Celebration of Wickedness Day 19: THE EVIL QUEEN

This woman tried to kill her stepdaughter because the child was prettier than she was! I can’t even give you a good, “Welcome to the Wickedness” intro because today’s villain takes the cake on fuckedupedness. We’re talking about the Evil Queen from Snow White and she takes villainy to unprecedented heights.

Let’s face it, there are often good reasons to kill someone (and I’m marginally serious here): they stepped on your brand new kicks, they put your baby in the back in the ballet recital, they cancelled Friday Night Lights. Look, no matter how seriously or insignificantly you value life, I’m certain you never really considered killing someone because they looked better than you, right? Have you? Oh dear God, you have…we’ll talk about this later…

We all know the Snow White story by now. Snow White is a beautiful maiden with pale skin and a short bob who can sing to the animals and make them clean up for her. Her stepmother is the Queen—and is not a bad looker at all—who has a magic mirror that she consults to feed her fragile ego. When the mirror suggests that Snow actually has a little something something on her stepmother, the Queen sets about killing her. She took the word of some RANDOM DUDE and decided murder was best. Doesn’t this sound like an episode of Snapped? The Queen hires a guy to do the vile deed; he takes Show White out to do the deed but, once he beholds her beauty, can’t bring himself to kill her so he sets her free. Snow White stumbles upon Little People, Big World and hangs out with the dwarves until the queen disguises herself as an old woman and brings a poison apple. Apparently the queen hadn’t dusted off her magic skills in a little while because the apple doesn’t kill Snow, just puts her in a coma and the dwarves end up killing the Queen.

Now, I’m no fan of this movie—I think I’ve seen it once because my daughter loves it. I don’t actually care if the Queen kills Snow White or not. The whole singing to the animals thing just bugs me. But something has to be said for the fact that Disney—America’s family film studio—Disney decided a shallow, cruel, vindictive, narcissistic woman that tried to kill the protagonist for being prettier than her was the best way to launch the first full-length animated feature EVER. This woman set the bar and NO ONE can touch it.

I like to imagine my villains talking as though they were in a prison yard, sharing those “what are you in for?” stories. “I’m here for killing puppies and turning them into coats,” says Cruella. Nice opening. “I bite women, suck their blood and turn them into immortal zombie creatures,” Dracula counters. Impressive. “There’s this guy from another world, and he’s stronger and faster than the rest of us and, even though he says he’s a good guy, I don’t trust him. I’m trying to kill him,” and Lex Luthor enters the fray. “I tried to kill my stepdaughter,” says the Queen, “because she’s prettier than me.” And we have a winner!

In the end, the Evil Queen is one of the most incredible villains because no one has a reason for villainy as shallow as hers. That’s it. Her rationale for murder is one of the most callous and inhumane we’ve seen, and we’ve looked at puppy-killers, child-eating clowns, and a child-molester turned nightmare. I don’t even know what to say to take from her as a writer: my imagination isn’t that cold.

So that’s my letter Q. Tomorrow, we’re bringing out one the most popular villains in literature and film: He Who Shall Not Be Named—Tom Riddle AKA Lord Voldemort!

Celebration of Wickedness Day 18: POLTERGEIST

There are a number of things no parent ever wants to hear about their children’s friends but I have to say, this is probably pretty high on the list:

“It lies to her. It tells her things only a child would understand. It’s using her to restrain the others. To her, it simply is another child. To us, it is the beast.”

Yes, my little readers, Poltergeist, the scariest movie made for children, is your serving of wickedness for the day. You know I’m right. I don’t think I know a single adult who saw this movie as an adult; everyone saw this as a kid and has been sleeping with their closet doors shut ever since. This movie did more damage to the clown industry than the Simpsons and Pennywise combined. On the upside, we all learned a new German word to be terrified of.

