So when I happened upon Kristina’s post asking for contributions to the Great Villain Blogathon, I thought to myself ‘how can I resist?’ After all, who doesn’t love a good baddie? So I scanned the list of bloggers who were already taking part and, damn it if my favourite baddies weren’t already taken! I came up with a new shortlist which I wheedled down to an even shorter list: Cathy Bates in Misery, Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity and Chistoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds.
I had planned three separate posts but my choices got me thinking. I’d inadvertently picked three different types of bad guy: the mad, the bad and the dangerous to know…
Misery, the 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, gave us one of cinema’s most memorable baddies – Annie Wilkes. Aside from the terrifying red-headed orphan of the same name, you wouldn’t think anyone called Annie could be all that scary. You’d be wrong.
Annie Wilkes cuts a sad figure. A tubby, middle-aged divorcee who lives alone with only a pet pig for company. A pet pig, and an unhealthy fascination with famous writer Paul Sheldon and his novels. When Sheldon’s car crashes near Annie’s home, she takes him in and begins nursing him back to health, claiming the roads are closed and phone lines are down due to bad weather.
At first, if you weren’t familiar with the story, you might see Annie as a good Samaritan. After all, she rescues Paul and sees to his every need. The cracks soon begin to show, though, and the thin veneer of sanity quickly falls away. You see, when Annie doesn’t get what she wants, she has a tendency to, how do I put it? Flip out!
I feel I should mention that particular, infamously violent scene: I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, suffice to say, you’ll never look at a sledgehammer in the same way again.
There are also hints at her dark past, although I always thought this didn’t really add up with the events of the film. It felt to me like these weren’t really the actions of the same person; it wasn’t the same kind of “bad”. Anyway, this could be more to do with how the story was adapted for the screen (I haven’t read Misery, although I am working my way through Stephen King’s back catalogue so I’m sure I’ll get there).
Essentially, Annie Wilkes is a sad case. In holding Paul captive, she clumsily tries to create something deep and meaningful, something she hopes is reciprocal. It isn’t romantic, more some sort of twisted hero-worship, and when her hero doesn’t measure up to her high ideals, she can’t cope. Annie will do anything to maintain the illusion, including unspeakable acts of violence, and that’s what make her my mad baddie.
Double Indemnity is Billy Wilder’s thrilling and beautifully shot film noir classic. It tells the story of insurance salesman, Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) who becomes entangled in woman’s plot to murder her husband. The woman in question is Phyllis Dietrichson played by an uncharacteristically fair-haired Barbara Stanwyck.
Although the film is told from Neff’s perspective, and it’s he who narrates the story, it’s Stanwyck who’s the star of the show. Phyllis is as manipulative a character as I’ve seen on film; with merely a suggestive glance or two, poor old Neff is hooked, and will do anything she asks.
What’s most compelling about Phyllis though, isn’t the power she has over the hapless Neff, but her primal selfishness, her utter disregard for those around her and her drive to get what she wants at any cost. She knows what she’s doing is wrong but, damn it, she just doesn’t give a rat’s arse! She wants to be free of her husband, and as far as she’s concerned, that’s a good enough reason to do him in. And that, dear friends, is what makes Phyllis Dietrichson the bad baddie.
The dangerous to know
This may be a controversial statement, but here goes: Inglorious Basterds is my favourite Tarantino film. There. I said it. Yes, it’s rather muddled, slightly over-ambitious and the running time will test even the most well padded of posteriors, but I just love it. Perhaps the very best thing about it is Christoph Waltz’s astounding turn as the purely evil Col. Hans Landa.
His Nazi officer is so deliciously camp and yet utterly terrifying. He’s at once understated and gloriously over the top. He seems so near the edge of insanity and yet is, all the time, clearly and completely in charge of his faculties. Perhaps the only reason he seems crazy is because it’s so very hard to comprehend how any sane person could do what he does, and do it without compunction. The man simply enjoys his evil doings, he revels in the reputation he’s cultivated, and that’s what makes my blood run cold.
What makes Hans Landa so dangerous to know, is that he takes pleasure in his position of mortal power. That, and you wouldn’t know he had it in for you until his hands were tightening around your throat, and by that point it’d already be too late.