Monday, August 31, 2009


#15 with a goddamn bullet! Or a butcher knife!

Entertainment Weekly, having long since ceased being an essential, or even a fun read for anyone seriously interested in keeping up on movies and attitudes about them, is still occasionally a good source for stirring up water cooler (or blog ) conversation. And so it is with the magazine’s current listing (EW excels at lists) of The 20 Best/Worst Horror Villains”. Lest ye be confused, as I was, by that title, they aren’t saying these are the 20 best villains at being worst, as in most vile and horrifying. It’s a straight list—the first 15 are the “best” horror villains, followed by five villains who have failed miserably, in EW’s eyes, at the game of making fright. The list goes something like this, villains name followed by the franchise, and on rare occasion the single movie, from which he/she/it sprung:

1) Freddy Kreuger (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
2) Pinhead (Hellraiser)
3) Michael Meyers (Halloween)
4) Jason Voorhees Friday the 13th)
5) Count Orlok (Nosferatu)
6) Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
7) Jigsaw (Saw)
8) Candyman (Candyman)
9) Annie Wilkes (Misery)
10) The Tall Man (Phantasm)
11) Hannbal Lecter (Manhunter, The Silence of The Lambs,
Hannibal, Red Dragon
12) Norman Bates Psycho)
13) Sylvia Ganush (Drag Me to Hell)
14) Minnie Castvet (Rosemary’s Baby)
15) Chucky (Child’s Play et al)

1) Pumpkinhead
2) Dr. Giggles
3) Gingerbread Man
4) Leprechaun
5) Audrey II (The Little Shop of Horrors)

Let the pointless nitpicking begin. First of all, if posterity and overall influence is to be counted for anything, then I think you have to alter the top three positions to show Count Orlok, the first truly memorable vampire in film history, at number one, followed by the equally seminal Norman Bates at two, and one of Bates’ direct grandchildren, if you will, Leatherface at number three. After that start then sure, bring on your '80s icons, if you must. Go ahead and juggle Freddy and Jason and Michael in there however you want, though I would have to insist, again imposing my own standards on EW’s game here, if audacity and mutability is to count for anything, then Chucky must surely rank higher than #15.

After all, it took Freddy till the seventh film in that franchise to even begin to see the possibilities in using itself as an examination of anything beyond surrealistic depictions of garish nightmare-tinged murder scenarios. Jason got into that game after 11 movies, at Freddy’s insistence, and their little romp, ranks among the best of the Celebrity Death match pairings of movie villains of the 2000’s, far outstripping Alien vs. Predator or Sarah Palin vs. David Letterman. But Chucky, as guided by writer Don Mancini (full disclosure: Don is a good friend of mine) and director Ronny Yu, took the popular killer doll down that road after only three outings, resulting in (no, I get it, arguably) the franchises two best movies Yu’s Bride of Chucky (1998) and Mancini’s Seed of Chucky (2004), which recast the adventures of the murderous redheaded toy in the shadow of standard movie romance tropes and then, most memorably, family psychological drama a la Ordinary People. So really, Chucky needs to be in the top seven somewhere, with the Tall Man, Phantasm’s Angus Scrimm (“Boy-y-y-y-y-y-y!”) hot on his tail.

Though I don’t have much use for Annie Wilkes, I love the inclusion of Minnie Castavet and Sylvia Ganush. But my biggest picked nits have to be the inclusion of Pinhead, not only at number two (number two?), but at all. Really, each of the candidates, even Jason (Friday the 13th Part 3-D) has one movie in their oeuvre that’s somehow distinctive, if not exactly good. But where is that movie in Pinhead’s column? Even the original Hellraiser was dank, messy and mistook the terrorizing of flesh as being the same as being terrifying. And each sequel was sillier than the last. Throw Pinhead out on his perforated skull cap!

And the worst category is what it is, but for the inclusion of Audrey II from The Little Shop of Horrors (1985), Frank Oz’s filmed adaptation of the Broadway play, which seems as out of place here in this category as Audrey does being considered a “horror villain” alongside Jason and Leatherface. Outside of an argument over the merits of the movie, which is far better than many of the movies that were mentioned or alluded to on this list, Audrey II’s appearance here seems random and silly. Have Audrey II and Pinhead switch places, and then I think you’re on to something.



Sandman said...

For what it's worth (not much) Pumpkinhead scared the hell outta me as a kid, probably more than anything else on that list.

I was also scared of the devil. So, you know........not like I was a very reliable horror expert at 9 years old.

Cool blog. You have a new follower.

Anonymous said...

I actually worked for the producer of Pumpkinhead for a few weeks, and the creature strangely resembles him. I wanna say his name was Richard Weiman. I'll check on that.

JF said...

What's wrong with the Leprechaun? Haven't they seen Leprechaun in the Hood? Little dude stabs a guy in the throat with his own afro pick. That should at least make him number 3.

