On the dark side

Spoiler content: American Horror Story: Coven (mild); The Silence of the Lambs

So without having seen another episode of American Horror Story: Coven, I’m reconsidering my position on Kathy Bates as Madame LaLaurie. My problem here was the complete lack of dimension. We found out everything we needed to know about Madame LaLaurie in the first ten minutes of the first episode, and considering the real-life person on whom she’s based, we can guess she’s not likely to change much. Which means we haven’t got much left to explore. There are no layers there. Nothing sympathetic or relatable. Nothing at all but pure one-note evil.

I’m not one of those people who thinks every single villain needs to be complicated; I’m cool with just plain monsters showing up in horror stories. But in this case, did we really need the woman who played Annie Wilkes to such amazing, terrifying effect to do it? It just seemed like a waste of talent.

But the thing is, one note can still be pretty interesting (and terrifying) when it’s played right. I got to thinking about characters of pure, unadulterated evil who are nonetheless elevated by good performances. Here are my top eleven picks for one-dimensional monsters who are still done well:

  1. Hannibal Lecter, as played by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs. This is the most obvious one, no? Lecter has more dimension in the books – there’s a human under there somewhere, or at least there was at some point – but as far as this film alone goes, he’s nothing but a purely black heart. Yet still, at the end, you’re at least half rooting for him to eat that warden. (No? Just me?)
  2. John Doe, as played by Kevin Spacey in Se7en. His actual screen time is short, and he’s only got one side to show us in those few minutes, but the performance is riveting and unforgettable.
  3. Jon Ryder, as played by Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher.
  4. Top Dollar, as played by Michael Wincott in The Crow.
  5. Freddy Krueger, as played by Robert Englund in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Completely uncomplicated, completely iconic.
  6. Max Cady, as played by both Robert De Niro and Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear.
  7. Maleficent, as voiced by Eleanor Audley in Sleeping Beauty.
  8. The Wicked Witch of the West, as played by Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz.
  9. Count Rugan, as played by Christopher Guest in The Princess Bride. Is sadistic and wholly evil, hilarity ensues.
  10. Roose Bolton, as played by Michael McElhatton in Game of Thrones.
  11. Cancer Man, as played by William B. Davis in The X Files. I don’t care what you say, anyone who is that mean to the Buffalo Bills is pure evil and that’s all there is to it.

So I’m going to keep my eye on this Kathy Bates performance and see where it goes. I’m curious to see what she does with it. (But the rest of my AHS complaints still stand. And I still just can’t even with the magical-deadly-vagina-as-superpower.)

3 words on the street

  1. I don’t know. I think we like multi-dimensional villains, and while they’re easy to create in writing, to do so in a movie with a character that maybe doesn’t get a lot of screen time requires a lot of acting skill–precisely because a real good actor can convey the multiple facets of his personality in a short time, and/or without a lot of dialog.
    Not to be argumentative. Maybe those movies would have been better with more complex monsters . . . ?

  2. Some of them may have. But I think giving, say, Freddy Krueger depth ruins him. (That’s mostly because he’s campy-funny though.) Or someone like Spacey’s character from Se7en – he’s terrifying precisely because he’s so empty.

Tell your tale:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *