Evil can come in all forms: man, woman, child, adult, real, perceived, clown, doctor…you get it. There is much evidence on this earth to back up its existence, and has been throughout history, but some of the best depictions of evil have appeared as fiction–which is much better than having it in actuality. Some inspired by actual evil individuals, others are purely abstract and fantastical- here is the top ten embodiments of pure evil in fiction:
10. Cruella Deville
As far as any animal rights advocate is concerned, Cruella might as well be Hitler. She desires nothing more than to see upwards of 101 puppies slaughtered in the name of pompous, polka-dotted fashion. Just hear her piercing banshee scream and observe that menacing look in her eyes, and you’ll soon realize she was born without a heart, but with a huge taste for dog fur.
9. Dr. No
Dr. No is the quintessential Bond villain: secret underground lair, giant laser beam, member of an elite terrorist organization called S.P.E.C.T.R.E. He is the archetype on which every Bond villain parody is based (e.g. Doctor Evil). While his laser beam is designed to little more than hinder the U.S.’s efforts in the Space Race, it does seem that this individual has nothing but the most evil intentions- he is after more than just a hefty ransom. Of course he wouldn’t be the last villain whose defeat–as guaranteed by Sean Connery–would be celebrated with martinis and sex.
If Mordor is Hell on Middle-Earth, then Sauron is the devil, with his pervasive and all-seeing eye. Under his dominion is an army full of brutish orcs and other hell beasts who wage war on neighboring races, meanwhile the all-powerful and much-sought-after ‘ring’ he originally forged has the power to entice and corrupt men, rendering them junkie-like slaves to its power. And as we know, too much of a good thing can be horrendous.
7. Hannibal Lecter
This cannibal has a literal appetite for evil. He is a man with refined taste in every way; he even considers human flesh a rare delicacy–one that he’ll make the effort to track down. This is where his true complexity of character comes in; Lecter will attend an opera in tuxedo but then proceed to barbarously and remorselessly slaughter a man to see what his insides taste like with some fava beans and a bottle of chianti. He also–while captive inside the most secure holding cell imaginable–helps detectives (i.e. Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs and Will Graham in Red Dragon) track other serial killers, seemingly just for the sport in it, equipped with a brain that treats life like one giant chess game. He also thrives on how much said detectives rely on his insight, delighting to no end in watching them squirm for it.
6. The Joker
Adorned with twisted clown makeup, the Joker thrives on chaos and mayhem. He has been characterized a few different ways depending on which comic series you subscribe to; more often than not, however, he is a homicidal maniac who takes joy in his own sadistically warped sense of humor. His calling card is an unnatural grin left on the faces of his victims. Only Gotham’s greatest Samaritan could possibly keep his appetite for destruction in check.
He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is spoken about with the same abstractly-repulsive fear as Evangelical Christians would Satan himself. The wizard community, similarly, thinks the very mention of him is enough to summon him, as powerful as he is in his Dark Arts. He cannot truly be killed, it seems, as his serpentine face always seems to resurrect with the aid of his evil underlings. Voldemort kills without regret and is a veritable bigot, despising impure blood in spite of his own mixed quantum. Also, there is no more classic symbol of evil than a snake, which is the emblem of everything he is connected to (e.g. Slytherin, that snake-language Harry can somehow speak, the basilisk from the Chamber of Secrets, etc.).
4. Emperor Palpatine
What we have here is the hyperbolic quintessence of a corrupt politician. Starting out (humbly?) as a senator, he soon acquired a greediness for power, and a Macbethian willingness to let all suffer who stand in his way. One part of a larger embodiment of evil, Palpatine figureheads the Sith–a.k.a the ‘dark side’–which holds itself diametrically opposed to all things good, just, and pure (i.e. what a Jedi knight is supposed to be). Affiliations aside, the evil is immediately visible by the smile on his decrepit old face–and subsequent evil laughter–as he tortures his enemies with his finger-lightning.
Biblically-speaking, deception is supposed to be the greatest form of evil, harkening back to the Garden of Eden, where the devil convinced Eve to eat the apple of wisdom, and man gained the capacity for dishonesty. That, then, makes Iago from Othello one of the most evil characters in the Shakespearean canon. (Lady Macbeth is up there too, self-described as the ‘snake lying beneath the flowers.’) He is a man who’ll do anything for power and promotion, which means lying, killing, conniving and feigning sincerity. He sets a number of traps to have fellow soldier Cassio–who received a promotion Iago felt he deserved–ousted. [spoiler alert ] Ultimately, he convinces Othello that his wife Desdemona is being unfaithful, to the point of murderous jealousy (he smothers her to death and then proceeds to kill himself out of guilt). All this waste lain, and Iago feels no contrition (he killed his own wife after she ratted him out).
Damien is–at least in the 1976 film the Omen– the anti-christ, the devil’s jackal-born son. With the family’s name on his head–literally, it’s etched there– Damien is expected to raise a lot of hell. And he does at every attempt, riding his big wheels around the house, in a pre-meditated attempt to kill his adoptive mother and her unborn child. All the while, Damien’s adoptive father, a U.S. ambassador for England, makes it his mission to rid the world of this ‘evil incarnate.’
1. Count Dracula
Bram Stoker’s pale face of evil may be incredibly horrible in fictional terms, but much more so is the actual person Dracula is based on: Vlad the Impaler, whose family name–as it turned out–was Dracula. Vlad, as a ruler and prince of Wallachia, was wickedly enthusiastic about unspeakably cruel acts of torture in high volumes, ranging from blinding to genital mutilation to (his favorite act) impalement–a slow, graphic death. His M.O. was fear, effectively-achieved through the agonizing visuals evoked by him feasting undisturbed while an executioner dismembered corpses beside him, or 20,000 impaled bodies rotting outside of his capital. This legendary lack of sympathy is made more sinister by Stoker’s imagination, where Dracula has a literal bloodthirst and kills and fornicates with equal and undivided pleasure.
Bonus: Henry Evans, Maculay Culkin’s character from 1993’s The Good Son. He is an evil little bastard–similar to Damien, although without so much the Satanic lineage– who goes much further than holding a magnifying glass to a colony of ants. Take the scene where he drops a human-looking dummy from an overpass onto a busy highway, causing a huge pile-up, and takes huge delight in the act–much to the horror of his cousin Mark (a young Elijah Woods). Also, a kid his age shouldn’t be using the F-word. The most gratifying scene is at the end [spoiler alert ]: in it, Culkin’s mom, after learning about his truly evil nature, is holding Woods and Culkin–both of whom are dangling off the edge of a cliff–and finally lets go of Culkin’s hand.