Scary Seniors: 11+ Best Geriatric Characters in Horror Cinema

Aging: do it or die. Here is a list of the most sinister seniors on screen.

The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014) is a found-footage gem featuring a fantastic blending of the supernatural with real-life horrors associated with aging.

Cinema is a cultural indicator. Our on-screen fears are a surreal version of our real-life fears. While seniors aren’t naturally scary, aging is a terrifying concept for many. The process of aging comes with certain horrors, after all. Losing memory, losing control of your body, being underestimated. Some horror films have found ways to spin these fears and more into an even scarier narrative. 

Coleen Gray as June Talbot in The Leech Woman (1960).
June Talbot (Coleen Gray) will do anything to reverse the effects of aging in The Leech Woman (1960), even commit murder.

When you imagine seniors, you probably envision baking, caregiving, and cuddles. However, the characters on this list are the most sinister of seniors. You can find kids instead of cookies in their ovens. This juxtaposition leaves us afraid, not only of the characters but perhaps of our own future as well. Who’s to say the spirits of the past won’t take you as they did Deborah Logan? What would the Devil have to offer you for a favor? What price would you pay for eternal youth? Keep reading to discover the scariest side of aging. And, possibly, to look into your future. 

Best Geriatric Characters in Horror Cinema

Grandpa – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

John Dugan as Grandpa in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974).
In the scene where Sally’s finger is cut so Grandpa can drink her blood, John Dugan (who plays Grandpa) wasn’t aware that Marilyn Burns’ finger was cut for real to draw actual blood.

At well over 100 years old, the patriarch of the maniacal backwoods family in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is by far the oldest (living) character in this list. Referred to simply as Grandpa, when we first encounter this ancient man he appears to be a corpse. Later, his family sits him down for dinner where they feed him a taste of blood before trying in vain to help him kill poor Sally Hardesty with a hammer. Apparently he used to be best killer in the family, but the ravages of time have left him barely mobile.

Minnie and Roman Castevet – Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castevet in Rosemarys Baby (1968)
Ruth Gordon (seen here in the foreground) won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Minnie Castevet in Rosemary’s Baby.

Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and her husband (John Cassavetes) move into an old NYC building. They immediately find their older neighbors annoying and uninteresting. Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman (Sidney Blackmer) reveal themselves to be very interesting, however, with a lot to offer. And a lot to hide. In one chilling scene, Minnie and Roman watch indifferently as the Devil violently rapes Rosemary. 

Abigail Leatherbee – Dead Dudes in the House (1989)

Abigail Leatherbee dropping a pipe out of a second story window in The House on Tombstone Hill (1989).
The elderly Abigail Leatherbee is played by a much younger man (Douglas Gibson) in a lot of heavy makeup.

Though it’s unclear exactly how or when Abigail Leatherbee died, what is clear is that she is still protective of her home. Around 40 years after her death, her former house has a young new owner. The new owner and his friends arrive to renovate the isolated house, and one of them begins by smashing Abigail’s tombstone with a sledgehammer. Abigail awakens, and throughout the night she stalks and kills her unwanted house guests one by one. This supernatural slasher movie is great fun, and it’s also commonly known by the titles The House on Tombstone Hill and The Dead Come Home.

Elvis Presley & John F. Kennedy – Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis in Bubba Ho-Tep (2002).
Bruce Campbell plays Elvis and Ossie Davis plays JFK in this horror comedy from director Don Coscarelli.

In Bubba Ho-Tep, an Egyptian mummy is loose in a nursing home sucking the souls of the elderly out through their butts. The only hope to stop the mummy lies with two friends: a man who claims to be the real Elvis Presley who switched with an impersonator prior to “Elvis’s” death in 1977, and a man who claims to be President John F. Kennedy who had his skin dyed black after an assassination attempt and had his brain replaced with a bag of sand. It’s certainly a strange movie, but Bubba Ho-Tep is a welcome change of pace in which the elderly are portrayed as heroes rather than villains.

Ben & Violet Devereaux – The Skeleton Key (2005)

John Hurt as Ben Devereaux in The Skeleton Key (2005).
John Hurt said in an interview that he might not have taken the part of Ben Devereaux if he had read the script before being convinced to take the role by director Ian Softley.

In a decaying plantation home, Violet (Gena Rowlands) and Ben Devereaux (John Hurt) harbor a secret within the home and within themselves. The mute and defenseless Ben is the scarier of the two. The simplicity of his foreboding stares and terrified eyes implies he is experiencing horrors that he can’t speak of. The pair’s strange actions aren’t entirely their fault, though. Old souls parasitize Ben and Violet, keeping them prisoners in their own bodies. 