Poltergeist hit theatres in 1982 and that was a pretty pivotal year for me. I was 9, my parents got divorced that year and my siblings and I were staying with my grandmother that summer (yes, the same one who took us to see Jaws 2 and then turned around and took us the beach). In that summer, in that season of uncertainty, I got to the experience both the wonder and the terror of my childhood: literally in one seven-day period, I saw both E.T. and Poltergeist. I remember my brother and I sleeping head to foot in the same bed because my room had a closet and the door to the attic. I think I peed myself that night. I have not been the same since.

Before I go any further, since this film falls into the “Hey, dummy, your house is haunted, can’t you tell?” category, I have to deliver a short Public Service Announcement. Imagine me speaking as the authoritative black guy from the Allstate commercials: If you turn your back to wash dishes, turn around and your chairs are stacked on the kitchen table like a jenga tower and the only folks in the house are you, your 4-year-old daughter and the dog, LEAVE. If you can put a football helmet on your child and have them scoot inexplicably across the floor, pulled some unseen force, LEAVE. If the tree in the backyard tries to eat your son—and he is not DMFRH—LEAVE. That’s Christopher Starr’s stand.

That said, Poltergeist was an amazing movie. It taught us not to eat that uncovered chicken in the fridge, don’t pick at that thing on your face, and do not ignore the fact that your child is having a conversation with a staticy TV. And we learned that you should never buy a house on land that was once a cemetery—there’s a good chance you’ll end up having this conversation: “You sonofabitch! You moved the cemetery but you left the bodies, didn’t you?! You only moved the headstones!”

Pound for pound, Poltergeist ranks as one of the scariest movies and the ghost itself as one of the greatest villains because it touched on everything we were frightened of in the 80s: clowns, ghosts, child abduction, too much TV (remember, MTV was out at that point), thunderstorms, the monster under our beds. The suburbs were supposed to the safe place, the haven for white flight, the realization of the American dream. We were supposed to be safe out there. Poltergeist shows us that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, how much you make, there are things that can reach out and touch you anywhere. That can get you anywhere. That can take what is important to you. That shit is scary.

Hi Ho! Hi Ho! It’s time for me to go! Tomorrow we’re gonna look at the coldest broad to ever grace a fairytale: my letter Q is the Evil Queen from Snow White.

Celebration of Wickedness Day 17: OVERLOOK HOTEL

I’m a writer. I have these fantasies of crafting masterpieces of haunting depth, full of magnetic characters and taut, driven plotlines, all by the light of a roaring fire in a lakeside cabin somewhere deep in the Pacific Northwest forest. I also have fantasies of a masked killer coming into that same fireside retreat, slicing me into chili and wiping his mouth with my pages.

But I digress.

As writers, we all have these ideal writing environments that exist only in our heads, these utopian places that would allow us to escape the real world and focus exclusively on our craft. So I can understand Jack Torrance’s rationale for choosing to manage the Overlook Hotel in the scenic Rocky Mountains. Makes sense, right?

Makes perfect sense until you add in a dyslexic, telepathic boy with an imaginary playmate named Tony, a haunted hotel, an Indian burial ground, a snowstorm that locks everybody in, and Olive Oyl. Throw in Jack Nicholson’s crazy ass and you have a recipe for disaster.

You guys know this story: Jack Torrance (Nicholson) moves his family to Boulder to become the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. The hotel comes with a fully stocked kitchen, a CB radio, and a creepy Black dude. And it comes with its requisite red flags: while walking through the premises, Jack is told that the previous caretaker murdered his entire family. RED FLAG. His son starts having visions of twin girls and blood, is running around yelling “Redrum!” and talking to his finger. RED FLAG. Jack himself sees and has full-blown conversations with people WHO ARE NOT THERE! RED FLAG. Until he finally snaps, we get the typewritten page of “All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy” and suddenly he’s chasing his wife through the hotel and chopping down doors only to get locked out in the snow and freezes to death. Oh yeah, spoiler alert…

