Top Ten Scumbags In Film: Part 1

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Everyone knows the unpleasant characters are always the more interesting ones. While we’d all feel a warm reassurance if our neighbour were Atticus Finch or Batman, it’s unlikely they’d be on the receiving end of us probing them with questions or trying to sneak a peek through their windows at night, at least in comparison to if they were Hannibal Lecter or Hans Gruber. Also, the term ‘scumbag’ here is sometimes synonymous with ‘villain’, other times just a fair description of a character who isn’t necessarily evil, and I’ve opted for it because I find it to be an inherently amusing word. So, without further ado, (and in no particular order, because it irritates me) here are some glorious bastards.

1. The Kurgan (Highlander, 1986)

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This towering hulk and immortal purveyor of insane evil hails from the steppes of Russia, where his tribe used to throw children into pits full of starving dogs, purely for shits & giggles. Caring for nothing except the fabled ‘Prize’, The Kurgan is probably the most metal bad guy in cinematic history, sporting leather and chainmail while rocking out to Queen’s heavier offerings. With the voice of an 800 a day smoker and the manners of a stray dog, he is the ultimate sadistic psychopath, revelling in being as offensive and callous as possible. Which, while being detestable, is also hilarious.

2. Frank Booth (Blue Velvet, 1986)

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Frank loves Roy Orbison, Pabst Blue Ribbon and amyl nitrate. He also loves up-to-11 S&M games, cutting off people’s ears, and saying ‘fuck’ in every single sentence. Aided by the shortest temper in the universe, and a band of extremely deranged merry men, Frank controls pretty much all of the unseemly criminal activities in the North Carolina city of Lumberton, spending most of his nights in a nightclub watching lounge singer Dorothy Vallens, who is also his lover/hostage. He’s definitely the guy to raise the roof at any house party. Just don’t look at him, or tell him that you like Heineken.

3. Nicky Santoro (Casino, 1995)

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Never underestimate the little guys. Especially when he is one that’ll cave your head in with a phone, or squeeze a vice so hard on your head that your eyeball pops out, simply because he’s a bit pissed off about something. This pint-sized Mafia capo essentially controls all of Las Vegas, and when he isn’t busy snorting coke, committing acts of extreme violence or setting the Guinness record for F-bombs, he can be found being maitre d’ of the year at his restaurant, or lovingly playing house with his wife and son. It’s this effortless switch that makes him one of the scariest mofos around.

4. Jackie Flannery (State Of Grace, 1990)

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Sporting a little more heart than the other reprobates here, this proud Irish-American hoodlum is nevertheless a walking disaster zone. He may not radiate the superficial charm or deceitfulness of most diagnosable nutters, but he certainly retains the tendencies for impulsive action, unpredictable outbursts of violence, and having terrible long-term planning. When he’s not keeping severed hands in fridges, or laying beatdowns on some unfortunate debtor, he can be found permanently out of his tree at his local dive. If you buy him a drink, he just might not break a glass over your head.

5. The Lieutenant (Bad Lieutenant, 1992)

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Forgot every bad screen cop you can muster in your mind right now, unless you’re thinking of this one, in which case you’d be correct. The word ‘corrupt’ doesn’t even begin to describe this dude. In a permanent drug-and-alcohol induced stupor, this is an officer who consistently neglects his family, blows all of his wages on ridiculous sports bets, lies about everything, steals money from members of the public and contraband from crime scenes, and blackmails young women into performing strange and unpleasant ‘favours’ for him. This boy is destined for one place, and it’s scorching.

6. Fast Black (Street Smart, 1987)

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Morgan Freeman is one of those wonders who rarely plays a nasty, but when he does, he knocks it out of the park. This violent, failure-intolerant pimp will bust your nose and threaten to dice you up into little pieces, before immediately giving you the most jovial of reprieves. When his intimidation tactics start to wear thin in their effect on smug greenhorn reporter Christopher Reeve, Fast Black ups the ante to horrifying proportions. Thinking nothing of openly commenting on the breast size of women at upscale parties, waving scissors in his employees’ faces, and gorging on unhealthy amounts of BBQ ribs, this man is the king of his castle, and you’ll be one dead and mangled rascal.

7. Albert Spica (The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, 1989)

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Easily one of the most nauseating characters to hit the big screen. This crime lord-cum-restaurant owner is proud to be thick, has an atrociously violent temper, is openly sadistic and bigoted, and loudly belches, bellows and farts whilst stuffing astronomical amounts of gourmet food into his disgusting gob. Aside from putting up with the beatings that he doles out to everybody, his long-suffering wife Georgina is also forced to tolerate Albert’s horrific bedroom proclivities. The film was notorious at the time of release, not only for excessive violence, but also because Spica is supposed to represent Thatcher’s government. Pretty hilarious allegory, I’d say.

8. The Marquis De Sade (Quills, 2000)

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Ok, so he’s a real historical figure, if you’ll allow me that cheat. But he’s never been brought to life quite as richly as in the hands of Geoffrey Rush. An extraordinarily witty and perverted iconoclast, the Marquis wreaks almighty havoc at Charenton Asylum, penning several of his most notorious works whilst an inmate there (his legacy is a catalogue of violently pornographic satires that are likely to be found at your local corporate bookstore), attempting to seduce young chambermaids, and exploiting his fellow patients for financial and narcissistic supply. He’s just too damn fun.

9. Noah Cross (Chinatown, 1974)

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If I had to pick a favourite villain, this diabolical Southern fat cat is likely to make the cut. As the owner of the Los Angeles Water Department during a particularly severe drought, Cross is the wealthiest and most powerful man in the city. Initially coming across as a charming, self-deprecating and generous individual, he is revealed to be an evil, sexually perverted sociopath who will engage in the most squalid activities imaginable for pleasure and profit. Murder, kidnapping, obstruction of justice, he couldn’t care less. His cynical contempt for humankind is summarised in the quote: ”Of course I’m respectable, I’m old! Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”

10. Doc Tydon (Wake In Fright, 1971)

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This ratbag here is the wonderfully complex antagonist from a film that you almost never had the chance to see, save for the diligence of its editor tracking down lost negatives. A disgraced former doctor and alcoholic, Tydon is now living as a vagabond in the Australian Outback. He is a deeply intellectual and eloquent fellow, and yet his violent, predatory nature sees him right at home with the more uncomplicated, primitive thugs in town, joining them on booze binges, barbaric kangaroo hunts, wanton vandalism and punch-ups. He’s a very clever, very interesting, and very creepy bastard.

Stay tuned for more irresistible scumbags in Part 2, coming next week.