Rogues’ Gallery: My List of Scary Screen Villains

Sho’nuff: Am I the meanest?
Sho’nuff ‘s Goons: Sho’nuff!
Sho’nuff: Am I the prettiest?
Sho’nuff ‘s Goons: Sho’nuff!
Sho’nuff: Am I the baddest mo’fo low down around this town?
Sho’nuff ‘s Goons: Sho’nuff!

~from The Last Dragon (1985)



RIP, Mr. Sho'Nuff (or is that Mr. Nuff?"


I have a bit of a confession to make in this entry. When it comes to anything scary, I’m usually about as brave as a balloon seller going into a birthday party for porcupines. I missed the tidal wave of slasher films (I have never, nor probably will ever, watch Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, or any variation, sequel or re-imagining thereof. I’m a sissy, okay?) When it comes to being scared, I like my scare-the-crap-out-of-you moments to be more subtle. Think Dr. Lecter slowly seducing Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, or the quick glimpse of the alien walking through the cornfield in Signs. For me, I’ve seen one teenager violently hacked to pieces, and I’ve seen them all.  It’s true what they say about desensitization.

I am not, however, scare-proof. I’ve been scared plenty of times over the years by characters I’ve seen in movies or TV shows. Usually they’re not the over-the-top villains that do the trick, but rather the silent but deadly ones; the psychopaths and deviants that live among us all but whom we may not see as villains. Some of these baddies I remember well from childhood. Others are more recent vintage. For today, readers, all my villains are coming together in a Rogues’ Gallery of fun and general scariness. Maybe you’ll admit to being scared by some of them yourself. I’ll just hope you never cosplay one of these bad guys or bad girls and scare me half to death on an ordinary Thursday. If you do, I’ll have to sue.

Okay, now, I’m cuing up the “Imperial March” for the roster of villains. They are listed in no particular order:

Villain: Scar (The Lion King)

Played by: Jeremy Irons (voice)

Scariness factor: As Zazu the bird says, “there’s one in every family.” Conniving, cunning and ruthless, this is the kind of character who will kill his own brother in cold blood, lie to his nephew, and double-cross more times than a bad WWII movie spy. As if that weren’t bad enough, he’s also a skilled liar, a shrewd manipulator, and he excels at the deadly guilt-trip. Plus, with that silky-smooth voice, he’s just cultured enough to be trusted by the average person. 8/10


Villain: Emperor Palpatine (first appearance: The Empire Strikes Back)

Played By: Ian McDiarmid

Scariness Factor: Darth Vader may be the apprentice. Palpatine is the master. I distinctly remember seeing Return of the Jedi in 1983 and being scared s**tless by this guy. There’s just something about that deep black cowl, those cold, creepy eyes, and the fact that he likes to char-grill young Jedi knights who won’t turn to the Dark Side. In the Prequel trilogy, his evil is seen on a whole new level, as he alternates between serving as the seemingly benign Chancellor of the Senate and Uber-villain Sith Lord Sidious. Hmm…that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? 9/10

Villain: Baby Jane Hudson (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?)

Played By: Bette Davis

Scariness Factor: One of my deepest and most abiding fears is becoming an invalid and depending on someone else to care for me. This movie taps into that fear for me…and then some. Davis plays Baby Jane as a hybrid of two archetypes I find horrifying. One is the caretaker from hell; the other is a woman who can’t let go of childhood. Terrifying…and unfortunately believable. 7/10

Villain: Scorpio (Dirty Harry)

Played By: Andrew Robinson

Scariness Factor: This was the basis of so many of the later “psycho without conscience” roles (for example, I can’t see Heath Ledger’s Joker without being reminded of Robinson’s performance.)  The guy is just nuts…and pure evil. I’ve watched Dirty Harry so many times, and I’m scared of this guy every single time. That’s hard to do. 8/10

Villain: Miss Gulch (The Wizard of Oz)

Played By: Margaret Hamilton

Scariness Factor: Put her in the same category as Palpatine for me. She’s the one who’s more scary than the main heavy (the Wicked Witch.) I think this mean old lady also taps into a primal fear of mine; the one that I’ll grow old and become a dog-hating, morality-preaching spinster whom everyone hates. Plus, she has, along with Darth Vader, one of the coolest villain’s themes in any film, ever. 7/10

Villain: Alti, the Shamaness (Xena: Warrior Princess)

