Occupational Hazards is a column that takes a look at the commonly occurring occupations presented in horror film and television, and the key part these jobs play as the story develops.
Last time on Occupational Hazards, we took a look at cops. Let’s face it, emergency staff are prevalent in horror movies, as our main characters try to avoid monsters, maniacs, and malevolence at every turn. Cops pop up in most horror movies, and so does the subject of this month’s Occupational Hazards – medical staff.
Doctors and nurses can find themselves covered in blood and guts on any given day, but when a horror movie is involved, chances are it will be their own rather than a patient’s.
So here’s a look at some of my favourite medical professionals from the world of horror, even if their medical knowledge did nothing to save them in the end!
Mary Mason in American Mary (2012)
When we meet Mary Mason, she is an incredibly talented surgeon-in-training who is struggling financially. When Mary applies for a job at a strip club, she ends up performing underground surgery on one of the club owner’s associates, gets paid $5,000 for it, and through this, she meets Beatrice. Beatrice asks her to perform body modification surgery on one of her friends for a considerable sum of money, which Mary reluctantly decides to do.
After Mary is attacked by her teacher at a party, she decides to quit medical school, and fund both her life and her passion by turning to body modification surgery full-time.
Mary is one of my favourite horror movie characters ever. She’s strong, smart, and takes all the terrible things that happen to her and turns them into strength and determination. Her wardrobe is fantastic, her fringe is to die for, and it’s incredible to watch her take control of her own life.
Annie Wilkes in Misery (1990)
We may not know how evil Annie Wilkies is when we first meet her, but Kathy Bates does do an excellent job of making us feel a high amount of unease towards this woman who is seemingly just a kindly stranger.
When author Paul Sheldon crashes his car in the snow, it seems like his time may be up. However, Annie, a former nurse, stumbles across Paul and takes him back to her house to recover. It turns out that Annie is Paul’s number one fan, and so she becomes a little obsessed with the thought of keeping him in her house.
Annie’s transition from kindly caregiver to ankle hobbler is very subtle. If you stay on her good side, she has the potential to be sweet and looks after Paul incredibly well. However, when Paul starts to see Annie’s more sinister side, you can see she is struggling to control her potentially murderous urges. Annie is scary because of the threat of what she might do, and the darkness that is always bubbling under the surface.
Nurse Alex Price in An American Werewolf in London (1981)
When David Kessler gets bitten by a werewolf in the Yorkshire moors, he ends up in a hospital in London (because who cares about geography, right?) under the care of nurse Alex Price. Alex maybe isn’t super professional because she does take David home to her flat when he gets discharged, and later has sex with him.
However, she’s a hero because she does have a lot to deal with as a result of taking a cute guy home. Not only does he stay in her flat because he basically has nowhere else to go, but she also has to listen to him raving about potentially being a werewolf.
She’s also incredibly brave, because when she realises that David is, in fact, a werewolf, and is currently on the loose in London, she pushes her way past the police to try and talk to him, and tries to calm David down so that he can hopefully survive the encounter. It’s a lot to take on for someone you’ve not known very long, but Alex is not only a lovely person, she’s also the boss.
Marion Chambers in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (2012)
While Marion Chambers is in Halloween (1978) and Halloween II (1981), my favourite of her appearances is in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, even if she isn’t around for very long.
The film opens with Marion returning home to find her house broken into. After she asks her young neighbours to check out the house, she venters inside, and sadly discovers that her intruder is none other than Michael Myers.
I feel like anyone who has a significant connection with Michael must be expecting him to pop back up in their life at some point, and Marion seems prepped for her encounter. Honestly, she makes a better attempt to escape Michael than a lot of people manage, and if the police who show up on the scene were paying more attention, then perhaps she would have survived.
I love that she was still caring for Dr Loomis all these years later, and for such a short appearance in the movie, she gets some of the best lines of dialogue.
Louis Creed in Pet Sematary (1989)
The encounters with death that the characters in Pet Sematary have are incredibly out of the ordinary, but Louis Creed is perhaps better placed than most to deal with it as he’s a doctor and faces death every day.
In fact, when a student called Victor Pascow dies in Louis’ office, he returns to Louis, and then eventually Louis’ wife Rachel and his daughter Ellie, to try and prevent Louis from making what is sure to be the worst mistake in his life.
As a doctor, Louis thinks he knows pretty much everything there is to know about death, and he seems to think he is above it when he decides to bury his dead son in an ancient burial ground that brings people back from the dead. It’s amazing how quickly the realisation of what’s he’s done knocks him back to reality, and he soon realises that he needs to take responsibility for his actions. Luckily his doctor’s bag comes in handy for sending Gage and Church back where they belong.
