Six Archetypal Horror Characters and Why They’re Important
Horror movies seem to always employ the same basic formula for their characters, especially if the plot calls for a group of friends falling prey to whatever villain or obstacle in place. Most might be annoyed by the continued use of the same characters, but those characters are important and serve a purpose in the viewing experience. While not every horror movie uses this formula, it is definitely a recognizable theme within the genre.
6. The Jock
This guy doesn’t necessarily have to play sports, but he does have certain recognizable personality traits. He is attractive, narcissistic, and usually not all that bright. He is a macho man, believing himself the strong alpha male which is, more often than not, his downfall. He usually dies in an attempt to vanquish the villain. He is usually a womanizer, and only tolerated by the other characters. He is present as the boyfriend of the main female character’s best friend; he can also be main male character’s best friend, or both. He is important in the horror movie because he presents us with a dilemma. For women, he is the object of desire; for men, he is the object of envy. He is strong, handsome, and popular with the ladies. He is what every man wishes to be, and what every woman wishes to possess. But he becomes a villain within the group. Though we might want him, we also hate him. When he is confronted by the villain, we root for the killer.
5. The Cheerleader
She is just The Jock in female form. Not necessarily a cheerleader, she is a pretty girl who is not very bright and not very nice. She is usually the main female character’s best friend, for reason’s unknown to the rest of us. She is mean, but she is also beautiful so the other characters, mainly the guys, tolerate her. She is the object of desire or envy respectively, and is easy for viewers to hate and the villain to kill. This is always the character who becomes the most terrified in her situation. She becomes absolutely hysterical, which means she also becomes incredibly annoying. It’s usually at this point that the viewer will start screaming, “Just kill her already!”.
4. The Nerd/Stoner
From my experience, there has been either a stoner or a nerd, but hardly ever both (unless, of course, the stoner is a nerd). If the group consists mostly of stoners, then there will be a nerd; otherwise, we have our token drug user. They are the outcasts of the group, and usually only present due to a long term friendship with one of the main characters. They’re usually severely ridiculed by The Jock and The Cheerleader, which makes them easy to relate to for most viewers. Most of us have been ridiculed by someone at some point in our lives, so we can really feel for this guy. They’re usually far less attractive than their cohorts, less agile and fit, and far more intelligent. They can also double as either prankster or comic relief. They’re important because we care about them, and they’re funny, whether intentionally or not; and we need something laugh at in a movie that is otherwise trying to scare our pants off. The most memorable nerd for me is Shelly from Friday the 13th part 3. He was a very important character for the franchise as a whole, and pretty great in that particular movie. He was a prankster, a huge nerd, and no one liked him–except for me, apparently.
3. The Token Minority
In a movie consisting mainly of Caucasian Americans, there always seems to be one character of some other race, to provide a little bit of diversity. This is a wonderful thing, except that the characters are never any good. No one knows why, but horror movie writers just don’t care about them. Their characters are never developed as fully as the others, and they become kind of outcasts themselves. The characters are always likable but we don’t bother trying to care about them, because we know they will probably die first anyway. The minority can sometimes serve as either the stoner or the comic relief, or both. If he recognizes that he’s the only minority, and that if a serial killer were to pass by, he’d be the first to die… then he might not be the first to die. But otherwise, you can say bye bye to your black friend. They’re important to the movie because, well… Someone has to go first.
2. The Nice Guy
This is our main male character. He is usually the main girl’s love interest, but he can sometimes be her brother or a friend. His best friend is usually The Jock, even though they are nothing alike. He is sometimes viewed as a “pansy” but really he’s just nice, which makes him seem weak in the midst of all the assholes. He usually acts as the voice of reason, because every group needs one. He is nice to everyone, and he’s very easy for viewers to like and relate to. We root for him. He can survive with our main girl, but hardly ever on his own. The only way for him to survive on his own is if there is no “final girl”. If he doesn’t survive by her side, or on his own, he is the last to die. This provides a tragic ending, as the last girl loses her one true love. We hope that he makes it to the end, but even though we love him, he is also expendable.
1. The Virgin/The Last Girl
This is our survivor. She is the subtly pretty girl who is smart, sweet and liked by everyone. She doesn’t necessarily have to be a virgin, but she is far more pure than the other female character–and a lot nicer. Her mind is not clouded by lust or drugs, so she is able to make it to the end and defeat the villain. She is often a very quiet and laid back girl who finds strength she didn’t knew she had. She becomes a killer herself. After watching all of her friends die, she is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that she is not next, and that the killer pays for what he did. Starting off as the more reserved of the bunch, she becomes the strongest person in the group. That’s why she’s able to survive, and that’s why we love her so much.