Red flags aside, I have two problems with the Overlook Hotel: first, it’s real. Like the Amityville Horror House. It’s real. I’ve actually seen it. No, I have not stayed in it (and you already know this, man!) but I did pass it on the freeway and, frankly, that’s close enough. Second, the entire story strikes too close to home for me. I’m a writer. I work from home. There are days I actually don’t go outside. I can understand the steady decline of your mental capacity— I’m not saying I’m chasing people around with axes (and “It’s Jaaaaayyyyy Lenoooooo!” doesn’t have the same sinister ring, does it?) but Jack Torrance makes sense to me.

Really, what makes the Overlook Hotel so incredible is its inherent ability to bring out the true shades of people. We saw Danny Torrance find his shining powers; we saw Jack lose his mind; we saw Dick Halloran give his life for a little crazy kid. All of them realized their true selves in the walls of the Overlook and none of them were the same. Maybe that’s villainy; maybe that’s just a mirror. At any rate, it’s my letter O.

And tomorrow, they’re heeeree! That’s right, boys and girls, come into the light, there is peace and serenity in the light—Poltergeist is next!

Celebration of Wickedness Day 16: KHAN NOONIEN SINGH

Ricardo Montalban was a sexy man. He was hand-crafted from fine Corinthian leather. He could put on a white suit, grab a little person and make all your fantasies come true. I once saw him, as Mr. Rourke, go toe to toe with the Devil. And win. So who else could sport feathered bangs and a vest with no shirt and still be the most memorable villain in the 23rd century?

But this ain’t about Ricardo Montalban, it’s about Khan Noonien Singh (truth be told, I didn’t even know he had a middle or last name until I got ready for this post). Khan is the antagonist from Star Trek II, as in The Wrath Of, and easily the most recognizable villain from Star Trek (like I would choose the tribbles).

We meet Khan Noonien Singh in an episode of the original Star Trek series. Khan is a genetically engineered human being with the “superior intellect.” He used his powers to conquer about a quarter of the earth during the 1990s (don’t you remember that?) When the unwashed masses rose against him, he and about 80 folks fled earth, got stuck in suspended animation until they were found 400 years later by the Enterprise. Kirk does Khan a solid and thaws him out; Khan thanks him by taking over his ship. Khan and his folks are exiled to a planet in the middle of nothing to serve out their sentence.

The end, right? Nope.

When we see Khan again, the planet he was exiled too is knocked off course and becomes a barren wasteland with only the 80 humans and these desert rock lobsters whose babies can make you “weak-minded” if you stick them in your ears. I have no idea how you figure that out…Anyway, a routine mission becomes a hijacking and suddenly Khan is back on the scene with a Federation starship and an eagerness to beat the shit out of James T Kirk. Khan’s return brings us numerous bad haircuts, William Shatner’s obvious toupee, introduces Kirstie Alley, and Spock’s death.

Khan has 23rd century street cred. This is what makes him so cool. For all the superior intellect, genetic enhancement bullshit, Khan is simply a thug from the future. And he’s good at it! This is why he’s Star Trek’s most memorable villain—he’s actually something and someone we can understand. He’s a criminal in fine clothing, surrounded by advanced technology, but a criminal nonetheless.

And this is why Khan Noonien Singh makes the cut as a fantastic villain: Khan is gangster. Put your phasers on stun; hear me out. Khan carjacked the both Enterprise and the Reliant, does a drive-by on the Enterprise first chance he gets, steals the Genesis device, and kills Kirk’s boy. Every time he walks on the screen, I swear I can hear 50 Cent’s P.I.M.P.: “I don’t know what you heard about me…”

Tomorrow, we continue with the A to Z Challenge with O for the Overlook Hotel—the setting for Stephen King’s The Shining. “All work and no play…”

Celebration of Wickedness Day 15: LEX LUTHOR

It’s Lex, baby! That’s right, our sample of sinister savagery is Superman’s nemesis premier, the chrome dome himself.

