In honor of National Crush Day, our writers celebrate first horror crushes — 16 actors and characters who made our young horror hearts skip a beat.
Today, September 27th, is National Crush Day, which is actually not quite what it sounds like. It’s also known as National Crush a Can Day, a day created to promote the benefits of recycling. While that’s an extremely worthy cause and one we hope you’ll take seriously, we were inspired to put our own unique spin on the occasion. We thought it would be a really fun opportunity for us to celebrate a love of horror that, for many of us, has pulsated through our veins since we were very young.
For us, National Crush Day is also about paying tribute to the films, characters, and actors who first ignited an unquenchable thirst for horror and made us swoon. Sometimes we fell for the good guys (and gals). Other times, we couldn’t resist those sexy villains — the forbidden loves that became more enticing precisely because they were so taboo.
Read on to find out which horror icons and memorable movie characters made our SWEET SIXTEEN (16 writers, 16 first loves).
Billy Peltzer (Gremlins)
Recommended by Jamie Alvey
Gremlins left an impression on me as a child in many ways. It’s an undeniably fun and creepy movie that will surely satisfy a child’s curiosity for horror. It also happens to be one of the best Christmas films ever. (I said what I said Die Hard fans; we can take this out in the parking lot later if you’d like.) I am still unwaveringly devoted to the sweet singing mogwai Gizmo and will be until I am lowered into the ground. However, there is another major significance that Gremlins holds for me: the origins of my first horror movie crush. For young me, no other man was finer than Billy Peltzer (except for maybe the cartoon character Goofy, but that is a story for another time).
I was young and had no real concept of time or age, or that Gremlins had come out in the year of our Lord 1984. I was completely enamored with Zach Galligan’s Billy, and even as an adult, I certainly cannot blame little me. Billy is a catch. And even though Zach is the same age of my mom, he’s still a cutie and has aged like a proverbial fine wine.
Even as a child I had great taste. Maybe it was that sweet smile or those floppy dark brown curls that drew me in. I can’t really remember, but I do remember that warm and fluttery feeling that looking at him caused to reverberate through me. Looking back, I wish all crushes felt like that still — like pure light and sweetness and unadulterated admiration that was just allowed to exist in its own respectful little prism.
There was no worry of rejection, no strife, and no pain of longing. Billy was always going to be there when I watched Gremlins. That’s the sugary quality of a childhood crush; it’s redolent and airy and nothing can hurt.
Even today most young men can’t really stack up to Billy Peltzer.
He loves his mom, he’s a good dog owner, he respects Kate, and he is fiercely protective over Gizmo. What more could you ask for?
When faced with absolute assholes like Gerald, he stood his ground and never gave into being an asshole himself. Billy should be the standard for men today. Of course, he did accidentally cause his town to be overrun by the titular gremlins, but he took responsibility for it. Accountability matters. He was also a talented and passionate artist working a boring and menial bank job in order to fund his dreams, a facet of his character that I appreciate immensely as an adult.
Have I met my real life Billy Peltzer? No, but I am optimistic that a man like that exists out there for me. Aren’t we all looking for a handsome and respectful man to pour our Christmas related traumas out to while in the presence of a cute creature?
Regardless, thanks to Billy, I’ll always have at least once crush to look fondly back on.
Neve Campbell (The Craft, Scream, Wild Things)
Recommended by Jessica Parant (Spinsters of Horror)
When my best friend in grade 11 came out to me and also confessed to having a crush on me, this confession sent seventeen-year-old Jessica into a tailspin. Everything I had thought about my sexuality had come into question. And when I realized that I also had been crushing on her for a long time, asking her to be my girlfriend only made sense. That is when I first identified as a queer woman.
When I look back at that time and the years preceding it, the signs were all there, I just may have been too young to fully understand it. But what I did know was I was 100% captivated by Neve Campbell. She was smart, beautiful (as a brunette), resourceful, weird, sensitive and sexy — and she was my first horror crush.
I was first introduced to Neve in the coming of age witch story The Craft (1996). I saw it at a sleepover with a bunch of friends. Like most other women in my age group, The Craft had a significant impact on me.
Not only was it a cool film about a group of teenage witches embracing their weirdness and dabbling in the occult, but I was fixated on the character of Bonnie Harper played by Neve Campbell. When we first meet Bonnie, she is shy, speaks softly, and wears a lot of baggy clothing to hide the fact that she was horribly burned in a fire. She becomes involved in witchcraft to help with her insecurities and hopefully find a magical way to cure her scars.
