Friday, April 6, 2012

BAD 'UNS, HOOLIGANS & NO-GOOD NICS

PART ONE [2-12-2010]

It's been a while since I wrote one of these things, mainly because I ran out of rubbish I could pontificate about.

I  thought it would be a good idea to write a more ambitious version of my "five baddest..." lists, then realized I didn't have the time or patience to commit to such a venture.

Instead, I've broken it up into smaller chunks, which I can realise whenever I feel like it.

For part one of this personalized rogues gallery, I've decided to pick villains from three of the biggest Hollywood action hero franchises.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas, ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE)

Ernst Stavro Blofeld has had many incarnations over the years. Armed with a vast intellect, outlandish schemes for world domination, Persian cats and an ever-present Nehru jacket, Blofeld exemplifies the popular image of the typical Bond villain, inspiring Mike Meyer’s glorious tribute/parody Dr Evil.

While Donald Pleasance’s performance in 1967’s YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE is the most iconic, it is not the most definitive. That honor must go to Telly Savalas, who succeeded Pleasance in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969).  

In contrast to Pleasance, who played the character as a seriously disturbed megalomaniac, Savalas plays Blofeld the same way Connery played Bond, as a sophisticated thug, combining the brawn of Oddjob with the cool intellect of Ian Fleming's literary creation. 

Unlike most Bond villains, Savalas’s Blofeld is more than capable of going toe-to-toe with Bond. And unlike all the rest, he manages to survive his encounter with the secret agent, ending the film bloodied but unbowed, with the assassination of Bond’s wife Tracy as his final coupe de grace.  

Mola Ram (Amrish Puri , INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM)

Unlike Bond, Indiana Jones does not boast a comparable rogue’s gallery. On the whole, his adversaries tend to be (discounting the henchmen) a bit colorless. They lack a little panache. 

Thank Kali then for Mola Ram, the high priest of the (underrated) TEMPLE OF DOOM.

The one great villain of the series, Mola Ram is also the only one of Indy's foes who does not fall into the category of the heartless Nazi/Soviet or treacherous colleague.

Unlike the comically stereotypical Teutonic nemeses of his other adventures, Mola Ram’s is a singularly diabolical evil, who is willing to go to any lengths to dominate the world in the name of the goddess Kali. Unlike the empty symbolism of the Nazis, Ram’s ideology is based on seemingly real supernatural abilities.

Pulling the heart out of a living man then cackling with delight as it spontaneously combusts, Mola Ram epitomizes the altogether grimmer tone of this second adventure.

With a no-holds barred mentality about achieving his goals, he willingly sacrifices both his followers and the children of the surrounding villages. He also has the distinction of being the only villain to gain the upper hand over Indy and  convert him to the dark side, at least temporarily.

He gets a pretty good send-off as well, in one of the first computer graphics-assisted ‘pushed off a cliff into the hungry maws of crocodiles’ death scenes. Eat your heart out, Blanchett!

Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman, DIE HARD)

DIE HARD is the greatest action movie of all time. One key factor is Bruce Willis as John McClane, an ordinary guy who has to dig deep to become a hero. But a hero is only as great as his villain, and it is an understatement to say that Hans Gruber is a great one. 

Unlike the other villains in this collection, Gruber benefits from having one of the most realistic and well-thought out schemes ever in a Hollywood film. His plan is so well-thought out, and his ability to improvise so on-point it's not a stretch to imagine someone enacting the same scheme in the real world. 

He pushes John McClane to the limit, outwitting him at every turn. Even when everything has turned to crap, Gruber doesn't break a sweat. Like a great chess player, he's already five moves ahead of his opponent, and it is only when McClane begins to think like him that the tables begin to turn. 

There are so many scenes which highlight Gruber's sheer awesomeness, but it goes without saying that the whole movie is the only real way of experiencing the monolithic appeal of this blissfully amoral bastard.  

After a good start, like so many sequels PART TWO turned out to be somewhat underwhelming...

Original Release Date:12-12-2010

Colonel Erhardt (Sig Ruman, TO BE OR NOT TO BE)

"So they call me Concentration Camp Erhardt eh?"

Ernst Lubitsch's TO BE OR NOT TO BE remains an underrated gem from the era of Classic Hollywood comedy. The only comedy to directly confront World War Two and the conditions of those under German occupation, the film is a surprisingly successful black comedy.

And most of the credit must go to Sig Ruman's hilarious, and terrifying performance as the film's chief villain Gestapo Colonel 'Concentration Camp' Erhardt.

The genius of Ruman's performance (and the film) is that he is such a human monster, arrogantly preening and exalting in his position as the Gestapo's man in Poland, and secretly terrified of the enormous responsibility he has to bear in rooting out the Resistance.

He may be made to seem comically foolish by the Polish Resistance, but Colonel Erhardt is never played as the fool. With none of the moustache-twirling deviance of contemporary World War Two films, he is a truly threatening figure who takes great satisfaction from his reputation for ruthlessness. He epitomizes Lubitsch's belief that once atrocity has been rendered routine, it's orchestrators are no longer gleeful sadists but simply professionals going about their work with the emotional investment of slightly bored bank clerks.  

