Confessions of a Film Junkie: The Top 10 Best Movie Villains
By: Lauren Ennis & Brian Cotnoir
Wow, I’m surprised that we haven’t done this one sooner: I mean it’ so obvious, but then again I’m kind of a clueless fellow. So when my friend and co-blogger Miss-E suggested that we do a list counting down the Best Movie Villains, I immediately said Hell Yes! However, we had to establish some rules for out countdown. Our rulings were the following: The Villains had to be Humans; No creature selections (so no Dracula, No Frankenstein, No Aliens, No Hal 9000 and No Bruce from Jaws). Also, No Anti-Heroes (so no Alex DeLarge, No Daniel Plainview, and No Patrick Bateman). These are the 10 Villains we consider to be the Best, so please enjoy our countdown, and if there’s a villain you felt should have been on the list, please let us know in the comment section.
#10) Samuel Norton (By Brian Cotnoir)
Samuel Norton is the Prison Warden at Shawshank Prison in Maine. He claims to be the man of the law and of God, but in all actuality is neither. He is two-faced and the definition of corruption and hypocrisy. He uses his position of power to start his own business and uses his prisoners as his slave labor. He also permits his guards to viciously assault and murder the prisoners. He has one of his prisoners, Andy Dufrense, keep and forge his bank books so that he can have a cushy retirement when he leaves the prison. However, when Andy goes to the Warden for a favor that could lead to his release from Prison he has the guard’s throw Andy is solitary confinement for 2-months. After he releases Andy the Warden tells him that if he ever thinks or talks about leaving prison again that he will personally make sure that he suffers for the rest of his life in the walls of Shawshank Prison. Warden Norton is a man in a great position of power, and instead of upholding his responsibilities and duties to the standards he’s supposed to, he makes his own rules acting as the prisons judge, jury, and even executioner. He doesn’t care how many lives he has to ruin. In a facility filled with murderers, rapists, and other criminals, Warden Samuel Norton is actually the worst criminal of them all.
#9) Detective Hank Quinlan (By Lauren Ennis)
Detective Quinlan (Orson Welles) is easily one of the most disconcerting villains on this list because he is also the most relatable. In Touch of Evil, Quinlan is assigned to investigate a car bombing at the US Mexican border which becomes complicated with the involvement of Mexican narcotics officer Miguel ‘Mike’ Vargas (Charleton Heston). While it would be natural for a veteran on any job to feel threatened by outside interference, Quinlan makes it his personal mission to ensure that he solves the case before Vargas. He also dedicates himself to finding the bomber to such an extreme that he even goes so far as to plant evidence on a suspect, Manollo Sanchez (Victor Millan), when he fears that there is not enough evidence to charge the man. It is eventually revealed that Quinlan’s pathological pursuit of ‘justice’ stems from his wife’s murder years earlier and the haunting knowledge that his wife’s killer went free. In order to compensate for his painful loss, he does his best to ensure that no killer will ever go free on his watch; even if it means planting evidence, intimidating witnesses, and forcing confessions. When Vargas eventually learns of his scheme, Quinlan creates an elaborate plot to both shatter Vargas’ credibility and keep the case within his department’s control. In a chilling sequence it is revealed that Quinlan sent a local Mexican crime family to harass Vargas’ wife, Susan (Janet Leigh), and plant heroin on her in a plan that quickly spirals out of control and results in Susan narrowly escaping an attempted rape. Throughout the film, Quinlan remains staunchly devoted to his warped personal code, insisting that although he broke laws by framing suspects he was well within his rights because they were all most likely guilty. By the final showdown, it is revealed that Sanchez really did plant the bomb, but by that point, Quinlan is already a beaten man who is but a shell of the local hero he presented himself as and has lost everything but the moral code that he has gone too far astray to even realize he has defied. Despite the gravity of his crimes, Quinlan acts in accordance with his own sense of justice, committing crimes that many of us have contemplated committing ourselves when faced with injustice, which makes him an all too eerie reminder of the villainy lurking within even our best intentions.
