The villain is the guy in black… with horns… twiddling his moustache

Looks like Silver and Scout won’t be quick enough to get the Lone Ranger and Tonto away from the whiff of controversy surrounding their most recent Hollywood outing. Disney has been attacked by cleft palate support groups furious over the use of the birth defect as a way of making the film’s baddie look even badder.

cleft[Butch] Cavendish is a ruthless outlaw whose terribly scarred face is a perfect reflection of the bottomless pit that passes for his soul – Disney

It was an unfortunate decision by the filmmakers, but should the audience take some of the blame here? Lazy audiences pay money to see lazy films; lazy films are made to appeal to lazy audiences. Michael Bay is a case in point.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

There is nothing taxing in a display of Bayhem other than the explosions being too loud. And the shouty, running bits being too shouty… or too runny. You get the picture. This, however, does not stop Mr Bay’s movies making quadrillions of dollars by making squealing teens and lazy adults binge on big bangs and moving metal for a couple of hours.

Cinema, like fairy tales and genre fiction, is dependent upon a kind of shorthand language. Image can tell as much about a character as action can. You can’t introduce your hero by having them save a cat in the first scene to tell you they’re the good guy; you can’t have the baddie strangle a budgie… you know the rest.

But you can give them uniforms! The Lone Ranger was one of the most famous cowboys on the silver screen. As a visual shorthand he and all the other good cowboys wore white, while the baddies wore black. Fast-forward a quarter of a century and one of cinema’s biggest baddies – one Lord Vader – sported a black helmet as well as the black costume. Hollywood likes its villains being scarred in some way, whether its physical or mental. In a Total Film survey of movies’ best villains in 2011, the Top 10 contained just woman. It was a list of men with scarred faces and broken minds:

The Dark Knight's nemesis, The Joker

The Dark Knight’s nemesis, The Joker

10) Norman Bates (Psycho); 9) Agent Smith (The Matrix); 8) Mr Potter (It’s a Wonderful Life); 7) Amon Goeth (Schindler’s List); 6) Jack Torrance (The Shining); 5) Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest); 4) Anton Chigurh (No Country For Old Men); 3) Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs); 2) Darth Vader (Star Wars); 1) The Joker (The Dark Knight).

It’s not easy to write a villain. I rediscovered this while working on my new play Reverse Psychology after being asked to write a horror by its director, John Hayes. I eventually came to the conclusion that a good villain is someone you can’t take your eyes off, someone alluring in some way, disarming, charming… yet utterly demented! Writing villains is hard but great fun!

For my first novel, Mrs God – which will be released in October – I enjoyed writing for the ultimate baddie in any genre… Now guess who that could be?

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