For three and a half decades, the summer blockbuster season has been
a tradition in the movie world. It has also become the flourishing
time for various villains — human and otherwise. Sometimes a
notorious bad guy will sneak into theaters in the fall, spring or
winter, like the granddaddy of evil, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who was
portrayed brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins in an Oscar-winning
performance, in the February 1991 release of “Silence of the Lambs.”
But mostly, summer is the domain of characters who are a pain for
society in more ways than one.
Here are some of my favorites over the
years, broken down by categories.
The shark (“Jaws”). This fish has lurked in our fears since 1975. An
animal that is not driven by other than instincts has no conscience
thus does not care what it kills. As Matt Hooper says, all it does is
eat and swim and make little sharks. And if a human just happens to
be around at mealtime, well that’s the breaks.
The Wolfen (“Wolfen”). A mostly unseen movie in 1981 that had the
strange casting of the obviously British Albert Finney as a New York
detective, this film was based on Whitley Strieber’s novel about a
super species of wolves that went underground when urban sprawl cut
into their territory. They fed off the Big Apple’s forgotten — the
homeless, the addicts. Only the local Native Americans knew what
these animals were up to — and they certainly were not going to
Stripe (“Gremlins”). OK, the Mogwai were cute. But don’t feed them
after midnight. If you do they become the gremlins. Yeah, they can
kill, but they also know how to party. Stripe was the leader and he
was resourceful — knew how to use a gun, an automatic pitching
machine and a chain saw. But his sensitive skin could not endure the
sun, which was a fatal weakness Gizmo exploited.
Snakes (“Snakes on a Plane”). Well, the anaconda in the 1997 film of
the same name, was the ultimate slitherer, but for sheer numbers, you
cannot deny the amount of snakes set loose on this airliner was
enough to lead to a real bummer trip. Where can you go? Emergency
exit at 30,000 feet? Those with a snake phobia should never watch
PURE EVIL (THE DEVIL MADE HIM DO IT and OTHER SPIRITUAL MISFIRES)
Damien Thorne (“The Omen,” “The Omen 2” and “The Final Conflict”).
In the first two movies that detailed the birth and rise of the
Antichrist, Damien has not quite grasped his impact on the world. But
unseen forces spread terror around him. By the time Thorne reaches
adulthood in “The Final Conflict,” he has been indoctrinated on his
task and as portrayed by Sam Neill in the 1982 “Conflict,” he is
sophisticated, charismatic, sexy, powerful and deadly. Perhaps most
chilling is the scene in which he prays to his father, Satan.
Jack Torrance (“The Shining”). Not really a bad guy at first. A
little drinking problem, trouble with writer’s block. But being
cooped up in a hotel all winter with Shelly Duvall and a kid who says
creepy things like “redrum,” and seeing beautiful bathing women turning
into zombie-like senior citizens, could drive anyone batty. At least
once Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance went nutty and took to the axe,
he maintained his sense of humor: “Heeeere’s Johnny!”
Darth Vader (“Star Wars” series). And The Dark Side of the Force.
They tend to go hand in hand. In “Star Wars” episodes four through
six, as the hulking, masked lead henchman for The Emperor and the
massive Empire, Darth rules with an iron fist, sort of, summoning up
Dark Side of the Force powers to do battle with the scrappy rebellion
while obsessively trying to track down Luke Skywalker. His undoing?
Family blood and his original schooling. And as portrayed many times
in pro wrestling, good guys who turn bad eventually revert back to
being good guys.
The Alien (“Alien” series). Perhaps the most frightening creature of
all time. Not only does it rudely incubate itself inside people and
burst out at the most inopportune times — like at dinner — it grows
into a nearly indestructible being that bleeds acid. Unless your name
is Ripley, steer clear of it.
Khan (“Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan”). Khan (Ricardo Montalban), a
genetically engineered super human, and his group are exiled as seen
in an episode of the television series. He returns in this, the
second and one of the best, of the movie adaptations of the
immensely successful sci-fi series. Khan manages to escape from his
exile and is obsessed with avenging his misery on Capt. (now Admiral)
James T. Kirk (Williams Shatner). Looking like an aging hippy, Khan
dismisses that upon seizing the Genesis Project he has an ultimate
weapon and continues his rage-energized pursuit of Kirk and The
Enterprise. Bad move. Kirk always prevails in the supposed “no-win”
Kruge (“Star Trek: The Search for Spock”). While we are exploring
the final frontier, we must give a nod to Kruge (Christopher Lloyd).
Hey, the guy is a Klingon. In the pre-Worf days, Klingons were not
nice. This guy had the audacity to kill Kirk’s son, David (Merritt
Butrick). That doomed him.
