Showing posts with label villains. Show all posts
Showing posts with label villains. Show all posts

10 January 2019

A Dream of Justice


by Eve Fisher
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” - G. K. Chesterton
Of course, that was back in the days when dragons were dangerous, fire-snorting monsters who ate everyone who came near them.  When they were evil.  Now, dragons are fun and cuddly and cute and everyone wants one.  Or they're your soul mate and enhance your sex life, as in Anne McCaffrey.

NOTE:  I loved Dragonflight and Dragonquest, so no, I'm not a dragon hater!

But what I want to point out is that you can't understand what Chesterton was talking about if you don't understand that dragons were once a mortal terror.  When dragons were, indeed, a very good analogy for the monsters and terrors that eat through childhood.

And it's not just dragons, it's fairy tales as well.  Revisionist histories of the Wicked Witch or the Evil Stepmother or the Big Bad Wolf as misunderstood victims may be intriguing to adults, but I don't think they're good for children.  Children know there is evil in the world, evil that the adults may or may not be shielding them from, evil that is threatening to their very core, evil that they can't always name (in some families, that's too dangerous) or define (some evil starts before we even have words for it).  And they need - at a young age, before they're old enough to read about Voldemort or Sauron - to have examples of evil being fought and conquered.  I did.  I desperately needed the hope that someday all evil would fall.  I needed justice.  And, imho, without a firm grasp of right and wrong, of goodness and evil, there is no real sense of justice.
“Detective stories contain a dream of justice. They project a vision of a world in which wrongs are righted, and villains are betrayed by clues that they did not know they were leaving. A world in which murderers are caught and hanged, and innocent victims are avenged, and future murder is deterred...  Detective stories keep alive a view of the world which ought to be true. Of course people read them for fun, for diversion, as they do crossword puzzles. But underneath they feed a hunger for justice, and heaven help us if ordinary people cease to feel that.”
Thrones, Dominations - Dorothy L. Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh
In other words, we don't really want a Casablanca where Rick refuses to stick out his neck, and settles down to another bottle while the fascists take Victor Laszlo and Ilsa away to a concentration camp.  Or a Maltese Falcon where Sam Spade goes off with the Fat Man and Cairo to find the loot.    

Black-and-white film screenshot of several people in a nightclub. A man on the far left is wearing a suit and has a woman standing next to him wearing a hat and dress. A man at the center is looking at the man on the left. A man on the far right is wearing a suit and looking to the other people.

Which is why I've been bothered for a long time about the shift from a hunger for justice to a hunger for personal gain.  A great enthusiasm for evading the law.  A grand revival of the seven deadly sins:  pride, envy, greed, gluttony, lust, wrath, and sloth (a/k/a apathy).  A celebration of them.  A sense that everyone does it, you're a fool if you don't, and compassion (for the downtrodden, the victims, the poor conned bastards) is weakness.  That noir - which I admit is entertaining on screen - is a place you'd actually want to live.
This really struck home when I read the SCOTUS blog about Nielsen v. Preap.  This is a case about "whether the federal authorities must detain immigrants who had committed crimes, often minor ones, no matter how long ago they were released from criminal custody... [T]he sticking point appeared to be how to define what would be a reasonable period of time for immigration agents to detain a person whose criminal sentence is completed.”  (Currently waiting on SCOTUS' decision.)  SCOTUS Blog

Now what really interested me about this was reading the comments (on other websites) - always a mistake - where a large number of people stopped at the word "immigrants" (or "aliens", depending on which article you read) and said, "They're illegal - boot them out."  (Cleaned up for extreme profanity, and in some cases, death threats.)  

And by saying that, they missed the most obvious thing in the world:

Everyone has legal rights, and should have legal rights, including an attorney and a hearing after an arrest for one simple reason:  Quid pro quo.  Some day an American citizen might be arrested in a foreign country (it has been known to happen; like in Russia; like right now), and they may model their legal behavior on ours, and deny an American citizen their right to a hearing, whether it's for something as minor as a parking ticket to as major as murder.