I identified with this version of Bonnie because she was like me, a shy girl not comfortable in her body who worked hard to cover it all up.
I was disappointed when the magic Sarah works to heal her scars makes Bonnie narcissistic and mean spirited, but I couldn’t help but find myself attracted to her. She was beautiful and looked so amazing (and confident!) when she stomped into that classroom with the low cut tight white t-shirt and plaid skirt. Bonnie/Neve also has this large and wonderful smile that you couldn’t help but take notice of.
I would later see her again in the classic slasher that we all love from the same era, Scream (1996).
Once again, I was at a friend’s sleepover and, while hidden with the covers pulled over my head, I watched Neve Campbell (Sidney Prescott) kick ass. At the time I didn’t know what a ‘Final Girl’ even was — I was just so excited to see a relatable woman in a horror movie survive being the target of a serial killer.
It was because of her roles in these two films that led me to watch her in the 1998 film, Wild Things. By now, I was already in my first queer relationship and looking for any kind of queer representation in film and tv. So, when I came across Wild Things and I saw that my long time girl crush was in it (playing the poor outcast Suzie Toller), I knew I had to see it.
Neve Campbell not only played a role in my love for horror but also as part of my own sexual identity.
Kirsty Cotton (Hellraiser and Hellbound)
Recommended by Michael Benavidez
The Hellraiser franchise (specifically the original and its sequel, Hellbound) has long been a source, if not the full foundation, to the platform that would later become things I would try to explore and understand to its fullest. From the femme fatale that is Julia (Clare Higgins), to the dangerous, sex addict, bad boy and all-around crazy man that is Frank (Sean Chapman), to the penultimate leather-clad badass with a voice of pure poison and desire that is Pinhead (Doug Bradley), there was no shortage of sex appeal. However, none awoke things in me more than Kirsty Cotton as played by Ashley Laurence.
It goes without saying that Ashley is as beautiful now as she was then. And when I stumbled onto the Hellraiser movies at an age that was far too young to be appropriate, I was smitten. But with each watch of the two movies, as I grew older and wiser, I started to see things that have stuck with me in ways that were more subtle than the those that initially attracted me.
There’s a very real quality to Kirsty.
She gets drunk, she flirts, and she has a life outside of the evil she must battle. She’s forced to endure significant trauma, included an uncle in Daddy’s clothing, being locked in a hospital of psychotic doctors, and traversing the Labyrinthian depths of hell. Through it all, she remains strong and resilient, representing to me the ultimate badass.
This was my first time seeing a leading lady in horror who wasn’t a screaming mess running through the woods until being rescued. Relatable and headstrong, Kirsty reflected the type of capable and independent heroine I would come to seek out. While the fear was ever present, she never let her consume her.
Seeing her face down Pinhead, Frank, Julie, Dr. Channard, and the other Cenobites, I fell hard for Kirsty and the archetype of the beautiful, bad ass survivor girl.
The Hex Girls (Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost)
Recommended by Kirby Kellogg
The Hex Girls are partially responsible for three things that are very important to me: the eventual realization that I like women, my love of dark clothing and creepy stuff, and my career as a music journalist. I say this without hyperbole or jokes. Let me explain.
I was around eight or nine years old the first time I ever watched the 1999 film masterpiece Scooby Doo and the Witch’s Ghost (which, admittedly, is not better than Scooby Doo on Zombie Island, but I digress). Growing up, I was a tiny, awkward kid who would read all the scary books I could find in the little school library. My gait was strange, the way I spoke was strange, and the things I liked were strange.
When I got older, I learned that part of this was because I’m autistic, but eight year old me didn’t know that. She was just trying to live her life, and she didn’t really get why the other kids were mean sometimes. She thought something was wrong with her.
Then, around Halloween, I watched the Witch’s Ghost movie, and I saw Dusk (voiced by Go-Gos founder and guitarist Jane Wiedlin), Luna (voiced by Kimberly Brooks), and Thorn (voiced by Jennifer Hale), otherwise known as the Hex Girls.
There were these three cool, pretty girls making pretty music and stopping ghosts, all while dressed up in these spooky, pretty dresses.
