Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Favorite Movie Villains #60 - 51

60. Thulsa Doom (Conan the Barbarian)

"Infidel defilers. They shall all drown in lakes of blood."

Conan the Barbarian is a beautiful relic these days, a bombastic 80s swords and sorcery flick that harkens back to an age when fantasy heroes weren't bespectacled boy wizards, hobbits, or Eragon, but hulking ├╝bermensches who could remove your larynx with one hand. And who better to square off against early Arnold Schwarzenegger than James Earl Jones - Darth Vader himself - as the evil warlord Thulsa Doom?

In one scene he shows off his godlike influence to Conan by beckoning one of his hundreds of barely-clothed maidens to jump off a cliff with one small hand gesture. She does so without a second's hesitation and is impaled on the rocks below; Thulsa Doom smiles at Conan and bellows that "That is strength, boy! That is power!" He then literally crucifies Conan. Thulsa Doom is awesome.

59. Charlie Prince (3:10 to Yuma)

"This town's gonna burn!"

Food group: Western. Flavor: Psychotic. Charlie Prince is in-fucking-sane. This is an old West-style outlaw with problems, and he'll happily and unflinchingly gun down every man, woman, and child that stands between him and the rescue of his gang's leader. I have no idea where Ben Foster's fiery, intense performance in this flick came from - before this I just associated him with his role as Eli, the retarded student in Freaks & Geeks - but stealing a movie out from under the likes of Christian Bale and Russell Crowe is no easy feat, and Foster makes every scene he enters immediately feel tense, edgy, and dangerous (and the bloody, fatal violence that almost always immediately ensues justifies that mood). This is one badass evil cowboy.

58. T-800 (The Terminator)

"Listen, and understand! That Terminator is out there! It can't be bargained with! It can't be reasoned with! It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear! And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead!" ~ Kyle Reese

I think that pretty well sums it up. It's still considered Arnold's signature role twenty-four years later for a reason. There's obviously not a lot of psychological depth (he is a robot), but what he lacks in pathos he makes up for in sheer dogged I-will-kill-every-living-thing-in-my-path-ness - street punk, gun store owner, suburban housewife, waffle waitress, nightclub dancer, police officer, hotel clerk - the T-800 does not give a shit; if you break his stride or stand between him and his target you are an obstacle, and you will immediately take a bullet in the brain. He has no time for wisecracks or character development, all he has time to do is kill Sarah Connor. A flawlessly realized vision of unstoppable horror.

57. Lee Woo-jin (Oldboy)

"I'm going to kill every woman you love until you die. You're notorious for not protecting your women."

In sharp contrast to motivation, background, and origin-free villains like the T-800 stands Lee Woo-jin, who is all motivation, background, and origin. In Oldboy, a seemingly standard, boring Korean businessman named Oh Dae-su is kidnapped and held in a prison cell for fifteen years during which his wife is murdered, his daughter put up for adoption, and he concluded by the world at large to be the murderer. He is then suddenly released out of the blue one day and his captor Lee Woo-jin contacts him with a simple proposal -  Dae-su has five days to discover why Woo-jin had him held captive for fifteen years; if he does so, Woo-jin will kill himself. 

I dare not reveal the film's twists, but we'll just say that Dae-su's exploration of their link and the gradual revelation of Woo-jin's revenge goes places most movies just flat-out don't and in the end will leave you staggered. Woo-jin definitely has his motivations but he is also a sick, sick fucker. If you haven't seen Oldboy, I highly recommend Netflixing it!

56. Norman Bates (Psycho)

"We all go a little mad sometimes."

Norman Bates needs little introduction; he is of course the instigator of the Psycho shower stabbing, one of the all-time most legendary scenes in the history of cinema and probably the most iconic moment of Alfred Hitchcock's career, and that alone justifies his placement on the list. By the kill count-measured standards of a modern slasher villain his number seems paltry, but that seems moot when you realize that this motherfucker kills the main character - and not only that, he does it halfway through the goddamn movie! This guy had so much gall he saw that he wasn't the main character so he killed and supplanted her! And all while wearing women's clothes! What a PSYCHO! rimshot

55. Franz Sanchez (Licence to Kill)

"I want you to know this is nothing personal. It's purely... business."

