Rewind back to April of 1986. Maybe you were too young to remember. I was nine years old and pretty excited to be going to the movie theater. That meant popcorn. It meant my mom smuggling cans of Jewel soda into the theater. Maybe something from Cub Foods (Dominick’s?) Anyway, a party was about to happen.
And think about it for a second: in the past two years I had seen Karate Kid, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, TopGun – you know. So I was psyched about going to the movies.
It was me, my sister, and my mom. We found a seat in the theater. We watched the previews. And then the lights dimmed and the movie started. And this is what we saw:
Critters. CRITTERS. And because Jeff stole (used? No, stole) the only other movie that scarred me (scared? No, scarred) for life, we’re going to talk about Critters. Now, as villains go, Critters really aren’t the Big-Bad. All they can really do is hide under your bed. Behind your refrigerator. In your toilet. And then they pop up and shoot you in your neck with one of those poisonous quill things and what the hell are they even doing on earth?
Okay, maybe they are scary villains.
And to this day, I have no idea why my Mom took us to this movie. Maybe she thought Gremlins and made the (pretty reasonable, pre-internet) deduction that this was a kid’s movie.
This was not a kid’s movie.
For the next, oh, year, I was terrified to step off my bed (wait – maybe this is the reason we saw this movie?) I was unable to walk the halls of our house without casting fearful glances at each shadowed corner. I was afraid to do anything, because the damn Critters were everywhere.
Critters held the top spot (with Freddy) for Things that Scared the Shit Out of Me for about three years. Then IT came out and, yeah, we watched that as a family, too. And so goes my tenuous relationship with horror movies.
Because I’m fragile.
Hey, I love a good comedy. I love a smart drama. But you start putting little porcupine bastards with poisonous quills that shoot – and teeth, TEETH! – and, well, I’m just not going to be all that interested. Or I’ll be under the covers.
Maybe it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise when, a year ago, I realized something very profound about my own stories: I never have a villain. There are no moustache twirlers. No all-black wearing psyschos. And definitely no dream stalkers sporting a hand-full of death. Nope, my characters all fight inner-demons. They struggle with existential problems. Sometimes there was a typical jerk football player, but my stories generally center around a clueless guy who likes a girl and they all say funny shit.
But if you must have a villain – no matter the type – please give me one that makes me feel something. Maybe a villains that, like it or not, reminds me of myself. A villain that has a reason for being the Big Bad. And, god, please don’t make it be that he’s intrinsically Evil. Because every neolithic bully, every bitchy prom queen I’ve ever met has a story. Something happened and it made them… mean. Writing an effective villain means taking those moments and, even if you never put them on the page, making them a part of the character.
Lord. Even though I don’t want to admit it, maybe we do need scary ass clowns that climb out of sewers.
Because sometimes fear leads us to truth. Sometimes villains help our heroes learn who they really are. And sometimes these characters, these stories, helps us function and grow in our own lives.
But don’t expect any clowns or space hedgehogs from me. I’ll leave that up to the guys who aren’t hiding in the back of the theater.