It’s also why we have:

(1) Diplomatic Immunity – not because their diplomats are so charming, but because we want to protect our own overseas from reprisal (political or otherwise) such as arrests, imprisonment, torture, and "death in custody";
NOTE:  This is also why the case of Jamal Khashoggi was/is important.  A United States resident, brutally murdered by a Saudi Arabian hit squad in the Saudi embassy in Turkey.  So far the main objections to pursuing this from our current administration is money.  As the TV Evangelist Pat Robertson said, "You’ve got $100 billion worth of arms sales...we cannot alienate our biggest player in the Middle East.”  (Citation)  
NOTE 2:  The arms deal is so far only "letters of intent," and a suspiciously timed 100 million dollar payment - not for arms, but "to support U.S. stabilization efforts in northeastern Syria."  Granted, the price has gone up from 30 pieces of silver, but I still object.  
NOTE 3:  And Khashoggi's murder isn't about a journalist, per se. It's about the fact that Saudi Arabia felt free to kill someone in their embassy on foreign soil, in the same way that Russia felt free to kill at least six people on British soil, and both countries are getting away with it.  Murder is murder.  And when it's allowed to happen without consequences - Well, we're going to see more of them. And they will happen here. What will we do when Americans are killed on American soil with nerve agents like A-234 or radioactive polonium?   
(2) The Geneva Conventions for humanitarian treatment of soldiers and other POWs – to protect our own soldiers and civilians. And, BTW, why calling enemy soldiers “unlawful enemy combatants” and thus evading the Geneva Conventions is a very dangerous precedent that will, undoubtedly, come back to haunt us some day.  Which leads directly to


Guantanamo Bay, where the imprisonment of "unlawful enemy combatants" is currently ongoing (40 prisoners are still there, having been imprisoned for 16 years and counting), without trial for years, subject to extraordinary rendition (i.e., transfer to a cooperative foreign country for enhanced interrogation, i.e., torture) - and with no exit in sight for those who remain.  Simply put, precedent is a dangerous thing:  again, some day captured American soldiers and civilians may find themselves on foreign soil in similar prisons.

Humans have worked hard for years, decades, centuries, to create a world in which the weak are protected from the strong, where might does not automatically make right, and where we live under the rule of law.  Where democracies make it possible for everyone to have a say as to how they are governed.  Where civil and human rights are granted to everyone (because otherwise, there are no rights, just privilege, and capricious privilege at that).  Where peace is pursued on a national and international basis.

But maybe it's been too long since World War 1 and World War 2.  Because apparently there's a strong temptation, these days, to Dehiscence.  Deconstruction.  Destruction.  
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity....
   - W. B. Yeats, first stanza of "The Second Coming"
   Donne painted by Isaac Oliver

In other words, every man for himself.  But it's not true.  John Donne had a better take, from a time that was no more war-ridden, and much more plague-ridden, short-lived, and less comfortable than ours: 
"No man is an island, entire of itself; 
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. 
If a clod be washed away by the sea, 
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, 
as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: 
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, 
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
John Donne Meditation XVII



And the best take of all is from 750 BC, from a time of civil war, evil kings, obscene wealth in the midst overwhelming poverty, and a terrible need for social justice:

"But let justice roll down like waters 
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Amos 5:24


NOTE:  For those who are wondering what I'm doing with 2 blog posts in a row, I'm filling in for my old pal Brian Thornton, who's sick with the crud.  GET WELL SOON, BRIAN!!!

30 April 2018

Smile and Be a Villain


by Steve Liskow


By sad coincidence, two of our cats died several years apart on April 23, Shakespeare's birthday. Last week, the Bard turned 454 (I didn't send a card) and his plays still merit constant performances the world over. Shakespeare thought he would be remembered for his poems (except for the sonnets, only slightly better than John Dillinger's) and retired at age 47 a relatively wealthy man, especially for a writer.

