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Reel Sex: The Conflicting Thrill of Sexy Villains

Last week’s discussion on the sex appeal of animated characters sparked a little offline controversy. Why did we forget to include sexy villains in our list, when everyone knows they can be just as mouthwatering? Now we could spend an entire novel talking about the awkward crushes we have on certain animated villains, just as we could in the opposite direction, however I’m more interested in the modern rejection of Hollywood’s traditional “uglying up” the bad guy. See, this is where movies have always lost me. A true villain, one who is charming, relies on henchmen, and has a bevy of beauties would never be a disgusting, rotted, warted-up mess. In fact, no matter how determined a villain is to get his or her way, their tinge of crazy (read: psychotic levels) often makes them more attractive to those sharing screen time.  This is probably why you feel the need to shower after watching anything starring Vincent Cassel.

But recently mainstream films have taken a page out of the indie playbook and started making their villains just a touch more delicious. Movies.com’s Jenni Miller wrote earlier this week about the sexification of the rapist in next month’s Straw Dogs remake. She discusses her discomfort with the film’s marketing decision to highlight the sexiness of the gang of deviants and how the film’s “down home” feel will get lost with such good looking villains. I have to disagree. Although Alexander Skarsgard (Charlie) has made a career of playing a hot Viking vampire who kills people for a living, he is still innocent looking enough to not be compared to a rapist—at least not in this SVU world where rapists are hideous. But that very casting is what is so interesting. Rather than make the rapist completely repulsive to our heroines, choosing actors who are both sweet looking and bubbling with anger makes the shock of their action even more overwhelming. Straw Dogs and last year’s I Spit on Your Grave remake both feature conventionally attractive rapists who both stir feelings of dread and excitement in the audience. Those very feelings are what leave a lasting impression, not necessarily the horrifically graphic scenes within.

Proud Devils

Medieval artwork would have us believe the Devil is made up of horns, tails, hooves, and easily identifiable evil. The he exposes his true intentions with little objection, and that he is always able to trick weak-minded people into his bidding. Now with religious ideals aside, a true devil is quite capable of tricking individuals, but he wouldn’t be outwardly ugly while doing so. He must disguise himself as a beautiful, seductive entity and use his powers to draw people to him. Film leads the creative pack in showcasing the Devil as a truly sexy being. From the sexually gratuitous CEO in The Devil’s Advocate to the shape shifting lady devil in Bedazzled to the quietly psychotic Lucifer in The Prophecy Hollywood’s limitless obsession with the seductive nature of the Devil has excited more than the goth girls now clamoring toward Edward Cullen.

Al Pacino loves to humanize evil while dancing with one foot on each side of good and evil. After playing mortal villains for years, taking on the role of the Devil seemed obvious. His turn as Beelzebub in The Devil’s Advocate was both powerful and amusing, as he tries to bring his illegitimate son Kevin (Keanu Reeves) into the family business of evil doing. Kevin wants a bigger life for his wife and himself, so joining John’s law practice seemed completely rational. That was until all the crazy daydreaming, drug binges, and prostitute loving started up. He falls victim to his son of Satan destiny and quickly sleeps with anyone who isn’t his trusting wife. He meets Christabella (Connie Nielsen), falls in lust, and makes a home inside her before John reveals she is his sister and a trap meant to ensnare Kevin. John finally offers Kevin the chance to take his rightful spot alongside his demonic father, to help rid the world of good, and feed off the souls of sinners. Now, I would have probably said yes and to keep bringing me sexy men, but Kevin is made of better stuff than I. He fights his father, kills his temptress sister, and returns to his original life. All is well for Kevin now, however he has no idea the Devil isn’t that easy to kill.

Intense Love for the Psychopath

Just like the tarting up of the Devil on screen, psychopaths have had a boost in image over the years. Films like Rope, Psycho, and Batman Begins, while decades apart, present a refined dangerous beauty. They feature villains who are not only easy on the eyes but who engage in some of the most horrific crimes known to man. Rope features two young gay men (John Dall and Farley Granger) who, in a move that would Johnny Cash smile, kill a man just to feel the life leave his body then keep his remains in a box in the middle of their apartment. They look like two fraternity brothers who have done nothing more than grope a co-ed after one too many drinks, but in fact relish in a grand amount of erotic excitement over their little adventure. Phillip (Granger) and Brandon (Dall) invite their old college professor Rupert (played with such intense reserve by James Stewart) over to humblebrag about their crime. While Rupert pieces together what the two boys have done, they grow more and more unsure about their actions. They are practically reaching for each other every time Rupert walks by the box, almost waiting for him to figure out how desirous they feel after committing such a misdeed, begging to be punished like two slaves in a sex dungeon. Rupert plays along long enough for the cops to arrive and arrest the two lovers. Unfortunately for Brandon and Phillip, their sexual needs drove them just a little bit too crazy.

Meanwhile Hitchcock’s other thriller Psycho also featured an attractive, uh, psycho. Norman Bates is well known for his penchant for dressing up like his mother, but what’s more shocking than that little reveal is how utterly gorgeous he was. He would have just as much luck seducing women as he would killing them if he just tried a little, but his awkwardness and antisocial nature alerted any one meeting him to the true creepiness lying just under the surface. Norman’s self hatred pushed him into murder, but his love of the feeling kept him going. His attractiveness, just like the sexy rapist, makes the audience unsure as to his intentions—and the surprise reveal at the end even more upsetting.

We can look back at literature for original examples of charming rogues, Jane Austen did it with Willowby in “Sense and Sensibility” and every adaptation of the novel features a consistently more attractive actor in the role. Furthermore both Pacino and Robert De Niro were two actors at the height of their careers (and respective sex appeal) when they appeared in The Godfather Part II. They play mortal devils with cool subtlety and immense sensuality, manipulating the people in their lives to trust and kill for them so easily it seems almost innocent. Rogues and gangsters are two easy examples of the villain’s control through sensual power, but the evolution of both character types have made more complex baddies even more enjoyable. I appreciate this, and feel that holding up a mirror to deadly man and lady candy is a fun way to also point out to the audience watching that a true bad guy isn’t always going to be externally terrifying.

Feel dirty yet? Read more Reel Sex

While Gwen Reyes has only briefly been a film critic and columnist, she's long been telling people what movies they should drop dollars on, regardless if they are listening to her or not. Based out of Dallas, she wants to live the dream by watching movies all day and drinking vodka gimlets all night. She graduated from Sweet Briar College with a surprisingly handy degree in Philosophy and Film Studies--it explains why she spends so much time analyzing the murderers in sexual thrillers (yes, dear reader, that's her excuse!)--and she loves anything to do with gnomes, pot-bellied pigs, and beards. But most importantly, Gwen likes movies about sad people, funny people, naked people, and bearded people.

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