We’ve tried to define it together. Villains always go for the ear. Villains carry scars. Sociopaths, child molesters, murderers, etc. It’s performance, writing, direction, camera work. But to get this far in the list there has to be something else. A dark X-factor. A V-factor. They’ve burned their likeness into our memories, informed the way we see the world, nature, humanity. And we’re still not quite at the baddest of the bad.
25. Buffalo Bill, Silence of the Lambs
We think of Silence of the Lambs as Hannibal Lecter’s movie. While it did introduce the world to Sir Anthony Hopkins’ brilliant and refined cannibal (and the impression was indelible), it’s easy to forget that in a narrative and structural sense, Hannibal Lecter wasn’t the villain of the movie. He’s also not hated. No one wants him on the screen less. But, boy oh boy, do we want Buffalo Bill to go the hell away. At first, we’re curious. After all, he gives us a brief glimpse at what we’ve all wondered (What would Bon Jovi look without male genitalia?), but then his psychopathic creepiness crawls into the skin. Countless impressions and parodies have been offered of the “lotion in the basket” sequence, but no one has come close to emulating the chilling effect of watching Ted Levine mimic his kidnap victim’s screams just after the exchange.
24. Dr. Christian Szell, Marathon Man
Quick, without thinking! What’s worse: Nazis or dentists?! Trick question! You don’t have to pick (You selfish assholes chose dentists, didn’t you?). This guy is both, and his sadism defines each. In January, I had a serious tooth infection set it on a Sunday. I spent Sunday night almost fully submerged in a bathtub, fully expecting to drown or die of a stroke and at the time I wasn’t bothered by that. Anyone who has had any sort of similar tooth trauma is going to cosign this assessment. This. Right here. This pictured moment is the most excruciating of all torture scenes. Yeah, the Nazis were wrong, and making a fortune from the fillings and diamonds and blood of the Jewish victims well, that’s obviously wrong, too. But damn it, man. Torturing by way of the nerves in the teeth? That’s a new level of evil.
23. Great White, Jaws
We’ve all heard the statistics of infrequency of shark attacks. We’ve read the anecdote about Peter Benchley’s regret in having written the novel that would serve as source material for the movie. We know there’s never been a great white on record that measures to the size and scale of this movie’s monster. But the fear is real now. It’s taken root. Spielberg, in essence, invented a fear. He programmed an entire culture with a very specific anxiety. Through the use of innovative camera angles and a brilliant accompanying score (it’s not the image of the shark that did this to us), Spielberg ensured that none of us would ever again kick our feet while floating in water and be 100 percent comfortable. The presentation of the shark through the surface of the water (pictured above) is but sucker punch punctuation of a long, grueling dreadful sentence. It’s hard to walk away from abuse like that without feeling hate.
22. Frank, Blue Velvet
Frank just can’t get enough grossness. He’s like a vision of James Franco in twenty more years. He’s the manifestation of the most extreme deviant, the man in the shadows of the Lynchian nightmare world, the grimy underbelly that is hidden beneath America. I think of Dennis Hopper as one of the most under-appreciated actors of any era, and I quietly attribute that to this off-putting role. Frank doesn’t sit easily in the eyes and mind of a viewer (if he does, have your eyes and mind checked professionally). He’s the kind of character that leaves you feeling dirty, needing a shower, as if his depravity and psychosis is viral, contagious. That’s a common theme in Lynch’s work– the idea that this sort of seediness is part of our societal fabric– but it’s never as convincingly presented as it is here.
21. Frank, Once Upon a Time in the West
It seems like the uncivilized American West would be a rough place to live. If the movies on the subject are accurate depictions, then it must have required an immense amount of gritty toughness to survive. But there exists a vast desert landscape between gritty toughness and the rot that exists in Frank’s miserable soul. Henry Fonda brings a cold detachment to Frank, a man who kills indiscriminately, almost out of passive boredom. I wrote in an earlier entry (#33) about the measurement of evil in two different kinds of criminals: those who give in to compulsion and those who choose crime as a refusal to live an honest life. I’d posit that Frank represents a third type, perhaps a hybrid. Frank kills out of convenience, habit, and instinct. What he does comes too natural to consider it a choice, but too uncontested to be an impulse (You don’t shrug off a compulsion). He kills because he’s a killer, and has been since his first breath.
20. T-1000, Terminator 2
Here’s a pretty accurate textual reenactment of my first reaction to watching Terminator 2: Judgment Day. “Wait a minute. Skynet just invented time travel? They should probably explain that. It seems important– wait, who is this little bitch with the motorcycle and emo hair? I hate this kid. This is John Connor? Oh man, I’m on Skynet’s side. Hold up. Who’s this cop?! I HATE him. I’m on John Connor’s side again.” He doesn’t say much. He kills so efficiently that it’s almost white noise. But only God is more unstoppable, and even there, in a head-to-head match, I’m not placing a bet. Arnold’s faced some foes in his time: Predator, Satan, a kindergarten class. But the T-1000 is straight up invincible. When he finally meets his end, dumped into some molten material, I thought to myself “Does that work, in a metallurgical sense? Will that kill him?” But I’ve never looked it up. I don’t want to know.
19. Wicked Witch of the West, Wizard of Oz
Okay, not now, you badasses. I assume I write with at least a ninth grade level of composition and vocabulary, so if you’re reading this and feeling proud that you’re not angered or scared by the old witch, congratulations. You’re (maybe) not a bitch. I’m talking about volume of hate. A collection of hate retroactively gathered. If you think about it, given this film’s all-time popularity and generational timelessness, there probably isn’t a more quantitatively hated character in movies. At one point in our lives, if we had a television, we hated the Wicked Witch of the West and her frightening purple flying apes. I grew up with an antennae that allowed my family one TV channel, and yet I was able to see The Wizard of Oz enough times to develop the hate.