It's easy to talk about his brilliant images and use of symbols and all that high-school-worksheet stuff, but his plays would live on anyway because he wrote brilliant conflicted characters, especially his villains. He constantly reminds us that everyone needs a goal or motive, especially the bad guys. They aren't just "bad by nature"--although Don John claims that he is in Much Ado About Nothing.

In King Lear, Edmund tells us he's standing up for bastards,
but he's jealous because his little brother Edgar, born of married parents, will inherit Gloucester's estate even though he's younger than Edmund. Jealously and sibling rivalry are powerful forces. Look at the women in the same play: Goneril and Regan want their father Lear's estate, but the younger Cordelia is daddy's favorite...until she can't flatter him enough and he kicks her out with the tragically incorrect proclamation that nothing will come of nothing. Actually, it will lead to at least eight deaths.

The older sibs in both families are monsters, but we understand why they lie, stab servants, commit adultery, scheme against each other, plan to murder their spouses, and tear out Gloucester's eyes. The sins of the fathers live on in the children. Lear may be my favorite Shakespearean play and I'd love to direct it if I thought I could find fourteen strong actors in community theater. Unfortunately, age is a factor for at least three men, and the women are stuck as Goody Two-Shoes and the Bitches, a darker version of Gladys Knight and the Pips.

Macbeth is the only other Shakespeare play still on my directing bucket list (I've directed six)--if I could find an appropriate time period that hasn't been recycled into cliche and decide how to present the witches (I've considered young, nubile, scantily clad and dimly lit because they personify temptation, Macbeth's loss of innocence). Macbeth is a war hero who goes to hell in blank verse because those bearded sisters offer him a tempting look at the future and he makes the mistake of telling his wife. His fall gives us two of my favorite monologues, the "If 'twere done when 'tis done" speech as he contemplates murdering Duncan and the "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" tour de force while the walls buckle around him. That speech also gives us "it is a tale full of sound and fury, told by idiot, signifying nothing."

Lady Macbeth is a difficult role to play (I've seen it done badly more often than not), but the actors or directors miss the point. Lady M is the forerunner of the modern groupie, and power is her aphrodisiac. Listen to the rhythms of her "come you spirits of the night" speech and you'll hear her bare her soul.

Iago feels Othello has unfairly passed him over for promotion, so he vows revenge, always a clear motive. He sizes up Othello as a man who loves his wife so much that he will believe the worst, and turns innuendo into high art when he "suggests" that Desdemona and Cassio are intimate. His attention to a handkerchief makes Professor Moriarty and Snidely Whiplash look like Boy Scouts.

I've played Claudius, the adulterous uncle/step-father in Hamlet. He loves Gertrude so much he kills his own brother to be with her, but his futile prayers ("My words fly up, my thoughts remain below./Words without thought never to heaven go.") show he knows he's still going straight to hell.
Hamlet stabs him with the envenomed epee and pours the poisoned chalice down his throat (talk about overkill) to hasten him on his way. His "Oh, my offense is rank! It smells to heaven" speech is  as powerful as his stepson's monologues, but seldom quoted.

Technically, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice isn't a villain so much as a victim, but he makes his case to Antonio and Bassanio when they "cut" the deal for Antonio's pound of flesh. "You call me misbeliever, cut-throat, dog, / And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine..."
Rehearsal shot (note unpainted floor) from my 2006 Merchant

They don't write them like that anymore.

'Tis true, 'tis pity, and, pity 'tis, 'tis true.


As a footnote, tonight is Walpurgisnacht, the night the demons walk. It's the night the lovers in A Midsummer Night's Dream wander in the woods before getting everything sorted out for their weddings along with Theseus on May Day.

And, as BSP, my story "The Girl in the Red Bandanna" appears in the latest issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, along with a story by our late blog partner, B. K. Stevens.

23 April 2018

Living on the Wild Side:
Or, How to Create a Believable Villain


I met Charles Salzberg last October when we were on a panel at Bouchercon in Toronto.