Their music blew little Kirby’s mind (seriously, Spotify, please put the soundtrack in rotation), and I found myself coming back to the film again and again just to see them play — and later seeking out bands like them once I got old enough to form my own music tastes. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back on it, I absolutely had a crush on all three of them. Hell, I later even bought a patch on one of my jackets for them.
It was deeper than just a crush though. Seeing them come out as heroines and be adored by the folks around them showed that I didn’t have to dress or act ‘normally’ to be accepted. I just had to be around the right people. The Hex Girls did that for me, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Funny little postscript to this: I came up with the general idea for this group article back in August specifically because I wanted to talk about the Hex Girls. A couple weeks later, I turned twenty-three. Part of my birthday gift from my parents? A Hex Girls t-shirt. Sometimes, the universe just works like that.
Sam (Are You Afraid of the Dark?)
Recommended by Jason McFiggins
It was late January 1994, and my Saturday night routine was about to kick off, with 12 year old me making popcorn, pouring a coke, and grabbing any candy I could find in the cupboards to hang out in the basement and watch SNICK on Nickelodeon (channel 32 in my neck of the woods at the time).
The line up that year kicked off with Clarissa Explains It All at 8pm, eventually leading up to my favorite show of the night at 9:30pm, Are You Afraid of the Dark? I looked forward to it every week, and that night’s episode would be introducing a new member of The Midnight Society! The wonderful opening flickered on my TV screen, with its images of empty swing sets, a lonely rocking rowboat on the shores of a dark lake, that creepy clown doll, and the smile-inducing lit match lighting up the show’s title and logo.
The show started with talk of Betty Anne bringing her friend Sam. Hope this guy’s cool, I thought to myself, and I hope he tells good stories. When they showed Betty Anne pull the potato sack off Sam’s head to reveal the new member, that’s when it happened. Cue music: I just died in your arms tonight… The song would have played in the movie version of my life as gorgeous, wavy, dirty blonde hair fell from the sack onto the brown, leather jacket-covered shoulders and around the prettiest face my 12 year old eyes had ever seen.
I’d crushed on girls I’d seen on TV and in movies for a while by the time I was 12 (here’s looking at you Susannah Hoffs in the “Walk Like an Egyptian” video and Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell in Hook), but those were women, completely unattainable.
This girl, Sam, was my age!
The hair! Those brown eyes! That cute, upturned nose and big, toothy smile! My little heart raced as the episode played.
“The Tale of Watcher’s Woods” was a good one, but I could barely pay attention.
I didn’t touch what was left of my mountain of snacks, as I waited to see Sam again at the end. The 22 minute episode felt like an eternity. And when it finally ended to reveal Sam (Samantha, but her friends call her Sam), my heart raced faster at the second sight of her, her face lit by the Midnight Society campfire.
I just died in your arms tonight…
Every Saturday night after that consisted of the same ritual (the popcorn, the coke, the candy), but with the addition of lovestruck butterflies in my stomach as Are You Afraid of the Dark? gave me my first ever horror crush: JoAnna Garcia as Samantha.
Dr. Frank-N-Furter (The Rocky Horror Picture Show)
Recommended by Mike W (Guest Contributor)
When I first saw the subject of this group article, I was excited! I mean… first horror crush.. that’s some cool shit right there. I had three names in my head: Ingrid Pitt, Elvira and Fay Wray. But then I thought about it and realized that my first horror crush was actually someone much more unexpected and a touch more exotic. It was omeone who may not be much of a man by the light of the day, but by night he’s one hell of a lover. I think I’ve left you shivering in antici……..….pation for long enough. My first horror crush was Dr Frank N. Furter.
So, it’s 1980 something or other, and I — a straight, horror loving, teenage mail living in small-town England that wasn’t exactly tolerant of non conformity — is late night channel surfing from among the four TV channels we had back then. Suddenly, I saw something called The Rocky Horror Picture Show was on next. I had no idea what it was, but it had Horror in the title, so I was all in.
Oh. My. God.
Right from that opening, when Pat Quinn’s lips hit the screen, I was hooked. Everything about this movie pulled me in. Richard O’Brien is a fucking genius (and as I found out later when I briefly met him, a hell of a nice guy) and TRHPS is his Magnum Opus. Susan Sarandon may be one of the most beautiful women ever to live, and I was captivated. Riff Raff looked exactly how I’ve always felt, even back then. And Magenta. Oh my, Magenta. Sigh. French maid outfit, torn fishnets, ankle boots, and that hair and makeup? Oh hell yes.