#8) The Coachman (By Brian Cotnoir)
Now Miss-E and I knew we had to include a Disney Villain on this countdown, but the question was which one. There were so many choices Ursula from “The Little Mermaid”, Maleficent from “Sleeping Beauty”, Chernabog from “Fantasia”, Scar from “Lion King”, and Judge Frollo from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” all would have been great choices for this spot, but ultimately we decided to go with The Coachman from “Pinocchio”. The reasoning why: how many of the villains mentioned above got away with their crimes? The Coachman is the only one. Sure the other Disney Villains do some pretty bad things like murder, kidnapping, and use black magic, but they all get their come-upping’s by the end of the film...all except the Coachman. He lures groups of young mischievous troublemaking boys to a place called Pleasure Island, where he transforms the boys into donkeys to be sold to the circus and salt mines. Holy Shnikes, that has to be one of the Most Evil Plans ever! And I’m not just talking about Evil for Kids film; I think it’s truly evil for any film. And again, his crimes go TOTALLY unpunished! Sure there’s a Happy Ending for Pinocchio, but not for his Best Friend. Lampwick is stuck as donkey, probably sold off for cheap manual labor to some salt mine, his mother has no idea what awful things are happening to him or if she will never see him again. With his burly figure, and threatening sounding Cockney Accent, the Coachman is easily the Most Terrifying Disney Villain ever.
#7) J.J. Hunsecker (By Lauren Ennis)
The media is often maligned for using and abusing its influence upon society, and was just as guilty of those abuses during the 1950’s as today. In 1957’s Sweet Smell of Success, however, prominent columnist J. J. Hunsecker sways more than just public opinion. Without once having to raise a finger, Hunsecker systematically manipulates those around him in ways that make and break the livelihood of his enemies and allies. Drunk on his own power, J. J. delights in using his position as a weapon against any who defy him, even his own sister, Susan, for whom he holds a fixation that borders on incestuous. When Susan becomes engaged to a local jazz musician, J. J. is unable to withstand the thought of losing complete control of her life and persuades the parasitic press agent, Sidney Falco, to arrange for the couple to break up. Through a series of sleazy maneuvers (including a cringe worthy sequence in which he pimps out his date to J. J.’s rival), Falco manages to have Susan’s fiancée framed as both a drug addict and communist, but the plan only pushes Susan further away from J. J. When Falco discovers Susan contemplating suicide by the window at J. J.’s penthouse, he pulls her back to safety only to have J. J. walk in. J.J.’s becomes enraged at the sight of Falco’s hands on his sister and begins to mercilessly beat the physically weaker Falco, prompting Falco to reveal the truth to Susan. When Falco escapes the penthouse, J.J.’s friends in the police force are already waiting to arrest him on false charges. J.J. Hunsecker is as bitingly edgy a take on the modern media now as he was when he was first introduced to audiences fifty-seven years ago and proves that there’s no need to get your hands dirty when you can pressure and deceive someone else to do it for you.
#6) Annie Wilkes (By Lauren Ennis)
Misery is an unusual horror film in that at its heart it is actually a love story. Instead of a love between the two leads, however, the film chronicles the passionate love of nurse Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) for her favorite book series, and the shocking way that she transfers that love to the series’ author, Paul Sheldon (James Caan). After discovering Paul on the side of the road after he injures himself in a car accident, Annie brings him home and tends to his injuries. At first, the story seems set up as a Florence Nightingale tale of the love between a nurse and her patient. In the manner befitting a true master of horror, however, Stephen King quickly turns this convention on its head by revealing that the harmless, childlike, Annie who utters constant endearments, refuses to swear, and remains faithfully devoted to her pet pig and glass animal collection is only one half of the woman in whom Paul is forced to entrust his care. Over the course of the film, Annie reveals herself to be more fearsome than many a grotesque or gruesome horror villain with her innocent exterior only adding to the horror that she matter of factly engages in. What is truly disturbing about Annie is not the horrific actions that she undertakes, but the way that she is able to justify them as an extension of her ‘love’ for Paul and his escapist novels. Perhaps the most twisted aspect of the film, however, is the ultimate realization that Annie’s driving obsession is actually a result of her desperate need for the emotional outlet that she finds in Paul’s novel’s and that her homicidal behavior is her way of ensuring that her fantasy world stays alive. The mere idea of a fan like Annie Wilkes is enough to make even the most idealistic of aspiring artists reconsider if the fame they seek is worth the price after all.