Charles is the author of the Shamus nominated Swann's Last Song, as well as Swann Dives In, Swann's Lake of Despair and Swann's Way Out. His Devil in the Hole, was named one of the best crime novels of 2013 by Suspense magazine. His novella, "Twist of Fate," is included in Triple Shot, a collection of three crime novellas, and his novel, Second Story Man, was published in March by Down and Out Books. He teaches writing for the New York Writers Workshop, where he is a Founding Member and he is on the board of MWA-NY. He also has my undying envy because he co-wrote Soupy Sez: My Zany Life and Times, the memoir of the late great Soupy Sales.

Usually when I invite a guest to write for us I give the following example: "Don't write 'Buy my wonderful book.' Write 'How do you make a convincing villain? In my new book…'" When I read the terrific piece below I was afraid Charles had taken my example as a command, but he assured me it was what he wanted to write about anyway.

— Robert Lopresti

by Charles Salzberg

I’ve spent most of my life trying to stay out of trouble. As a kid, I left that to my brother, who spent a good part of his life in the principal’s office. Periodically, my mother would be called into school and presented with a list of my brother’s wrongdoings. Nothing serious, you understand. Just enough to get under the teacher’s skin.

Me, I coasted through under the radar. I was the good one. The one who never got into trouble. The one who spent his time trying to please adults. Obeying the all the rules. Speaking only when spoken to. Keeping my nose clean. Yeah, that was me.

On the social scene, I was a dud. It was the “bad boys” who got the attention, especially from the girls. The only thing that prevented me from disappearing completely into the woodwork was that I was good at sports.

I always wondered what it would be like to be one of the bad boys. You know the type. James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. Marlon Brando in The Wild One, who when asked, “What are you rebelling against,” answered, “What’ve you got?” Paul Newman in Hud. Sean Penn in just about anything.

Trouble was, I didn’t think I’d ever find out, because that obey the rules thing seemed to be branded into my DNA. I couldn’t be bad, even if I wanted to.

But, as it turns out, I was wrong. I can be bad. All I need is someone else’s name and a blank sheet of paper.

That’s probably why I take so much glee in writing villains. But anyone who’s tried, knows it isn’t easy. What I mean is, anyone can write a villain, but to write a good one, one that isn’t the stereotypical bad actor, like Hannibal Lector, for instance, one that jumps off the page and haunts your dreams, takes skill.

You’d think it would be difficult for someone who was the “good boy,” all his life. But it’s not. In fact, it comes surprisingly easy and, I should be ashamed to say this but I’m not, it’s fun.

Writing villains isn’t easy. A true villain isn’t just someone who does bad stuff. A true villain, one that stays with the reader, is a complex character and the evil he or she does emanates directly from that character. I’m not talking about the “I’m gonna blow up the world” guy who hates everyone. Or the guy who cheats and steals for personal gain. Or the woman who betrays every man she comes in contact with.

Look, no one gets up in the morning, stretches his or her arms, rubs his or her chin, and says, “You know what? I think I’m going to be a badass today. I’m going to step all over anyone who gets in my way.”

That’s not a villain, that’s a stereotype.

A true villain, or at least a believable villain, thinks he or she is justified in whatever he or she does. It’s more about self-interest, I think. Greed. Selfishness. A blatant disregard for the feelings (and rights) of others because, you’re more important than everyone else.

I like to think I write complex and flawed characters. Probably the baddest character I ever wrote is Francis Hoyt, the master thief of Second Story Man. He’s brilliant, manipulative, athletic, arrogant, and mean. He uses people, then tosses them aside. But he’s got a history and it’s that history that helps explain who he is and why he does what he does. Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t justify what he does. It explains it. You can tell from the first line of the novel when he utters, “Where’s my fucking money?” Right away, you peg him as a bad guy. He doesn’t say, “You know, you may have forgotten about that money you owe me, and I could sure use it now.” Nope. He says, “Where’s my fucking money?” There’s a threat implied in those four words and from those four words you know he’s not kidding around.

