The theme of deformity is one that is never far from the horror film industry. Every classic villain needs a fright factor, and a physical deformity allows for them to look different, carry an air of mystique, and appear dehumanized all at once. Some
The backstory, the imagery; deformities let a horror enthusiast’s mind run wild with theories around the character’s life and motives. And deformed characters are among the most iconic in the history of film. Let’s take a look at just five of the greatest deformed movie characters of all-time and how they continue to leave their mark on wider culture even today.
Spike – Eraserhead
Eraserhead (1977) is the horror film fan’s horror film. Dark, dystopian, and downright terrifying, it’s a mind-warp of a title, with plot points coming from the deepest crannies of David Lynch’s warped and wonderful creative mind.
The heavily deformed Spike, Jack Nance’s nickname of the baby around which the film’s plot takes a vicious turn, is a thing of mystery both on-screen and of, with characters unsure of whether it is human or indeed heavily deformed. The mystery of the baby extends beyond the on-screen horrors, with Lynch refusing to reveal the secrets of how the ‘baby’ was made and burying it after the film’s production. Fan theories include that the prop was made out of the body of a still-born lamb, others that it was the body of a skinned rabbit.
Eraserhead’s huge cult following was a slow burner and after a production time of five years, incredibly, only 25 people watched the film on its opening night. But a huge cult following it has and, after critical acclaim, awards, and according to IMDB – £7m worth of box office takings followed, Spike’s character had a huge influence on Stanley Kubrick’s career, most notably in the case of The Shining.
Its influence on wider popular culture is evident, as is the case with many truly cult films, with clothing and posters commonplace in many student dorms. Indeed, Eraserhead characters have become popular in tattoo imagery, and hardcore Lynch fans can even own a chillingly realistic Spike replica.
Erik – The Phantom of the Opera
A title much more woven into the fabric of wider popular culture is The Phantom of the Opera. Starting out as Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, it has seen many reincarnations, most notably in the form of a 1986 Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that runs to this day.
Whilst more recent remakes will be better known and take on an altogether less horror-influenced style, its 1925 predecessor was a silent horror film starring the iconic Lon Chaney as Erik and directed by Rupert Julian. The film was influential in the future of special effects makeup, with Chaney’s horrific and self-devised makeup kept a closely-guarded secret until the film’s premiere, where several viewers fainted.
There have been several remakes of the iconic film, including Hammer’s equally iconic 1962 adaptation, and the film’s title character continues to have a huge influence on popular culture today. From Iron Maiden’s 1980 track Phantom of the Opera to appearances in video games such as Sly 3 and recently some online casino brands have released a series of thematically influenced slot games. From Erik spans far beyond cinema.
The Hill People – The Hills Have Eyes
The horrific main antagonists in The Hills Have Eyes horror franchise, the Hill People are vengeful outcasts of a community heavily deformed by radiation poisoning from nuclear testing gone wrong. The 1977 Wes Craven original is perhaps the most iconic of the four-part series (there was also an unofficial 1995 sequel), with the films having contributed to a $132,028,960 total box office reception.
Led by Big Brain, the Hill People go about taking revenge against the wider human race for their treatment in years gone by, which leads to the gory slasher titles that have followed the original. The 2006 remake has received praise and criticism in equal measure for its gory nature.
The Hills Have Eyes franchise has an enormous cult following in itself, and whilst the films have been criticised for making the Hill People too one-dimensional and simplistic, their stories have been more widely explored in a graphic novel The Hills Have Eyes: The Beginning, where the origins of their deformity are explained.
Freddy Krueger – A Nightmare on Elm Street
Another Wes Craven creation, no list of iconic horror deformities would be complete without Freddy Krueger. Having debuted in the A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), the
heavily burnt and terribly deformed villain kills people from within their dreams and Krueger is ranked amongst the very best movie villains of all-time, not to mention starring in one of the best ever movie trailers.
The iconic imagery of Krueger’s clawed glove and distinctive look has lent itself to a huge number of Elm Street spin-offs and cross-industry appearances that reach far beyond the film series itself. The most brazen example of this is Freddy vs Jason (2003), where he is pitted against Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees, and its planned sequel Freddy vs Jason vs Ash, featuring the central The Evil Dead (1981) villain, never materialised but was reimagined into a comic book series.
Krueger has appeared in a number of video games, perhaps more so than any other horror character, including the 1989 Nintendo Entertainment System title of the same name as the original film. In 2010, he featured as a downloadable character on the cross-platform Mortal Kombat, where he became only the second non-Mortal Kombat player to feature in the game. He featured alongside Jason in the mobile sequel Mortal Kombat X and then again in Dead By Daylight, a 2016 title for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Quasimodo – The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Based on Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel of the same name, Wallace Worsley’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s (1923) is by far its most horror-influenced version. Again played by horror specialist Lon Chaney, the film was Universal’s highest grossing silent movie, taking over $3m.
Reimagined most famously in Disney’s popular 1996 effort, its 1923 predecessor is a dark and troubling romantic horror film that proved to be hugely influential in terms of the future of prosthetics and makeup in cinema. It received a huge critical welcoming alongside a huge box office windfall and went some way to paving the way for a total of thirteen feature films. Again, Quasimodo’s distinctive image has proven to be irresistible for entertainment producers across a number of industries, featuring in TV series, stage shows, and the now-iconic 1983 arcade game Hunchback.
The deformities of these iconic characters, either used to strengthen their evil or as an alternative to their relatively kind nature, makes each of them what they are. Who have we missed out? Who is your favourite deformed horror movie character? Let us know in the comments box below.
Categorised in: Horror Movies
This post was written by Nadia Vella