The 20 Most Memorable Psychopaths in Movie History
“Antisocial personality disorder, sometimes called sociopathy, is a mental condition in which a person consistently shows no regard for right and wrong and ignores the rights and feelings of others. People with antisocial personality disorder tend to antagonize, manipulate or treat others harshly or with callous indifference. They show no guilt or remorse for their behavior.”
– The Mayo Clinic
There are villains and then there are psychopaths; the latter is disturbingly closer to the real thing than a Hollywood stereotype with witty catchphrases and a humorous attitude. This definition shall be a guideline for the following characters in cinema.
20. Fritz Haarmann in The Tenderness of Wolves (1973)
This movie is based on the actual case of Fritz Harrmann, a.k.a. the Werewolf of Hanover; he and his lover, Hans Grans (Jeff Roden), killed up to 27 youths in Germany in the 1940’s.
Portrayed by screenwriter Kurt Raab, Haarmann is a cannibalistic homosexual serial killer that killed his victims by biting their throats out, he then chopped them up to sell them as meat on the black market; he was also a vampire. Directed by Ulli Lommel, this film comes out of the Rainer Werner Fassbinder film factory, and features a number of familiar Fassbinder cohorts, including the director of photography, Jurgen Jorges, and an appearance by Fassbinder himself as a sleazy pimp.
Raab’s portrayal of Harrmann is underplayed, not for gore, but as an alienated outsider that wants love and acceptance. Haarmann plays both side of the law by being a sort of jailhouse snitch, and this duplicity keeps the law off of his trail for a while until they finally realize that he is the killer that they are seeking. There are many similarities between this film and Fritz Lang’s M; both men are isolated loners that are victims of their own troubled desires.
19. Claude in Murder by Contract (1958)
Claude the hit-man is one cool cat. Methodical, measured, educated and patient; he lays out all the details of any upcoming jobs, his precision will ultimately be his Achilles’ heel. We see him as he applies for the job of being a contract killer and he proves himself on several jobs including one at a barbershop.
Claude has ice water in his veins and zero emotion when it comes to completing his projects, but ultimately he is thrown a curve and that is when he is asked to eliminate a witness that is about to testify in an upcoming trial against the mob. The problem is that the victim is a woman, and women according to Claude are “unpredictable.” Claude is usually unaffected by his choice of professions; he has clear cut goals; he is educated and completely reliable.
The first half of the film shows him dispatching with his assignments in a completely professional manner, but the second half reveals him as a frightful hate filled man, he is more scared of women than he shows and his folly ultimately is his undoing. Murder by Contract has been mentioned as one of Martin Scorsese’s favorite film noirs.
18. Dr. Klaus in In a Glass Cage (1987)
On a scale of criminal behavior, I would venture to say that a child killer is the literal bottom of the barrel. In the previous two films, we encountered a certain breed of criminal that took delight in selecting the most vulnerable of society: children.
Here again we have another portrait of blatant sadism; Dr. Klaus (Gunter Meisner) is the worst of the worst. Not only is he a child murderer and pedophile, but also an ex Nazi officer now living in Catalonia. After a botched suicide attempt, he is now paralyzed and held in an iron lung; his younger wife, Griselda (Marisa Paredes) and daughter Rena (Gisela Echevarria) are clueless to the evil that he perpetrated.
The evil doctor is now trapped in the iron lung, and doomed to spend the rest of his life incapacitated. Enter into the scene is Angelo (David Sust), hired to be a male nurse to the old man, but nothing is at it first appears. Who is this young man and what does he know about Dr. Klaus.
Many horror films have pushed the envelope of good taste in the hopes of titillating audiences, but few have been as shocking as director’s Agustin Villaronga’s In a Glass Cage. The film itself is presented in an atmospheric style with beautiful haunting shots; this is a film that presents evil as evil, there is no compromise, no gray areas to hide behind. Dr. Klaus and his student Angelo are waiting to show you just how bad humanity can dare to be.
17. Ruth Chandler in The Girl Next Door (2007) and Gertrude Baniszewski in An American Crime (2007)
Here are two films that each tells the true story of Gertrude Baniszewski, a real life criminal whose crimes shocked the nation in 1965. Taking place in Indianapolis, Indiana, this is a case that was described by the prosecutor at the trial as “the most terrible crime ever committed in the state of Indiana.”
Two girls are boarded out to a local neighbor, Gertrude Baniszewski, who took in ironing to make a living; the girl’s parents are carnies that are forced to board the girls so that they could continue their schooling. The father agreed to pay the woman twenty dollars a week for their care, but he had no idea what was in store for the girl’s.
The sisters, Sylvia and Jenny Likens, were systematically abused by Baniszewski and her children and some children from the neighborhood through an array of abuse that borders on obscene. Baniszewski began targeting the older sister Sylvia, 16, and eventually the torture resulted in the girl’s death, but not before Baniszewski carved the words, “I’m a prostitute and proud of it” upon Likens’s abdomen with a heated needle.
In The Girl Next Door, Baniszewski is portrayed by Blanche Baker (as Ruth Chandler) and in An American Crime, she is played by actress Catherine Keener; The Girl Next Door is more exploitative in its presentation of the facts of the case. In reality, Gertrude Baniszewski, was convicted of first-degree murder, but was spared the death penalty, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. She died on June 16, 1990, aged 60. She truly was a repugnant individual.
16. Dominique and Danielle Breton in Sisters (1973)
This Brian DePalma film was his feature film debut and it is a winner. Shadowing Alfred Hitchcock in more than one way, this homage plays tribute to the master of suspense, with Bernard Herrmann doing the haunting score. This film is a PSYCHO-driven, VERTIGO-induced, and ROPE-entangled thriller which put DePalma on the map.
Drawing inspiration from a Life Magazine article on a pair of real life Russian Siamese Twins, De Palma presents us with a tale of madness that is totally spot on. Margot Kidder plays both twins, Dominique and Danielle, who were later separated by one of the twin’s ex-husband (William Finley).
Dominique is the twisted one of the pair and her bloody dispatch of her sister’s boyfriend is a nasty piece of work, but the real twist comes in with the revelation that Dominique died on the operating table, and that Danielle suffers from a Multiple Personality Disorder. Happy Birthday to the twins!
15. Dr. Josef Mengele in The Boys from Brazil (1978)
Who else but the Nazi Doctor of the Third Reich would come up with a diabolical scheme to clone the Führer? And if that isn’t evil enough, he wants to ensure that his plans work out to the smallest detail, so an assortment of civil servants from the age of 65 and up, who had cold, domineering and abusive attitudes towards their adopted sons, while their wives were around 42 and doted on the sons, would all need to be killed.
The truth of the matter is that 94 clones of Adolph Hitler were sent out into the world to grow up, and hopefully one of them would thrive under the proper conditions. Gregory Peck is absolutely chilling as the famous doctor with his black mustache and evil eyes, spouting crazy dialogue that at times seems hilarious. True psychopaths tend to be totally secure in their beliefs.