Horror’s consistent focus on stories that double as morality tales often leads to protagonists who are dutiful and serious, leaving a big blank spot in charisma and personality. But that’s why god invented the sidekick. They are the color to the protagonist’s black-and-white, the fiery, funny fools who often drive the story’s complications, as the protagonist runs around putting out all the fires.
Because a fair number of horror films feature female leads, many of these sidekicks are also female characters. Sometimes they bolster the protagonist’s confidence, sometimes tear it down. Occasionally they take on traits of a villain, only to be revealed as the true center of the film. Often they perish, and their deaths trigger an extra significance: If this person with quick wit and endearing flaws can die, then things are about to get serious.
One of the greatest – to our mind – is Barb, played by Margot Kidder, in the original Black Christmas. As we prepare for the release of Blumhouse’s Black Christmas remake this week, here are 15 of the most colorful sidekicks of horror cinema.
Played by Margot Kidder
Very few horror films possess the kind of joy Bob Clark’s Black Christmas emits when resident alcoholic and prankster Barb (Margot Kidder) patiently explains to a befuddled cop that her phone number begins with the word “fellatio.” Nor do they revel in a character’s tangential knowledge as much as when Barb interjects with some serious turtle-sex facts while a father is grieving his missing daughter. Barb may not be the final girl, but she fills our stockings with delightful coal.
Played by Rose McGowan
Wes Craven consistently delivered some of the best female sidekicks, but Tatum (Rose McGowan) earns a spot for her 1990s “girl power” feminism that had her trying to convince her boyfriend, Casey (Matthew Lillard), that the new Woodsboro slasher could be a woman, because girls can do anything boys can do. Her kid-sister vibe – she’s literally Dewy’s kid sister – makes her a sparkling verbal sparrer, and she’s talking s–t right up until the very garage-door end.
Played by Nancy Kyes and P.J. Soles
Before slashers were a thing, John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill’s prototype for the genre showcased the possibilities for fully fleshed-out sidekicks with sporty Lynda and sarcastic Annie, the bad and badder devils on Laurie Strode’s shoulders. They poke fun at the latter’s virginal purity with the kind of ribbing realistic for angsty teen girls. Both act as comic relief, proving there can and should be more than one funnywoman in the group.
Played by Teri McMinn
Tobe Hooper specifically asked for actress Teri McMinn’s costume to be backless and short to show off most of her “meat,” giving her a visually vulnerable feel in this slaughterhouse classic. Pam is a small role, but McMinn fills her out with a genuine openness and curiosity, a young woman of the perilous 1970s whose kind and trusting nature leads her to disaster.
Played by Natalie Mendoza
Juno is both the sidekick and the foil of Neil Marshall’s spelunking disaster. It’s her fiery, fierce, and selfish nature that draws her estranged best friend Sarah into the unexplored caves, but also the spirit that gives Sarah the will to leave her as bait and escape. Natalie Mendoza’s empathetic performance speaks to what one is capable of when scared, but not so much that her fate doesn’t seem a little fitting.
Played by Veronica Cartwright
Joan Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) was the navigator of the USCSS Nostromo, and she spent just as much time trying to guide the crew of the ship in the right direction. She was the first to say exploring that distress call was a bad idea and the first to say they should “get the hell out of here.” Her hysterics are a natural and appropriate reaction to an alien attack and an extension of the audience’s reactions, so Lambert becomes the lens through which we view the film.
Played by Jada Pinkett-Smith
Jeryline (Jada Pinkett-Smith) may be a criminal on work release at a rural hotel, but she’s got more smarts and morals than many. Demon Knight is the rare horror movie willing to off its protagonist, and Jeryline steps up from sidekick to lead, showing off her cunning by using the demon’s Don Juan charm against him and ultimately saving the night.
Played by Amanda Wyss
If you’d only watched the first act of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, you’d think Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss) were the protagonist of the film, but she’s in actuality the sidekick and catalyst for the film series. She exudes both vulnerability and strength, which is why her iconic demise and subsequent use as a puppet for Freddy Krueger’s mind tricks is a huge punch to the gut.
Played by Sarah Michelle Gellar
The key to Helen Shivers’ success as a sidekick is her unabashed and shameless vanity. Sarah Michelle Gellar’s portrayal of the character paints her as the beauty queen with depth, the most likely to succeed. She’s the woman with the plan to track down the killer and the guts to charge into the crowd of the Croaker Queen Pageant talent competition to save her friend. Unfortunately, luck just wasn’t on her side.
Played by Paris Hilton
When it was announced that Paris Hilton would play a supporting character in Jaume Collet-Serra’s remake of House of Wax, there was a resounding cheer that audiences would get to see this real-life heel bloodily sacrificed for the movie gods. The thing is: Hilton killed it. She infused Paige with the same detached and fascinating poppy materialism she possessed in her reality show, becoming the best love-to-hate-’em sidekick.
Played by Jenette Goldstein
The descriptor “badass” is tossed around for really any female character who demonstrates anything remotely “strong.” But Jenette Goldstein’s Vasquez is potentially the only character worthy of being called a badass. Her barbed quips and buff biceps are perhaps the most memorable aspect of an extremely memorable film. She exudes fearlessness and feels nearly immortal… until she doesn’t.
Played by Olivia Luccardi
Olivia Luccardi’s Yara is more than a sidekick, she’s the one-woman Greek chorus of It Follows. At first, she seems like a typical tech-obsessed, disinterested teen, constantly reading things on her fictional clamshell e-reader, occasionally glancing up to sneer at her friends’ poor choices. But nearly everything Yara reads aloud to her friends contains a philosophical key to their situation, advice, and omens.
Played by Ella Rumpf
The genius of Ella Rumpf’s Alexia in Julia Ducournau’s Raw is that Alexia at first seems the antagonist of the film, the source of all of her sister’s problematic cravings, but it turns out she’s really the sidekick. She’s a cutting bully who can turn on a dime to become the doting and generous big sister. Even as she emotionally tortures Justine, Alexia clearly wants to snap her sister out of her goody two-shoes demeanor and have some fun.
Played by Mila Kunis
Just like Alexia in Raw, Lily’s the false antagonist, the projection of all the protagonist’s fears and anxieties. In reality, she’s a smart, grounded ballet dancer, probably the sanest of the bunch, whose only hope is to nab the lead role and maybe coax Nina out of her cocooned and infantile life. In a story of paranoia and delusion, Lily’s the realest of the real.
Played by Bae Doo-na
There are few things more admirable about director Bong Joon-ho than his ability to create characters who are both wildly inept and also extremely vain and self-satisfied with their limited abilities. Nam-joo (Bae Doo-na) as the protagonist’s gold medalist archer sister who rubs her mediocre success in his face is one of Bong’s greatest creations. It’s impossible for her to swallow her pride, even as she’s face-to-face with a monstrous adversary.
Black Christmas is in theaters December 13, 2019