#5) Ruth Chandler (By Brian Cotnoir)
This was actually my original choice for #1. I said in my review of “Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door” that Ruth Chandler is the Most Evil and Sadistic Character ever created in film or literature, and I stand by that remark. Ruth Chandler may appear pleasant and well-rounded on the outside, but deep down she has a dark soul and sociopathic tendencies. She is verbally abusive towards the two girls who have been trusted into her custody; even worst she allows her teenage sons to rape and torture the oldest girl Meg. Ruth is a truly horrifying and despicable character. What makes her even more horrifying and despicable is learning that here personality and actions are based off of an actual person! Author Jack Ketchum based Ruth Chandler and her crimes off of a woman from Indiana named Gertrude Baniszewski. Baniszewski was found guilty of 1st degree murder for the death of a teenage girl left in her care. Even more frightening was finding out that she only spent 14-years (of a life sentence) in prison before she was paroled! I’m just warning you: if you have a weak stomach, then you should probably avoid “Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door”, because I don’t think you can handle her cruelty and sadistic actions.
#4) Rhoda Penmark (By Lauren Ennis)
Like Misery’s Annie Wilkes, The Bad Seed’s Rhoda Penmark is a proverbial book that viewers should beware judging by her cover. At the film’s start, eight year old Rhoda (Patty McCormick) seems to be the perfect little lady that her family jokingly refers to her as. Only her apartment complex’s janitor, the unbalanced LeRoy (Henry Jones), sees her for the manipulative narcissist that she actually is. At a school picnic, her classmate and academic rival drowns after allegedly falling from a dock that the children were forbidden to play near. Rhoda’s mother, Christine (Nancy Kelly), is unnerved by the lack of emotion that her daughter shows at her classmate’s death, and begins to suspect that the death might not have been an accident when she learns that Rhoda was the last person the boy was seen alive with. This portrait of the sociopath as a young girl is particularly disturbing because Rhoda seems to be a 1950’s all-American girl and her parents are as close to the small-town American ideal as is possible. The film’s reveal of her full history is truly shocking as at age eight she is revealed to have murdered three people in increasingly brutal manners. While there is no external trauma to cause her behavior, the film does offer a psychological explanation that leads Christine down a path of self-destruction when she begins to blame herself for Rhoda’s actions. Although children villains have become common fare in horror movies today, The Bad Seed’s release during the 1950’s was nothing short of electrifying for American audiences. Rhoda Penmark did for children what Norman Bates did for showers, all with a sunny smile on her face; one viewing of this film and classrooms and playgrounds will never be the same for you again.
