DEADLIER THAN THE MALE
If somebody suddenly pointed at you and said; “Quick! Think of a movie villain!”, the chances are that your mind would immediately conjure up the image of a bald scarred man stroking a cat in a swivel chair, whilst pondering his latest eeevil plan (possibly in an lair hidden in a volcano). Or maybe you’re old-school, and the picture of a moustache-twirling dude with a top hat comes to mind.
Obviously with more time to consider it, the infinite number of choices would deliver a more realistic image. But if someone limited that choice to a villain from the horror genre, maybe it would be a hockey-masked slasher, or a finger-knifed dream-demon.
However, continuing our “Women in Horror” theme this month, how about a psychotic slasher-mum, or royalty with blood-thirst and a serious lack of empathy? For your consideration, YGROY presents a selection of our favourite female villains from the world of horror. Sometimes the sources are cross-genre examples, but in each case the lady in question is irredeemably bad and nasty, and at least one person (or rabbit) meets their end at their merciless whim.
Be aware that due to our choices, by the laws of necessity, there are some *major spoilers ahead*
Ladies, take it away … just don’t hurt us!
COUNTESS ELIZABETH NADASDY
Played by Ingrid Pitt in Countess Dracula
In the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, it was the Hammer film studios that produced the most full-blooded horrors for the genre aficionados. It was also famous for its statuesque actresses, leading to the “Hammer Glamour” tag. Amongst the cheesecake though, the studio created some fine female villains. The Polish/British actress Ingrid Pitt was one of the most charismatic. Her seductive version of J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla Karnstein” in 1970’s “The Vampire Lovers”, was a career highlight. Here though, we’re concentrating on her villainous role as Nádasdy, otherwise known as “Countess Dracula”. The 1971 film has nothing to do with genuine bloodsuckers, but is a thinly veiled take on the legend of Elizabeth Báthory, the real-life murderess with an alleged taste for bathing in blood. After discovering the skin-rejuvenating qualities of virgin blood (a bit like a mediaeval L’Oreal if you like), she stops at nothing to retain her youth and to get off with a young army Lieutenant. Pitt is never any else than hypnotic as she bounces between youth and old age, stabbing gypsies with hat-pins, prancing around in narcissist rapture at her new beauty, or languidly sponging herself down in blood. The fact that she imprisons her own daughter, steals her identity, and then tries to kill her, is just the icing on the cake. Bereft of any kind of compassion and totally self-absorbed, she is a classic (and literal) full-blooded villain.
Played by Shawnee Smith in the “Saw” movie franchise
Whilst the “Saw” franchise had the character of Jigsaw at its heart (despite the fact he died in part 3), it also had a rich smorgasbord of villainous types in the seven films. Chief among these was Amanda Shaw, as skilfully played by Shawnee Smith. A genre favourite since starring in the hugely underrated remake of “The Blob” in 1988, Smith brought the required multi-layered quality to the character. Don’t think she was that important? Well, she was the only character (apart from Jigsaw himself) to appear in ALL of the “Saw” films. Starting as a victim in part one, being the only person to survive one of Jigsaw’s traps; she seemed to be a minor character. It was during the events of Part Two and Three though, that it was revealed that she was in fact a protégé of Jigsaw and was continuing to build his traps as he became too ill and frail to do so. Like her mentor though she bites the big one in part 3, when evidence points to her being a cold-blooded killer, as oppose to Jigsaw who always prided himself on allowing a slim chance for his victims to live. Amanda returns via flashbacks in the rest of the franchise, where her character is softened somewhat, as her motives and a framing by Hoffman (Jigsaw’s successor) becomes apparent. And whilst Amanda is undoubtedly a killer, the almost touching Father-Daughter relationship between her and Jigsaw is well drawn. Smith also plays her with a strong sense of strength and conviction, which makes her more than a 2-dimensional sidekick. So see Shaw in “Saw”…
Played by Sheri Moon Zombie in the “House of a 1,000 corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects”