18. Pazuzu, The Exorcist
The worst thing about Pazuzu is his inability to understand the necessary subtly of landing a solid“your mom” joke. The second worst thing is how he takes the soul of that eleven year old girl hostage and makes her masturbate with a cross. Because of the setup, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that Father Merrin is at war with a singular force with a name and a personality, but that’s what this boils down to. Mano el Demano (don’t check my Latin). I think, maybe, what always haunted me most about Pazuzu was the use of the pronoun “us.” As if he were a spokesperson for a location of horror so pure that our human consciousness couldn’t fathom, but within that, there’s the also an indication that someday we might have to. Pazuzu is the most realized perspective of Catholic hell that’s existed in movies. And maybe in art…
17. Joan Crawford, Mommie Dearest
Momma’s boys like myself are always quick defend mothers. Not just our own, everyone’s. Find a boy who holds his mother in high esteem and he’s going to side with everyone else’s mother in any dispute. Except for when watching this movie. Joan Crawford can suck it. There isn’t a mother to be found here, no sense of maternal parentage. She’s as selfish as one can imagine a human to be. Of course, we all remember how Faye Dunaway did to wire hangers what Jaws did for the Great White, but that is just a fractional representation of the self-interest that breeds a very real evil in this movie. From the chopping of Christina’s hair from her complete omission from Crawford’s will, the sympathy for the adopted daughter is the perfect balance for the hate we hold for the lunatic mother.
16. John Doe, Seven
John Doe is the best pure serial killer ever committed to film. He didn’t invent the morally preachy killer, but he’s shamed all the similar efforts before and since. John Doe makes his first appearance late in the film, but from what we’ve seen prior– the aftermath of his murder-as-art expressions– we’ve been taken by a sense of dread that can not be measured. During the drive to his final surprise, we are mesmerized, intrigued. This is a unique phenomena, in film and on this list. Because the hate comes in a moment, it’s instantaneous, a flash (you know when it happens and I’d never deprive a viewer of the experience of that first watch). It’s heart-pounding and heartbreaking. It’s drawn on Brad Pitt’s anguished face. No matter how many times I watch this movie, I can never convince myself that I’d react any differently than Detective David Mills did in that situation. That complete separation of logic is a ruler against which we can measure our hate. A hate so strong, it almost renders Morgan Freeman too stunned to do voiceover. Almost.
15. Li’l Ze, City of God
For a lot of you, City of God is the greatest movie you’ve never seen, in part because of its viciously ruthless young villain. Li’l Ze and Rocket inhabit a world that we Americans are lucky not to know: the violent Rio de Janeiro slums. These characters are just kids, by our measurement of age, but their environment necessitates growth at a much different pace. Partly, Li’l Ze is who he is because he had to develop an edge, a violent sense of self-protection, to survive in a neighborhood run by gangs with members who are barely adolescent. But part of it is just pure bad-ness, and traces of it alert us early on. Ze is power hungry and despicable, and he rejects the sympathy we might offer him for his socio-economic misfortune. There’s a certainty that Ze would be evil in any context, that bad is bad independent of economic means, that his motivation would always be a hunt for power at the expense of anyone who gets in his way. Even if it’s just a couple of children, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
14. The Alien, Alien
Xenomorphs are scary. They are sleek biological robots, the perfect killing machine, the sort of creature that could make a great white shark shed a tear of insecurity. The teeth, the claws, the projective extra mouth. H.R. Giger’s design is a realized nightmare. The Queen? Even scarier. She’s all of those things and way bigger. But the xenomorph is only a monster and the Queen’s killing efficiency is at least unintentionally merciful. The real villain stage is the facehugger stage. It might be smaller, less immediately frightful, but it also rapes faces and impregnates chests. It rapes faces and impregnates chests. It rapes faces. It impregnates chests. We’re done here.
13. Cruella De Vil, 101 Dalmations
You know who this is? That’s a young Jeffrey Dahmer lovin’ up on a puppy. Here’s a picture of Adolf Hitler with the dog that he loved. And here’s an even bigger monster than those two, casually walking the dog that he loves and cares for. See the point I’m making here? Even the most vile spirits can’t help but love a puppy. Even Buffalo Bill had a poodle (or was it a Bischon?). And yet, this freakin’ ugly, square-jawed, skunk-haired Disney villainess wants to take the biggest, cutest litter of puppies imaginable and make a fur coat out of them. She wants to skin puppies. That is the driving conflict in this children’s movie. You know, the evil is getting way easier to explain in this part of the list.
12. Alex DeLarge, A Clockwork Orange
Alex is painted as a complete sociopath. He admittedly enjoys rape. It’s sport to him. He literally sings to himself as he commits crimes. There’s glee in his deviance and immorality. But worst than all of this (and some would say the most brilliant part of the story) is the treatment to cure him of his cruelty. Not only is the process itself torturous to watch (eyeballs are just below teeth on the list of things off limits), but the implications of his cure are even more frightening than the condition. There’s not meant to be a cheerable side to this story; this is an exploration of the ugliness of psychosis and sadism and criminality, and consideration of its potential necessity for survival and identity.
11. Hal 9000, 2001: A Space Odyssey
Of course there all sorts of existential complications presented by Hal 9000, starting with the now-standard exploration of intelligence without emotion, logic without human empathy. Hal also provides a stark perspective on human mental disorder. His development of neurosis and psychosis equates the human brain to a machine wired to fail. But he’s also just a damn scary presence, who at first earns our sympathy (he is only protecting his own being, after all), then our fear, and then our hate. Fitting, as we cross this corner into the top ten, the final entry would be artificial intelligence, a machine. Because from this point forward, we’re leaving all of humanity behind.