September's 2023's 2nd Pick by Dean Patrick
Horror works best with unforgettable villains. So do thrillers. Villains make or break the action, the tone, and certainly the fear. Think of James Bond just for a moment, and the greatest Bond villains. Without Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva, one of the best Bond films ever, Skyfall, wouldn’t have been what it is. Of course there is Goldfinger, with Gert Frobe’s Auric Goldfinger and his famous line, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” These are villains that kept the franchise truly a nonstop thrill ride.
I’ve broken up this blog for my horror lover’s delight into the following villainous categories that keep horror itself running at a screaming pace. Pun intended. Book or film, check out the following villainous categories for the upcoming terror season.
Without them we wouldn’t have The Joker (although he could be included with a Killer Clown category); Robert De Niro’s Max Cady; Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates; Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman; Robert Louis Stevenson’s Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Hector; Michael Meyers; and of course Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrence. But with them comes some of the most frightening stories for the season.
My personal favorites:
Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men (check out both book and film); Bale in American Psycho (Bret Easton Ellis’s novel is even more disturbing); David Fincher’s Seven; Joaquin Phoenix’s and Heath Ledger’s brilliant performances (both won Oscars) as The Joker, in Todd Phillips’ Joker and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight; Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs; Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear; Woody Harrelson and Juliet Lewis in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers; and Juliet Lewis again with Brad Pitt in two of the most harrowing performances ever on screen in Kalifornia; and the first Halloween with Jamie Lee Curtis.
I’ll leave it here with these batshit nutcases, but stay tuned for a more in-depth blog later in the season.
When I first watched Carrie after reading the book, Nancy and Billy (played with chilling efficiency by Nancy Travis and John Travolta) were just as scary as Carrie’s mother, if not more. Bullies scare us perhaps more intimately than other monsters because we’ve all been bullied in some way, shape, or form. Bullying is as old as Adam and Eve when Satan himself moved in to take over the world. We all have to deal with The Bully and horror is the perfect weapon. Personally, I’m just about finished with a horror story that helped me deal with a childhood bully, and will be part of my 3rd Terra Drake novel. But that’s for later.
For some of the most chilling bullies check out Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls; Tom Chapin in Lord of the Flies (or better yet, William Golding’s novel); Nick Stahl in Bully (easily one of the most disturbing bully films); Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey’s novel is just as terrifying); and Tobin Bell as the Jigsaw Killer in the Saw franchise.
Special mention goes to Pennywise the Clown in both Stephen King’s IT, and the films starring Bill Skarsgard. Pennywise represents three categories in this list: he’s clearly a psychopath; a bully; and also a ghost.
Goes without saying this category is ruled by Alien itself. The film that launched Sigourney Weaver into stardom as well as her character, Ripley, has the most frightening big cinema alien of them all. The film brought to life some of the most disturbing art from H.R. Giger that will stay with us forever. The first film in the series is still easily the best.
But let’s not leave out H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds because without it we wouldn’t have the Alien franchise. Spielberg’s film is also a wonderful take on the story, but without Wells we wouldn’t have any great alien for that matter. More of the best include: John Carpenter’s The Thing; Eve in Roger Donaldson's Species; John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place; M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs; and the Cloverfield world.
Witches can represent the most fierce followers of Satan, or the most disturbing hags that creep around under your skin. Either way, the best of these villains set the pace of some of the best horror.
Perhaps the most frightening of them are The Castevets in Rosemary’s Baby. They are perpetually in our minds as a seemingly harmless old couple, but played with vigor by Sidney Blacker and Ruth Gordon, there is an underlying eeriness to the couple from the moment they begin to snoop around The Woodhouse’s life that quickly turns monstrous. Ira Levin’s novel is just as terrifying.
Other witch greats can be found in: Andre Ovredal’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe; Margaret Morgan of Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem; Haggis in Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead; Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt; Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour; and Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife.
Look no further than The Bible for the granddaddy: Satan / Lucifer, in the Book of Genesis. From here all demons are born.
Demons and demonic possession provide perhaps the most terrifying of all villains because of their ultimate power, as well as Satan’s ultimate power. He is everything anti-Christ. Historically he's anywhere from The Crusades to Hitler.
In film and literature here are some of my favorites: The Exorcist, both film and William Peter Blatty’s novel; Scott Derrickson’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose; Paimon in Hereditary (as well as Toni Collette’s masterful performance); the Cenobites in Hellraiser; Sinister with Ethan Hawke; The Conjuring; and Robbert Eggers’ The Witch (a wicked combo of both witch and devil).
If you’re wanting some of the best roles as Satan, watch De Niro in Angel Heart, and Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate. In literature there is Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown;” Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus (be sure to go to Marlowe for the purest Faust story); and for more than you could ever know about the subject, John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
We all love a good ghost story, and Peter Straub’s Ghost Story is the very best. Straub’s tale of friends who have gathered over the course of 50 years to speak about the unspeakable is a treasure of horror. A close second is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
The reason ghosts scare us is simple: that’s their purpose. To roam around and haunt what was once theirs. Yet, many times, ghosts also serve a greater purpose in teaching us what we can’t learn otherwise. Some of the best include: The Amityville Horror both film and book; The original Candyman (don’t waste your time on the most recent, purely woke nonsense remake); Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw; and of course, The Shining both film (Kubrick only) and King’s novel.
Last but far from least in this list is the vampire.
From Bram Stoker’s Dracula to Stephen King’s Kurt Barlow in Salem’s Lot, the vampire has remained, and hopefully will remain one of horror’s greatest villains.
Anne Rice took the monstrosity of Bram’s and King’s vampires and made them beautiful, yet just as terrifying, in Interview with the Vampire; Tom Cruise nails Lestat in the film. Rice more than any other has created an entire world of vampires that should never be missed.
Other great takes are Bela Lugosi’s 1931 Dracula; Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In; Derek Lee’s Afflicted; F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu.
I’ll cover vampires far more in depth as the haunted season moves forward, but I hope this list provides a nice perspective of the importance of the villain in all its most disturbing entities.
Enjoy my fine readers!