Now, I’m admittedly not a DC comics fan; I’ve read two Superman comics in my lifetime—the one where they changed Supes’ costume and the one where Doomsday beat the bulletproof shit outta Superman. I don’t know Lex from the pages of comics: I know him from the Christopher Reeve masterpieces, the sub-standard Superman Returns, and all 687 episodes of Smallville (I cannot be only one who thought it took forever for Superman to learn HOW TO FREAKING FLY!).

Most of us have seen the 1978 Richard Donner pic with Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando and if you haven’t, stop, go out and watch it. Come back when you’re better prepared for class. And while you’re at it, watch Superman II—it was just cool. In that movie, we are introduced to a villain who wants to start an earthquake to make the entire western seaboard of the United States fall into the ocean just so he can make money on a brand new coastline. And he launches a domestic nuclear attack to give Superman something to do while his other plan is in motion.

Impressive, right? But wait, there’s more.

There are 2 human beings who know about Superman’s “aversion” to kryptonite. Both of them know who Superman is. Both of them are billionaires. One of them is Superman’s friend. The other one wants to kill him. In the movies, Lex discovers what kryptonite does, obtains it, then gives Superman a pendant made of it and tries to drown him. But that’s not all: he finds the Fortress of Solitude, turns it on, uses its information against Superman and makes Superman destroy his own home. We’ve even seen Lex shank Supe and stomp him like they were on D-block. And Superman is BULLETPROOF.

Here’s what it comes down to: Lex has balls.

That’s what makes him such a fantastic villain. Lex Luthor has balls. I know it sounds crass but think about it. Push aside his routine disdain for all manners of law enforcement. Ignore his idle willingness to sacrifice billions of human lives to achieve his aims. Brush away the fact that he teamed up with General Zod to take over the world. Consider this: Lex Luthor fought a god. On purpose. And figured out how to beat him.

When we think of heroes and villains, especially the super-powered variety, we often imagine a match in power and capability. Batman and the Joker, Spiderman and the Green Goblin, Harry Potter and Voldemort. Usually two sides of the same coin. But think about Superman. He can fly, shoot lasers out his eyes, live in space, lift full continents with his bare hands, turn the world backwards—you’d have a better chance listing the things he can’t do, right? But Lex is just a dude. A regular guy. Flesh and blood and addicted to gravity. And yet he is still willing, wholeheartedly, to tumble with the Man of Steel. And sometimes gains the upper hand. Who does that? A man with balls.

And that is why Lex Luthor deserves entry into the pantheon of great villains.

Tomorrow, tomorrow, we get the only Star Trek villain I know: KHAN! KHANNN! KHANNN!!! (that’s my version of the echo from Star Trek II)

Celebration of Wickedness Day 14: MEGATRON

I’m a product of the 80s. Aside from completing my elementary and secondary schooling between 1980 and 1990, my television taught me to fear a finite number of characters: Mikhail Gorbachev, Cobra Commander, Darth Vader, the dude from the Pepsi commercials (Max Headroom?), Cameron’s dad, and Megatron from the Transformers.

Megatron is the leader of the Decepticons in Transformers fare. In the cartoon, both the Autobots and the Decepticons were stranded on Earth trying to find enough energy to convert into energon so they could get back to Cybertron, continue their war, and take over everything. In every episode, and in the explosive Michael Bay movies, Megatron leads the assault on the Autobots with the one thing that matters in stories like his: power.

Power.

Megatron is a living weapon. This is a character who wears a cannon on his sleeve and transforms into a gun capable of blowing a hole into anything. He was the first villain I ever saw attack and hurt his own people (before the Empire Strikes Back); and he was the first cartoon character I saw who damn near killed the hero. As much of a fan of Optimus Prime I am, I was pretty impressed with Megatron’s chops: this wasn’t some half-hearted, lame-ass villain like Skeletor. Megatron was something else.

