Monday, September 14, 2015

Top Nostalgic Movie Villains

And now for something a little different...from me anyway. A lot of people do "Top whatever" lists—I just haven't until now.

Everyone loves villains. Everybody loves a good "bad guy." There's that old adage: "A hero is only as good as their villain."
I wanted to do a top ten list of villains, but that's far too broad, so I decided to narrow it down to the villains that stand out from my childhood watching movies. I'm not going to pretend this is objective in any way, but these are the characters that, when I think of them, push that personal nostalgia button and take me back to my youth.

So let's bring on the bad guys...

Honorable Mention:
Biff Tannen from the Back to the Future trilogy
The quintessential high school bully—big, brutish, and dumb. This was the guy, when you were a kid, you were always afraid you'd encounter in school...and that's not even taking into account the attempted rape or (in the second Back to the Future) when Biff crosses over into cartoonish super-villainy by altering history and taking over the world.

 Skeletor from Masters of the Universe
Masters of the Universe is one of those movies that is enjoyable when it actually is what it's supposed to be. Meaning, when it actually is about He-Man & his buddies fighting Skeletor & his minions, it's pretty entertaining. Unfortunately, that only makes up a relatively small percentage of the film—which otherwise spends a lot of its running time farting around with Courtney Cox's boyfriend bickering with Principal Strickland while He-Man & co. are awestruck by Kentucky Fried Chicken and electric keyboards. But easily the stand-out of this movie is Frank Langella's mega-ham performance as Skeletor. Unlike the high-pitched Skeletor of the cartoon, who would be soundly defeated and sent packing by the end of every episode, this Skeletor was a bad-ass who came across as an actual threat. Frankly, we don't see nearly enough of him, but when he's on screen the movie elevates—delivering one of the best "I am a god" speeches ever. This was probably the first time I realized just how important a great villain can be.

TIE; David from The Lost Boys & Ace Merrill from Stand By Me
I couldn't really decide which to pick, but since they're played by the same actor, I just included them both. Hell, maybe "80's Kiefer Sutherland" would be more appropriate. In one movie, he's a practical sociopath who won't just beat you up and take your stuff—he'll shiv you with a knife. And in the other, he's a vampire. If Biff Tannen was the quintessential bully you were afraid you'd encounter in school, Kiefer Sutherland was the more sinister, nightmare version of that. Biff was dumb and could be outsmarted—Ace and David will fuck you up.

Annie Wilkes from Misery
Misery is a great movie, but it's probably not one often brought up when people discuss nostalgic movies from their childhood. But yes, I did see Misery when I was a kid. And yes, Kathy Bates did scare the shit out of me. I think one of the things that struck me about her was how believable this type of person is. Maybe not so much the strapping you down to a bed and smashing your ankles with a sledgehammer, but the abrupt mood swings—where someone can be benign and pleasant until you happen to say the wrong thing and then it's just bad news. And when you're a kid, dealing with adults and teachers, those are eggshells you had to watch out for.

Judge Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Judge Doom proves his villain credentials pretty early on with the rather brutal murder of an innocent cartoon shoe. He maintains a looming, threatening presence throughout the picture... and then this happens and he becomes legendary. There probably isn't much that needs to be said. No matter when you were born, if you saw Roger Rabbit when you were young, chances are Judge Doom has a special place in your nightmares.

The Sheriff of Nottingham from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
When I was a kid, the defining Robin Hood had been the Disney one where he's a fox. So I guess this movie could probably be considered the first "grim & gritty" re-imagining of a story in my experience. In the Disney cartoon, the main villain was the comical Prince John, and the Sheriff of Nottingham—a wolf—was his tubby henchman and not particularly memorable. So imagine my surprise watching this to find, not only the Sheriff as the lead villain, but played with manic, scene-devouring insanity by the great Alan Rickman. Legend has it Rickman, not very impressed with the script, agreed to do the part on one condition: he could play the role however he wanted. And it is glorious. Rickman's Sheriff—along with my #1 choice—is the first time I can remember a villain outright stealing the show from the hero.

Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th series
For me, Jason was like the Tyrannosaurus Rex of horror movies. I can't say how or when I heard about him, but I always regarded him as THE horror villain. I know a lot people gravitate toward Freddy Krueger, but I was always a Jason guy. Just something about this big, silent behemoth in a blank mask (I always thought it was scarier when you couldn't see Jason's eyes through the mask) who...Just. Doesn't. Stop. Oh sure, he might go down for the count at the end of one movie...but he comes right back in the next one. And despite his reputation for killing mainly horny teenagers, Jason really doesn't care who you are, how old you are, or what you're doing. He sees you, he kills you.

Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
More-so than Frank Langella's Skeletor—because I was a bigger Turtles fan than He-Man—the movie version of the Shredder caught me by surprise by being depicted as an actual threat. At the time, my vision of Shredder was that of the cartoon, where he was rather bumbling villain, second-in-command to Krang, who almost never directly engaged the Turtles himself. Movie-Shredder, on the other hand, was a fucking boss. Intimidating, threatening, commanding, and he single-handedly owns all four Turtles at once. The Ninja Turtles movie and its portrayal of Shredder really struck something in me: a Saturday-morning cartoon, that's fun-and-games. A movie is where shit gets real...until the sequel where everything got neutered because apparently someone decided that was "too scary" for children.

T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day
I wouldn't see the first Terminator for a couple years after the second one, so the T-1000 will always have the nostalgic edge over Schwarzenegger's original T-800 for me. T2, when it first came out, wasn't just a big blockbuster—it was a phenomenon. Everyone saw Terminator 2. Everyone listened to the Guns 'n Roses song. And everyone remembered Robert Patrick's liquid metal killing machine. Everything about him—the way he walked/ran, the cop uniform, his glare—was instantly iconic. Hell, he played the T-1000 two more times in completely unrelated movies (Wayne's World & Last Action Hero for those keeping score). Few villains have beaten the ever-loving shit out of Arnold Schwarzenegger on screen, and the T-1000 was one of them.

Dracula from The Monster Squad
I think everyone has "their" Dracula. For many, I'm sure it's Bela Lugosi. For others, Christopher Lee. Maybe Gary Oldman or Frank Langella. But for me...THIS is my Dracula. For a long time, The Monster Squad was a frequent go-to rental at my local video store. It's such a zany movie that I still love unironically to this day. Fans all have their favorite bits, but for me the center was the super-villain interpretation of Dracula played by Duncan Regehr. This Dracula, leader of the monsters trying to take over the world, is a stone cold bad-ass that will deck cops in the mouth, chuck dynamite in your face, and call a five year old girl a "bitch." What a fiend.   

The Joker from Batman
I'm certain I was already aware of and a fan of the Joker by the time I saw this movie, but Jack Nicholson's performance would forever cement him as one of my all-time favorite characters. For much of my youth, this was the high-water mark all villains would be measured against. Played with scene-stealing gusto, Nicholson was everything I saw as a perfect villain and everything the Joker should be: scary and funny, intimidating and charismatic, threatening and entertaining...and having a complete blast doing what he's doing. Maybe other kids wanted to be Batman...I wanted to be the Joker—even if it meant getting dropped from a church tower at the end.

So there you have it. The villains that take me back...and you can probably guess my approximate age.
What movie villains from your youth—whenever that may have been—hit that special nostalgia button for you?

1 comment:

  1. Nicholson's Joker was very good, but for me the best Joker will always been the animated version for Batman: The Animated Series.