As a horror fan, you may sometimes feel like you’re spending more time with simpering victims instead of unflappable villains. And you’re probably right. Filmmakers like to deceive viewers with a litany of lead-up scares but no actual reveal. Other times, we hear swathes of back story about certain diabolical characters before they’re introduced, which creates the illusion that they’re on screen more than they are.
Case in point: despite a truckload of accolades as the leading man of the film, Hannibal Lecter appears in less than twenty minutes of The Silence of the Lambs. Even horror regulars like Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger might materialize only sporadically throughout an installment. Right or wrong, Hollywood’s decided we like our villains in relatively small doses.
But some of horror’s most famous creations clock so little face time with the audience that you might be able to blink hard enough and miss them. They’re rare. They’re influential. And in almost no time at all, they become bloodied bastions of the genre.
With that in mind, here are six—okay, technically seven—characters that make their fleeting time on celluloid count. And sure, some are around in sequels and remakes, thus upping their overall screen presence. But even without any redux or reimagining, the first appearance is usually the best.
Twice the Fun on Your Overlook Retreat: The “Twins” in The Shining
Take a moment and picture the Grady sisters. You can seem them clearly, right? Hand-in-hand at the end of a hallway, apathetic expressions on their ghostly little faces, they wear matching blue dresses with tiny barrettes in their shoulder-length brown hair. You might not remember the color of the flowers on the wallpaper—they’re blue, almost the same shade as the dresses—but you probably have no issue envisioning the twins along with the crimson flashes back and forth to their filicidal demises.
For all the purists out there—no, they’re not twins per se, being referred to as about two years apart, but the girls portraying them are indeed identical, so the oft-called moniker of “The Twins” is still half right and probably more recognizable. Either way, the pint-size brunettes created an indelible image that auteurs, artists, and fans continue to recreate and spoof to this day. Not only is the scene one of the most famous from Kubrick’s 1980 classic but it’s also a renowned moment in general cinema history. Many non-fans of horror (yes, that’s a real thing) can recognize a still photo of the girls, some without even seeing the film. Quite a notable honor for two actresses who never made another movie. Perhaps, that’s part of the appeal. Since we never saw them in any other film roles, there’s a nagging notion that maybe, just maybe, they remain trapped in limbo, ceaselessly waiting for another lonely kid on a three wheeler to come around the hallway.
In Lieu of Wedding Gifts, Send Electricity: The Bride in Bride of Frankenstein
The hair! The hissing! The Metropolis-esque head twitching! As the eponymous blushing cadaver, the Bride of Frankenstein is one of the most memorable female monsters in horror history. Upon your first screening, however, you might be disappointed if you expect her to be the star. In fact, simply waiting for her to appear might thoroughly test your patience.
The audience never learns too much about our girl with the Vulcan eyebrows. About five minutes after her creation, she along with her fiancé, one mad scientist, and a bunch of expensive-looking equipment are destroyed. Why every laboratory has an explosion-inducing kill switch is perhaps the greatest puzzle of old-time monster movies. Shame too. So much potential existed in Elsa Lanchester’s overwrought yet nuanced portrayal of the would-be mate. Nowadays, she’d get three spin-off films and a reality television show. On second thought, maybe it’s a good thing about those dynamite-detonating lab controls.
The Problem with Tweens: Jason in Friday the 13th
In the inaugural chapter from the Man Behind the Hockey Mask series, Jason doesn’t use his machete on anybody—or wear the aforementioned disguise either. Instead, his good ol’ mom does his bidding as she slices her way through Camp Crystal Lake. Jason does manage a token appearance, initially in his deranged mother’s flashbacks. But that’s not his contribution to the first movie that most of us remember. Instead, as the catalyst for a boating accident, his five second cameo at the end of the film is what’s embedded in our heads.
The ambiguity of his debut adds more allure. Was Jason trying to pull his mother’s murderer into the water to drown her, or was that his way of saying hi? Did the whole scene even happen, or was the ill-fated Alice just having another PTSD-induced hallucination? And as a side note, he should be a tad more putrefied after years spent in the amoeba-infested waters of Crystal Lake. Maybe a mother’s love can overcome anything, including the basic process of rot.
If you’re still not convinced of the brief role’s influence, look no further than the career path of actor Ari Lehman. He has successfully parlayed his performance as the soon-to-be-homicidal youngster into a whole vocation of horror convention appearances and an aptly-named band, First Jason. A mere glimpse of the littlest Voorhes, and horror fans have been besotted ever since.
Listen for the Dinner Bell: Grandpa Sawyer in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Leatherface may be the most infamous member of the Sawyer clan, but as lead villain, the audience gets to know him reasonably well in the 1974 foray into rural hell. It’s patriarch Grandpa who barely appears yet manages to do a number on your psyche forever.
Between his deceptive comatose vibe and lust for blood and hammers, Grandpa manages to steal every moment he’s on screen, even though he’s often relegated to the background of raucous scenery. Upon their first meeting, hapless Sally makes the mistake that he’s dead, a folly she’ll never forget after the ghastly hemoglobin sucking at the dinner table drives her into a momentary coma of her own.
For anyone who’s seen Chainsaw’s many sequels, prequel, and remake, Grandpa does log a decent chunk of screen time in the overall series. But among both horror devotees who’ve memorized every frame of every film and casual fans who could barely stomach the original, no one forgets Grandpa’s earliest celluloid outing. An appearance so economical in its terror, nothing imprints on your nightmares and waking dreams quite like it.
All Wrapped Up & No Place to Go: The Mummy in The Mummy
Even if you haven’t seen the movie, at some point in your life, you’ve come across the prolific image of the original Mummy. It’s implanted in pop culture in a way that no CGI monstrosity pursuing Brendan Fraser could possibly hope to unseat. Yet much like the Bride that followed three years later, the 1932 classic saw little of its namesake creature.
But let’s get this straight: Boris Karloff is in the movie plenty. In full mummy regalia, though, he shows up for a whopping one scene. That’s right. The iconic Universal monster that we’ve come to know hangs around for mere minutes. Then he fancies himself up, and he’s out the door to wreak havoc around town. Or more specifically, he wants to find a woman he can murder and bring back from the dead. What is it with Karloff and his lackluster mating rituals?
Throughout the rest of the film, the misnomer Mummy does look a bit shriveled, but no more so than any tourist who’s spent too much time in the sun exploring Egypt’s ancient sites. You’ve got to figure he’d get a lot more terrorizing done if he left on the bandages. The stench of embalming fluid and scarab beetles alone should frighten the locals.
No More Late-Night Snacks for You, Little Lady: Karen in Night of the Living Dead
Romero’s Dead series has a knack for creating unforgettable zombies, including Day’s perennial fan favorite, Bub. But it’s the little girl with the “I Hurt” mantra that appears in her monstrous guise for under two minutes yet manages to sear that fallen from grace visage into our still-intact brains. You may consider another Pittsburgh-area zombie the best (Land’s Big Daddy, anyone?), but Karen packs the most wallop into the briefest appearance.
What is it that makes kids and horror such a terrifying combination anyhow? The irrevocable loss of innocence? The superimposing of grotesque traits on the made-in-our-image offspring? Or maybe it’s that despite millennia of advice and thousands of books on childrearing, youngsters’ minds are still so opaque to us adults that we almost wonder if they’re capable of such hellish designs even without a zombie apocalypse. Think about that the next time you tuck in the little tyke or have to babysit your cousin’s kid. Not so cute when they’re going for your cranium.
Did your favorite “cameo” character make the cut? Let me know in the comments below!