The other two characters in the book, Charlie Floyd and Manny Perez, are far from perfect, but they’re certainly not villains. They, too, are complex human beings capable of doing wrong. But Francis Hoyt, well, he’s in a whole other league. I’m proud of Francis Hoyt and I loved writing him and hearing him speak. But I certainly wouldn’t want to meet him.

And so, finally, after all these years, I’ve managed to be the “bad boy,” even if it is only on the page.

07 September 2016

Enter the Villain


by Robert Lopresti

I'm not going to tell you the author or title of the book I am discussing today, but I will say that it was not written by any past or present SleuthSayer.

The book is a first novel, much anticipated, and written in a particular style.  It is a style I like and I was much looking forward to it.  And everything was going well for the first third of the book.  Then a new character walked in wearing a black top hat covered with neon letters spelling out I'M THE KILLER.

Okay, I am exaggerating.  No hat.  No neon letters.  But as soon as this guy walked in I said: that's the killer.

I am not a reader who feels a need to guess the murderer or feels disappointed if it's too easy or it's too hard.  Most crime novels I read are not even whodunits. But this rankled.

It got worse.  A hundred pages later the heroes received the benefit of what I call an unearned clue.  They visited a place for reasons unconnected to crime, and chatted with a stranger.  When the stranger found out they were cops it was "Oh, by the way..." and out came a big hint that pointed straight to top-hat-man.  They didn't recognize it.

By J.J. at the English language Wikipedia
At this point I kept reading for only one reason: Either this is the best red herring in the history of crime fiction or it is a disaster.


Well, it was a disaster.

The editor - a well-known one in the mystery field - should be embaressed. He or she (I'm not telling) should have spotted the first-time author's mistakes and  insisted that they be fixed, which would not have been that hard.  Instead we have what looks like contempt for the reader, which is never good for future sales.

I checked the blurbs on the cover of the paperback edition.  Only one was from a review.  The rest, and they were plentiful, were from well-known mystery writers.  Perhaps they liked the book, but I suspect they liked the author more.

Enough whining.  Perhaps I can provide a useful writing tip.  Why did I suspect the killer was the killer as soon as he walked in?

Because he had no other plot-related reason for being there at all.  He strolled into his boss' office while the cops were interviewing him, got a detailed description from the author, and was introduced.  No immediate explanation for why he belonged in the story.  And so, my alarm went off.

My penance for that author?  Read five Agatha Christie's.  She had her limits, but nobody could hide a killer or a clue in plain sight with her skill.

So what disappoints you in a mystery?

18 June 2015

Having Fun Being Bad


by Eve Fisher

Frank Underwood - House of Cards.jpgI have, like so many people, been watching House of Cards via Netflix DVDs.  The first season was hypnotic.  The second season not so much.  I may not watch the third season.  Why? It's real simple: Nobody seems to be having any fun. Not the President, not his wife, not the staff, not the Secret Service guys, and especially not Francis and Clare Underwood.  I mean, what's the point of pursuing power by any means, if you're not going to have a good time screwing everyone over?  Even the sex romps are grim. More on that later.

Think about prime-time TV these days.  Who's enjoying the game on Game of Thrones?  Did Walter White ever kick back and watch trash TV on Breaking Bad?  I experienced the world of Mad Men, and the people I remember had a lot more fun drinking and screwing than Draper and pals ever did. Do The Americans ever just go fishing? Wayward Pines is so dark you can't see the road, much less the actors.  Every plot is convoluted, everybody is up to their necks in conspiracies, everyone is always plotting their next move, and everyone is soooo serious...

But that isn't the way the real world works.  People go fishing.  They relax.  They get hooked on Candy Crush or Triple Town.  They binge-watch anything they can.  Joseph Stalin liked cowboy movies, Charlie Chaplin, Georgian wine, and billiards.  The man knew how to relax.  So did others: Mao Zedong was a master calligrapher and a fairly decent poet. He also really enjoyed women. Hitler loved listening to Putzi Hanfstaengl play piano, and apparently had a fondness for dogs.  Osama bin Laden wrote love letters in between calls for jihad. Napoleon loved Josephine and cheating at cards. In other words, in the real world, even totalitarian monsters take a break once in a while and have a good time.

