Obsession plays a large part in horror. The genre is rooted in human action and while everyone tries to maintain the balance that society expects, sometimes people go over the edge. Love and relationships in general are inherently a half-step away from obsession. A good thing can always become too much, too fast and often does. The characters we will be looking at are some of the most extreme examples, but that is part of what makes them so appealing. Their adoration for something has driven them completely insane and the things they do to prove their love are some of the most horrific ever committed to film. Even so, there’s something about characters like this that we can’t help but watch. Part of that is wanting to see what they’re going to do next. Another part, upsetting or not, is that we can relate to them on some level. Because everyone has the capacity inside themselves for obsession, like it or not. It is a human trait regardless of gender, sexuality, or anything else. These characters are unjustifiable and indefensible and some of them are among the most vicious in movie history. But they are all broken people, and it’s always interesting to find out or even just speculate what happened to them to drive them toward consuming their entire life with the idea of someone else’s.
Hedy, Single White Female
Hedy, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, is probably the most obvious pick for an obsessive movie character. While it never totally found its niche with critics, Single White Female is still one of the most noteworthy films on the subject and Leigh is terrifying in it. She has no friendship or relationship with her roommate Allie before moving in. Yet the obsession is almost immediate. This is best showcased when Hedy and Allie go for a haircut. When it is done, Allie sees that Hedy has had the exact haircut and is wearing the exact same clothing that she is. Hedy begins to pass herself off as Allie at clubs, even tricking Allie’s fiancé into sex. There’s an element of sexual attraction to Allie, as well. The obsession with Allie, to mimic her body and mannerisms, know her intimately enough for Hedy to pass herself off as her, that’s inherently sexual. The scariest part of the obsession here is that Hedy seems to just pick Allie at random. She latches onto the first person who treats her like a friend and connects with her, and begins to slowly consume and take over that person’s life, making her one of the central icons of obsessive cinema.
[Spoilers] Marie is an interesting one, because she is the protagonist for the first two thirds of the movie. She is spending the weekend with her best friend Alex when a man shows up, kills Alex’s entire family and then abducts her. Marie tries to track down the killer, only to begin to realize that there is no killer, there’s just her failing conscience trapped within her psyche. She has killed Alex’s family because she is in love with her and wants Alex to have nothing but her. She wants to be the only thing in Alex’s life, hence her repeated chant at the beginning and end that nothing would ever come between the two of them ever again. [End Spoilers]
Erik is a tragic character, but he’s not so much the romantic one that people make him out to be. He’s a very sinister, angry, obsessive man, willing to do anything to make Christine Daae become a major opera star. His motives seem in some ways to be understandable, but he’s not doing these things for Christine’s benefit as much as his own. He’s training Christine to be the best, but will only continue to help her if she stays with him in the underground dungeon he has established for himself. There have been numerous adaptations of Phantom of the Opera to date, but the themes are consistent between each of them. Even when Erik’s origin changes, his character remains pretty much intact. The 1989 version with Robert Englund was one of the best to showcase this side of Erik’s character, to the extent that he buys a prostitute’s company and is insistent on calling her Christine.
[Spoilers] Norman Bates is unsettling for so many reasons. There’s the fact that his obsession is inspired by real-world killer Ed Gein, as well as the incredibly layered performance that Anthony Perkins brings to the role. Bates is an inherently likable character. Even if there’s something off about him, we’re rooting for him when first introduced to the shy motel owner. We want him to crawl out from under the thumb of his overprotective mother. This turns out to be impossible, of course, when it is revealed that Norman’s mother has been dead for years. He is keeping her alive by preserving her corpse, talking to her as though she still talks back and even wearing her clothing and impersonating her. Sometimes mother comes out of Norman and does things that he is not even aware of. Murder, for instance. This is not only one of the best obsessions in cinema but also one of the greatest performances in any movie, ever. [End spoilers]
It’s cliché at this point to use the term ‘number one fan,’ but that’s exactly what Annie is. She’s a woman so obsessed with author Paul Sheldon that she imprisons him inside her rural Colorado home and forces him to write an entire novel just for her. It’s a horror movie about the life of an author, about a celebrity’s relationship with their fans and about idolizing people in general. People you don’t even know in real life. Kathy Bates won an incredibly well deserved Academy Award for her portrayal of Annie. Her performance is layered, deeply emotional and thoughtful at the same time. This is a woman who has no problem murdering a sheriff to protect her own interests but is uncomfortable uttering a single, cockadoody swear. Easily one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King novel, Misery remains the ultimate movie about obsession and the performance and characterization of Annie Wilkes is a large part of that.