This was a movie made for the freaks and outcasts, the outsiders, and I was in love.
Then it happened. The elevator descended, the music beat its intoxicating rhythm, and he emerged… Mr Tim fucking Curry in full Frank mode.
That incredible, plumy Chelsea upper class accent. That makeup. That hair. Was I strung out by the way he looked? You better believe it. Then he threw off the cape, and bingo! I had my first horror crush. And my god, I crushed hard.
So the movie went on, and Frank had his way with, well basically anything with a heart beat. And then it hit me.
We don’t have to be what people expect us to be. We don’t have to stick to the rules. We don’t have to be a product of our society. By the end of my first ever watch of TRHPS, I felt freer than I ever had before.
That revelation spawned a love affair with the movie, and the stage show that birthed it, that lasts to this day. I have Frank-N-Furter to thank for the fact that I consider myself to be a tolerant, reasonably kind and understanding person. Frank gave me the confidence to be me.
If you’ve never seen this, please hit me up, and we can watch it together. I’ll show you my favorite obsession…
Molly/Jessica Alba (Idle Hands)
Recommended by Joy Robinson
Picture it: It’s the year 2000, and I was coming up on my thirteenth birthday. My life was being turned upside down by hormonal angst. I thought I was all grown up, having finally traded in the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys for music more suited to my perceived maturity and newfound “fuck you” attitude.
My favorite band was The Offspring, and I consumed anything and everything associated with them with the kind of voracity only found in preteen girls who have decided they really, really like something. It was because of them that I discovered a little movie called Idle Hands.
In retrospect, I definitely didn’t get the movie’s stoner humor as much as I would pretend to. At that age I had never even seen — let alone smoked — pot. (Once, though, my friend and I did try to smoke a joint of nutmeg and oregano because of this movie. Mistakes were made.) That being said, Idle Hands was and still is hilarious and scary — and my favorite band made a cameo. So naturally, I loved it.
There was also Jessica Alba.
When her character Molly first appeared on screen, with her cool girl attitude, her motorcycle, and her diary of angry collage poetry, my immediate reaction was: this chick is everything I aspire to be.
When she reappeared later in a tank top and tiny pajama shorts, my reaction was a little different.
When she proceeded to seduce Devon Sawa’s Anton, I started feeling all sorts of things. At this point in my life, I was already trying to fend off my first gay panic, brought on by a girl I had become totally smitten with in seventh grade. Molly was only making an already distressing situation even more confusing.
By the time she was donning a sexy angel costume and dancing to The Offspring’s cover of “I Wanna Be Sedated” at the high school Halloween shindig, I was hopelessly in love.
The cool thing about Molly is that she wasn’t just eye candy. She played bass guitar and wrote her own songs. She was smart, mature, and resourceful in a pinch. She carried herself with a confident but playful sexuality that made both me and Devon Sawa blubbering fools.
Jessica Alba was a major It Girl in the early 2000s. I remember her being everywhere. I scoured issues of Tiger Beat and Seventeen for pictures of her to hang on my bedroom walls (right next to The Offspring’s frontman Dexter Holland — see, I’m not gay, I just think she’s cool, okay?).
I still consider her a long standing crush of mine. And revisiting Idle Hands now, I’m just as much in love with her as Molly as I was twenty years ago.
Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Creepshow, Escape From New York)
Recommended by Danni Winn
Crushes were a difficult ordeal for myself when I was younger. They were confusing and brought ridicule. I knew I was attracted to my same sex from a very early age and was aware that this was not the case for my friends or family, nor particularly well received. I felt I had to stifle my attractions towards female performers in a half baked attempt to be ‘normal’. But then, when I was entering my formative years — years that were well spent in the aisles of my local Easy Video — I began to take special notice of an actress.
Dark haired, dark eyed, with dimples and a gaze that seemed to penetrate my soul, Adrienne Barbeau’s performances in some of my most loved films became a coming of age for myself. Her looks and her swagger knocked me on my ass; etching her existence in my book of memory with such significance.
Quietly pining over Adrienne’s beauty and on-screen charisma, I found my young self revisiting certain films for far more than my common love of the genre — just to witness Barbeau and all her glowing glory.
