Jasen Buch on the appeal of movie villains.
I’m finding it difficult to explain why I like villains in books, movies, and TV shows. Maybe I am trying to do it in such a way that doesn’t reveal that I may have my own heart of darkness, or get a vicarious thrill from watching the villains commit their evil deeds. I’ve tried to justify my position of liking the villains as a purely artistic thing rather than it being anything deeper and more personal, but I can’t do it. All I know is that I prefer the bad guys regardless of whether I’m reading, writing, or watching.
An example would be the character of Shane from The Walking Dead. In the comic book, Shane is in love with Rick’s wife, Lori, and his words speak loudly and clearly that he is clearly conflicted and that this is all going to come to a head with Rick and one of them will end up dead. I loathed Shane in the comic book, but I loved his character because it was so believable in that situation. In the TV show, however, every possible action was taken to ensure that the audience would hate Shane. They provided flashbacks for the express purpose of showing him kill a relatively innocent man. I hated the character itself because it crossed too many lines and tried to hard too be hated.
Good horror, suspense, and thriller movies allow us to escape into a world where we can test our morality and mortality without doing ourselves or anyone else harm. The media reports stories of violence and death every day, and although it’s splashed all over newspapers, TV, and the internet, we are not supposed to think about it in any depth.
How can we not, though? What is going through a person’s mind who is committing these heinous acts, or what goes through a person’s mind as he/she is in a position faced with his/her own mortality? These are the questions that have entered my mind when writing stories. It’s not that I am twisted and evil, it’s that I have allowed my imagination to run amok with reckless abandon.
Horror movies allow us to be scared, but they also allow us to gain a glimpse into the dark side of our own minds. Alfred Hitchcock started it and ran with it when he created villains that were not supernatural beings, but ordinary people who could be our friends, neighbors, or family members. It gave people at that time a real scare because they were now, not only reading about real-life horror stories in the newspaper, but watching them play out on the big screen.
There’s nothing wrong with liking the villain characters in horror movies. They’re necessary to the story and can give us insight into ourselves and our own dark sides. While we’re expected to avoid exploring this aspect of our personalities, it’s nearly impossible to do so because of the media exposure. It’s good to be scared; it’s a necessary emotion in our lives. It is, however, also necessary to make the distinction between reality and fantasy. Go ahead, get scared.