Why are we often attracted to and mesmerized by evil people in horror cinema and novels? Gloomy Sunday's Gothic-romantic, Absinthe, kicks off this round of commentary from the League of Tana Tea Drinkers to explore this question. From Bela Lugosi to Freddy Kruger, the league pokes and prods as only it can do, to unearth possible answers, some assumptions, and maybe some contradictions.
Gloomy Sunday explores the bad boys of screen and novel...
Why are we attracted to villains? Why are we drawn towards characters we really should hate? Why do we sometimes find sex appeal in characters who are hideous or deformed? Is it that we can relate better to people who have flaws, people who are more realistically human with their dark sides instead of the cookie cutter heroes and heroines we usually see in movies? Or does it go deeper, to an instinctual level, left over from a more primitive time, when only the strong thrived and reproduced, drawing us to the powerfully wicked onscreen?
Pinhead from Clive Barker's The Hellbound Heart and the later Hellraiser movies — although I only speak for the first two because after that they suck — is one of my favorite villains and one I think has strong sexual appeal despite his skin being the color of a dead fish, with nails protruding from his head, and a strange, but kinky, sadomasochistic leather outfit hinting at damnation. If you wanted to, you could compare the premise Hellraiser is based on to a metaphor for sexual freedom by looking at the puzzle box, which involves a quest for something much desired, yet secret, dark, and forbidden to have. If Pinhead quickly came into scene and dispatched his victims, we would not be so drawn to him. Instead, he shows human characteristics we can relate to. In Hellbound: Hellraiser II he does not kill Tiffany when she opens the box because he knows that "hands did not call us, desire did." He seems fair even though he is a killer, and he continually lets Kirsty slip through the damning cracks by allowing deals and bargains. Is it his power we are drawn to, the relief provided by his human flaws that we can relate to, or the subtext of sublime sexual naughtiness he is the front man for?
Hannibal Lecter, from Thomas Harris' series of novels and the movies, is a cold blooded killer who eats his victims. Yet, he is the star in everything he appears in — even stealing some of the show in Red Dragon where he only has a bit part. Silence of the Lambs is basically a sick and twisted love story between Hannibal and Clarice. Hannibal is such a successful character, Harris pretty much wrote the last book of the series for his fans who couldn't get enough of the sophisticated predator with a penchant for fine wine and human sweetmeats. Why are we drawn to a cannibal doctor? I think this one is almost the same as Pinhead - he is fair, he has his flaws, but he still has a good side. He prefers to only eat "the rude" and we practically cheer when he does away with some of his victims. So what does that say about us? Deep down, do we want to "devour" our enemies, too?