The Great Villian Blogathon: the mad, the bad and the dangerous to know

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…

The mad

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.

Trust me, she's scary

Trust me, she’s scary

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.

The bad

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.

Talk about femme fatale

Talk about femme fatale

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.

 

That's a bingo!

That’s a bingo!

 

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.

 

 

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17 responses to “The Great Villian Blogathon: the mad, the bad and the dangerous to know

  1. I’ve only seen ‘Double Indemnity’ out of these, and must agree that Stanwyck makes a great villain in that. I’ve seen a lot of her films where she plays sympathetic characters, and those tend to be my favourites, but she is chilling here in femme fatale mode. Interesting to read about these three types of villain.

  2. Pingback: The Great Villain Blogathon: Day Six | shadowsandsatin·

  3. I’ve not seen “Inglorious Basterds” but Christopher Waltz’s performance sounds intriguing.

    However, when it comes to Kathy Bates and Barbara Stanwyck, those are two fantastic, villainous performances. Bates always has you on edge in “Misery” – you can never tell what she’s going to do next. (And that scene with the sledgehammer makes me cringe every time I think of it.) As for Stanwyck, this is one of my fave performances. You know she’s no good, but as the film progresses, you almost can’t believe how evil and twisted she is.

    You’ve chosen some great villains. Thanks for joining our blogathon!

    • Narrowing it down to just these three was by far the hardest part! Inglorious Basterds is worth watching for Waltz alone. Cathy Bates makes frumpy truly terrifying and Stanwyck is just so BAD! I loved taking part, such a great theme.

  4. The mad, bad and dangerous is the best Sergio Leone film never made! Yes without a doubt that sledgehammer scene is one of the very few that you can FEEL as a viewer. yikes. And what’s doubly scary is those are all realistic people, I mean let’s hope not but you could very easily meet or already know these types.
    Thanks so much for joining us with such a memorable gang of bads, all made better by those fantastic actors, glad to have you.

    • Yes! That’s always the scariest thing – the bad guy who just looks like a normal guy.

      So many great posts, I’m going to be busy for a while, catching up on them! Thanks again for having me.

  5. In the Misery novel, the scene you mentioned was even worse than the movie. Let’s put it this way, something much sharper than a sledgehammer was used in the book.

    Great article by the way!

    • Thanks very much! I was planning to read it at somepoint, so will prepare myself. If King’s original Running Man story is anything to go by, I’m sure it’s suitably gruesome.

  6. I really enjoyed your creative and interesting write-up on these three distinct villains! I’ve only seen Misery once, and that was when it first came out. I only clearly remember a few scenes — the sledgehammer scene, of course, and Annie talking about “the cocka-doodie CAR!” But I’d like to see it again now! Double Indemnity is my favorite noir, so any discussion of Phyllis makes me happy, and I loved Inglorious Basterds! I think Christoph Waltz is brilliant — I’d like to see this one again now, too! Good stuff. I look forward to your joining us next year in our journey into villainy!

  7. Great choices, especially Annie! She’s one of the best film characters ever in my opinion. Ruthless, scary and yet a little sympathetic at times. Incredible performance by Kathy Bates.

    • Thanks. I watched Misery again especially for the blogathon and, even though the violence wasn’t as bad as I remembered, Bates was just as chilling!

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