#3) Dr. Hannibal Lecter (By Brian Cotnoir)
Dr. Hannibal Lecter is one of the Most Iconic and Frightening characters in the History film. Not only is he a cannibalistic serial killer, but he is also a forensic psychiatrist. So when you combine the danger of him being a sociopathic killer and cannibal with the intelligence and sophistication of a well-educated man, you have a super hybrid killer. Another reason why he is so frightening and iconic is Dr. Hannibal Lecter appears in multiple films so therefore he’s more developed than most. He first appears in the film “Manhunter” in 1986 (which is actually based off of the novel Red Dragon) where he is played by Brian Cox; and No disrespect to Brian Cox, but I just feel that Anthony Hopkins was a much better Hannibal Lecter. I just didn’t find Cox’s portrayal of Dr. Lecter to be particularly frightening; he didn’t seem like an intelligent and dangerous murderer, he just seemed like a nothing special run-of-the-mill killer to me. Now, Anthony Hopkin’s portrayal is not only more frightening, but it is also more memorable. He’s frightening in “Silence of the Lambs” because he is imprisoned in a high-security correctional facility and has all the time in the world to think; throw in his psychiatric background and you have one dangerous person on your hands. He picks the brain of anyone who close by who is willing to talk to him. He’s so good at what does that Government Agents and Investigators often have to consult Dr. Lecter for his expert advice when they’re having difficulty finding or understanding other serial killers. That’s terrifying when the one person you have to rely on to catch a serial killer is a more evil and more intelligent serial killer. Whether he’s in “Manhunter”/”Red Dragon” or “Silence of the Lambs”, Dr. Hannibal Lecter is sure to send shivers through your entire body.
#2) Nurse Ratched (By Lauren Ennis)
Health care workers hold a unique place in our society in that people willingly and knowingly entrust their very lives to their care. As such, it is nothing short of terrifying when one considers the ways in which a health care worker can abuse that authority. In the counter-culture classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched reveals just how unhealthy medical care can be. As head nurse, Ratched holds absolute control over the patients who sign themselves over to the care of the psychiatric hospital that she works in. When convict John, ‘Mac’ McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) admits himself to the facility to avoid a jail sentence, he soon learns that he has checked himself into a prison of a different sort. Throughout the film, Ratched ensures that the patients remain completely dependent upon her and thwarts each of Mac’s efforts to provide his fellow patients with independence. Whether it’s his outrageous attempt to bring a party complete with loose women to the ward or his simple plea to watch a baseball game, Ratched denies Mac’s every request with cold efficiency, resulting in a battle of the iron wills between them. When his antics finally begin to have an effect upon the other patients she decides that his subversive influence poses too great a threat to the order of her facility and orders that he undergo a lobotomy. Although horrific healthcare is a staple of horror films and haunted houses, Nurse Ratched’s actions are truly chilling because they are all perfectly legal and within her power as head nurse. As a result, Ratched is more than just a single villain, but a stand in for the ruthlessness of a rigid society that demands conformity at all costs. Armed with just a clipboard and prescription pad, Nurse Ratched manages to inflict more damage upon her patients than most villains can with a firearm or chainsaw.
#1) Norman Bates (By Brian Cotnoir)
None of you should be surprised by this choice. I mean this is probably the one character in film that both Miss-E and I talk the most about. Everyone who reads this blog already knows that he is my favorite fictional character, but what really makes Norman Bates so special that he deserves the #1 spot on our Best Movie Villains List. Well let’s take a look back at film History. Before the role of Norman Bates in “Psycho” how many films can you name where the killer is just a “regular guy”? I’m talking not a Human who transforms into a Monster, not a Witch or Warlock, just a regular person; nothing special about him; he’s just a guy who kills people? There really isn’t any before Norman Bates. He was the one of the first serial killer character in film. Nobody had ever had to play a serial killer in a film so actor Anthony Perkins had to set the tone and standard of how to play a serial killer. The character of Norman Bates was inspired by real life American Serial Killer Ed Gein, so it was a necessary risk for Perkins to get into that mindset to accurately portray the character of Norman Bates. True Rhoda Penmark was killing people 5 years before Norman Bates and at a younger age, but for the time that film was released, the idea of a child killer was more a novelty. Every actor who plays a serial killer in films owes everything to actor Anthony Perkins and director Alfred Hitchcock for introducing a new villain to fans of horror films that is still in use to this day. The legacy left by these two men on Horror films is unmatchable, they truly have left a mark that shaped and set the standard for how to make a Horror film.