From her roles as lovable Antonio Bay disc jockey Stevie Wayne in The Fog, the mean-spirited lush Billie in Creepshow, to the infamous Maggie in Escape From New York, I consumed Adrienne’s screen time like I was a starving child from an underdeveloped country.
I feverishly sought out her interviews. I desperately wanted to know her thoughts and opinions. To my delight, she came across as a wonderful human being that genuinely enjoys the opportunity to perform and create, making her effortlessly more attractive.
Within the last few years, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet Adrienne twice at some conventions and I must say, she is one of the most pleasant celebrities to approach. Many may say don’t meet your heroes or crushes, but I can confidently state that my first real crush was incredibly kind and engaging during both meetings. Adrienne took the time to really chat with me, and it meant a lot. Almost certain she was unaware of the significance meeting her was for myself, she still made me feel like I was the belle of the ball.
Adrienne and her characters provided something important for myself: strong, resourceful female counterparts to the men that dominated the films I lived in day in and day out.
Ash Williams/Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead Series)
Recommended by Vicki Woods
I love horror films of all kinds, so to come up with my first official horror crush was surprisingly hard. There are so many ways to go. I started at the beginning; did I ever have a crush on a monster? Honestly, I felt a lot of sympathy for the Frankenstein monster, but good looking he wasn’t. Any of the other horror actors I ever liked, happened much later in my life. So, to pick my first horror crush, I had to look back to 1981 when I went to the theater and saw the campiest B-movie ever, The Evil Dead, and discovered my first real horror crush: Bruce Campbell.
The handsome guy with the cleft in his chin has never disappointed me. Bruce Campbell, as Ash Williams in The Evil Dead Trilogy, is, well, a hero in my eyes. He is the guy even his own friends and family didn’t believe in. But I did, and so did the fans. I value a person with a sense of humor in a real relationship, and Ashy Slashy never failed to make me laugh, even as he was saving the world and spraying it with blood.
Where have you ever met a guy that, when his own hand becomes possessed, he cuts it off, puts a chainsaw in its place, and continues fighting evil? That’s right…nowhere. And that makes Ash pretty damn macho. He was so romantic with his girlfriends, too — except when they become demons.
The Evil Dead films are cheesy, blood-soaked, and tacky.
Yet, despite being pushed to the end of his sanity, the handsome Ash got me through to each crazy finale.
Bruce continued to do films and TV from time to time, so I never really forgot my crush. I saw him pop up everywhere over the years, in shows like Superman, The X-Files, Congo, The Majestic, and even Ellen. But imagine my excitement when Bruce was back on television in 2015, playing his most iconic role again in Ash vs Evil Dead.
Older but just as handsome, he slew deadites with a bloody gusto that warmed my cold horror heart. I met and got to interview him at the Saturn Awards a few years ago, and my photo with him is one of my celebrity favorites.
Bruce Campbell, the groovy guy known as The Chin, will always have a special place in my heart as my first horror crush.
Stu Macher/Matthew Lillard (Scream)
Recommended by Maggie Stankiewicz
He had me at, “She’s getting mad, Randy. You better liver alone.”
There was just something about Matthew Lillard’s portrayal of homicidal idiot Stu Macher that made him inexplicably attractive to a version of me who was far too young to be watching Scream in the first place. Maybe it was his ability to deliver a well-executed pun or the deep dimples that complimented his shallow mind . But whatever it was, it still works for me today. Lillard’s strength as an actor is turning goofy, obtuse characters like Stu into men of multitudes without ever betraying the tone of the film.
I’ve never liked bad boys, which is how Stu flew right under my radar and into my heart. Matthew Lillard as Stu is inherently more silly than broody, more obnoxious than mean, and manages to drop crumbs of endearment just seconds after gutting a classmate — treading the line between over-acting and perfect characterization. With his squinty eyes, boyish charm, and extreme lack of bodily control, Stu was oftentimes more baby deer than a dangerous spree killer.
Outside of his manic fumbling and expressions of weak-will, Stu was a horror movie aficionado — a love he shared with my younger self discovering her first horror movie crush.
His passion for something artistic mirrored my own. So outside of his cuteness (and prior to his reveal as Ghostface #2), his unabashed love for something was comforting. Though not a good guy by any means, Stu Macher will always have a small place in my heart. Sure, he could be insensitive, but what 17-year old boy isn’t?