Sheri Moon Zombie’s constant appearances in her husband’s genre films are not the simple act of nepotism that you might think. Take her masterful portrayal of “Baby” for example. She’s the most unstable member of the bat-shit crazy “Firefly” family, in both “House of 1000 corpses” and “The Devils Rejects”. First appearing as an “innocent” hitchhiker in “House”, she entraps a group of friends into the Firefly homestead. She then reveals her true colours by throwing childish tantrums, dressing up and singing, stamping her feet in rage, and using insults like “poopy pants”. Worse than that though, is the fact that she’ll scalp and kill you for not knowing her favourite movie star (it’s Bette Davis by the way…). And in “Rejects” she just becomes evil personified. Dropping F-bombs and C-Grenades like no tomorrow, she openly taunts her helpless captives in a motel, and tortures and manipulates them with any sense of mercy or empathy at all. The scene where she offers her buttocks as a target for a gun (there’s no bullets) to a dying woman is disturbing on so many levels. Entirely hateful with no redeeming features, it’s all about her world and her family. Despite this, it is a mesmerising and compelling bit of acting by Mrs Zombie. Her “Bonnie & Clyde” demise is a fitting and iconic end for a character that does not deserve to walk amongst humanity. One “Baby” that even a mother wouldn’t love…
Played by Glenn Close in the “Fatal Attraction”
“Fatal Attraction” is genre? Well, let’s be honest, when it was released in 1987 it was a “yuppie thriller” and a cinema smash-hit. But it also followed the exact same formula as the average “stalk & slash” horror at the time. It was the minimal presence of blood, and the casting choices of Michael Douglas and Glenn Close that made it more “respectable”. It’s Close who really raises the game here and she is magnificent as the “other woman”. It actually earned her an academy award nomination for best actress. Douche-bag husbands everywhere were scared into fidelity, frightened that their one-night stand might turn out to be as neurotic and manipulative as Alex. The scene where she confronts a skittishly macho Douglas, and taunts him to take responsibility (“I’m NOT going be IGNORED Dan!”) is an absolute classic. Alex cements her villainous attributes with acts of voyeurism and vandalism, which escalates into kidnapping, and ultimately attempted murder. And how many modern-day villains have brand-new phrases introduced into the English language, via their evil machinations. I wonder just how many younger cinema fans realise just where the term “Bunny-Boiler “came from? Poor Mr Hoppy! And if the final “jump-shock” climax with a seemingly dead Alex rising from the bath doesn’t make it comparable to genre movies, I don’t know what does! Incidentally the climax was to have been more chilling and nefarious, with Alex committing suicide and framing her nemesis for the crime, which was the departure that Close herself preferred.
Played by Sharon Stone in the “Basic Instinct” movies
What is it with Michael Douglas and murderous femme fatales? Ignoring his life outside cinema, if there was ever a poster-boy for keeping it in your pants and not behaving like a misogynist, then he’s the fellow! Catherine Tramell is one of the most ambiguous, smuggest, manipulative, ice-cold bad girls to ever sashay across the screen. Using her flexible and varied sexuality to fully exploit all situations, she murders (yes, she is the killer) seemingly on whim and just to get ideas for her novels. The graphic murders and blood-letting, the tortuous set-ups and red herrings she puts in place, not to mention her flagrant disregard for everybody around her (“What are you going to do? Arrest me for smoking?”) is all characteristic of a master villain. Although the movie is exploitative in the extreme, and responsible for THAT interrogation scene which spawned countless spoofs and outcries, Stone is just so damned good in the role that she effortlessly acts everybody else off the screen and dominated proceedings, much like her character. The fact that she gets away with it all, and only doesn’t stab her lover at the end because he no longer wants kids (?!!), is the dark icing on the cake. Unfortunately the sequel only dulls the character and is unsuccessful at regaining that elusive evil of Catherine. If only David Cronenberg had directed it as planned… Still, whilst Catherine Trammell sometimes comes across as a horny teenage boy’s dubious fantasy, Stone deserves credit for her efforts in infamy…
Played by Cécile De France in “High Tension” / “Switchblade Romance”