Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Five Characters You Meet in Hell

There are villains, and there are assholes. There is bad, and there is evil. Film will always be filled with monsters of inumberable size and strength, but sometimes our greatest fear lies with someone just an inch or two taller than us. Someone who can take two years off your life with the right stare. I've always been fascinated with these rare movie characters. In fact, with the final two, I've regularly referred to them as 'the worst person ever' when describing the movie to someone. That thought inspired me, who are the worst people on film? Who are the people you wouldn't even want to share a state with. Keep in mind I'm not referring to the Hannibal Lecters or American Psychos out there, the five in my list inflict the most entertaining torture with their mouths and eyes, and the decisions they make.

5. Max Cady (Cape Fear, 1962)
It's a shame that it's the original Cape Fear which is largely forgotten in the shadow of Scorsese's 1991 remake, even though it's the superior version. This isn't the time to go into it, but let's just say that Nick Nolte carries the Sam Bowden role about as well as Ben Affleck would have portrayed Humphrey Bogart's Rick in the once-rumored Casablanca remake. Though DeNiro's Cady is fine in the remake, he couldn't duplicate what Robert Mitchum brought to the role. Mitchum was rare in that his characters' charm was often just as inviting as their malice was frightening (see: Night of the Hunter). 'Cape Fear' is the best example, as Cady uses his appeal as a weapon, luring women and the community in before showing his teeth. One of Mitchum's trademarks was his smile, which he could flip on to convey either sincerity or absolute terror. It's devilishly on display here, as he makes Gregory Peck's Bowden into a prisoner in his own town.
Hellish moment: "I got somethin' planned for your wife and kid that they ain't nevah gonna forget. They ain't nevah gonna forget it... and neither will you, Counselor! Nevah!"

4. Capt. Hank Quinlan ("Touch of Evil")
Orson Welles' last real Hollywood role and directing job. Basically blacklisted and hardly resembling his former self, Welles was given a gift to direct and star in a Charlton Heston vehicle, which would later be recognized as a masterpiece. Welles gained even more weight to portray the grotesque and reprehensible Quinlan, from which racism and corruption ooze almost as much as his trademark sweat. The head of police in a border town, Quinlan regards Heston's Vargas less than any other Mexican, because he is actually in a position of power, as a visiting narcotics officer. Vargas sees right through Quinlan's good guy act, but can do almost nothing because the locals (including a barely recognizable Joseph Cotten) regard him as a god. In an unforgettable scene, we see through deft direction and writing how Quinlan can easily frame anyone -- and how powerless someone like Vargas is to stop it. Quinlan may as well have been the inspiration for Jabba the Hutt, and his death gives way to the film's final -- and most memorable -- line, delivered by Marlene Deitrich: 'What does it matter what you say about people?' (I realize it doesn't really stand out in print, but on the film it hits you in the gut).
Hellish moment: "That wasn't no miss, Vargas. That was just to turn you 'round, so I don't have to shoot you in the back. Unless you'd rather run for it."

3. Stansfield ("The Professional")
I knew this role had embedded Gary Oldman in movie history when I was taking an acting class in college. On the first day we were asked to say a few things about ourselves, including our favorite actor. I recall about 80% of the men -- including me -- replied 'Gary Oldman,' and I just knew the rest of them were thinking -- like I was -- of this role when we said that name. Though he has been in better films (not named 'Lost in Space') and had more profound roles, it is the ferociously corrupt cop named Stansfield that won Oldman a generation of fans. The Professional is much more about two other characters, but when Stansfield is onscreen, you can't look away. His every move is that of barely subdued volcanic anger and violence, ready to explode if not for his pills and classical music. When a young Natalie Portman unwisely walks into the men's bathroom at the police station and we see Stansfield standing behind the door, it is one of the most 'oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck' moments you'll ever see. And when Stansfield says 'everyone,' he means 'EVERYONE!!!!!!!'
Hellish moment: "What filthy piece of shit did I do now?"