These characters vary in degrees of likability, which is why each and every one of them is important. The order of deaths is appropriate, and the suspense level rises with each as the danger gets closer to our Good Guy and Final Girl. The characters’ deaths assist the pacing of the movie. We don’t really care when the minority dies, because the character was never given any real depth. We realize there’s a threat, but we’re not too worried yet. We’re elated when The Jock and The Cheerleader are killed, because every moment leading up to it is spent making us hate them. We’re unhappy when the Stoner/Nerd gets it, because we secretly kind of liked him; and that just means that Good Guy or Virgin is next. Now is when we get really nervous, and our hearts race as we hope that the last two survive and come out victorious. When, and if, the Nice Guy is killed, we’re devastated, because we really hoped that he and The Last Girl would live happily ever after.
While you may be annoyed by these characters, you should definitely be grateful for their presence, because they each provide us with something to feel. If a movie consisted of only the mean people, there would be no one to root for. If we were bombarded with a group of nice girls and guys, we would be happy with anyone who survived, so there are no real stakes. There would be no suspense, or the heart-racing fear for our favorite characters.
So, yes, all of these characters do serve a purpose and greatly assist the success of their movies.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
Great article. This is very true. I agree, horror movies have these main “cookie cutter” characters rather than anyone worth remembering. Usually, I hate nearly every character in horror movies…. at least until they die! haha
Thanks for writing this one up 🙂
My favorite is usually the Nice Guy or the Nerd, depending on how they’re written. I hardly ever care about the Last Girl. I wish they’d let more good guys survive.
Thanks for the comment!
This is so true! Haha- very cool article!
This article made me smile because it’s so true!
Glad I could make you smile. 🙂 Thanks for reading!
I’ve grown to hate The Final Girl, because she’s always a she, and most of the time she’s a completely useless waste of a character that survives only because of her gender (eg. Parker from Frozen, Mia from Evil Dead 2013). I prefer to see a dude live because of the utter OVERUSE of the trope without, as I said, no additional thought behind it other than ‘the girl has to live because otherwise it would be sexist’.
Absolutely. I think a lot of the time horror movies (especially low budget ones lol) dont go far enough in depth into the „minor characters“, and mostly focus on the nice guy and winning girl because they’re too likable. Id love to see a scary movie where the roles are all jumbled up (i.e, jock wins and is actually a deep person, nerd is hot and full of lust, female characters are more than just boobs).
“If a movie consisted of only the mean people, there would be no one to root for.”– DISAGREE. Some of the best characters ever written are “mean”. Gregory House, Haruhi Suzumiya, Rick Castle, etc. Just because someone is mean does not mean they are “always” mean, and just because someone is generally nice does not mean they are “always” nice. Furthermore you don’t have to have a full group of mean people you can have a group of mean people with some nice ones who are still snarky enough to deal with them mixed in.
“with a group of nice girls and guys, we would be happy with anyone who survived, so there are no real stakes.”——— If we were to equate nice with like-ability, which you seem too (though I don’t); having a full cast of like-able characters would mean we want EVERY character to survive, and it would be intense because we have no idea which one/s actually will.
My problem with slasher movies is that they are always about maintaining the status quo. If you are popular you are probably an asshole, and if you are an asshole you deserve to die. If you are socially on the fringe like a nerd, stoner, or comic relief then you are probably incompetent and deserve to die.
There is no way in hell that a completely average person is going to survive a truly dangerous horror story. Yet the survivor always embodies the ideal “average” person. This person is always nice but not a doormat. Sociable but not one of those snobby “popular” people. They survive not because they actually have the skills to do it, but because they didn’t violate some kind of social norm such as being grouchy, promiscuous, or successful to the point of invoking envy.
For proof that these 6 archetypes are completely unnecessary for horror stories, one needs only look at the cast of “When the Cicadas Cry”. Not a single character in the cast is simple enough to get stuffed into a single archetype. At their core, they are essentially a full cast of “nice” people, even if they don’t always act like it. Yet this doesn’t hurt the suspense of the story in the least.
It wasn’t about the characters, it was about their death.
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I was waiting for a more profound answer to the catching title of this article. But then I realized that what was promised was delivered.