Alien force (“Independence Day”). As Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner) noted,
these invading aliens were just as fragile as humans. But they
possessed the technology to surround themselves with impenetrable
shields that made them a juggernaut. With all that accumulated
knowledge, they forgot to install an anti-virus program in their
master computer. So all it took was a brilliant, underachieving cable
TV technician, David (Jeff Goldblum), to render them vulnerable.
Clubber Lang (“Rocky 3”). Mr. T vaulted into the limelight
portraying this heavyweight boxer whose savage punches matched his
surly demeanor. Public relations, sportsmanship — that was for
goodie-goodies like Rocky Balboa. Yeah, he beat a distracted Rocky,
but once The Italian Stallion got back on track, thanks to former
ring foe Apollo Creed and Mrs. Balboa (Adrian), Clubber was done in
As Henry Jones Sr. said: “You call this archeology?” Indiana Jones
(Harrison Ford), has had his share of enemies in his pursuits of
antiquities. Belloq (Paul Freeman) as a competitor, financed and
backed by Hitler and the Nazis, keeps Indy from gaining The Ark of
the Covenant in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Belloq, however, forgot
that you do not trifle with the powers that be. Word was, you don’t
disturb the Ark. He did. And it sort of blew up in his face.
Indy also encountered, in “Temple of Doom,” Mola Ram (Amrish Puri),
a sword-wielding guy way ahead of his time when it came to tattoos,
who also embraced the horrid concept of child labor. He eventually
took one of the great falls in cinematic history and became an
appetizer for alligators (or were they crocodiles?).
In “The Last Crusade,” Indy, now reunited with his father, Henry Sr.
(Sean Connery), is again at odds with the Nazis in getting to The
Holy Grail before they do. Walter Donovan (Julian Glover) is slimy
here as the man who hires Indy to go after the Grail only to betray
him later. Donovan wants to get his hands on the Grail so he can
achieve immortality. But like Belloq, you cannot mess with those
powers. At least Donovan’s age advancement went quickly as he was
fast-forwarded through his golden years.
Zod (Terrence Stamp) and Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) (“Superman II”).
This was an unlikely alliance. Zod, a traitor exiled from Krypton, is
set free by a nuclear blast and finds his way to Earth with a couple
of lieutenants, all of whom have amassed super powers equal to
Superman’s. Luthor, a self-proclaimed brilliant criminal mind is
barely tolerated by Zod — only because he can provide intel on
Superman. Too bad his brilliant criminal mind did not realize the
trap Superman set for Zod and company until it was too late —
although he did try to convince The Man of Steel he knew it all
along. Nice try, Lex.
Dr. Ock (“Spider-Man 2”). Of the villains Peter Parker, aka
Spider-Man has encountered, this guy was the most physically
imposing, with those appendages that could squeeze, slice and dice.
Batman’s foes have been either cartoonish, like Jack Nicholson’s
Joker or Danny DeVito’s Penguin, or truly dark like Heath Ledger’s
Joker. Of all these, Ledger’s Joker is one of the best. To heck with
revenge or greed or seeking power. The Joker just thrives on chaos.
Not only does he have Gotham jittery, he also has upset the crime
syndicates. What a guy.
The latest challenge for the Dark Knight is Bane (spoiler alert).
Muscle-bound, adorning a mask with some sort of mini P.A. system,
Bane (Tom Hardy) is an enigmatic character. Drummed out of the
training program of Ra’s Al Ghul — where Bruce Wayne also was
mentored before becoming Batman — Bane offers a confusing set of
objectives. Mustering an underground army of mercenaries and hiding
out in the sewer system of Gotham, Bane is vexing in that he seems to
be a bringer of financial and social justice to Gotham, yet also appears
to be preparing to blow the city up. Later, when it is revealed he is
in league with another villain who is bent on revenge (the obligatory
plot twist), it takes the edge off his nastiness. An old
mentor-turned-foe Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), whom Batman defeated in
“Batman Returns,” makes a cameo appearance in “Dark Knight Rises” as
a sobering hallucination.
Obadiah Stane and Ivan Vanko (“Iron Man” series). Obadiah (Jeff
Bridges) betrays playboy/action hero Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.)
by selling Stark weaponry to insurgents. Bridges gets to ham it up
and don a mechanical suit that makes Stark look like an ant. Spewing
platitudes, Stane talks too much and loses his edge. In the second
episode, Rourke’s Vanko, while physically intimidating with his
jolting whips, was otherwise forgettable.
