Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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100 Years, 66 Villians: #36 – #31

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 11, 2008

Weekend procrastination time


Bill Houston, Dancer in the Dark

Played By: David Morse

M.O.: I’m not sure if I just wasn’t bothered by the total implausability of Dancer in the Dark the first time I saw it or if I was too young to notice such things, but the main plot for those of you that haven’t seen the Palme D’Or recipient: Selma (Icelandic pop royalty Bjork, in her one and only lead acting role) is a factory worker wthat is slowly going blind, and a son who she knows one day will do the same, unless she gets him an operation that she has been saving for. She confides this in neighbor Bill, who in turn tells her that he is going broke, both promising to keep the other’s secret. Then Bill steals her money, and forces her to kill him to get it back. Selma is eventually apprehended by the police, but refuses to tell them her motivation for killing Bill, since she had promised not to at the beginning of the movie. Oh yeah, there are a bunch of musical numbers in there somewhere as well.

Looking back on it now, I feel like there are probably certain steps Selma could have taken to prevent her eventual execution, but in any event, Morse is definitely one of recent cinema’s biggest dicks for taking such horrific advantage of such a small-minded woman, and making for one of the most soul-crushing movies of the early 21st century. Still, I guess he doesn’t really live to tell about it, so it’s hard to fault him too much more than #36.

Impressive Resume: The sort of smug, slightly creepy villain has emerged as the David Morse calling card, especially in recent years with his dirty cop in 16 Blocks, a vengeance-fixated ex-patient in House, and the serial-killer-next-door in the surprisingly decent Disturbia.


Sid, Toy Story

Voiced By: John Morris

M.O.: Now let me preface this by saying that I never liked Toy Story–in fact, I sort of hated it when I first saw it back in 1995 (the height of my “animated movies are for little kids, I wanna watch PG-13 rated action movies!” phase). Nonetheless, I do have to give it up for one of the most disturbing villains I’ve ever seen in a Pixar/Disney movie, especially for when I was nine and kids like Sid could’ve represented the most likely and genuine threat to my well-being. Even looking at him now, with his brace-filled mouth, short, gelled-up hair and black skull t-shirt fills me with anger. And weak elementary school kids like me weren’t even his primary target–Sid preferred torturing toys, functioning as a sort of extremely punitive border patrol, making sure toys never exited out of the safety zone of Andy’s room, unless they wanted to be dismembered, immolated and exploded. I just wish we could’ve gotten to see him in Toy Story 2, having escalated to slaughtering small animals, and in the eventual third movie in which he was serving 15-20 for various hate crimes.

Not Without Precedent: The dog who ate baseballs in The Sandlot had the same sort of All Ye Who Enter mentality, at least before he turned out to be little more than a loveable pup. Which still begs the question–if he was really such a decent little pooch, and his villainy was all in the kids’ heads, then why did he chase Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez all across the town with such clear intent to kill?


Mike, House of Games

Played By: Joe Mantegna

M.O.: Smooth-talking confidence person Joe Mantegna really fucks over Lindsay Crouse pretty bad in David Mamet’s “never trust no one” morality play. So long is the con he plays on her, in fact, that it’s something of a meta-con–Mike fakes an initial ruse on psychiatrist Margaret Ford (Crouse) that she catches on to, just to set up a far-bigger one, which leaves Ford not only 80k poorer, but thinking she’s murdered a cop, and in love with the dude who played her. The scene where Ford trails Mike to his and his cronies’ hideout and sees them yakking it up about how bad they stuck it to her is particularly brutal, although it does give her the upper hand in her ultimate vengeance on Mike in the film’s climax, which isn’t quite as poetic as Mantegna’s con, but does have a certain charm of brute force to it.

Modern Day Equivalent: The House of Games con was probably the longest (and, arguably, most credibility-straining) I had ever seen in cinema until the con that Sam Rockwell’s character plays on Nicholas Cage in Matchstick Men made it seem about as ambitious as a bad knock-knock joke in comparison.


