bates as a side character in a plot about hotel real estate development.
Why are we focusing on Jimmy Stewart? This woman is making food for the SPIRIT REALM.
Later in the film, Miss Lonelyhearts comes back home from a date with a dude who tries to rape her. She fights him off and ends up attempting to commit suicide. In a rare display of humanity, Jimmy Stewart seems to care about this for about 10 seconds before going back to spying on other people. This isn't even the end of her story, but she's already had more development than every other character in the movie combined.
At the end of the film, we see that Miss Lonelyhearts has fallen in love with a piano player that lives in another apartment. Now, this arc is pretty simple. She starts out very sad and becomes very happy. But I want to see an entire movie about her. The end of her story is a typical romance ending, but she's introduced to us with an extended sequence of her speaking to and adjusting her home to impress an invisible boyfriend. What happens after the "Awww, she found love" feeling passes? Does she reveal to the musician, "Hey, a long time ago I would make a dinner for two, and half of that two was a figment of my imagination"? Awww, she found love, but before that, she found fucking ghosts.
Getting ghost-dumped is hard.