Family Drama: Five Horror Families Who Are the Absolute Worst

Written by Amanda M. Blake

No question, there are plenty of just awful family members in horror: bad seeds, bad eggs, overprotective mothers, abusive fathers, suspicious sisters, violent brothers, weird uncles. Black sheep and odd men out are anomalies. But this isn't about the occasional gnarled branch; this is for when the family roots reach too deep and the whole damn tree's gone sour and probably needs to be put in the woodchipper.

The Samuelses in my novel Question Not My Salt certainly fit the bill, with their “quirky” Thanksgiving traditions and unique family recipes. Families are mini-societies, with their own rules and hierarchies, and the greater the alienation (suburban, urban) or isolation (urban, rural), the greater the opportunity for deviation—which can be as devastatingly common as domestic abuse or as esoteric as a hidden locked room in the basement.

The following are five families you want to stay well clear of. It's far from an exhaustive list, but I focused on families where more than one member willingly contributes to their dark deeds.

(Warning: Some spoilers ahead)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Directed by Tobe Hooper) | The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Directed by Marcus Nispel) | The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (Directed by Jonathan Lieberman)

The Sawyers are the original rural cannibals in Tobe Hooper's franchise, but the remake and remake prequel are grittier, darker, and more violent, featuring the family—now the Hewitts—in intimate, dusty detail and providing more insight into who they are and how they relate to each other in their unchecked isolation, which breeds rituals quite separate from the mores of more populous society.

Leatherface is a powerful, violent, but ultimately pitiful creature. The real villain is R. Lee Ermey's Uncle Charlie, posing as Sheriff Hoyt, who puts road-trippers through physical and psychological torture for his own megalomaniacal pleasure and wields his sister's adopted son like a family guard dog. The other members of the family, while more passive, are hardly blameless. Monty pervs on the pretty girls, and Charlie's sister dresses and cooks the abducted.

Best to stick with the main roads.

The VVitch (Directed by Robert Eggers)

Deemed too fanatical in his Puritan settlement, William and his wife and children are exiled to the woods to weather harsh New England on their own. With a prideful father losing control; a jealous mother lean on love; a pair of devious, wicked twins; an elder son on the cusp of manhood; and an elder daughter rankling against asceticism, the family becomes a microcosm of paranoia, much of the script borrowed directly from Salem Village trial transcripts and other sources from the era, although set a few decades earlier.

Thomasin, the eldest daughter, receives the brunt of the family's fear that the Devil torments their family: blamed for something stealing the baby and Caleb's disappearance, then accused of witchcraft and seducing her own father. A scapegoat for everything gone wrong—even when an actual goat is right there, with his creepy eyes.

Doesn't say much for a family when the Devil seems like a better alternative.

The Woman (Directed by Lucky McKee, based on the book by Jack Ketchum)

The Cleeks are just your typical American family: breadwinner father, homemaker mother, a son, and two daughters. Except, in typical Jack Ketchum fashion, the father is an abusive misogynist and rapist, his son is quickly following his father's psychopathic footsteps, and the mother is so battered that she's jealous of her husband's attention upon their older daughter.

Things come to a head when the father traps and holds captive a wild woman in his cellar and enlists his family's help "civilizing" her.

If Chris Cleek is civilization—and in many ways, he’s the personification of all the worst elements of colonial patriarchy—give me a feral Woman any day.

Get Out (Directed by Jordan Peele)

Meet the Armitages, well-to-do white family.

Chris, a black photographer, joins his girlfriend, Rose, to meet her parents in the horror version of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? The Armitages initially present as making an effort at being progressive and welcoming of their daughter's interracial relationship—father Dean would have voted for Obama a third time if he could—but make every cringy, microaggresive white-person comment that comes up when compensating for the intrinsically racist society they've grown up in—not to mention Rose's brother's more overt racism. Every family has one, right?

But the objectification and dehumanization switches from barely subtext to text, from cringe horror to tense thriller, when Chris is put on auction for one of the Armitages' white friends to take over his body, and he discovers that, far from being his loving girlfriend's first black partner, Rose is a predator who targets black people for the family business—and eats Froot Loops one at a time, dry, with the milk separate, like the psychopath she is.

The family that slays together stays together?

Ready or Not (Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett)

The epitome of "the rich really are different," the Le Domases, board game barons, have a unique wedding tradition. After a wedding, the new member of the family has to pick a card and play whatever game is on it. Most of the games are harmless, but if they draw Hide and Seek, they've been deemed unfit for the family and must be sacrificed before dawn through a fatal game of—you guessed it—Hide and Seek.

Granted, the more members of the Le Domas family we meet, the more it's clear that not fitting into the family falls under the category of 'you're probably a good person who wouldn't go through murderous lengths and a deal with the Devil to preserve your family's wealth.'

Honorary mentions: The Girl Next Door, Midsommar, The Hills Have Eyes, Hereditary, Await Further Instructions, You're Next.

Horror DNA would like to thank Amanda for this great list! Make sure you pick up Amanda's Question Not My Salt by clicking one of the links below!

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