Staff Recs: Best Villains

Get your watch queue ready for the baddest villains of them all.

Ryan Mikel, Daniella Nichinson, Nicole Rosenthal, Ali Zimmerman, Guru Ramanathan, Alex Cullina

The spookiest day of the year is behind us, but you can still binge your favorite scary movies and television shows. Earlier this week, WSN staff gave their unpopular opinions on villains, but today, we celebrate the Freddys and Jasons that make the horror genre so worthwhile. These harrowing characters are the faces of their franchises and keep horror fanatics like us coming back for more. Get your watch queue ready and check out the baddest villains of them all.

Michael Myers (“Halloween”)
Ryan Mikel, Arts Editor
Michael Myers has been shot off a roof, burnt alive in a car collision and decapitated by his estranged sister, but this has not stopped the supernatural serial killer. This dude managed to sneak his way back into the film’s protagonist and final girl Laurie Strode’s life in “Halloween II,” “Halloween H20: 20 Years Later,” “Halloween: Resurrection” and the most recent entry in the franchise, “Halloween” (2018). There is literally no stopping the kitchen-knife-wielding sociopath from making his return to Haddonfield to wreak havoc on arbitrary townspeople. And like a fine wine, Myers’ kills get better with age as the franchise grows in number. Followers of the decade-spanning series witness Myers get resourceful with a jacuzzi, telephone cable and corn thresher as opposed to the signature kitchen knife. The newest “Halloween,” released in theaters two weeks ago, is a testament to this, taking me back to my first viewing with its references to the original 1978 horror opus. To this day, Myers has left a traumatizing, lasting impression on my life. Living in New York City, you would think I would be more wary of the dangers that come with big city life. However, returning to my native suburbia of Middletown, Kentucky, I am instantly more terrified of the improbable possibility of a deranged sociopath stalking and killing the teens of a small town. Closets, wire hangers, hospitals and narrow hallways will forever be tainted for me because of the supernatural beast that is Michael Myers. If that lasting fear isn’t the goal of horror movies, I don’t know what is. Today’s half-baked “The Conjuring” and “The Purge” franchises could never.

Michael Myers (“Halloween”)
Alex Cullina, Books & Theater Editor
When the original “Halloween” was released in 1978, it was a smash hit, and with good reason. The story of the silent, masked Michael Myers and his slaughter of teenagers in a small Illinois town on Halloween night was masterfully directed by John Carpenter and dreadful that it makes an appearance on this list twice. Jamie Lee Curtis gives a great performance in her film debut as Laurie Strode, the babysitter Michael stalks and the heart of the film. And that score! But what really elevates the film to the height of the acclaim it holds today is the total blankness of Michael Myers as a character. Held in a mental hospital since the age of six for the murder of his older sister, Michael’s psychology and motivation are completely inscrutable to his doctors and to the audience — his face is always obscured by a now-iconic white mask. The movie of the same name, currently in theaters, is the 11th film in what has become a sprawling franchise, including seven sequels as well as a remake with a sequel of its own. This “Halloween” has chosen wisely to politely pretend those other films were never made. The extended franchise established a complicated backstory for Michael that robbed his character of the thing that makes him the scariest: we don’t know what drives him to do what he does — namely, brutally murder horny teens with his bare hands — and so we project our own fears onto him. The scariest thing out there is the unknown.

Frank Booth (“Blue Velvet”)
Daniella Nichinson, Arts Editor
David Lynch’s surreal exploration of society’s underbelly in “Blue Velvet” planted the seed for his groundbreaking series “Twin Peaks,” and gave birth to one of the most menacing, purely-evil villains in film: Frank Booth. Portrayed by a hypnotizing Dennis Hopper, Booth really does represent evil in human form. His crude dialogue — “F-ck you, you f-cking f-ck!” — and his manic inhaling of gas throughout the film are supremely disturbing. In the most controversial scene of “Blue Velvet,” Booth’s vileness is on full display as he violently rapes Dorothy Vallens. He forbids her from looking at him, and while he forces himself onto her, he shouts “Baby wants to f-ck!” Booth’s character is even more unsettling because there is nothing fictitious about him — his character could against among society. Booth and his entourage prowl the streets at night, seeking any way to bring chaos to the small town of Lumberton. In one scene, they take Jeffrey Beaumont, the protagonist, on a frenzied joyride that ends with Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” playing through the car radio and Jeffrey beat up to a pulp. But the most subtly disturbing scene comes when Booth and his gang visit his drug dealer Ben’s house. Upon Booth’s request, Ben begins to lip-sync to “In Dreams” as Booth stands doe-eyed, entranced by his performance. It’s terrifying to witness such an utterly evil figure in a brief moment of childlike innocence. Frank Booth is a successful villain because he is a realistic manifestation of the depravity that exists in society, and everyone fears that.

