Please donate to help save PopMatters. We are moving to WordPress in January out of necessity and need your help.

The Devil Made Them Do It

There's no denying that Hannibal Lector, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, or Texas Chainsaw's Leatherface are terrifying, time honored fiends. But by digging a little deeper into the Devil's handbook, by looking outside the standard slice and dice creep show, you see that Hell rises up in subtle, sometimes surreal mannerisms.

The movies are full of evil - and no, we aren't talking about the collective works of Shawn Levy, Andy Fickman, and/or Harald Zwart. With a Good Book riddled with rights and wrongs and a long standing tradition of reinventing such noble vs. nasty narratives for various medias, it's no wonder that entertainment celebrates the miscreant. A viable villain is far more fun to watch than a washed out white bread hero and through a detailed portrayal of the depraved we often find ourselves vicariously experiencing a life we'd never dare live. Of course, there are times when the wicked depicted bites back, when the actions and individuals are so corrupt that they haunt us like ghosts. In those uneasy moments, it's clear that something Satanic must be behind their motives, less we see them as nothing more than inhuman monsters made by man himself.

In that regard, here are ten examples of onscreen individuals who channel a kind of unhinged, unimaginable horribleness from the moment the first scene unfolds. They aren't cannibalistic doctors or deformed clown-faced criminals. Those members of the malfeasant are too obvious in their approach. No, the characters here are corrupt in ways that go beyond the thrill kill basics, leaving your typical murderer or marauder sniffing their diabolic dust. There's no denying that Hannibal Lector, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, or Texas Chainsaw's Leatherface are terrifying, time honored fiends. But by digging a little deeper into the Devil's handbook, by looking outside the standard slice and dice creep show, you see that Hell rises up in subtle, sometimes surreal mannerisms. No one is questioning how crooked the following are. It's how they react when Beelzebub makes the call that singles them out among their baneful brethren, beginning with:

Rhoda Penmark in The Bad Seed

It was all about a penmanship medal. Though the narrative will argue a long history of criminal tendencies reaching back into her ancestry, and then try to mesh that mythos with the silly '50s freestyling via psychology, the only reason Rhoda killed little Claude Daigle was because he received a school reward that she believed she deserved. Of course, once her involvement is inferred, the child goes on a spree, making sure that even the simple gardener "pays" for arguing that she's guilty. Though the movie argues for a studio-mandated deus ex machina ending, there is no denying this kid's craven desire to destroy.

Dr. Heiter in The Human Centipede

As a disgraced surgeon determined to prove his preposterous theories correct, few can match this meticulous madman's ass-to-mouth designs. Of course, the failure of the digestive track experiment on his favorite pets should have hinted at the success rate achievable. Still, Dr. Heiter is unstoppable. He will commit any crime - legal or moral - to satisfy his twisted scientific strategies. Even more disturbing? His misplaced belief that, somehow, such an atrocity will lead to his being re-embraced by the medical elite. Clearly, this is one whacked out medico working without a net - or a clear mental link to reality.

Father in Dogtooth

Some may see it as the ultimate act of parental protection. Others will view it as the madness of a despot, dictating everything about his children's world, including the definitions of everyday objects. As the unnamed patriarch of this unusual family, Father forces his kids to stay isolated, never leaving their prison like estate. Every day, a new lesson in word/object re-association is played - 'zombies' are little yellow flowers, the 'sea' is the upholstered object one sits on. He even uses a willing employee at his job as a sexual surrogate for his rapidly aging son. Eventually, it all boils down to incest. How could it not?

Bill Maplewood in Happiness

Molesters are heinous, unforgivable monsters. Their retched, pedophilic desires drive a stake directly through the heart of a civilized social order. So imagine a kindly creep, a mild mannered suburban dad who just so happens to masturbate to issues of Tiger Beat magazine and drug-rape his son's playmates. All throughout the sickening morality play, our feckless father figure gives into his unholy urges. The only saving grace? When confronted by his own offspring and asked about his intentions, Bill is very clear. He would never penetrate his progeny. He would simply pleasure himself to the thought of same.

Guido Orefice in Life is Beautiful

Turning any human tragedy into a joke may seem like sacrilege, even if it is argued as a desperate defense mechanism (especially when a naive little kid is involved). But what this confused Italian everyman does in an attempt to defer the effects of the Holocaust away from his son is blatant blasphemy. As his fellow concentration camp inmates are dying left and right, as the desiccated bodies are being piled up like cordwood, Guido just keeps teasing and mugging. In the end, what seems like an act of compassion actually comes across as a kind of collaboration. Apparently Guido never learned that genocide is not a joke.

Beth Jarrett in Ordinary People

On the outside, she's the perfect suburban mom - perky, sociable, a whiz at the country club and a demon in the dining room. But inside, Beth is seething. She is angry that her strong, surfer boy son Buck is dead and even more pissed that her weak-willed "complicated" boy Conrad is still alive. No matter that he is equally affected by the loss of his brother, for her, it's all about Beth - and for the next two hours, she never lets us forget it. The result is one of the most horrific things a mother/spouse can ever do: turn loveless.

The Child Catcher in Chitty, Chitty Bang, Bang

Sure, his anti-kid position is part of a state-wide mandate against wee ones of all kind, and when compared to the compassionless hate heaped upon bratlings by Baron and Baroness Bomburst, it's all about duty. But with his angular looks and undertaker attire, this is one bureaucrat who thrives on his job. Nay, he actually seems to relish and fetishize it, turning every capture into his own personal badge of honor. Guaranteed to give children the willies and the even smaller members of the audience nightmares, he's the boogeyman born out of that most fertile of depraved ground - the fairytale.

Taffy Davenport in Female Trouble

As the bastard offspring of the dumpy Dawn Davenport and casual acquaintance/blubbery rapist Earl Petterson, little Taffy got off to a shaky start. Living with the fashion victim and the various horrendous influences around her pushes this Miss even further into her own fetid world. Eventually, she becomes the miscreant child from Hell, playing car wreck in the living room (complete with gallons of ketchup as fake blood) and talking back to every adult she sees. While not as wicked as some who use age as an excuse to get away with 'murder', Taffy is still a terror - scientifically stunted perhaps(according to Mom), but a terror nonetheless.

John Doe in Se7en

Few serial killers succeed in realizing their fantastical aims. Many are caught before they can complete their maniacal mission, while few find their plot perfectly executed. Not the case here. With its ripe religious overtones and cat and mouse menace, this is one psycho who's plan is always one step (or more) ahead of those determined to stop him. By playing the various pieces of his perverted wants like pawns in a masterful game of chess, he destroys several lives, including those of individuals who believe themselves beyond his diabolical reach. In such a brazen blood sport, they are clearly unprepared for Doe's determined reach.

Gertrude Baniszewski in An American Crime

Depending on which version of the story you believe, this lonely lady with a history of abusive husbands/boyfriends was a nutjob who took her insanity out on the 16 year old mind and body of Sylvia Marie Likens - or she was a sadistic opportunist who took her lifetime of pain and channeled it into the systematic torture of the aforementioned teen. The final facts remains the same - Gertrude "raped" Sylvia with a coke bottle, allowed neighborhood boys to beat her, and finally, carved the phrase "I'm a prostitute and proud of it" into her torso with a red hot sewing needle before bludgeoning her to death. Appalling.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





© 1999-2020 PopMatters Media, Inc. All rights reserved. PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.

Collapse Expand Features

Collapse Expand Reviews

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.