Don Mancini said...

Thanks, buddy. Appreciate your pimping my boy!

xo Don

bill r. said...

Yeah, Pumpkinhead isn't that bad.

Alonzo Mosley (FBI) said...

Although I agree that the first "Hellraiser" could have been a lot better (so could have the first "Phantasm" for that matter), I think Pinhead is an OK choice. One thing that separates him from the rest was that instead of just killing, he promised eternal suffering (wheras all the others just kill their victims). It's surprising that more horror films don't monopolize on that concept.

I never did get around to see "Drag Me to Hell", but I'm guessing the character they name is the old Gypsy woman, which means her curse puts her in the same league as Pinhead.

And as for Audrey II's inclusion, I'm guessing the guy at EW was reaching to make a deadline.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Good point, Alonso, though I don't remember Pinhead doing much other than presiding over some torturous contraptions and intoning lines like "I'll eat your soul!", lines which seemed to get more wisecrack-y as the series dragged on.

Whereas Sylvia Ganush, the Gypsy Lady, was always quick to employ her dentures...

Don: My pleasure! Chucky #4 & #5 have become real favorites of mine. And in no way should any of said pimping be construed as an attempt to win a role as Victim #1 in the next movie! ;)

Don Mancini said...

"In no way should any of said pimping be construed as an attempt to win a role as Victim #1 in the next movie!"

Nonie would end up in therapy for the rest of her life!

Chris Stangl said...

Well, you ask for nitpicking, then I point out that there is no THE in the 1986 LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS... and/or the demon plant of 1960 is "Audrey, Jr."

I'm long past the point where EW can get my hackles up about anything. It is interesting that though LSoH is more usefully read as a black comedy, musical and satire than a horror movie (i.e.- if it's not scary, we might ask if it is trying to be scary), that Audrey II can be considered in a list of largely humanoid serial killers is testament to the film's ability to make the alien hell-plant more than a monster and a full-blooded character. Certainly if we are tapping Monsters as villains, any number of AIP beasties, goofy kaiju and Poverty Row ape-people are more ludicrous. And however you slice it, the Audrey II puppets are beautiful.

The list is predictably poppy and short-term-memory-addled, but I'd have stricken all the monsters proper or included more, dropped Jigsaw and Pinhead (those movies are all terrible, iconic makeup jobs or no), added Hjalmar Poelzig from THE BLACK CAT and Matthew Hopkins in THE WITCHFINDER GENERAL.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

"That Audrey II can be considered in a list of largely humanoid serial killers is testament to the film's ability to make the alien hell-plant more than a monster and a full-blooded character... And however you slice it, the Audrey II puppets are beautiful."

These are great points, Chris, and you get at another thing that rubbed me the wrong way about the movie's inclusion here, in that I've never considered either the 1960 or the 1986 version horror movies, but much more black comedies or satires, as you state. (I'd put Bucket of Blood in this same category, though Walter Paisley is a more appealing nod toward villainy, as defined here, than Audrey II.)

Your evocation of Hjalmar Poelzig and Matthew Hopkins got me thinking of other more seasoned villains than what EW seems willing to consider (Norman Bates and Minne Castavet being relatively ancient exceptions). I'm kind of surprised, in retrospect, that Peter Lorre's Hans Beckert in M didn't warrant a mention, as the movie is pretty well known even in fanboy circles. And if we're talking Vincent Price, maybe you leave out his Prince Propsero in The Masque of the red Death because it's too close to Hopkins, but I would think his great early '70s double-header as vengeful actor Edward Lionheart in Theater of Blood and, of course, vengeful musicologist Anton Phibes in The Abominable Dr. Phibes would definitely qualify.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

So, Don, what you're saying is that you care more about my daughter's sanity than my potential as memorable sausage splattered on the silver screen? Well, I don't know what to say except... thanks-- me too!

Don Mancini said...

I like Pinhead, too, for the reason cited by Mr. Mosley: Pinhead's very disturbing sado-masochistic motivations. He turns his victims on to their unconscious desire to suffer, so that they invariably become all-too-willing victims. I'll never forget the character in HELLRAISER 2, his body merged with a machine which will drill into his head for all eternity, whispering ecstatically, "And to think I hesitated." Ick.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is such a terrific film, and Audrey II such a memorable and wonderfully realized character, as Chris Stangl points out, that its inclusion on the "Worst" list is instantly dismissible.

Peter Nellhaus said...

See Takashi Miike's Audition, and then tell me who's the scariest person you've seen in a movie.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Okay, Peter, I'm not sure how I blocked her out, but yes, Eihi Shiina would have to at least be in the conversation, and I'd put her in the top four. This grown man made sure there was someone to walk with him to the parking lot after seeing Audition.

Erotic Movies said...

Pumpkinhead is too bad. It scared me every time. Anyways cool blog.

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