I should probably start off by admitting that I am a huge wimp. I have been known to jump fifty feet in the air on spotting a bit of sock fluff that vaguely resembles a spider. So, I am probably the least qualified to judge what is ‘horrifying’ since everything seems to frighten me. Nevertheless, those who know me will tell you I have a taste for the dark, the unusual and the absurd so I will put a case forward for villains (in order of evilness) that I think should slither their way into the top ranks of everyone’s lists.
4. Kylo Ren
Controversial opinion: Kylo makes a better villain than Darth Vader. I feel a great disturbance in the force while I type this, as if millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced (after admitting to themselves that I am right). While Vader tops a lot of people’s lists, when we compare the cinematic portrayal of Darth Vader to Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver) there is infinitely more depth to the latter’s character. Driver plays Kylo Ren with such terrifying vulnerability at moments that you question whether he is a villain at all, instead just a very damaged individual on the precipice of evil. He is almost redeemable. But, conflictingly, you know he is too far gone. His attempt to control Rey is disturbingly intimate as he tries to penetrate the most sacred, spiritual privacy of another’s mind. This is deeply metaphorical for one of the most frightening of violations. His body count may not rank as high as Vader’s but you sense he is not far from tipping over the edge with his uncontrollable rage.
In terms of villains that come immediately to mind, most of them tend to be men. Norman Bates, Freddy Krueger, Dracula, the Joker (and many more). This is no coincidence – the number of male villains are probably statistically higher – but among the best villains are some deliciously evil women. My first instinct is to jump to Mrs Robinson, the manipulative seductress from The Graduate, but to call her a villain is perhaps tenuous. She’s cruel, yes, but a little too human. My choice instead is also debatably not a villain; Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman from Batman Returns is certainly unhinged and allies herself with the predominant villain in the movie, the Penguin, but her motive is (in a twisted way) just. Her character oozes sexuality which is very confusing for the audience; she’s seductive but scary in her tight leather, Frankenstein-esque costume and blood red lips. In this way she represents the two extremities of human life: sex and death.
2. Hannibal Lecter
Thomas Harris’ character has received much love over the years, the focus of much praise has been on Anthony Hopkins’ chilling portrayal. As a huge Fannibal, I can say with certainty that that praise has not been misplaced but I think more credit it due to Mads Mikkelsen’s and Bryan Fuller’s interpretation of everyone’s favourite psychopath. Where Hopkins was unsettling with his perpetual stare, Mikkelsen is unfathomably charismatic. You cannot help but like him. But he eats people. Then again, the food always looks delicious and well-prepared. You have to give points to Dr Lecter for being a twenty-first century gentleman; his knowledge of music, wine, food, languages, etiquette and women is unparalleled. And this is what makes Lecter so villainous; you are drawn to him in admiration and quickly become ensnared. The horror in Hannibal borders the artistic so the show as a whole leaves you very confused and makes you wonder, ‘Who really is the monster here? The one doing the murdering or the one finding the beauty in it?’
- Nurse Wilson/Princess Mombi
If this were a list of films that disturbed me as a child, Return to Oz would be at the top. Consequently, one of the film’s villains has to make my list. Jean Marsh plays the psychopathic Nurse Wilson who treats Dorothy for electric shock therapy after she returns from Oz the first time. In true The Wizard of Oz fashion, Jean Marsh is also the terrifying Princess Mombi, a witch with a room full of cabinets containing attractive heads she is able to switch with her own whenever she feels like. She is also terrifyingly beautiful but unlike Catwoman vanity is her greatest vice and when she takes a liking to Dorothy’s head she holds her captive. Without giving too much away, there is nothing like a room of screaming heads to give you nightmares. If the Wizard of Oz is a warm and fuzzy memory from your childhood, the image of headless Princess Mombi chasing you down will instantly kill that.