Monday, April 12, 2010

What Makes The Villain Scary

I just did an interview with writer Olivia Collette on what makes certain characters in films truly frightening. She and I felt that - instead of stereotyped evil-doers like Freddy Kruger or Michael Myers - the more ordinary and average the villain, the more frightening they become. Think Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds, Vito Coreleone in The Godfather, Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, or Ruth Gordon in Rosemary's Baby...

Psychologically speaking, the reason that the ordinary person gives us goosebumps is because we are all human and complex. When we discover that someone just like us can do evil, terrifying things, it becomes unsettling.

I like my villains to have a depth and breadth that comes close to portraying the human experience. I find the slasher, psychopathic characters stigmatizing and demeaning to those of us who have mental illness. In fact, research supports that on-screen portrayals of villains as one dimensional has a negative effect on the public's perception of people with mental illness.

Incidentally, I've written a psychological suspense novel with an antagonist that is complex, quite human and certainly evil. But there's no stereotyping or stigmatizing of mental illness there.

Pirkis, J., Blood, R., Francis, C., & McCallum, K. (2006). On-Screen Portrayals of Mental Illness: Extent, Nature, and Impacts Journal of Health Communication, 11 (5), 523-541 DOI: 10.1080/10810730600755889