Mrs. Ganush – Drag Me To Hell (2009) 

Mrs. Gannush is fought off by Christine in Drag Me to Hell (2009).
Lorna Raver (on the right) had portions of her dialogue translated to Hungarian. Director Sam Raimi had Lorna use some of the Hungarian phrases she learned in the movie.

After being denied a mortgage extension, Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver) places a curse on loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman). The film demands sympathy for both characters, characters who ultimately lead to each other’s undoing. Drag Me To Hell was released during the 2009 foreclosure crisis. Many people were losing their homes, adding realism to the film, realism that implies that the rest of the horrific tale can happen, too. 

Deborah Logan – The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)

Jill Larson in The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
Jill Larson had never seen a horror movie prior to taking the role of Deborah Logan. As of a 2016 interview, she still hadn’t seen a horror movie except for her own.

Deborah Logan (Jill Larson) is losing control. Rage seemingly takes over her personality as she is possessed by an evil spirit in this found-footage shocker. However, something equally dangerous is taking over her mind – dementia. Her actions become more deadly as her memory becomes weaker. While this film is a paranormal horror, the real terror lies in reality. Alzheimer’s is a disease that can possess us in the same malevolent manner as an evil spirit.

Nana and Pop Pop – The Visit (2015)

Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie as Nana and Pop Pop in The Visit (2015).
Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan has emphasized how long it took his to edit The Visit before finally finding a balance between its comedic elements and its horror.

Grandparents are seen as innocent, loving caregivers. But Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) seem more intent on destroying their grandchildren. In otherwise innocent moments, the grandparents act paranoid and occasionally deadly. While the film touches on some serious subjects such as sundowning (Sundowning was actually the movie’s title for a while during production), there are more laughable moments than scary ones. This makes a good reminder to laugh through life’s natural insanity.

“The Blind Man” – Don’t Breathe (2016)

Stephen Lang as The Blind Man in Don't Breathe (2016).
Director Fede Álvarez made Don’t Breathe partly as a reaction to his version of Evil Dead (2013). He wanted to make an original movie with very little blood and an emphasis on suspense over horror.

In looking for a home to burglarize, a group of teenagers choose who they assume to be an easy target: a blind old man. This man, Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang), outwits them at every corner, however. And more so, he does unimaginable harm to the teens who are now trapped in his home. Neither his blindness nor his age dull his terrifying aggression and desire. This successfully destroys the stereotype of extreme fragility that is assumed in seniors. Stereotypes like this always lead to harm, though not always to whom you’d think.

Michael Myers – Halloween (2018)

James Jude Courtney as Michael Myers in Halloween (2018)
Nick Castle, the original Michael Myers from the 1978 movie, has a cameo as Michael in Halloween (2018). Castle was 71 years old when the movie was released.

By the time Michael Myers returned to Haddonfield in the first of David Gordon Green’s Halloween trilogy, he was 61 years old. Michael’s rampage on Halloween night in 2018 lasted for two movies (continuing in Halloween Kills) in which he killed numerous people and took on the entire town of Haddonfield. Not a bad night’s work for a senior citizen. When he eventually retired in Halloween Ends, Michael was 65. James Jude Courtney, the actor who plays Michael in all three movies, is roughly the same age as Michael, being born just months before to Michael’s fictional date of birth in 1957.

Pearl – X (2022)

Mia Goth as Pearl in X (2022).
The origin of Pearl’s descent into madness can be seen in the appropriately titled prequel Pearl which was released later in the same year as X.

When a group of secretive pornographers arrive to shoot a movie on her property, Pearl remembers the old days when she used to have dreams of being a star of the silver screen. Pearl sees a lot of herself in aspiring star Maxine Minx (Mia Goth plays both roles), but the closer she is drawn to Maxine and the rest of the film crew, the more violent Pearl gets. Time and age have taken a toll on Pearl’s body and mind, and the only way she knows how to express her sadness and anger is through bloody murder.

More Scary Seniors

Alice Krige as The Witch in Gretel & Hansel (2020).
In Gretel & Hansel (2020), Alice Krige brings the witch from the folk tale Hansel and Gretel to life with a slightly altered goal (though eating children is still on the menu).

Further Reading

Meet The Author

Kasey Rae is an artist, writer, and filmmaker, residing in the mountains of New York. Her favorite horror films are Nightmare on Elm Street and The Descent.