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George Mitchell: I’m a sucker for a movie bad guy

Is it normal for us to like some villains, such as Anthony Hopkins'  Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs? Picture courtesy of MGM Home Entertainment.
Is it normal for us to like some villains, such as Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs? Picture courtesy of MGM Home Entertainment.

The idea for this column came to me the other week, after I’d just watched – for the umpteenth time – the movie The Silence of the Lambs.

Believe it or not, it’s now 31 years old. It can’t be? But it is, and it doesn’t age. It’s still brilliant.

It’s said that we “love to hate” a villain. Yes, I get that, but I’m more interested in when we actually like a villain. We sometimes sympathise with them, or even come to admire them.

Let’s take Hannibal Lecter. OK, I accept it’s only a movie, but still, it’s interesting psychology.

While I certainly don’t like the idea of anyone killing another human being, why do I “like” Hannibal Lecter?

I admire his calmness when locked up behind that glass wall. He never loses his cool. And I find it amusing when he constantly gets the better of that idiot of a guy who runs the prison he’s in.

Anthony Hopkins’ performance as Hannibal Lecter is chilling.

Late in the movie, Lecter is sitting in a cage, listening to classical music surrounded by his drawings. Then, taking his chance, he violently turns and butchers a policeman, his pulse probably never over 60.

As Lecter escapes, I find myself willing him on, hoping the police won’t catch him.

Finally, at the end of the movie, wearing a Sinatra-style fedora hat, as cool as a cucumber, he calls Clarice and tells her is “having an old friend for lunch”. And he means it literally, as he’s currently stalking his old jailer Dr Chilton.

When Hannibal delivers that chilling line, “having an old friend for lunch”, I find myself smiling. Why? Strange. Please reassure me, it’s not just me, is it? I certainly hope not!

I’ve always been a huge fan of the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. We even had the book read to us in fifth year English class by our wonderful teacher Irene Khalil. Wow, she made a book come alive.

If you know the story, I’m sure you’ll agree that Nurse Ratched is a nasty piece of work. I don’t like her. Interesting to note that the actress Louise Fletcher, who played Ratched back in 1975, said decades later she couldn’t watch the movie any more due to the nastiness of her character.

Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Picture: Allstar/UNITED ARTISTS.

Yet, the main character of Mac, played by the wonderful Jack Nicholson, who is no saint and causes havoc inside the hospital, I definitely support him and can’t help wanting him to succeed.

When he takes the rest of the patients out on a boat, it’s totally out of order, but I’m egging him on to not get caught.

I was asked in a recent interview about my new book, a Peter Pan sequel, which character I liked writing about most. I said with totally honesty: “Oh, Hook without a doubt. Sure, he’s bad and wants Peter Pan dead, but he’s also got a vulnerable side, as we all do. I feel for him. And I have to admit, I rather like him!”

There are loads of bad guys out there that I’m sure many viewers “feel for”. Darth Vader from Star Wars? Maybe even the boxer Ivan Drago from Rocky who, pumped full of drugs, tries to beat our hero.

Does Darth Vader scare you?

Or what about the bumbling robbers Harry and Marv from Home Alone? Yes, they are funny, but they are actually trying to harm a child, yet we all love them and their antics.

I even know of people who like Freddy Krueger, from A Nightmare on Elm Street. Not me, he definitely scares me.

Hitchcock’s greatest movie is arguably the 1960s classic Psycho. The lead man, as I’m sure you all know, is Norman Bates, who is, without a doubt, a complex character to say the least.

Do you hate him? After all, he dresses up in his mother’s clothes and gets involved in some right shenanigans. Or do you feel for poor old Norman? I’m definitely in the “feel for him” camp.

My abiding memory of this classic movie is watching it on VHS back in the day. Wow, remember them? Not yet 18, I’d say we were probably 16, my mate Alastair and I managed to get a VHS tape from goodness knows where and sat down one night to watch it.

Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho. Picture: Allstar/UNIVERSAL.

His parents in bed, it was just Al and me in the dark in the living room. Engrossed in the movie, especially the shower scene, we nearly screamed the house down when his sister Victoria came into the room with a shawl over her head, holding a kitchen knife and doing an impression of Norman as his mother.

That sacred us more than the movie. I’ve never forgiven her for that!

Poor old Norman. He’s a wrong-un, but you can’t but help like him, or at least feel for him.

But the greatest baddie of all time, in my opinion anyway, did not come from the movies, he came from the small screen.

So, who does the gold start award for best baddie go to? It has to be scheming oilman JR Ewing in Dallas.

He cheated on his wife numerous times, put her in a sanitorium, turned her into an alcoholic, lied to his family, made his brother Bobby’s life hell, slept with his wife’s sister, did dodgy business deals, double crossed everybody, blackmailed countless poor souls, he cheated and scammed the world basically.

Yet I’m not ashamed to admit, I adore good ol’ JR!

Of course, if I met someone like JR in real life, I would want nothing whatsoever to do with them. But in TV world, he’s my favourite. And every time he got one over his old enemy Cliff Barnes and near destroyed his life, I beamed a huge smile.

Larry Hagman played the scheming JR Ewing. Picture: Allstar/Cinetext/LORIMAR.

Why do we love baddies in movies or on TV? I really don’t know. Like I said, interesting psychology.

As long as he was properly restrained of course, I’d love to meet Hannibal Lecter.

And I’d give my right arm to have sat down and had bourbon on the rocks with JR.

Not sure about meeting Norman Bates though – he scares me.

On the subject of being scared, I was as a kid and am to this day still scared of the gorillas on horseback in the original Planet of the Apes movie.

And I’m terrified of the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

How about you?

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