Bond villain alert! After the relatively lighthearted villains of the Roger Moore era and the forgettable villains of The Living Daylights, the ruthless yet off-puttingly suave drug lord Franz Sanchez was James Bond's most intimidating adversary in years. He makes a sweeping entrance by sending an innocent man to have his heart literally sliced out and violently whipping a woman in his first two minutes onscreen, and while a lot of Bond villains have killed their henchmen, only Sanchez tosses his henchman in a pressurized tank and ups the air pressure until said henchman's head explodes and splatters his brain all over the window.

All this makes watching 007 infiltrate his operation all the more pleasurable, and the ruse friendship that forms between Bond and Sanchez is so much fun you damn near forget he's a violent, murdering, sociopathic drug lord. Great Bond baddie!

54. Vizzini (The Princess Bride)


While Vizzini turns out to be a pawn of Prince Humperdink before The Princess Bride is said and done, he is definitely the most memorable of Westley's foes. Except maybe Inigo Montoya, but Inigo only counts as a "villain" if you realllly stretch the definition of the word; he's more like Westley's sidekick / bodyguard by the end.  

But for his relatively few scenes, Wallace Shawn's shrill, disconcerting delivery makes Vizzini wickedly memorable, and despite his lack of martial talent his utter confidence in his own genius-level intellect makes the final "duel of wits" over poisoned wine a legendary scene. Alas that Vizzini could not live past the first act of the movie, but he shall live forever in our hearts.

53. Scar (The Lion King)

"Run away, Simba... run away, and never return."

Goddamn I cannot believe what an asshole Scar is! First, he tries to send Simba to his death in the Elephant Graveyard. When that doesn't work out, he hatches a conspiracy with some hyenas, orchestrates his brother King Mufasa's death, exiles Simba, and then takes over Mufasa's kingdom with an army of said hyenas. Hyenas are foul, man! Not only this but his evil is evidently so overpowering that over a few years it wilts all the trees, dries all the lakes, blackens the grass, and scorches the sky around Pride Rock. I had no idea that level of evil was even possible, let alone from a feline! He would rank higher, but he goes out begging for his life like a little bitch. Nonetheless, The Lion King is truly the best possible film about the political machinations of large cats.

52. Lola (Transporter 2)

"My problem's not medical. It's psychological."

In 1968, film critic Pauline Kael titled her second book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, stating that the title was "perhaps the briefest statement imaginable of the basic appeal of movies. This appeal is what attracts us, and ultimately what makes us despair when we begin to understand how seldom movies are more than this."

Tits and violence. Thus, the evil lingerie assassin - yes, you read right, she is an assassin who wields twin Glocks and wears naught but skimpy lingerie - Lola from Transporter 2 is far more than a brilliantly cheesy henchwoman, but a symbolic statement on cinema pared down to its basest and most fundamental elements. Lola is the walking, talking embodiment of why men aged 10 and up go to the movies. She is the logical culmination of film as an art form; we might as well just stop now. Pauline Kael would be proud / appalled. And far be it from me to deny the excellence of a lingerie assassin.

51. Dr. Christian Szell (Marathon Man)

"Is it safe?"

They say dentists have the highest suicide rate of any profession, and at risk of being crude I can kind of understand - people fear the dentist, view him as a necessary evil. Dental operations are dreaded, and children flat-out view going to the dentist as torture. So 70s paranoia thriller Marathon Man draws on that fear as surely as the Boogeyman draws on fear of the dark and gives us Laurence Olivier as Nazi dentist, torturer, and war criminal Christian Szell, who famously interrogates Captain Hook Dustin Hoffman using that pointy fucking tooth-counting thing and an anesthesia-free dental drilling.  Needless to say, it's pretty fucked up!

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