Stu Macher wouldn’t have been as effective if it weren’t for Matthew Lillard’s mastery of physical comedy and line delivery, and that’s what makes him so lovable in the moments between kills. He may have been rightfully killed by a television set, but Stu’s impact on the Scream franchise runs as deep as it does in my heart, making me jump a little each time he’s mentioned in the subsequent films…a response that Sid and I share.
Tom Atkins (Night of the Creeps, The Fog, Halloween 3)
Recommended by Christi Bandy
When I hear Tom Atkins utter his famous catchphrase from Night of the Creeps, I get a shiver of delight! We’ve seen this legendary actor portray characters ranging from a hard-nosed cop to a day-drinking doctor to another cop…and another cop…ha! Each role is more entertaining than the last. Tom Atkins can save a half-ass movie. Tom Atkins IS the movie.
I realized Tom was a badass after he bedded Jamie Lee Curtis immediately after picking her up on the side of the road in The Fog. I mean, the man is smooth. Not only that, but he’s ridiculously handsome. You can’t deny it. Look at that mustache. It’s magical. And unlike some people who turn into shriveled raisins when they get old, Tom has miraculously become even more handsome. At 84, he’s still thrilling (and still acting, thank God!)
There are many opinions surrounding the oh-so-controversial Halloween 3, but mine is this: does the movie star Tom Atkins? Yes! Then it’s great.
Of course, I love the movie anyway, but watching Tom run around trying to save all the kids from exploding, melting heads while having relations with a woman easily half his age (go, Tom!) and taking down Conal Cochran is a pleasure.
Tom’s IMDB page describes him as, “handsome, rugged, versatile, and charismatic,” and I have to agree.
I just know that for many years my heart has begun beating faster when he comes on the screen!
Tom Atkins has had an illustrious career that began in the 60s (he’s been in TV shows ranging from Serpico to The Rockford Files to an appearance as the mayor in Oz). But for horror fans, he’s become an icon. Movies like Maniac Cop, the remake of My Bloody Valentine (Tom, will you be MY Valentine?) Trick, an appearance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and even the beginning and ending of Creepshow (along with numerous other roles) have made Tom a beloved actor of the horror genre.
And by beloved actor, I mean, the ladies love him. The ladies is me. I’m the ladies.
When I’m feeling blue, I pop in Night of the Creeps. Tom is at his best in this fun 80s gem. The gruff, sarcastic Detective Cameron arrives on the scene with a sharp tongue and cynical demeanor. When Tom says, “The good news is, your dates are here. The bad news is, they’re dead,” and doesn’t even flinch, I just smile. Oh, Tom, you’re too much. You’re just too much.
When they announced that Tom would be at Texas Frightmare Weekend this year, I cried tears of joy. I thanked every deity. I danced around the house screaming, “THRILL ME!” much to my husband’s chagrin. Then, the virus hit, keeping Tom and me apart for another long, sad year. Tom, I hope you come to Texas. I have wanted to meet you for years. And please, don’t ever shave your mustache.
Elijah Wood (The Faculty)
Recommended by Kourtnea Hogan
It was the late 90s. Clear landlines and inflatable furniture could be found in every young girl’s bedroom. In the soft glow of the lava lamps, some young heartthrob’s poster, torn from a Tiger Beat magazine, smiled upon slumber parties.
While my classmates were swooning over Justin Timberlake or Freddie Prinze Jr., there was only one man for me: Elijah Wood. After gaining interest in the actor in Deep Impact, my mom began to snag me up any Wood affiliated movie she could get her hands on. And not long after, I was introduced to The Faculty.
Wood’s dorky sweetheart Casey was everything I could ask for at the time, and probably went on to color the kind of guys I would like for the rest of my life. Seriously, I’ve only dated one guy over 5’9” my whole life.
Casey was just like me: sarcastic, unathletic, booksmart, and immediately wary of anything out of the ordinary.
I couldn’t be bothered with Josh Hartnett’s bad boy Zeke; a boy who didn’t care about school and tormented teachers? Gross.
While Zeke stayed too cool throughout the bodysnatcher invasion, Casey allowed himself to feel his emotions without letting them take him over. He even becomes the guy to save the day, all while being a short nerd. Of course, I was totally heartbroken by his obsession with Deliliah. I couldn’t ever get a boy like Casey to like me; I wasn’t the pretty popular type.
But lucky for me, they seem to like goth girls just as much in real life.
