Personality model: Independent/Strategic
Superhero counterpart: The LIBERATOR
Probably the most clichéd villain in all of film and comic book history, the EVIL MASTERMIND often looks exactly the way his name sounds, like a big, evil, walking, talking brain (Think Pinky & The Brain, or Stewie from Family Guy, Voldemort fromHarry Potter, the protagonist ofMegamind–the list goes on and on…).
My favorite EVIL MASTERMIND villain would have to be Hannibal Lecter. In my opinion, no one else can hold a candle to HL when it comes to pure, calculating evil (except Marlo Stanfield–more on that later).
I’m not alone in praising Dr. Lecter: to date, there have been five films with Lecter as one of the villains, and there’s a TV show coming from NBC.
Instead of listing all of the great EVIL MASTERMINDS and describing what they have in common, I’m going to give you three reasons Hannibal Lecter has become such a cultural icon.
THREE REASONS HANNIBAL LECTER IS SO MEMORABLE
1. He has superpowers. Yes, yes, I know Silence of the Lambs wasn’t a superhero film, but that doesn’t change the fact that Hannibal Lecter possesses extraordinary abilities, not just of the mind, but of the senses. When Clarice first visits him, he can tell exactly what kind of skin cream she usually wears and what she is wearing that day (“You use Evian skin cream, and sometimes you wear L’Air du Temps, but not today”). Then we see his detailed drawings of famous buildings (“They’re what I have instead of a view”) which indicate that he has a photographic memory. And, of course, he’s a brilliant psychiatrist who uses his knowledge of the human mind to find peoples’ weakness and exploit them using language (Remember when he made Multiple Miggs swallow his own tongue?)
2. He plays a mentor to the main character, thus earning her trust and ours.Hannibal Lecter would never hurt you or me. At least, this is how we feel when we watch Silence of the Lambs. We strongly sympathize with Clarice Starling throughout the film. She’s smart, pretty in a desperate way, eager for advancement in the FBI so she can honor the memory of her slain father. Plus, there’s her uber-symbolic story about saving the lamb from being slaughtered. We love Clarice and we want to protect her, tell her it’s OK, help her to become the agent she was meant to be. Hannibal Lecter does all those things. He becomes her father, and because of that, we feel like he has taken us under his wing as well.
3. He’s got a fatal flaw. Hannibal’s fatal flaw is pride. It’s the reason he gets caught in the first place. In Red Dragon (the film version) Lecter works with FBI agent Will Graham to create a psychological profile of himself. He even leads Graham to believe that the killer has removed parts from the victim’s body because he is a cannibal. Graham then finds a book of recipes with Lecter’s notes indicating that he has killed people and used parts of their bodies to cook his meals. Lecter obviously believes he is smarter than everyone else, and this leads to his capture.
If you’re creating an EVIL MASTERMIND in your screenplay, novel or comic book, keep in mind that this role has been done to death. I had to create a brilliant, sociopath school-shooter in my novel TRAINLAND, and I relied heavily on characters like Hannibal Lecter, but I made sure to give my character his own unique set of “superpowers,” his own style of mentoring Danny (one of the story’s protagonists) and most importantly, I gave him a unique fatal flaw (not pride–you’ll have to read to find out).
In comics and video games, the EVIL MASTERMIND’s ultimate goal is power. A great example is Sephiroth from the Final Fantasy series, most notably FFVII. His primary objective is to become a god that rules over the entire planet by merging with the planet life force, known as Lifestream. This is symbolic of the EVIL MASTERMIND’s reliance on the abstract (intricate plans and strategies, an intuitive understanding of technology, science and human nature) to achieve his malicious goals.
Other notable EVIL MASTERMINDS: Lex Luthor (Superman), Doctor Octopus (Spiderman), Magneto (X-Men), Dr. Doom (Fantastic Four)
2. The Cult Leader