aNewDomain — When it comes to making thrillers, the creepier the better.
A good creepy movie villain will be a mezmerizing cringe-inducing spectacle. Then he’ll keep you awake all night long.
The Manson Approximation
In the real world, when I think creepy I think of Charles Manson. When I watch old interviews with Manson, I see a man who is constantly thinking, plotting and calculating. His mind never stops churning, and what he is churning out is dark and unsavory and probably something we really don’t want to know about.
In the long history of cinema, there have only been a few occasions where an actor has been able to capture that sense of sinister, bubbling just below the surface. It is the quintessential audience hook — you know the creepy villain has something dastardly planned, but you don’t know what it is or when it is going to happen. When done right, the audience cannot look away because they might miss the cathartic moment when the underlying evil plot is revealed.
While there are several examples of the creepy villain in movies, here are my five personal favorites, presented in no particular order. Each performance sticks out in my memory, and I bet they will stick with yours, too.
SPOILER ALERT — The videos contain spoilers. You have been warned.
Tom Udo (Richard Widmark) in “Kiss of Death“
This was Richard Widmark’s first movie in what turned out to be a long and distinguished career. His character Tommy Udo is one of the cruelest and most sadistic mobsters ever portrayed on the screen. The clip below pretty much says it all.
Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) in “No Country for Old Men“
Anton Chigurh, as played by Javier Bardem, is one of the most dangerous kinds of creepy villain, because he thinks he is just an instrument of randomness and therefore takes no responsibility for any mayhem he may cause. That calm unpredictability is why you cannot take your eyes off the screen. Oh, and you don’t want to flip coins with him.
The Joker (Heath Ledger) in “The Dark Knight“
Heath Ledger’s Joker is a kindred spirit with Anton Chigurh in the way he sees the world — chaotic and cruelly random. However, the Joker wants to move things along by creating more than the usual chaos. His lack of concern for life, including his own, makes him dangerous, but his knack for creating calculated chaos makes him fascinating.
There is no doubt that Kevin Spacey is one of the best actors of his generation. He has played many memorable characters, but one of my favorites is John Doe. While only appearing in the final minutes of the movie, John Doe is what you remember. We will never look at the seven deadly sins the same way again.
As a character in both books and movies, Dr. Hannibal Lecter has captured our collective attentions like few others. The character is smart, charming, perceptive and murderous all wrapped up into one creepy package. While many actors have portrayed Dr. Lecter, for my money, Anthony Hopkins’ take on the character is by far the best. Even though you cringe and squirm when the doctor is on the screen, you cannot look away.
Crazy is not Creepy
I want acknowledge two performances that are not on my list but are often included on other people’s creepy villain lists: Norman Bates and Gollum.
Anthony Perkins‘ portrayal of Norman Bates in the Alfred Hitchcock movie “Psycho” is indeed creepy, but I consider it more a portrayal of insanity and not villainous. For certain, it was a fantastic performance, but I am listing villains that, while they may be deemed insane, are actively pursuing their own nefarious agenda. Norman reacts to situations in a creepy manner, but he is not driving the story.
In similar fashion, while Gollum from the Peter Jackson-directed “Lord of the Rings” movies was very creepy with all of the added CGI effects, I don’t consider him to be a villain. Gollum is much more of a tragic pawn character whose actions are directed by powerful forces beyond his control.
Creepy is as Creepy Does
As I said, for movies, creepy is fun and often lucrative. While these are my current favorite creepy villains, I expect more memorable creepy-movie characters to appear in upcoming movies. Which creepy villain is your current favorite, and what creepy villains are you looking forward to meeting in the future?
For aNewDomain, I’m Mark Kaelin.
Featured image provided by Warner Brothers