Red Skull (“Captain America”). Hugo Weaving does the usual crazed,
world-domination seeking madman, Johan Schmidt, who also parades
around as the Red Skull. These guys are so bent on taking over the
world, they never consider micromanaging it will require.
Loki (“The Avengers”). Face it. You take away his magical staff and
his Chitaurian army, and it is easy to reclaim the Tesseract from
him. As the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) displayed graphically, Loki (Tom
Hiddleston) can be thrashed around like a rag doll.
These guys follow a simple plan. They use their law enforcement
authority to abuse power. Here are some of the best at this in summer
Little Bill Daggett (“Unforgiven”). Gene Hackman won a Best
Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of this brutal sheriff.
These guys are pretty scary until someone summons the courage to
stand up to them. Good thing Clint Eastwood, older, grizzled but
still determined, was around.
Sheriff Langston and Cobb (“Silverado”). John Cleese adds a
humorous touch as Langston, who pretty much made up the rules as he
went along, including knowing when he is outgunned. “Today my
jurisdiction ends here,” he declares, turning around after one of the
fleeing “criminals” he is chasing shoots off his hat. Cobb (Brian
Dennehy), meanwhile, is not quite so skittish. He is corrupt and he
is sheriff. Bad things can happen in that mix. Dennehy, by the way,
already had a bad cop on his resume, playing Teagle, the sheriff of
the small Northwestern town who abuses Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) in
Al Capone (“The Untouchables”). Robert DeNiro put on weight to play
this role and was chilling in his strutting portrayal of this
gangster. One of the truly brutal scenes in cinema is when he takes a
baseball bat to one of his own people. A nasty way to instill loyalty.
Eric Qualen (“Cliffhanger”). John Lithgow may have earned Academy
Award nominations playing gentle characters, but in “Cliffhanger” his
Eric Qualen is a man without conscience. He masterminds a daring
airborne robbery of U.S. currency, but it goes awry and he has to
enlist the services of mountain climber Gabe Walker (Sylvester
Stallone), a man still grieving over being unable to prevent the
tragic death of his friend’s girlfriend. Qualen has no qualms about
killing his own people to make a point, so Gabe must go along until
he can use his mountain-climbing mastery to outwit the robber.
Lithgow also has played chilling killers in “Blow Out” and the
Howard Payne (“Speed”). An embittered former cop and explosives
specialist, disabled by a mishap, plants a bomb on a bus, and it is
up to Jack Traven of the LAPD to thwart this guy. The late Dennis
Hopper chews up scenery as Payne, a man with an enormous sense of
entitlement. His knowledge of explosives and police tactics make him
particularly dangerous. Funny that he forgot about the strategy of
booby-trapping ransom money.
Ryder (“The Taking of Pelham 123”). A remake of a 1970s classic
crime caper, this one features John Travolta, who always has a grand
time playing bad guys, as the mastermind of the takeover of a subway
in New York. In the original, Robert Shaw was coolly efficient and
deadly as the chief hostage taker. Travolta is more flamboyant. He
matches wits with Denzel Washington, who initially seems over
Arjen Rudd (“Lethal Weapon 2”). Long before his inner rages emerged,
Mel Gibson had a pretty good career going, as a director as well as
an actor. He was Mad Max, and later added another memorable
character, the loose cannon L.A. cop Martin Riggs. In the second of
the “Lethal Weapon” series, Riggs and partner Roger Murtaugh (Danny
Glover) match wits with a bunch of South Africans who are exploiting
U.S. relations to engage in criminal activity in Southern California.
The leader of this group is Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland), who
confidently defies any attempts by the cops to shut down his
operation. In the messy finale, after shooting an unarmed Riggs
several times, Rudd flashes his credentials to Murtaugh, claiming
untouchable status by saying “diplomatic immunity.” The gall of this
maneuver actually had me blurting out loud in the theater, “Are you
KIDDING?” It took Murtaugh a couple of seconds to come to a decision.
He puts down Rudd with one shot, adding the declaration, “Just been
T-1000 (“Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” A stoic Robert Patrick was
excellent as the human-like machine, an assassin dispatched to Earth,
where previous assassin Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) did not
quite complete his mission. T-1000’s boast is that he can regenerate
after being destroyed. That makes him somewhat tenacious.
Decepticons. (“Transformers”). These guys are big and bulky and made
of iron or something. When they transform and go to war with the
heroic Autobots, using planet Earth as the battleground, it dwarfs
Godzilla’s urban renewal of Tokyo.