Played By:  Claire Stansfield

Scariness Factor: She’s tall and powerful, she has a deep, husky voice, fierce dark eyes, and oh, yeah, she craves world domination. There are those for whom Callisto is the favorite Xena villainess, but I’m personally much more terrified by a six-foot-plus woman with the ability to psychically torment her enemies. She’s one true badass…and I’d love to cosplay her one of these days. 9/10

Villain: Hans Gruber (Die Hard)

Played By: Alan Rickman

Scariness Factor: Smart, suave, sophisticated, and also insane, this is another one of those performances that inspired a whole legion of imitators. Rickman, whether hero or villain, always plays a badass, and Gruber is one of my favorite of his roles. He’s really just one of those guys you love to hate, and the sort you hope you never run into on an otherwise quiet Christmas Eve. 8/10

Villain: Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)

Played By: Eleanor Audley (voice)

Scariness Factor: All-black horned outfit? Check. Pet raven? Check. Evil pig goons? Check. And her calling card reads “Mistress of All Evil.” Okay, remind me not to try and sell Thin Mints at her place this year. For a Disney movie, Mali is pretty sinister material indeed. She’s willing to kill a beautiful princess with a flick of her wrist…all because she didn’t get a party invitation. She can also transform herself into a 60-foot dragon. Far and away the scariest Disney villain. 9/10

 Villain: Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Manhunter, The Silence of the Lambs et al)

Played By: Anthony Hopkins

Scariness Factor: He often makes the top of Greatest Villain lists, and it’s a place well-earned. This is the one movie I can’t watch without having nightmares. Considering Hopkins only appears on screen for about a third of the movie, he makes such a raw impact. He truly is scary in the role. 10/10

Villain: John Bly (The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.)

Played By: Billy Drago

Scariness Factor: Another one of those villains who never has to raise his voice…a whisper is quite enough. Bruce Campbell claims Drago is the nicest guy in real life. One would never know it watching him as Bly, who’s not just purely evil, but also a time-traveler from the 26th century who wants to rule the world. And this is a Western. 7/10

Villain: Judge Doom (Who Framed Roger Rabbit)

Played By: Christopher Lloyd

Scariness Factor: After having loved Lloyd as Doc Brown in the Back to the Future flicks, he threw this nasty curveball at me: a cadaverous, unblinking, humorless mean mudsucker. Who wanted to kill cartoon characters in cold blood by “Dipping” them. To my nine-year-old self, there was nothing quite so scary. I had nightmares for a long time about the end, when Doom’s true character was revealed. Scarier than Freddy or Jason…fer sure. 10/10

Villain: Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)

Played By: Louise Fletcher

Scariness Factor: Sometimes the scariest villains aren’t witches or sorcerers with unlimited powers. They’re everyday types with everyday jobs…who think they’re doing the right thing. This movie has always been one of my favorites, as it depicts pure unbridled spirit (Jack Nicholson as McMurphy) up against the totalitarian authority of “the system,” as personified by Fletcher. I’d call Dr. Kevorkian if she were my nurse. 9/10

Villain: Col. Koobus Venter (District 9)

Played By: David James

Scariness Factor: It would have been just as easy to put Piet Smit on this list. Venter, on the other hand, is almost a hybrid of two other favorites of mine: Tavington from The Patriot and Quaritch of Avatar. He’s like a rabid Doberman on the trail of fresh blood. Not only does he seem to love killing, he’s a pure sadist (“I love watching you things die,” he sneers at a wounded alien.) Not an easy role to play, but James is up to the task and then some. 7/10

Now that I’ve successfully relived many of my childhood nightmares, I think I’ll be starting a Campiest Villains list for next time. Who’s gonna top the list? I welcome suggestions…Sho’nuff!

Decker's not a villain...he's just doing his job

Be sure to “like” this post and add P&Q to your daily reading list! Check me out on Facebook, too!

~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on February 9, 2011.

4 Responses to “Rogues’ Gallery: My List of Scary Screen Villains”

  1. Great list! Disney really does have scary villains.
    My son, who can watch any zombie / slasher flick and have dreams of puppy dogs had nightmares over the Wicked Witch in Wizard of Oz.

  2. Oh yeah…I also had nightmares over the clown dream sequence in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.” O_O

  3. Decker? Of course. So glad you included him. Lecter? All the way. I’m also impressed with your rightful acknowledgment of Judge Doom! triple love that movie. But Miss Gulch, the all time witch, takes the poisoned cake.

    • Great list! I’m the same way with scary stuff! Paranormal Activity scared the pants off of me (which I’m taunted for quite frequently). I’m a major Disney villain fan and I’m glad you know the name Eleanor Audley because I seem to be among few people who idolize this great actress!

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