Buck Grotowski, Monsters’ Ball

Played By: Peter Boyle

M.O.: When the most sympathetic character in your movie is a convicted murderer played by Sean “Diddy” Combs, it should be pretty hard to stand out in your villainy, but as the racist, borderline-cartoonish evil patriarch of the fatally fucked up Grotowski clan, Peter Boyle leaves by far the movie’s most skin-crawling impression. He just sits around, breeding hatred in all those near him, providing such a poor example for son Hank (Billy Bob Thorton) that he drives his son Sonny (Heath Ledger, in a role it’s doubtful anyone will best remember him by) to suicide. But it’s his scene with Leticia (Halle Berry), Hank’s newfound partner in dead-kid misery, that really sticks in the mind, since you know it’s only a matter of time until he makes the most horrifically demeaning comment ever exchanged between two people of different skin pigmentations. And of course, he doesn’t disappoint, informing Leticia of advice given to Hank: “You ain’t no man till you split dark oak.”

Sympathetic Reading: OK, well, not exactly sympathetic, but given how limited Boyle’s character is in his mobility, and how boring the Louisiana landscape looks to be in the movie, there really doesn’t appear to be much to do accept to sit around and be racist.


Gil Shepherd, The Purple Rose of Cairo

Played By: Jeff Daniels

M.O.: I know Woody Allen movies haven’t always had unequivocally happy endings. Neither Manhattan or Annie Hall end up with the Woodster living happily ever after with his paramour, and if I remember correctly, Love and Death finishes closer to the latter end of the spectrum than the former. But I can’t think of too many movies that left my mouth as agape in the cruelty of their ending as this one–frankly, I wouldn’t think that someone as sentimental and self-obsessed as Allen would have it in him. But Shepherd, an actor whose most famous character, Tom Baxter (also Daniels) causes havoc for his career by literally stepping out of the movie screen to court miserable hosuewife Cecilia (Mia Farrow), creates one motherfucker of a downer when he too courts Cecilia, stealing her away from his naive film doppleganger and getting Cecilia to leave her husband, before ditching her himself for the betterment of his film career. The sight of Cecilia, having lost her one shot at true romance, left escaping to the movies once more, is among the most What the fuck??? moments of devestation in film history. I never, never, never would’ve seen this one coming.

(More) Modern-Day Equivalent: Benedict, the one-eyed villain in The Last Action Hero, also causes disarray by crossing the film-reality continuum, albeit in a less insiduous and surprising sort of way.


Kitty Farmer, Donnie Darko

Played By: Beth Grant

M.O.: Not exactly the most subtle or multi-faceted of the Donnie Darko characters, Kitty nonetheless remained one of the film’s most memorable just because of how much she reminded of actual clueless, group-thinking teachers we all had in high school. OK, maybe not quite so bad–I don’t think any of my HS teachers would’ve persuaded their students to swallow their vomit if they felt like they would throw up on stage–but I distinctly remember working with things like the Illness-Wellness Continuum in my health class that were eerily similar to the Fear-Love exercises that Donnie got so pissed off about having to do in the movie. And as a teenager, there’s nothing more evil than idiotic authority figures that actually might have some sort of say over your future.

Classic Villain Quote: “Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion!” (Why this became the movie’s breakout quote, though, I doubt I’ll ever understand)


5 Responses to “100 Years, 66 Villians: #36 – #31”

  1. Jason L said

    “Monster’s Ball” was a terrible film, but Peter Boyle was pretty incredible in it. I wonder what the process was that got him signed onto that role: “Hey, like, you know the wisecracking curmudgeon/dad from ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’? Well, what if he was the most terrifying person in the ENTIRE WORLD?”

  2. Sonja said

    SHE REMINDS ME SO MUCH OF MRS CORKERY! I was wondering when you would get to her.

    Speaking of which, I’m sure you’ve heard about S. Darko, the sequel…want to go see it with me? I’m really curious.

  3. Sonja said

    ALSO: she played a very similar character in Little Miss Sunshine…what a horrible role to be forever typecast as…

  4. billy said

    Still a great read, but holy hell man, I have to say I’m surprised to see Suburbia described as “surprisingly decent.” Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion.


  5. […] of 66 great villains in film, pop culture blogger and former Stylus writer Andrew Unterberger profiles Kitty Farmer, the shrill, moral-absolutist, pedophile-defending teacher from Donnie Darko. After summarizing her […]

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