From the origins of storytelling and the creation of cinema, conflict has always been an element needed to push a narrative forward. Furthermore, conflict tends to have established heroes and villains. While protagonists are extremely important, villains are also crucial and enthralling to watch.
When done well, antagonists can be fascinatingly complex or strike fear into the hearts of movie-goers everywhere. Luckily, the villains of the 1980s were no exception. From Jason to Chucky to Hans Gruber to Roy Batty, 1980’s filmmaking has created some of the most legendary villains of all time. However, with so many iconic antagonists, other lesser-known baddies have easily fallen into obscurity. Therefore, here is a list of the most underrated villains of the 1980s that need to find their way into the mainstream.
10. David from The Lost Boys (1987)
David from the Lost Boys is an intimidating and modern creature of the night that needs more recognition as an outstanding villain of the 1980s. In the movie, teenage brothers Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) move with their mother (Dianne Wiest) to a small town. While Sam meets kind-hearted comic-book nerds Edward (Corey Feldman) and Alan (Jamison Newlander), the angsty Michael soon meets a woman named Star (Jami Gertz) who turns out to be connected to an evil vampire, David (Kiefer Sutherland). Realizing Michael’s new friends are vampires, Sam and his new pals must rescue Michael and Star from the undead.
While the film plays with horror in a tongue-and-cheek manner at times, David as the leader of the motorcycle-riding gang of vampires is still immensely menacing. Sutherland truly taps into to what makes David such an intriguing villain. It is not his size or height, but rather, it is the way he easily controls people and the manipulative way he corrupts others. For example, David lures Michael in with Star and uses her as just a pawn in his plan. David’s sinister goal is only to toy with Michael and deny him everything in the end.
In addition to his power, Sutherland makes the smart choice to have his character bask in his misdeeds rather than brood over them. Sutherland allows the character to be a brutal yet boyish ruler. As a result, the tone of the movie remains true to the story, a sense of both amusement and danger is felt, and the character of David never comes across as oversimplified to viewers.
David entertainingly becomes the Sid Vicious of vampires: a full-on punk rebelling against order and set on total mayhem.
9. Pumpkinhead from Pumpkinhead (1988)
Pumpkinhead is an underestimated creature that deserves more credit as an excellent villain of the horror genre. The plot centers around a rural man, Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen), on a downward spiral after a group of city tourists inadvertently kill his son in a biking accident. To get his boy back, Harley makes a deal with a local witch (Florence Schauffler). The wish summons the demon Pumpkinhead to exact revenge on the group of friends that killed Harley’s son. However, after having second thoughts, Harley must stop Pumpkinhead’s deadly rampage before it is too late.
Even though Pumpkinhead does not have the acclaim of some other scary movie icons of the 1980s such as Freddy Kruger, Pumpkinhead is still a solid slasher. In fact, Pumpkinhead is an archetype of 1980’s horror and urban legends with a twist. Pumpkinhead not only harms people physically thorough dismemberment and bloodshed, but the creature makes his creator suffer as well. Harley is bound to Pumpkinhead and experiences the monster’s vengeance through its eyes as he watches everyone’s gruesome fate.
While Pumpkinhead tends to get lost in the shuffle with the horror legends of the 1980’s, it is a villain worth placing among the greats.
8. The Rich from Society (1989)
Society depicts the ultra-wealthy as shocking and grotesque villains that represent the deep-rooted horror of classism. In the film, a Beverly Hills teenager (Billy Warlock) discovers his parents are participating in a grisly cult for the socially and financially privileged.
The affluent elites in Society are the epitome of an all-too-familiar evil that exists in an overindulgent and egocentric civilization. With the use of profoundly disturbing body horror and brilliant social commentary, the rich cannibalistically feed off each other for assurance and self-esteem. Their power and gratification derive from a shallow and depraved source that is deeply troubling. It is the flaunting of their tailored clothes, fancy estates, and glasses of champagne that satisfies them and signifies the death of humanity. After this, the upper class’s shared mentality and cruel desires then morph into one horrid ideology that thrives on ruthless competition and harming those they see as worthless.
In the end, the elites in Society are realistic and terrifying villains that symbolize the loss of individuality and empathy in an uber capitalist regime.
7. Heather Chandler from Heathers (1988)
While there are many aspects that make Heathers an amazing dark comedy, the film would be nothing without the queen bee of Westerburg High, Heather Chandler. In the movie, Veronica (Winona Ryder) tries to survive the social jungle of high school by joining the Heathers clique (Kim Waler, Shannon Daugherty, and Lisanne Falk) to gain popularity. One day at school, Veronica meets a sociopath named JD. (Christian Slater). With their meeting, Veronica’s life spirals and unintentional murder begins.
Just as Cher Horowitz gave teens a whole new lingo in Clueless, Heather Chandler does the same in Heathers. Each line Heather says stays with audiences and sparks wonderfully inappropriate laughter. While most of her lines are insults, they are said with such gravitas, creativity, and most importantly, a sense of humor. For example, when Veronica questions being a part of the Heathers group, Chandler looks her right in the eyes and says, “You were nothing before you met me. You were playing barbies with Betty Finn. You were a bluebird. You were a brownie. You were a girl scout cookie.” There is also an insanely morbid but comedic line as Veronica has a dream about Heather. As Heather so bluntly puts it, “God, Veronica. My afterlife is so boring. If I have to sing Kumbaya one more time…”
Heather may be classified as a cynical and ruthless tyrant, but viewers also end up finding her funny and wildly quotable.
6. Damon Killian from The Running Man (1987)
Damon Killian is not just a captivating villain, but a memorable one. In the Running Man, America is depicted as an authoritarian state where everyone’s favorite TV show is “The Running Man”. In the game show, prisoners must run to freedom to avoid death. A prisoner named Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has the opportunity to participate in the show, but the program’s perverse and corrupt host, Damon Killian (Richard Dawson), has no intention of letting him escape.
While the movie is not without flaws, it features a strong performance by Richard Dawson as Damon Killian. Dawson’s portrayal as the egotistical, sleaze-bag host brings new energy to the film and provides the movie with a villain that audiences love to hate. As a former game show host himself, Dawson is in on the joke and finds a way to transfer his own silly host persona onto the big screen. Killian appears to be a character who not only seems drunk most of the time, but a person who chain-smokes his way through backstage planning sessions and then appears in front of the cameras with an enormous amount of fake cheerfulness. The manner in which Killian works the audience to generate reactions makes him a superb villain and twistedly shows he is not very different from the real-life game show hosts modern spectators know.
Damon Killian is such a perfect antagonist that the character becomes stronger than the movie itself.