Confession time. Between a good hero and a good villain, I would always prefer to learn and know more about the latter. It has always been like that for me ever since Jaws, The Howling series, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street (yes, the horror element is strong here) and every other monster/horror film that crossed my path. Back then it was simple. We had our heroes and a very bad monster that is doing everything within its powers to kill them.
The first time I was forced to look at villains under a different light was when I first watched Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Kenneth Branagh's horror opus in my humble opinion. The only version of the story that we need on film (without meaning to offend the classics). I was 13 at the time and it was the very first time that I found myself stumbling in my attempts to comprehend who the villain of the story really was. Surely the Monster had a head start, with all the killing and what have you. But then, it/he would never have drawn breath if Victor hadn't gone to great lengths to satisfy his thirst and megalomania. I was confused to say the least.
Growing up, I found out more about the human condition (still learning!) and due to that I learned to appreciate villains on another level. Jason Voorhees was a neglected child. Frankenstein's Monster was a victim (also a motherless child) and Krueger was simply a man who needed help instead of burning (I may be pushing it here...). Without altering a villain's story at all you can shed a different light on them changing them around completely. But much like heroes, villains are not all the same.
The shark in Jaws was a fish which, of course, does not remove any of the fear that it instils on the viewer yet stories such as this one tend to lean towards the heroes and their struggles in dealing with this monster. Quint from Jaws can almost be characterized as a villain himself. He might have offered his boat and skills for the journey but his obsession brought them ever so close to the jaws of defeat (thus covering my pun quota for the day...). Yet huge teeth and lifeless eyes have a hard time competing with a villain who has a name and a voice.
From where I am sitting, villains have always belonged to one of three categories. Human, animal/monster and god/machine. There are some amazing examples of all three categories through time. However through the same time, the figure of a lone, single-minded, villain has changed. Barring any straight-up, slasher, mobster, I-am-the-bad-guy types of characters there have been some amazing villains in the last two decades of cinema. From Ralph Fiennes Amon Goeth to Ledger's Joker, we had the chance to witness a thousand faces of evil. Often with motives that we disturbingly understand. The great Ozymandias from Watchmen went from hero to villain and back again throughout the story, almost twice. Agent Smith was a program that even Skynet would think twice about installing and zombies...well, they are just zombies. Again, in those narratives it is all about the heroes as seen in The Walking Dead and every other zombie film E-V-E-R. Which reminds me. Has the zombie genre been done to (un)death already? A topic of discussion for another time!
Of course, in the days of old there have been some not-so-straight-forward villains like the ones we meet in modern cinema, back when colour was regarded as a thing of the future (and even as something unwanted). One great example is Robert Bloch's Norman Bates. A disturbed individual who only needed some(OK, plenty of...) professional help. But nobody want's to watch "Norman's road to recovery" hence why Psycho is what it is.
So. Who is your favourite villain?
- Frixos Masouras 2014