PART III - Lesser Known Denizens of the Celluloid West: Bastard Edition! [16-12-2010]

Major Jackson, DJANGO, 1966


"I see you brought your own burial suit. I like that..."

This guy is the ultimate killjoy.

Not only does he enjoy hunting human game, this ex-Confederate nutjob spends his time buying off or wiping out the local Mexicans while plotting to re-ignite the Civil War with his army of die-hard adherents. 

When a nameless outlaw gets uppity and disturbs his little slice of backwater Hell, he brings out his entire army to massacre the poor sod.

Even when said sod starts wiping out his clan, Jackson doesn't blink an eyelid, using the stranger's appearance as an excuse to wipe out all his enemies in a final genocidal purge. What a bastard.

Avery, THE MARAUDERS, 1955

A little film, but an absolutely hypnotizing performance from Dan Duryea as war-obsessed Avery.

At first, Avery plays second banana to cool businessman Rutherford in his plan to muscle small-time rancher Everett out of the water hole he has just discovered in the middle of the desert.

When Everett holds them off and his boss decides to give up, Avery does a Colonel Kurtz and takes over the gang. Increasingly deranged by a lack of water and his own deluded attempts to become a 'war hero' like his ancestors, Avery ends up destroying his own gang in his attempts to crush his foe, shooting their water bottles when they attempt to escape. Clever bastard...

The entire cast, DJANGO, KILL! (IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT!), 1967 

Where to start? 

The corrupt alderman with the pyromaniacal wife? The scarecrow-faced bandit leader Oaks? The psycho ranch owner Zorro and his talking parrot? The Muchachoes in their matching leather outfits? The townspeople who tear apart a (still living) outlaw for the gold bullets in his body?

Definitely a head scratcher...

PART 4 [20-12-2010]

And now, the final piece of the puzzle: 

John Carpenter's...


BAD 'UNS, HOOLIGANS & NO-GOOD NICS

Despite the iconic status of HALLOWEEN (1978) and growing reputation of his remake of THE THING (1982) John Carpenter remains a hugely underrated director. Here I present some of the lesser known antagonists who have added to the unsettling vibes of his singular filmography. 

Lo Pan, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)


"Who are these? Friends of yours?!? You know, this really pisses me off no end!"

Both doddering old man and immortal demon, David Lo Pan (James Hong) is an unsung bad ass from the catalogue of John  Carpenter.

There is something rather lovable about Lo Pan. Despite his incredible powers, Lo Pan is basically a geek. Capable of destroying his enemies with a glance, Lo Pan is completely hopeless when it comes to wooing the woman he loves. Whether enjoying the torment of the film's heroes, or giggling with childish glee when he has to choose a bride from his nubile captives, Lo Pan is certainly the most relatable of Carpenter's villains.

Us, THEY LIVE (1988)


"What's the threat? We all sell out every day, might as well be on the winning team."

Before THEY LIVE, Carpenter's villains could be defined as essentially taken from the same cloth - as pure representatives of Evil completely consumed with death and destruction. This lack of ambiguity is not a criticism of Carpenter's vision: he villains are merely the extreme of the malevolence which exists in all his characters, from the anti-heroic Snake Plissken to the paranoid scientists of THE THING.

In THEY LIVE, Carpenter portrays a world in which there are no longer any external threats to our world, because 'they' have already won: Aliens have taken over the planet by insinuating themselves into the upper echelons of society, maintaining order via subliminal advertising and the compliant authorities.   

There are no space ships or ray guns in this brave new world, just dollar signs. Everyone has a price, and while the aliens in this film are bad enough,  it is the human characters who ultimately bring about the downfall of lone rebels Nada (Roddy Piper) and Frank (Keith David).

The Man, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)
Despite being a rather entertaining hodgepodge of post-apocalyptic sci-fi, horror and action conventions, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is an incredibly nihilistic picture. One has only to look to the film's antagonists to see how disillusioning Carpenter's version of the (then) future year of 1997 truly is.

First there is Hauck (Lee Van Cleef), the brutal police chief who blackmails Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) into a last-ditch rescue mission to save the US President. He injects Plissken with the equivalent of a ticking time bomb, and only tells Snake through an underling's unwise slip of the tongue. 

The other figures of authority in the film are no less appealing.

The Duke (Isaac Hayes) is a certifiable nut job who rules the abandoned penal colony as a latter-day despot: Attila the Hun in pimp attire circa 1976. 

The President (Donald Pleasance) is a slimy little louse who shows little regard for those who have sacrificed themselves to rescue him.

These guys are the flip side of the same coin. Both are leaders who are willing to use any means necessary to remain in power. The only difference is that the Duke does not need to hide his corruption beneath a suit and idealistic bluster.

Street Thunder, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976) 


Michael Meyers may turn Haddonfield into an abattoir, and the Thing may have cornered the market in total facial and body re-construction, but none of Carpenter's villains have the impact of his debut.

From their first moments onscreen these dudes exude pure, undiluted evil, but it's their initial, totally unexpected act of violence which cements their status as the distilled essence of Carpenter's vision of evil.

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