Gordon Gekko (“Wall Street”)
Daniella Nichinson, Arts Editor
“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good” — the immortal words of Gordon Gekko. Gekko is the corrupt, power-hungry and ruthless antagonist in “Wall Street.” He’s unlike most villains because he’s actually difficult to root against. Though he’s willing to do whatever it takes to succeed and shows no sympathy for those caught in his ruinous path, Gekko handles himself in a deceptively suave manner. I’ve always identified him as one of my favorite characters in cinema because of that duality in his personality. He takes Bud Fox — a young, naive stockbroker who is hoping to make it big on Wall Street — under his wing to impart him with his wisdom of the trades. It’s an action that seems admirable; Gekko decides to hone the skills of an eager mentee, one who reminds him of himself. But as soon as Gekko sees the opportunity for profit, he drops Bud without a second thought. He knows that stocks are a solitary game, and he tells Bud, “If you need a friend, get a dog.” There’s no absoluteness to Gekko’s evil. There’s a certain degree of both goodness and badness to him that establishes him as a complex villain, demanding a consideration of your own morals. This inner conflict is also helped by Michael Douglas’ nuanced and emotionally varied performance. Douglas portrays Gekko with a bravado and infectious charm that make hating him an impossibility. Gordon Gekko stands out among villains because he’s smart, amiable and, most importantly, he’s aware of the enemies you have to make and the people you have to betray to get to the top.

John Kramer (“Saw”)
Nicole Rosenthal, Music Editor
I love the absurd creativity when it comes to horror flicks. Sometimes gruesome, sometimes hilarious, on-screen death scenes in campy slasher films are way more enjoyable with an added element of creativity. Take 2000’s blockbuster horror franchise “Final Destination,” which capitalized on the concept of silly, strange and macabre on-screen deaths without a real villain. However, I believe the “Saw” franchise took this concept and perfected it. While “Final Destination” deaths are considered freak accidents, the deaths of characters in the “Saw” franchise are purposeful –– they are intricately built traps that play to the specific tropes of its victim. John Kramer, the man also known as Jigsaw, has an intricate knowledge of machinery, physics and human anatomy (Tandon alumnus, anyone?) –– all the ingredients necessary to build the most gruesome traps. Whenever I watch a “Saw” film, I usually sit and think, “Who would ever come up with an idea like this?” However, it’s the ironic, gory and cringe-worthy death traps that enhance the creative artistry behind the franchise.

The Devil (“American Horror Story”)
Ali Zimmerman, Deputy Arts Editor
In the second and, in my opinion, the most disturbing season of “American Horror Story,” Sister Mary Eunice McKee (Lily Rabe) becomes possessed by the Devil. The season follows patients subject to torture and brutal experimentation in a mental asylum run by Nazis. Once Sister Mary Eunice becomes possessed, she evolves into a sidekick for Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) and helps him carry out his twisted agenda in the asylum. Rabe’s Devil subverts religious imagery, placing a source of pure evil in an unassuming, doe-eyed nun, making her character all the more unsettling. Until her poetic death, the Devil in AHS Asylum is merciless in her pursuit of human suffering, placing innocent people in repeated torment. Like many real-life Nazi soldiers, the Devil in this season of AHS never sees punishment for the suffering she causes.

Hans Landa (“Inglourious Basterds”)
Guru Ramanathan, Film & TV Editor
There’s something delightfully wicked about Colonel Hans Landa. He is inherently a despicable character — being a Nazi and all — but he is also charismatic, scarily intelligent, disturbingly funny and has a greater allegiance to himself than he does Germany. Writer and director Quentin Tarantino has crafted a far more malicious and intricate portrait of a war criminal that separates Landa from any generic villain. I went into “Inglourious Basterds” wanting to hate Landa and I came out doing so. But I was more entertained by Christoph Waltz’s unsettling performance than anyone else in the film. One second he is cracking jokes and the next minute he is strangling Bridget von Hammersmark to her brutal death. Landa dominates every scene he is in and his next move is always unpredictable for the audience. Next to Samuel L. Jackson, Waltz’s works with Tarantino have been the filmmaker’s best actor/director collaborations to date.

Det. Alonzo Harris (“Training Day”)
Guru Ramanathan, Film & TV Editor
It’s the man, the myth, the legend and my personal king of acting, Denzel Washington. Though we always find Washington masterfully playing complex, flawed characters, his protagonists are still ones we find ourselves rooting for. That all changed with his performance as Det. Alonzo Harris for which he won his second Academy Award. Harris is a fast-talking, brutish and substance-abusing Los Angeles Police Department cop who shows the ropes to rookie cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke). It’s tough to not like Washington because of how charismatic he is, but Harris is an uncontrollable ball of rage that’s waiting to fire off at someone. He’s despicable and torturous but is also a large part of why “Training Day” works so well. His magnetic nature polishes his rough edges but also acts as an embodiment of the very city he is supposed to protect — the more Hoyt learns about how corrupt Harris is, the more he learns of the grimy LA underworld that has swallowed up Harris. Washington is a performer like no other whose mere presence in a film elevates it to Oscar potential, and “Training Day” is no exception.

Wilson Fisk (“Marvel’s Daredevil”)
Guru Ramanathan, Film & TV Editor
One of the best shows on Netflix right now is “Marvel’s Daredevil,” a series some may be sleeping on due to superhero fatigue or uncertainty of how Matthew Murdock’s (Charlie Cox) vigilantism has anything to do with Iron Man’s fight with Thanos. But as a villain, Thanos pales in comparison to Vincent D’Onofrio’s incredible Wilson Fisk, the multimillionaire criminal whose brains are as much of a weapon as his brawn. D’Onofrio has consistently given an award-worthy performance since the inception of “Daredevil,” and in the latest season, his return as the series’ primary antagonist showed once again how much his presence elevated the show. Fisk is damaged: strangely insecure but also commanding. His entire motivation is driven by the love for his future wife, rather than a desire to take-over-New York City. While “Daredevil” has a number of redeeming factors, Fisk still manages to be the clear standout in the series and is reason alone to start bingeing the show.

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