Billy and Stuart (“Scream”). Skeet Ulrich as Billy and an
over-the-top Matthew Lillard as Stuart are a couple of teens who
terrorize a town with their masked slasher murders. Better yet, an
innocent man took the fall for their earlier killing. But when
revenge is a motive, things can slip. Billy blames the mother of his
girlfriend Sidney (Neve Campbell) for the demise of his family and
just goes wild with increasing the body count. This tongue-in-cheek
horror film pokes fun as the slasher genre, and in the end Sidney
gets into the spirit of things — when it is noted that the
supposedly dead killer may spring to life for one final scare, she
puts a bullet in Billy’s brain with the prologue: “Not in my movie.”
Michael Meyers (“Halloween H20”). Usually, these movies are released
in October, but this episode, the third and final one Jamie Lee
Curtis was attached to, came out in the summer of 1998. What can we
say? Michael Meyers seems to die, yet he does not. Even though
Curtis’s Laurie Strode decapitates her killer brother, he somehow
manages to show up for further adventures of a masked killer.
The strangers (“The Strangers”). What is more scary than being
terrorized by people you do not know, and worse, have no idea why
they are engaging in such cruelty? Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler are a
young couple holing up in a remote cabin — naturally. When a person
knocks on the door and asks for someone they never have heard of, the
two dismiss it as just some weird encounter. But soon three people,
identified only by physical appearance as Man in the Mask, Dollface
and Pinup Girl, seize control of the cabin. When a distressed Liv
asks why they are doing all this nastiness, they say, well, because
Esther (“Orphan”). A truly creepy character. Esther (Isabelle
Fuhrman) is adopted by a couple (Peter Sarsgaard, Vera Farmiga). She
seems too good to be true. Always neatly dressed. Polite. Cultured.
But she becomes increasingly hard to handle. The revelation that she
actually is a grown but dwarfed woman, is a classic twist. Her
attempt to seduce her adopted father is ever so squirmy.
MOTHER NATURE AND BEYOND
Asteroid (“Armageddon”). Tearing toward Earth, this wayward mass of
rock cannot bend to pleas for compassion. It will go its merry way
until it crashes into something. So a band of misfit drillers, led by
Bruce Willis and featuring a scene-stealing Steve Buscemi, hop aboard
space shuttles to land on the asteroid, drill a hole and drop into it
nuclear device to blow it to smithereens. The stubborn rock unleashes
all sorts of defense mechanisms along the way, but man will prevail.
The perfect storm. So awesome was this act of mother nature, the
movie was named after it. Intense weather fronts are bad enough by
themselves, but when they merge with other disturbances, look out.
This is what fishermen George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly
and William Fichtner find out. The hard way.
The ocean (“Open Water”). Atlantic or Pacific. It’s vast. And when a
young couple go on a skin-diving junket, they are mistakenly left
behind — to bob in the water and wonder if someone will rescue them.
Time passes, and they naturally grow more hysterical as sharks show
up, as thirst and hunger set in. If all that is not bad enough, soon
it gets dark. Just imagine floating in the ocean at night, and try
not to shudder.
CAPTAIN JACK’S ADVERSARIES
Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) gets into a lot of trouble in four
“Pirates of the Caribbean” adventures. Friends become former friends
(Barbossa played by Geoffrey Rush); he defaults on loans to a guy,
Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) who is more harassing than a collection
agency;he finds himself face to face with a jilted former girlfriend,
Angela Teach (Penelope Cruz) and becomes a hostage on the ship of
Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Of these nemeses, Davy Jones is the most
intimidating. Aside from a complexion problem, he is owed money. That
always gets a person’s dander up.
TERRORISTS ET AL
Jackson Rippner (“Red Eye”). Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy) is a
smooth operative who boards a red eye flight and warms up to Lisa
Reisert (Rachel McAdams). His job is to kidnap her and use her as
leverage in an attempt at a political assassination. He is smooth and
in control most of the time, but, who knows, maybe Lisa’s beautiful
eyes enchant him, and he lowers his guard. McAdams proves here she
can do more than be a star in romance and light comedies.
Thomas Gabriel (“Live Free or Die Hard”). Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant)
is an Internet-based terrorist threatening U.S. security. His muscle,
so to speak, is the butt-kicking Mai Linh (Maggie Q). But where U.S.
front-line security people fail, John McClane (Bruce Willis), aided
by a computer geek, Matt Farrell (Justin Long), step up. Seems
McClane has had experience before with terrorists.
Erik Lensherr/Magneto (“X-Men First Class”). Watching Michael
Fassbender as Erik, a hothead to begin with, increasingly grow into
the man who would become Magneto, is as intriguing as seeing Anakin
Skywalker evolve into Darth Vader. Only Fassbender does it with less
histrionics than Hayden Christensen did with Anakin.