Sunday, June 19, 2016

Mike's Musings: My Favorite Villains

Every movie, or rather, every story needs a good villain (there are exceptions, but those are few).  A hero is the one we can all get behind, but it's the villain who provides the color and the motivation for sticking it out just so we can experience his utter destruction.  Some villains are good (in the sense that they're interesting and dislikable) and some are bad.  There are a few, however, that are so despicably evil that they deserve a special shout-out.

Since this is a matter of personal opinion, I won't claim that they are the greatest villains of all time.  I should also explain my personal tastes, as far as villains are concerned.  I admire ruthlessness and intelligence in a villain.  Any mad slasher can kill someone, but it takes a special kind of nasty to push the main character to the brink mentally and emotionally.

There are going to be some surprises on this list.  While Norman Bates, Michael Myers, and others are great villains, they're not among my favorites.  Hannibal Lecter will also not appear.  While Hopkins' performance as the infamous character is certainly morbid and creepy, calling him a villain is a cruel simplification of his character.

5.  Joker from "The Dark Knight."  It's been 8 years since Christopher Nolan unleashed "The Dark Knight" upon the world, and people are still raving about Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker.  As well they should.  Ledger's interpretation of the character was riveting, complex and downright monstrous.  Using human nature to hold an entire city hostage is smart, sophisticated and terrifying.  Nolan's screenplay and direction had a hand in creating him, but it's Ledger who should be commended.

4.  Dr. Jake Gallo from "Pathology."  Few people saw this movie and that's a shame.  It's not a great film, but it is an entertaining one (provided you can stomach the gore and depravity).  But it's Michael Weston's chilling performance as the narcissistic Jake Gallo that takes the film to the next level.  Using many methods, including murder and blackmail, he ensnares the mild mannered Dr. Ted Grey into a web of evil that he wouldn't otherwise commit.  His slide from arrogant jerk to insane lunatic is scary to watch.

3.  Xenomorph from the "Alien" franchise and Bughuul from "Sinister."  I'm lumping these two together for two reasons.  One, they're equally frightening, and two, from a storytelling perspective, they fill the exact same function.  There have been movie monsters for as long as there have been movies.  Few of them are scary just on sight.  But the Xenomorph, with its reptilian appearance, rows of sharp teeth, and two mouths, and Bughuul with its unseen eyes, imposing size and its seeming ability to stare right into you are enough to chill any viewer.

2.  "David" from "The Guest."  I've raved about this movie more than I should have had to.  The movie was poorly marketed and few saw it.  Fortunately, it's become something of a cult film, and my hope is that more people find this great thriller.  The screenplay is deliciously off-kilter but it is Dan Stevens who makes "David" into who he is.  It's a brilliant performance and genuinely terrifying.  Stevens' cold eyes are used to great effect, adding further horror to an already scary individual.

1.  Naraku from "Inuyasha."  Technically this is a comment on the character from the TV show, but I'm including him because a, he did appear in some of the movie spinoffs, and b, no list of great villains could ever be complete without him.  There are no words that do justice to Naraku's evil.  A shape shifting half demon born from the soul of a sadistic bandit who was gravely injured in a fire and offered himself to a host of demons so he could steal a powerful jewel, Naraku defines the term "villain."  It's not that he has no compunction about annihilating an entire town for reasons that are rather arbitrary.  It's that he's such a diabolical schemer who manipulates everyone into his deadly traps (including his own pawns).  For example, the story started when Naraku, posing as both, tricked Inuyasha and Kikyo, the guardian of the sacred jewel into killing each other.  Or how he protects himself by using Sango the demon slayer's younger brother Kohaku as a robotic puppet.  Or how he resurrected a group of mercenaries who slaughtered thousands for sport in order to divert attention away from himself.  It helps that voice actor Paul Dobson makes every line drip with malice and savagery.  If that's not the mark of a true villain, I don't know what is.

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