Features and Columns · Movies

Evil Incarnate: The Aesthetics of On-Screen Villainy

From black hats to psychopaths, here’s how filmmakers choose to represent evil on-screen.
The Night Of The Hunter aesthetics of evil in film
United Artists
By  · Published on January 13th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about the aesthetics of evil in film.

To quote a wise tweet I once saw: “Ideologically, I don’t agree with villains. But it’s hard to argue with the way they’re dressed.”

Indeed, when it comes to looks, villains frequently reign supreme. It’s hard not to marvel at Reverend Powell’s knuckle tattoos in The Night of the Hunter or Dracula’s tiny royal blue-tinted glasses in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. One might even be inclined to whisper, in admiration, that such duds are “an aesthetic.”

Now, in the modern parlance, “aesthetic” has become a way of describing the principles of a particular artistic movement or merely that something is “pleasing to look at.” But today we’re going to be talking about the aesthetic of evil in a different sense.

Aesthetics (also spelled esthetics) is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of beauty, art, and taste. It is, generally, the way in which we grapple with heady subjective values like the ugly, the sublime, and, to bring it all back: the evil.

Aesthetics (and the philosophy of art, which comes out of aesthetics) are ways of interrogating what art does. So when we’re talking about “the aesthetics of evil” what we mean, in a philosophical sense, is to reflect on the ways in which art represents evil.

The video below does just that, digging into a sizeable handful of films to investigate how each of them, respectfully, chooses to manifest evil. By unpacking everything from shot composition to lighting and color theory, the essay scratches the surface of how film grapples with one of the most persistent abstract concepts in storytelling.

Watch “The Aesthetics of Evil“:

Who made this?

Today’s video was created by Luiza Liz Bond, a.k.a. Art Regard, a UK-based video essayist and a co-creator of The Cinema Cartography with Lewis Michael Bond. Her videos investigate the intersections of film and philosophy. You can check out The Cinema Cartography’s website here. You can check out their back catalog of videos here.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.