My love for Wood never waned, especially when The Lord of the Rings movies would make him super famous just a few years later. Wood’s career has never let me down, as he’s just continued to get weirder and dig further into horror. I couldn’t ask for a better crush.
Severn/Bill Paxton (Near Dark)
Recommended by Lex Vranick
Let me set the scene. I was sixteen, and Halloween was right around the corner. A friend brought a DVD copy of Katheryn Bigelow’s Near Dark to movie night. I was a huge fan of 80s horror flicks and was definitely surprised she’d dug up something I hadn’t heard of before.
I should tell you I had already watched Buffy when I was most definitely too young to watch Buffy. I worshiped Anne Rice, and my dream was to find a secret vampire brood in the suburbs of Santa Carla. I was also a teen in the vampire romance renaissance. It was Stephanie Meyer’s world, and we were all living in it — whether we wanted to or not. No shade to the Cullen clan, but I’ve definitely always preferred my bloodsuckers a little more, for lack of a better word, bloody. I’m definitely not opposed to undead heartthrobs, but Meyer-pires just weren’t my thing.
All of this was known to my friend, and she used this knowledge to deliver me the holy grail of underrated vampire films.
Near Dark became an instant favorite, so much so that I hunted down my own copy that same weekend. And the character that cemented my love, my number one horror crush from that day on, was Severen.
Played by the late Bill Paxton, Severen was everything a 1980s vampire should be: a reckless, leather-clad wild card, usually covered in blood and never without his Wayfarers.
The only character free of emotional strife, Severen has been described by Bigelow herself as “the perfect vampire” (FSR). He is a pure villain, but in a film that tackles heavy themes of family and what it means to be human, his role is actually refreshing. He exists to intimidate and terrify and, more often than not, to provide a healthy dose of comic relief. He does all of this with such devious charm that I couldn’t help but feel drawn to him.
As a young writer, this was the kind of character I wanted to create: scary, but fascinating; funny, and a touch nightmarish.
Paxton’s charisma definitely bleeds into Severen’s personality. In fact, I’d say charisma and chaos are the two words that describe Severen best. He steals every single scene he’s in, from the moment he flies into frame to his lead in the infamous bar scene right down to his face-off against a semi.
Is Severen the kind of guy you want to bring home to your parents? Definitely not. But as far as characters go, he definitely solidified my “type”. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t model a character or two (or three, or four) of my own after this incredible Bill Paxton performance, and each time I watch Near Dark I’m reminded again of the impact Severen had on my teenage self.
I know that this character will forever be a favorite; he’s the kind that grabs on, and never lets go.
Joey (Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors)
Recommended by Allyssa Gaines
The third film in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, Dream Warriors, has always been my favorite. That’s not terribly surprising, as it is definitely a fan favorite and widely considered the best of the franchise. It’s the film that revealed Freddy’s origins and the one that truly made Freddy a household name, permanently cementing his rightful place as an enduring horror icon and one of the most memorable movie monsters to ever grace the screen.
It is Dream Warriors, which did have a screenplay draft written by Craven, that evolved Freddy from a merciless killer who delighted in slaughtering teens in their dreams — often in the cruelest ways possible — to an outright celebrity; a wise-cracking court jester who delivered as much absurdity and villainy.
Another thing that made Dream Warriors great was the outstanding teen cast that inhabited interesting, well-written characters. Rather than just serving as cattle for the inevitable slaughter, each of them were given a superpower they could use to battle Freddy in their dreams. It allowed them to truly fight back, with fantastic effect. This is also one of the rare slashers where plot actually matters, and it’s a compelling story.
However, I came to realize later in the life that there was something else that really made this movie stand out for me in such a profound way.
I was always especially drawn to the character of Joey Crusel, played by Rodney Eastman. The youngest of the Dream Warriors, he was too traumatized to speak, but he still left quite an impression. I would watch this movie over and over, and I would always look forward to the few moments that Joey was on the screen.
Although he was not the main character, he did play a pivotal role in the story. And I loved everything about him — from his style, to his smile, and even the fact he did not talk much. I have always had a thing for the strong, silent type, so perhaps it was Joey that started my love for that kind of man.
I only wish (SPOILER ALERT) he would have lasted longer in the franchise, but I sill loving rewatching Dream Warriors from time to time and seeing him once again save the day — finding his voice when he needed it most.