Oliva in Evil Dead (2013)
In the amazing Evil Dead remake, Mia, her brother, and her friends all head to a cabin in the woods to help Mia beat her drug addiction. It’s very handy for Mia that her best friend Olivia is also a nurse because someone going cold turkey on drugs could use some medical assistance throughout the whole thing.
However, when things start to get a little more evil, Olivia’s medical knowledge probably starts to work against Mia. Even though Olivia is just trying to help, the fact that she thinks that she knows better and assumes Mia is just reacting to the lack of drugs in her system. Rather than listen to what Mia is saying, Olivia chooses to tranquilise Mia so she can sleep it off.
That means the group aren’t expecting it when Mia pops back up, now fully possessed by a Deadite. Sadly for Olivia, she’s one of the first people to get turned by Mia when she vomits a river of blood into Olivia’s mouth, but she does get a pretty cool death which involves slicing half her face off and getting her head caved in with part of a toilet.
Lori Spengler in Happy Death Day (2017)
Not all medical staff are nice guys, and that’s something that Lori Spengler proves perfectly in Happy Death Day. Lori’s roommate Tree ends up getting sucked into a time loop where she has to live her birthday over and over again, with each day ending with Tree getting murdered.
Lori is a constant as Tree repeats her day on a loop because she’s always there to offer Tree a birthday cupcake when she returns to her sorority house. Lori also works at the hospital where John Tombs, a local serial killer, is being looked after. Tree believes John is the one that’s been hunting her for the entire movie and focuses most of her energy on working out how to kill him.
When she finally manages it, she returns to her sorority house triumphantly, and eventually eats the cake that Lori left out for her. When she wakes up still in the time loop, she finally works out that it’s Lori that’s been killing her this whole time, firstly by trying to poison her cupcake and then killing her by other means when Tree didn’t eat the cake.
Lori is a fantastic villain because you totally don’t see it coming, especially when it seems that Tree has it all worked out. However, once you know it’s her, it all makes complete sense. I mean murder is perhaps a strong option, but her motives are logical.
Rachel Manus in Flatliners (1990)
Flatliners tells the story of a group of medical students who decide to experiment with how long they can stop their heart for and still come back from the dead. While the whole cast is ’90s royalty, it’s Julie Robert’s Rachel Manus that is my favourite character ever.
Rachel has to fight to get as much respect in the group as the other members because she’s the only woman and all the men are too clouded by how much they fancy her to actually respect her as a doctor. In fact, she is prevented from being next to flatline several times due to some misplaced need to protect her even though the men are all willing to participate themselves.
Rachel always stands up for herself in the group, continually proves herself as a superb doctor, and she chooses to start a relationship with David because she really likes him, not just because he’s one of the many men fawning over her. She’s also a great friend and fights fervently to save Nelson when things go wrong.
Amelia in The Babadook (2014)
I think it’s fair to say that Amelia in The Babadook is going through a lot. Her husband died when they were on the way to the hospital while Amelia was in labour. Not only is she having to deal with the grief of losing her husband, but she also has to look after their son Sam, who is more than a little troubled and very difficult to deal with. On top of that, her family are at the end of their tether when it comes to supporting her, and her house is being haunted by the Babadook.
Amelia and Sam have a very strained relationship, and neither one of them is perfect in their mother/son role, but you completely sympathise with Amelia the entire time. I can’t even imagine how difficult her life is, and that’s even before the weirdo in a top hat shows up.
While it’s challenging to watch Amelia suffer to the point of almost hurting both herself and Sam, it’s incredibly cathartic to watch her tackle her problems and bravely face off against the Babadook in order to restore her family.
Danny Torrance in Doctor Sleep (2019)
When we check back in on Danny Torrance as an adult, long after the events of The Shining (1980), he’s taken the same road as his father and ended up as an alcoholic in a bid to try and suppress his shining powers. In an attempt to drag himself back up, Danny relocates and gets a job as an orderly at a local hospice. He earns the nickname of Doctor Sleep because he uses his powers to help ease dying patients and make the whole process easier for them.
Danny is such an interesting character, and I think it’s essential that he had to struggle to try and make a happy life for himself as an adult. It’s completely understandable with everything that happened to him with his father, the Overlook Hotel, and the ghosts that continued to haunt him for years afterwards.
His journey is important because he needs to prove to the outside world and himself that he is a better person than his father. When he has better control of his powers and knows how to use them in a positive way, it also allows him to connect with Abra and help her get control of her own abilities.