Meanwhile, Francis Underwood even gave up ribs.  (And considering how solemn everyone was before and after, that three-way didn't do much to loosen anyone up.)

Nathaniel Parker as Harold Skimpole
in the 2005 BBC production of
"Bleak House"
I miss the villains of yesteryear.  Count Fosco, hugely fat, delighting in pastry, the endless cigarettes his wife hand rolls for him, great glasses of sugar water, and playing with his tiny little mice while he works [successfully] to have Lady Glyde declared dead after he imprisons her in a madhouse.  And all despite his deep admiration, love, passion, for her sister, Marian Halcombe. Now there's a villain who is not only ruthless - read The Woman in White and see - but knows how to have fun while doing it.  Or there's Harold Skimpole, the middle-aged "child" who cannot understand why people are so cruel and harsh as to not supply him with his daily needs, gratis, so that he can live like the charming butterfly he is, while betraying everyone in Bleak House in the worst possible way.  (He is the reason that the child street-sweeper Jo dies.)  You want to kill him, but he's certainly having a great time.  Of course, Dickens really knew how to write hand-rubbing, chuckling, glint-in-the-eye villains:  Ebenezer Scrooge, the Marquis St. Evremonde, Fagin, and that ultimate hypocrite, Josiah Bounderby.

Or, on screen:
  • Henry Fonda's Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West,
  • Basil Rathbone's Andre Trochard in We're No Angels
  • Lionel Barrymore's Harry F. Potter in It's A Wonderful Life
  • Peter Ustinov's Nero in Quo Vadis, and, of course, 
  • Charlton Heston's Richelieu in The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers.
  • The late, great Christopher Lee in The Man With the Golden Gun.

Now granted, there was a lot of over-acting in these - Henry Fonda and Charlton Heston were obviously having the time of their lives as they FINALLY got to play the villain!  But I think there's a lot of over-underacting today.  It's the latest style:  very self-controlled, laser-serious, apparently clinically depressed villains who don't take pleasure in anything, even power once they get it (if they ever do). But if you go back a few decades, and you find villains who smirked, sneered, sauntered, and basically acted like Bette Davis in The Little Foxes.

Francis Urquhart.jpg
Or you can always go back to the original:  Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart in the original, UK House of Cards, who was ruthless, deadly, witty, with a smile like a silver-haired Puck.  "You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment."  Watching Richardson's Francis, I always felt that, while he'd definitely sold his soul to the devil, he got full price for it. (And it was a hell of a lot more than one shared cigarette a night...)  And he enjoyed everything he got.

Still available on Netflix, here's a preview of Francis Urquhart's best monologues to whet your appetite:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRNNhcQutTQ




01 November 2014

Name That Crook




by John M. Floyd



I like books about writing. I buy a lot of them, and I always seem to learn more from them than I expect to. These "how-to-create-good-fiction" authors sometimes differ on their views of what's good and what isn't, and what works and what doesn't--but now and then, like a family driving away from the Honda dealership, they are all in one Accord. (Sorry--I couldn't resist.)

One piece of writing advice that they all seem to agree on is that we talespinners should spend at least as much time on our villains as we do on our heroes. The point, there, is that the character who actually propels the action forward in a story or novel is the antagonist, not the protagonist. A wimpy bad guy just won't do. As I heard someplace, Jack the Giant Killer needs a giant to kill.

Another good move is to come up with suitable names for our villains. I once said, in a previous column, that I couldn't imagine 007 introducing himself as "Dinkins. Wilbur Dinkins." Well, the same goes for Bond's adversaries. Arnold Goldpinkie probably wouldn't have presented much of a threat to the world, or Doctor Yessiree.

