Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Villainy's Victors Part 2- My Top 100 Villains in All of Fiction

95) Pennywise the Dancing Clown from IT:
 There comes a point in every horror fans life that they graduate from beginning horror fare like Dracula and Frankenstein and move on to material for a more adult audience. (Yes. I know Dracula and Frankenstein were intended for adults. However, time and changes in the things we find shocking has transformed them into books that could be comfortably read by children as young as ten.) When this change occurs, the best book to make the the transition is, in my humble, opinion Stephen King's IT.

Although the book itself is for adults, one of the main themes is the fears that people experience when they are children. This is embodies by the main antagonist in the book, It, also known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Based on the troll from the Three Billy Goats Gruff, It is a shape-changing monster that dwells in the sewers of Derry, Main. It's favorite form is that of a clown, a disguise it uses to gain the trust of unsuspecting children.

 Pennywise's main food is fear and Ot kills those it feeds on. Given it's ability to change shape, this means that It can literally be any monster that frightens it's victims. Throughout the book, for example, It becomes a vampire, a mummy, and even a giant leach.

Pennywise is more than just a creepy clown. It is everything that frightened us when we were children and that is why It remains one of the strongest monsters in all of fiction.

94) King Hyperion from Immortals:

Those who are familiar with the film Immortals are probably scratching their heads at this point. "Isn't Immortals a legendarily bad movie, Mr. Blogger? Why would you include a character from that film?"

My response to the first question is: Yes. Yes. It is is a terrible movie. It is a wretched pile of visual excess filled with people wearing incredibly silly looking costumes. It is perhaps the most inept retelling of the story of Theseus ever to exist (mixing and matching form several Greek myths, with original elements thrown in, such that the story made absolutely no sense). However, just because it is not a good film does not mean that it is not an entertaining film. Immortals is an entertaining film in the same way Plan 9 from Outer Space is an entertaining film.

The most entertaining part of the film is Mickey Rourke's performance as  King Hyperion. This is not a good performance by any means. Rourke moves between phoning it in and actively trying not to laugh at the dialogue he is delivery all while waring costumes members of Cirque de Soleil would find over the top.

However, King Hyperion is the best part of the movie. The film tries so hard to make him a into a credible threat that it actually become comic.  You know that scene in all them movies where the villain executes a henchman for giving him bad news? King Hyperion does that at least three times. It's enough to make you wonder why anyone in his right mind would work for this guy. (It's not helped by his tendency toward philosophical musings on the brutal nature of life. It's supposed to sound cool but comes out sounding less coherent than the label on a bottle of Doctor Brounner's soap).

Why is he on the list then? Because he is hilarious to watch and anyone who makes me laugh that much deserves to be on the list. ( I said this was a list of my favorite villains. I never side that they were my favorite for a good reason).

93) The Dictator from Kingdom of the Wicked-

Kingdom of the Wicked,  tells a story that should be familiar to any fan of children books. Christopher Grahame, a writer of children's fantasy novels is suddenly wisked away to Castrovalva,  the fantasy world of his childhood to help his imaginary friends fight the forces of evil, led in this case by a man called the Dictator. And of course, his friends and family think he's losing his mind.

Only Kingdom of the Wicked isn't a children's book. It's a graphic novel for adults. So the fantasy world of childhood has now become a war-torn hellscape loosely based on World War I. The "forces of evil" are a group of hideous monsters that violently eviscerate several characters on camera and the Dictator is a human ho dresses like a brownshirt who bears a strong resemblance to the protagonist.

SPOILER ALERT: Of course, it turns out he's the protagonist's long lost twin brother. It's how this revelation is executed that add a layer of complexity to the Dictator. Because this time, the protagonist really is losing his mind.  Castrovalva isn't actually real, only a hallucination that Chritopher is having.

The Dictator, however, is real. In fact, he's Christopher's conjoined twin brother, a undeveloped  fetus that is attached directly to Christopher's nervous system. Castrovalva is a shared delusion that the Dictator has drawn Chris into in an attempt to take over into his body.

This revelation add a tragic element to the character that makes him more sympathetic. Sure, we've seen him murder several of Chris' imaginary friends but is that even murder if they were never real in the first place? The Dictator's motivations are, in fact, utterly sympathetic. He wants what anybody wants; a life of his own. If was can not condone his actions, in the end, we can at least understand them and even empathize with them. This is enough to  get a character who could have been "stock fantasy villain # 1,346" a place on my list.

92) The Salesman from Severed:

On first glance, the Salesman and Pennywise might seem like the same character. Both seem charming when they first appear. Both of them adopt a variety of disguises and identities to fool their prey. And of course, both of them have a diet that consists mostly of children.

But ultimately, it's the Salesman that's the more unsettling of the two characters. Ironically, it's because he's also the most human. Although Pennywise can appear as a person,  in reality, it is just an animals doing what all animals do; seeking out it's main food source. Pennywise can't not be evil because otherwise it will starve and die.

On the other hand, the Salesman is to all intents and purposes an ordinary person. Sure, there are hints that he's something more than a man but he never outright displays any supernatural abilities aside form longevity.  He can't change his shape; he has to rely on changing his appearance through old fashioned means like changing his hairstyle and altering his voice. The only thing that is overtly monstrous about him are the razor sharp teeth he conceals behind dentures and even then you could argue that he files them to look like that. He may not really be a human but he is human enough that you could imagine someone like him could exist and that makes him the more unsettling character.

91) The Color out of Space:

There's an argument to be made that the monsters that populate H.P. Lovecraft's stories are metaphors for Lovecraft's fear of science. Oftentimes, his stories would depict a scientist or other seeker of knowledge whose quests for truths would lead him into contact with a godlike and unknowable alien force. Sometimes these entities were indeed gods but much of the time they were simply advance aliens whose knowledge and technology made them seem supernatural. For example, the story At the Mountains of Madness reveals that the creators of men were simply aliens who created humanity for unclear reasons. (If you read the story closely, it is implied that we were a failed attempt at making slave labor). Upon the discovery of these truths, the protagonist would gain not only knowledge but only at the price of  madness and death.

The Color out of Space is the monster that, in my opinion, best represents Lovecraft's phobia of science and the unknown. Ironically, what makes the monster stand out is that, unlike other Lovecraft stories is that, in this case, there is no horrifying truth to be found. It's not an ancient deity, it's not some horrible ancestor of humanity, it's just something that fell to earth from outer space.

Unlike the other monsters, the Color is so divorced from what we would think of as life that the story leaves it ambiguous as to whether or not it's even alive in the first place. The Color seems to deliberately conjure up image to lure living things to it so it can drain their life. This would make it seem sentient but the story leaves open the possibility that this is simply a natural process caused by proximity to whatever it is the Color is made of.

In that case, the Color is no more evil than chlorine gas is for being poisonous to humans. (Indeed, the Color's is actually described as being closer to a  gas than anything else). The power of the story is that is leaves you wondering whether the Color is malevolent alien or simply an interstellar phenomenon and let's you make up your mind for yourself.

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