In the 1986 Transformers movie (which I wrote a FANTASTIC sequel to with my 13-year-old capabilities), Megatron is the victim of a mutiny led by Starscream (who is BY FAR my favorite Transformer). His battered body is salvaged by Unicron, a planet-sized Transformer who eats worlds (I think they stole this idea from Marvel with Galactus) who then turns Megatron into Galvatron and makes him stronger. Stronger? Who needs him stronger? But he comes back and shoots Starscream and TURNS HIM INTO DUST! Dust!

This movie brought us “You Got The Touch!” by Stan Bush so if you’ve never seen it…

In the current incarnation, Megatron’s thirst for power is something otherworldly. And his viciousness is unparalleled. My favorite part is his decimation of Jazz, the weakest of the Autobots. (I always hated that cat).

Jazz: Is that all you got, Megatron?
Megatron: Come here, you little cretin!
[Megatron grabs Jazz, but Jazz opens fire with his blaster]
Jazz: You want a piece of me? You want a piece?
Megatron: No, I want TWO!
[rips Jazz in half]

That’s power.

That’s what Megatron is all about. And that’s the lesson we’re supposed to learn from him. It is one thing for your villain to have a desire for a thing or even have menacing punchlines and a maniacal laugh. But power is the key. Your villain has to have the means to achieve their goals. They have to have the capability for their vision of reality to exist. They have to be a real threat. That one facet adds weight to your story, adds heft to your villain, and a sense of urgency to your hero.

Power. Otherwise, what’s the point?

That’s the deal. Tomorrow is another free day for the A to Z Challenge but, as we say in the Celebration, there is no rest for the wicked. Tomorrow, we’re talking about Superman’s arch-nemesis: Lex Luthor.

Celebration of Wickedness Day 13: LUCIFER

Oh goody goody goody! It’s Friday the 13th and today’s master of madness, vicar of villainy is the original Adversary, the only soul dastardly enough to challenge God, start a war, tear down Heaven and still pull a third of the angels with him. Today, we’re talking Lucifer. Today, we’re talking Satan.

Satan.

The bar against which all villains are measured. The barometer for how truly evil your antagonist is.

You know this story already, right? Lucifer is the angel who was so beautiful, so beloved, but becomes jealous and filled with pride and launches a rebellion that breaks Heaven apart. This angel—this angel—caused such an issue that Hell exists because of him. That thing you fear at night, that thing you see out the corner of your eye but isn’t there when you stare directly at it, that place churches warn you about, all that’s because of him. We actually have villains at all because of this guy.

In every incarnation we’ve seen, Lucifer has accepted his lot in life and has carte blanche to do as he pleases within some unwritten, unspoken set of rules. In Constantine, he came to exact some semblance of justice against Gabriel the Archangel. With the Ghost Rider, he exists simply to bargain for souls that are due to him. He appears as a dog or a raven or an unseen force just to advance Damien’s cause in The Omen. Everyone seems to talk around who he actually is.

I believe there’s more. There has to be more.

I really thought a lot about this cat—so much so I wrote a whole book about him (which happens to be free for about 20 more minutes—I know, I know, shameless plug). Lucifer is the beginning of evil, the dawn of darkness—he challenged God, made Adam and Eve fall, and had the gall to tempt Jesus Christ. No matter how complex, how hateful, how intense you think your villain is, they cannot compare to Lucifer.

Because no one wants what he wants.

Think about it. We write terrestrial villains, maybe galactic ones. We invent characters that fantasize about running a company, building an empire, dominating a planet, ruling a galaxy. This guy wants to be God. And he sincerely believes he can do it. And he thinks he can do it alone. That kind of character deserves introspection, analysis, discovery. I spent a lot of time with Lucifer in my head, whispering in my ear, standing beside my bed (that’s another story all together). I learned a lot about what might make something like him tick. What might crawl beneath his skin.