Along these lines, here are a few fictional baddies whose names I especially like. (I can almost picture the sudden smiles on the writers' faces when these popped into their heads.)

Seriously evil dudes:

Hans Gruber, Die Hard
Noah Cross, Chinatown
Percy Wetmore, The Green Mile
Vince Stone, The Big Heat (Lee Marvin played baddies and goodies equally well)
Amon Goeth, Schindler's List
Morgan Sloate, The Talisman
Roy Batty, Blade Runner
Anton Chigurh, No Country for Old Men 
Voldemort, Harry Potter series
Stuntman Mike, Death Proof
Colonel Kurtz, Apocalypse Now
Randall Flagg, The Stand
Little Bill Daggett, Unforgiven
Sauron, Lord of the Rings
Max Cady, Cape Fear
Oddjob, Goldfinger
Freddy Kreuger, A Nightmare on Elm Street
Dr. Szell, Marathon Man
Bill Cutting, Gangs of New York
Dean Wormer, Animal House
Emilio Largo, Thunderball
Cicero Grimes, Hombre (Richard Boone was always a convincing villain)
Tommy Udo, Kiss of Death 
Commodus, Gladiator (what could be worse? Toiletus?)
Miles Quaritch, Avatar
Leatherface, Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Francis Dolarhyde, Red Dragon
Lex Luthor, Superman

Seriously evil dudettes:

Irma Bunt, On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Cersei Baratheon, Game of Thrones
Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada
The Wicked Witch of the West, The Wizard of Oz
Phyllis Dietrichson, Double Indemnity
Cruella de Vil (cruel devil?), 101 Dalmations
Mallory Knox, Natural Born Killers
Santanico Pandemonium, From Dusk Till Dawn
Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty
Elle Driver, Kill Bill (Daryl Hannah, of all people)
Miss Havisham, Great Expectations
Mama Fratelli, The Goonies
Alex Forrest, Fatal Attraction (Play Misty for Me, Part 2?)
Aileen Wuornos, Monster
Nurse Ratched (wretched?), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Bellatrix Lestrange, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Catherine Tramell, Basic Instinct
The White Witch, The Chronicles of Narnia (who better than Tilda Swinton, for this?)
Rosa Klebb, From Russia With Love

Asides and exceptions

I should pause here to admit that some of the best literary and cinematic villains had normal, plain, believable names: Michael Myers (Halloween), Annie Wilkes (Misery), Frank Booth (Blue Velvet), Norman Bates (Psycho), Mrs. Danvers (Rebecca), Ben Wade (3:10 to Yuma), Tom (The Talented Mr.) Ripley, George Harvey (The Lovely Bones), Reverend Harry Powell (The Night of the Hunter), Jack Wilson (Shane), and so on. But who's to say that they wouldn't have been even more ominous if their names had been ominous as well?

By the way, all baddies are not truly evil. Some--Mrs. Robinson (The Graduate), Lt. Gerard (The Fugitive), Major Henry Terrill (The Big Country), Ed Rooney (Ferris Bueller's Day Off), Headmaster Nolan (Dead Poet's Society), etc.--are just unpleasant people who get in the way of the protagonists' needs and goals. I'll always like the name of Milo Minderbinder, the sneaky opportunist and profiteer from Catch-22--and even though his actions unknowingly caused death and disaster, he was more of an antagonist than a villain.

And some villains are so terrifying they have no names at all. In The Village, the creatures in the surrounding woods were whisperingly called Those We Don't Speak Of.

In closing, here are my Top 10 favorite names for bad guys:

Gordon Gekko, Wall Street
Ernst Stavro Blofeld, You Only Live Twice
Lars Thorwald, Rear Window
Liberty Vallance, as in The Man Who Shot
Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter series
Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs
Apollo Creed, Rocky
Darth Vader, Star Wars
Hugo Drax, Moonraker
Uriah Heep, David Copperfield


Sigh. I wish I were the one who came up with those . . .