Although they can sometimes be fun to watch, not all male anti-heroes or villains are necessarily appealing. Mark Fraser looks at 10 instances when the lead blokes are either too mean-spirited or excessively sadistic for comfort.
10. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
In some ways it’s arguable that Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) doesn’t deserve to be on this list, particularly as he can’t bring himself to kill his niece Debbie (Natalie Wood) after finally tracking her down – in the end with murderous intent – some five years after she was kidnapped by a bunch of Commanches. But that’s really one of the main points of the film – despite the fact he’s a complete bastard, the uncompromising Edwards always makes the right choices; plus he ultimately pays the price for his dictatorial ways, literally becoming an outcast from the family he has worked so long and hard to keep together. Wayne should have won the Oscar for this.
9. The French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971)
New York detective “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) is a first class bully and bigot. He also dubiously seconds motor vehicles from members of the public, takes part in dangerous high speed car chases through built up areas and doesn’t give it a second thought when he accidently kills one of his colleagues (Bill Hickman) while chasing the titular character. However, as the film’s original advertising campaign pointed out, he is also “a good cop” – so much so that, because of his brutal pig headedness, he manages to circumvent a massive international heroin deal.
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8. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Terry Gilliam, 1998)
Admittedly journalist Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and his Samoan lawyer Dr Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro) are pretty funny as they consume mind-warping drugs, terrorise hitchhikers, trash hotel rooms and cause general havoc in the environs of Las Vegas. In some instances, though, their anti-social behaviour borders on the dangerously psychotic – especially when the intimidating Dr Gonzo breaks out his large sharp hunting knife.
7. Angel Heart (Alan Parker, 1987)
At first blush New York-based private investigator Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) seems like a typically benign 1940s noir gumshoe. But then it is revealed he is – in fact – a vicious murderer on the lam from The Devil (Robert De Niro), who inadvertently has unbridled sex with his daughter (Lisa Bonet) before slaughtering her.
6. Scarface (Brian De Palma, 1983)
Al Pacino’s Tony Montana doesn’t change throughout this almost three-hour movie, remaining a greedy, repugnant and murderous thug from beginning to end. The only differences between the Cuban “political refugee” being interrogated by US border protection agents at the start of the film and the gun-toting gangster who is shot down during its violent finale are that he is richer, has scored (and lost) the American dream woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) and become a coke head in the process. Interestingly, Montana’s undoing comes about when he refuses to kill children during the planned hit of an informer. If anything, his restraint shows that even this Cuban cocaine dealer has something of a conscience.
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5. (TIE) Man Bites Dog AKA C’est arrivé près de chez vous (Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel and Benoît Poelvoorde, 1992)
Ben (Benoît Poelvoorde) is an insidiously amusing hit man, who has hired a small film crew (including Rémy Belvaux and André Bonzel) to follow him around as he cheerily robs and murders a number of hapless victims in order to fund the making of his macabre home movie. This sophisticated and oddly charismatic killer writes poetry, plays classical piano and is something of a cinephile, yet knows no moral boundaries. Before long he has the film makers actively participating in his heinous crimes. While initially played for laughs, the tone of this mockumentary turns quite dark when the boys drunkenly break into the apartment of a young couple, making the male (Zoltan Tabolik) watch as they gang rape his partner (Sylviane Gode) before (off-screen) shooting him in the head and disemboweling her. In the end they all get what’s coming to them when they get eradicated by the Underworld.
5. (TIE) Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (John McNaughton, 1986)
There’s absolutely nothing funny about this extremely grim and quite disturbing film, which is loosely based on the life of white trash US murderer Henry Lee Lucas (1936-2001) and his sadistic pal Ottis Toole (1947-1996). As played by Michael Rooker and Tom Towles, this pair is downright vicious, killing at every available opportunity with a sense of inexplicable impunity. As with Ben in Man Bites Dog, even mothers and their young children are fair game for these fiends.
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4. Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone, 1994)
All of the leading men in this delirious crime caper are particularly awful. Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson) is a cold blooded killer who happily pops off victims in a murderous cross-country spree with his demented bride Mallory (Juliette Lewis). Meanwhile the policeman pursuing them – detective Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore) – turns out to be just as criminally psychotic. Also bordering on the insane is prison warden Dwight McClusky (Tommy Lee Jones), who runs his jail like a southern slave owner. Then, leaching off them all in one way or another is the egotistical TV reporter Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jnr), whose over-the-top Australian accent suggests he represents the worst of the Rupert Murdoch press. Finally there’s Mallory’s father Ed (Rodney Dangerfield), a pedophile slob that ends up (quite deservedly) getting beaten to death by his daughter and her new beau before they embark on their destructive rampage.
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3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)
The terrifying Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), the jovial shop owner (Jim Siedow), the crazy hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) and the just-alive Grampa (John Dugan) make up what is arguably modern American cinema’s original family from hell – a group so horrifyingly twisted that they even give the Fireflys in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005) a good run for their money. In addition, one of Leatherface’s victims – the wheelchair-bound Franklin (Paul Partain) – is a totally obnoxious pain in the butt until his demise at the end of the masked monster’s chainsaw.
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2. Maniac (William Lustig, 1980)
Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) gets a kick out of murdering people and scalping his female victims so he can nail their bloodied hair pieces to the mannequins with which he shares his dingy Manhattan apartment. During the course of the story this sweaty killer (who is no oil painting) garners the attention of an attractive photographer (Caroline Munro). Unfortunately, the prospect of an unlikely romance with this hot babe is not enough to distract him from his brutal rampage. As the protagonist, Spinell delivers one of the slasher genre’s most hideous acting tour de forces. Even the sweet-faced Elijah Wood – who plays the same character in Franck Khalfoun’s 2012 graphically splashy remake of the film – can’t match him.
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1. Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975)
The Duke (Paolo Bonacelli), the Bishop (Giorgio Cataldi), the Magistrate (Umberto Quintavalle) and the President (Aldo Valletti) are possibly the most detestable quartet of leading men ever to appear together on screen. Declaring themselves as libertines, they hole up (no pun intended) in a northern Italian palace towards the end of the Second World War and systematically humiliate, brutalise, rape (read sodomise) and torture to death a group of kidnapped teenagers while awaiting the arrival of the Allies. These fascists effectively represent the worst humanity has to offer – plus they end up getting away with it.
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Written and compiled by Mark Fraser
Over to you: what your fave films dominated by absolutely horrible men?
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