Recommended by Alli Hartley
For me (and many of my age) Scream was a sensation when it came out. I had never before seen a horror movie that hinged on the meta, that was self-aware enough to react to and comment on its own existence. Scream, elephants, and humans: the only three elements in the known universe that could recognize themselves in the mirror. The characters were smart and complex, the film was funny and suspenseful, the mystery twisted and logical. Then of course, there were the boys.
By the time Scream came to video, it was a sleepover staple, and all of my friends had their favorites. One liked the sexy and tormented Billy, one was all for the sweet, unassuming Deputy Dewey. Me, something about the earnestness of Randy (Jamie Kennedy) melted my heart.
As this was before the internet, it honestly never occurred to me that a teenage boy could care as passionately about movies as I did. In my tiny town, in my tiny circle, I was the only dedicated film fan I knew. Overhead conversations from the boys in the halls seemed all to be about sports, music or the latest craze. My own group was filled with nerds and outcasts, artists and valedictorians. Times with them were awesome, but their eyes would glaze over if you wanted to do a deep dive into mainstream media.
These days I realize that Randy was a nuanced update of the nerd archetype in so many lesser slashers.
But watching Randy’s video store rants, I dreamed of a boy who would work in my own video store, who would talk to me about these precious veins of knowledge I longed to share. Seeing Randy, half passed out, murmur a warning to Jamie Lee Curtis on the TV screen, I longed to cuddle up next to him in the soft yellow glow of the abandoned living room.
In Scream 2, when Randy was murdered, my heart was broken. I hoped, up until the very end, that my onscreen boy-next-door would somehow survive through to the next installment. I hoped that my ardent other half would lead Syd by the hand through the labyrinth of trials that the Scream sequels would bring, using his wisdom like a beacon lighting the safe path. I hoped he would find a nice girl who slammed down film quotes like playing cards, whose own study challenged him to a new phase of enlightenment.
I hoped that girl would look a little like me.
Jareth/David Bowie (Labyrinth)
Recommended by The Angry Princess
Ok, so it may not exactly be horror in the traditional sense, but the surreal fantasy film Labyrinth is much more macabre than you might remember. Beneath the extraordinary creature effects, lovable characters, and infectious musical numbers, there’s a darkness at the heart of Labyrinth that is easy to overlook — but hard to ignore.
From the introduction of Ludo, while hung upside down and tortured, to creepy Gremlins who show up to steal an innocent baby, to drug-induced romantic fantasies, there’s some twisted stuff here. But the most unsettling aspect is that bizarre May-December pseudo romance between David Bowie’s Goblin King and Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a teenage girl. In fact, for a “kid’s film”, the sexual innuendo and symbolism in Labyrinth is pretty heavy handed.
My heart skipped a beat the first time Sarah meets Jareth the Goblin King, when he shows up at her bedroom window like a creeper and offers her a gift: a crystal that allows her to see her greatest dreams, but only if she gives up the search for her brother. In retrospect, it’s cruel. But it was powerful for a young girl who, like Sarah, longed to be special. Jareth taps into Sarah’s desires to live an extraordinary life, and he uses that to manipulate her. It’s what makes him such a villain, but an undeniably charming one — the most dangerous kind.
I’d rewind and rewatch, over and over, the epic final confrontation between Sarah and Jareth. Bowie, dressed entirely in white with that long blonde hair and infamous codpiece on glorious display, essentially professes his love for Sarah. “I have reordered time. I have turned the world upside down. And I have done it all for you.”
It was the most romantic thing I could imagine at the time.
Adult me can see how toxic it was, as Jareth is essentially gaslighting and controlling Sarah. He tells her to fear him, love him, and do as he asks — then, he will be her slave.
David Bowie was 39 when he played Jareth the Goblin King. Jennifer Connelley was only 14. It’s disturbing as hell in retrospect. Jareth robs the cradle, both figuratively and literally in the film, and we were all totally ok with it. Not only were we ok with it, we couldn’t get enough of it. Had anyone other than the incomparable Bowie played Jareth, it would have been a very different film. That romantic tension between Jareth and Sarah would have never worked, and millions of girls like me would have never fallen in love with a character who is actually pretty reprehensible.
Labyrinth was the last feature film Henson directed before he died. It was also a commercial failure, recouping just half of its $25 million budget. But despite its initial poor reception, it eventually became a beloved cult favorite, and Bowie’s unforgettable performance is a huge part of its enduring appeal.