2. Don Logan ("Sexy Beast")
To know Don Logan is to know complete and unfailing misery. Part of me knows he's No. 1 on this list, but another says no one can possibly top who I've got there. Don Logan makes it a good fight. In Jonathan Glazer's unexpected masterpiece, Ben Kingsley gives the performance of his life, of most people's lives. Before we see Logan, we know how awful he is, because the very mention of his name spoils a pleasant evening. But then we see him. In his first shot, Kingsley is only given a suit jacket to hold and the direction to walk through an airport terminal, but in this seemingly simple description comes an unnerving vision of ... the worst person ever. Every nerve ending in Logan's body is cranked up to 12, and the only part of his life he can enjoy is getting his way. Logan must bring 'Gal' back from retirement for one last job, and when told 'no,' Logan almost laughs because he knows now the fun can begin. He uses almost no violence (save for a boot to the face to wake Gal up one morning in his own house), but those around him are in constant pain. Of all the terrible characters here, Logan has by far the best introductory line: 'I'm gonna have to change my shirt, it's sticking to me, I'm sweating like a cunt!'
Hellish moment: "What you think this is the wheel of fortune? You think you can make your dough and fuck off? Leave the table? Thanks Don, see you Don, off to sunny Spain now Don, fuck off Don. Lying in your pool like a fat blob laughing at me, you think I'm gonna have that? You really think I'm gonna have that, ya ponce. All right, I'll make it easy for you. God knows you're fucking trying. Are you gonna do the job? It's not a difficult question, are you gonna do the job, yes or no?"

1. Frank Booth ("Blue Velvet")
No one else can genuinely occupy this spot. In Hell, not even Satan himself would want to walk near Frank. Somehow, David Lynch was able to extract from Dennis Hopper the worst vision of humanity anyone has ever witnessed. Sure, he's given lines which scare on their own, but when Frank says 'let's hit the fucking road!' you know Kyle MacLachlan's character is instore for the worst night of his life, and what a ride it is. The Scene (that's The Scene) at Ben's could consume a whole post for the amount of perfect horror and awkward humor it produces. At Ben's, we see the caliber of psychological mayhem Frank possesses and almost don't want to know what's coming next. It's grotesque, but not in turn-away-grotesque, not even visually grotesque, just in the way Frank seems realistically capable of almost any atrocity imaginable, and that he has his buddies along for the ride. The rare times he's not talking, Frank has a look on his face that may not ever again be seen on film: it's unfathomably intense, yet bitterly believable at the same time. The only other time Hopper even tried to regain the 'glory' of Frank was in Red Rock West, and it didn't come close. There's only one Frank. Only one person can be the worst ever.
Hellish moment: "Don't be a good neighbor anymore to her. I'll have to send you a love letter! Straight from my heart, fucker! You know what a love letter is? It's a bullet from a fucking gun, fucker! You recieve a love letter from me, and you're fucked forever! You understand, fuck? I'll send you straight to hell, fucker!... In dreams... I walk with you. In dreams... I talk to you. In dreams, you're mine... all the time. Forever!"


Mike Sheffler said...

Great list. I would humbly submit Robert Carlyle as Francis Begbie in Trainspotting as well. Unlike your characters, he's not *evil*, per se, just an outrageously-deplorable human being.

Hellish moment: After being pitched on a major heroin deal, Renton tries to bow out by informing his friends that he doesn't have the two thousand pounds necessary to pull it off. Begbie answers, "Aye, you fucking do. I've seen your bank statement. Two thousand, one hundred and thirty-three pounds." It's clear that participation is not optional.

Adam Ross said...

Good point, although I would be hardpressed not to include all the Trainspotting characters as one collective entry, since you could make a great case for Sick Boy as well.

Rob said...

Thanks to Don - may he rest in peace - for giving us a lesson in intimidation. I'll never forget his slow turn and stare at Jackie while driving home from the airport. Brrrr! Chilling!

Michael said...

I would like to echo Mike Sheffler's comments on the list being great. I've not put much thought in this, but I LOVED your #3 and #2 picks. If I may submit an addendum to Mr.Sheffler's comment re. Robert Carlyle, that same actor (IMO) pulls off a stellar role as Col. Ives / F.W. Colqhoun. The hellish moment being when he takes out a army squad, that included an Indian Warrior with the skill and fervor of a 'Ravenous' cannibal.

Michael said...

I was surprised that Kevin Spacey wasn't mentioned. He did pretty well as the killer in 'Se7en' and as kaiser sozey(sp?) in 'The Usual Suspects'. Ben Kingsley in 'Sexy Beast' just FLOORED ME. I had no idea what I was watching, and when he unloaded all those explitives, I was thinking "Ghandi gets back for all those years of passificism" lol.

Anonymous said...

srry, just had to add "pooh-bear" insanely played by Vincent D'Onofrio, talk about primal fear....the scene where he has val kilmer drop-trou, and insert his junk into the badger cage and he says Introduce him to Captain Steubing. Hey, now, listen. We don't have a deal, fine.I'll just go.What do you want me to say?Captain hasn't eaten in over a week.

That and the rabies don't make
for a happy badger.

Now, he thinks that you might
work for the police.

That's crazy!

Don't impress me. I'm not the one
making the accusations.

Address Captain Steubing.