The 20 Most Memorable Psychopaths in Movie History
7. Aileen Wuornos in Monster (2003)
Based on the life of Aileen Wuornos, a real life serial killer; she was subsequently sentenced to prison and executed in 2002 for the killing of seven men.
Wuornos, a hard luck story if there ever was one, was a small time working girl in the Tampa area when she fell in love with 18 year old lesbian Selby (Christina Ricci) and dreamed up a plan for them to live a somewhat “normal” life. It’s too bad that Wuornos’ idea of easy living included armed robbery and cold blooded murder, but hey, that is the way of a hard looking street prostitute.
The real news is the performance by Charlize Theron; her physical transformation from off screen beauty to stringy nasty man-hating Wuornos is startling and her performance nabbed her an Oscar as well. In real life Wuornos was a nasty individual that was a pathological liar and reprobate who hung out with bikers and other bottom feeders. Only Charlize Theron could make us feel sympatric to this real life monster.
6. Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas (1990)
Goodfellas is the story of Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, but more importantly is the character of Tommy, one of Henry’s best friends and fellow mob member, played by Joe Pesci.
Tommy DeVito is one of cinema’s most memorable characters: loud, easy to anger, a savage hair trigger on his gun and his personality. It is Tommy’s slaying of a fellow made man, Billy Batts (Frank Vincent) that ultimately signs his own death warrant, and he is summarily dispatched in typical mafia style with a bullet to the back of the skull.
Pesci won the Best Actor in a Supporting Role Oscar for his hotheaded performance. “Spider, get me a fucking drink!” Tommy is a womanizer, an arsonist and stick up man, but ultimately a mama’s boy, as witnessed by his late night visit to his mother, played by director Scorsese’s mother, Catherine Scorsese. With friends like Tommy, who needs enemies?
5. Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) in Blue Velvet (1986)
Frank Booth is a true psychopath; he is a rapist, a gang leader, a murderer, a drug dealer, he likes sadism; all in all a truly bad character. Frank is the leader of a rag tag gang of miscreants; he has kidnapped the singer Dorothy Vallen’s (Isabella Rossellini) husband and child, and in turn has a sadistic sexual relationship with her.
Frank is a wounded angry man; he has a vendetta with society and his vocabulary is laced with profanity, but there are hints that there is more beyond just the angry individual. We are shown clues to Frank’s history, but they are coded. There is Frank’s mesmerizing behavior when he hears certain songs such as “Blue Velvet” and the Roy Orbison song, “The Candy Colored Clown”; he literally goes into a trance, something comes over him and there is a terrible sadness on display at such moments.
Frank’s behavior toward his adversary Jeffrey Beaumont is odd; Jeffery is Frank’s opposite, but at the same time there are elements of Frank in Jeffrey, this is a puzzling duality. In the end, Frank is killed by Jeffrey.
4. Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976)
In 1976 Martin Scorsese created a film that is the definitive portraits of modern man’s isolation and loneliness; Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is “God’s Lonely Man.” Throughout the film Travis struggles with making some kind of connection to the other people that he encounters, but they will ultimately betray him.
At the start of the film we encounter Travis as he is seeking employment that will keep him occupied at night because he has chronic insomnia; the solution is that he becomes a taxi cab driver, and it is alone in his cab that he drives the streets of New York, left alone with his obsessive thoughts and the rage that continues to grow inside of him, like a cancer.
Travis is an avid diarist, writing all his thoughts done in a book, in some warped form of therapy; anything to get those nagging thoughts out of his humming head: “Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”
Travis becomes enamored with two different women in the film, both are unobtainable, but to Travis that is beside the point. He is a knight in search of a dragon to fight and he is tired of not acting; at the end of the film, in its bloodbath scenario, Travis becomes the hero that he always thought himself possible of.
3. Franz Beckert in M (1931)
Fritz Lang was way ahead of the curve in his portrayal of a pedophilic child murderer, an admirable feat in 1931. Films did not address issues like this in the 30’s, let alone portray the main character in a slightly sympathetic manner.
Peter Lorre portrays Franz Beckert, a lonely middle aged man that likes children; we see him befriending them, buying them candy and a balloon, and later he kills them. Why is never really discussed, though Beckert tries desperately to explain his motivations to the crowd of criminals that have held him before a make shift jury: “I can’t help myself! I haven’t any control over this evil thing that’s inside of me! The fire, the voices, the torment!…. Who knows what it’s like to be me?”
Indeed, we do not, but the criminal underworld nevertheless pronounces judgement on him, and it results in his capture by the authorities. Even now we as a society do not understand the depraved morals of a killer like Jeffrey Dahmer, but here in cinema, we find a mirror of the child killer.
2. Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men (2007)
Portrayed by actor Javier Bardem, Anton Chigurh is the true face of evil; he is a new type of killer, one that follows his own twisted moral code; once he gives his word, it is his bond. Chigurh, whose hairstyle somehow mirrors his own emptiness, is a killing machine, once he is set into action, absolutely nothing will stop him. A paid assassin, Chigurh is an anomaly; he says little, only speaking when necessary.
A man’s fate will be revealed with a mere toss of a coin, and Chigurh is to be the deliverer of the verdict. Sherriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is a long time officer of the law and he struggles to understand the reasons behind the wave of slaughter that is left in Chigurh’s wake. In the past there was a moral code that most robbers followed-an eyewitness or bystander was left unharmed; there was no reason to kill an innocent victim.
Some killers refused to harm women or children; this does not apply to Chigurh. Anyone who gets in his path will be eliminated, be they law officer or widow of Llewelyn Moss, the man that originally stole the drug money at the film’s beginning. Even after being in a serious car crash, it is implied that Chigurh is invincible and that perhaps that he is something more than human.
1. John Doe in Se7en (1995)
Ah, John Doe is literally everyman; invisible to the masses and to those that seeks him out. Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of Doe is truly frightening; a madman obsessed with the seven deadly Sins and abhorrence for his fellow man.
At the center of the mystery are two detectives, Somerset (Morgan Freeman) a veteran that is ready to retire and Mills (Brad Pitt), the other just beginning his career as society’s garbage man. The two are pitted against Doe as he leaves a grisly trail of bodies; all have been dispatched in a manner guaranteed to get the two men’s complete attention.
This is a very dark film, not only subject wise but how it looks; it rains constantly, except for the last scene in the film, the atmosphere is heavy with dread and hostility; this is the future of Neo-Noir. Into all of this gloom comes the film’s only bright spot, Mill’s wife, Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow); she will play a vital role in the education of the young detective.
Then ending of this film is most appropriate as Doe sets up the ultimate sick joke; no matter what Mills does he is thoroughly screwed and Mills will have to live with the far reaching effects of his grotesque plan.
Author Bio: Robert Segedy is a writer that lives outside of Chapel Hill, North Carolina; a self-professed film maniac, he loves horror and cult films, old comics and true crime books. A former longtime bookseller he now lives a quiet life with his wife Jennifer and two cats and the loudest dog in the world.