No matter what we think about our villains, we have to understand them. We have to know why they do what they do, what they are actually after. And, as writers, we have to root for them. No matter how dark, how detestable, how horrid their actions or their worldviews are, we have to champion them.

I could give you more but I wrote a whole book about it. You should check it out.

 

Celebration of Wickedness Day 12: THE JOKER #atozchallenge

If you came looking for a scintillating expose on the JOKER, well, joke’s on you! Today I’m hanging out with Morgen Bailey.

Morgen has graciously allowed me to darken her doorstep and bring the Madness across the pond. So click away and let’s take a look inside the mind of a certified Mad Mad.

Morgen 'with an E' Bailey

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of the character ‘The Joker’ is brought to you by short story author, article writer and 30-day challengee Christopher Starr.

Celebration of Wickedness Day 12: THE JOKER #atozchallenge

So my letter K is a stretch today—we’re going for the K in The Dark Knight—because it would be a travesty to omit one of the greatest villains to smile his crooked smile in comics and on film: The Joker.

For the one of you who’ve been living under a rock for the last 50 years or had mean parents who didn’t believe in children smiling, the Joker is Batman’s arch-nemesis. You have to add the word “arch” to make it official. Heroes are often defined by their villains—who is Superman without Lex? Who is Luke Skywalker without Darth Vader or Strawberry Shortcake without the creepy guy? (I can’t remember his name but…

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Celebration of Wickedness Day 11: JAWS #atozchallenge

Beaches are supposed to be fun. Beaches are supposed to be Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon-esque scenes of sandy fun and bikini-clad hormone-o-ramas. Old people, little kids, taut teenagers, sun, surf, smiles. That’s the beach. They are supposed to be fun.

Not cauldrons of frothing blood, 25-foot-long leviathans and an endless body count.

That’s not the beach. That’s Jaws.

I was 2 when the original movie came out. I didn’t see it until I was like 14 or so. I did, however, see Jaws 2 when it came out. My grandmother took us. She even bought me a t-shirt from the movie. That movie’s tagline was “Just when you thought it was safe to back in the water again…” Again? I thought. Well, what happened the first time? What could have happ—oh my god! For the next two hours, I watched a great white shark tear after teenagers and color the ocean red. And, after the movie, my grandmother TOOK US TO THE BEACH!

I’m ok now: my psychologist prescribes sunscreen and Xanax every summer.

Jaws did a bunch of things in terms of storytelling and changing the way we look at the stories that resonate with us. It was the first $100M movie and was the highest grossing film of all time until Star Wars. It made the E and F sharp the most frightening notes in music. Though I’m sure the Great White Shark Defense League didn’t appreciate all the negative publicity.

To date we’ve looked at cockroaches from outer space, a radioactive Jekyll and Hyde, a sadistic puppy killer, a vampire, a rejected parasite, a child molester turned boogeyman, a giant fire-breathing dinosaur, a truly haunted house, a killer clown from outer space, and a bumbling international criminal who can’t shake a 4th grader and her dog. And, short of the House, we haven’t looked at anything that’s remotely plausible let alone possible. Until now. This is what makes the shark an incredible villain: possibility. While implausible, a great white shark attacking a seaside community is possible. It can happen. That’s what makes it terrifying.

Jaws worked because it redefined the way we look at danger—and how close we’d allow it to be. It’s easy to say this is a classic man vs. nature type of story—the same thing that Alien did for space, Jaws does for the beach. That’s surface stuff. What Jaws did is bring danger home. Made it personal. Who doesn’t like the beach? Everyone wants to see their children have a good time on a hot summer day, watch them play in the surf. Just like Alex Kitner’s mother.

Tune in tomorrow, same Bat-time, different Bat-channel: tomorrow I’m posting over at Morgen Bailey’s blog (www.morgenbailey.com). We’ll be taking a good hard look at the Clown Prince of Crime—the Joker!