Get PJ Media on your Apple

PJM Lifestyle

Who Are the Scariest Science Fiction and Fantasy Villains of All Time?

What qualities make for a terrifying bad guy? Who haunts you at night?

by
PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates!

Bio

May 6, 2014 - 2:00 pm

Sauron

In partnership with the new fiction publishing platform Liberty Island, PJ Lifestyle is going to begin promoting and co-hosting a series of debates and discussions about popular culture. The goal is to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that in the future we can promote and create better fiction and culture of our own. These are public brainstorming sessions for writers and culture advocates interested in developing a more vibrant popular culture. You’re invited to submit your answers to any of these questions — or a related one of your own! — that interests you:

A) in the comments

B) Via email to PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle.

C) at your blog, then let us know in the comments or via email. 

The most interesting answers may be linked, crossposted, or published at PJ Lifestyle. 

Last week Andrew Klavan started a discussion at his blog about the scariest movie ghosts:

Enough politics for a while, let’s talk movies. And let’s talk ghost stories specifically, one of my favorite kinds of movies. I’ve noticed the scare genre is not doing as well at the box office this year as it did last. Last year, there were a couple of monster hits, so to speak, like The Conjuring and Mama — though 2012′s Sinister was the last one that really grabbed me. This year…  Oculus…  The Quiet Ones…  Haven’t seen them so I’m not commenting, but they’re not doing great business.

However… to celebrate their release, Movie.com put out a list by Jacob S. Hall of the “Ten Scariest Ghost Movies.” The list leaves out my favorite, The Innocents, and misses The Ring, Paranormal Activity and Lake Mungoall wonderful. But there are some definite good ones there: The Haunting, The Changeling, Poltergeist, The Devil’s Backbone — can’t argue with any of those. The Orphanage lost me on plot, but it had some fantastic scenes: that hide-and-seek game was spectacular. The Pulse and The Eye were good; The Innkeepers, I thought started too slow and then relied too much on boo-scares.

Read the rest of Klavan’s post. He argues that for a ghost movie to be really effective it must go beyond just cheap jump scares, to succeed it needs “ideas that really send a chill up your spine.”

In continuing the discussion started yesterday about Star Wars vs Star Trek, what villains in the world of sci-fi fantasy actually succeed at inspiring fear? What ideas lie behind them that make them so scary? How does one craft an effective villain for science fiction and fantasy stories?

What pop culture questions do you want to debate in the future? Leave suggestions in the comments.

PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates Features a new prompt each weekday to weigh the good, the bad, the overrated, the unbelievable, and the amazing throughout the worlds of books, film, and TV. We can't figure out how to build a greater pop culture until we dissect the mess we already have. Want to contribute your perspective to the debate? Email PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle with your take: DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com Image via shutterstock/ DarkGeometryStudios

Comments are closed.

All Comments   (31)
All Comments   (31)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
I find the Nazgul terrifying -- and the Borg. The soul-less can't reason with them part, and that they will assimilate you instead of just killing you. Also the Vidians -- steal your organs and leave you to die. Weeping Angels are the creepiest terror in Whovia -- the Daleks usually just amuse me. I fear Cybermen though -- too much like the Borg, sentenced to living hell.

I've read a lot of Chricton and just watched Timeline again. The realistic terror of the scientist/businessman maniac who just won't admit his pet project is immoral/uncontrollable/deadly; and just keeps killing people to cover his tracks...well, it's uncomfortably close to reality. Many super-villians are of this variety, as well. But Chricton's creations are SOOO terrifying as they appear in the books -- the gorillas in Congo, the Sphere, Prey, Velociraptors. They don't always come off well in his movies, but in the books, they will give you nightmares!
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
A good villain is the embodiment of that which makes you feel helpless.
With that in mind, three types of villains emerge:
1. The inhuman forces of nature that run rampant (Alien, The Thing, zombies, various plagues, nanites, etc.) always make an unstoppable force that showcases the strengths and weaknesses of the human heroes. The more you humanize a villain, the less iconic they become. Darth Vader is a good example, as has been mentioned. If we should learn about Sauron's childhood trauma, that would reduce his evil quotient and make him less of a monster.
2. Human villains that always subvert the nobility of humanity in sharp contrast to the hero. Hannibal Lecter would not have been such a clear villain if the "hero" was a dirty cop. Only by contrasting the hero and the villain can you highlight the darker, twisted aspects of humanity.
3. That which takes away humanity from the heroes. This can take different faces. The Silence (from Doctor Who) remove memory. Little gray aliens remove conscious control and do experiments. Horror masterminds that pit the heroes against each other in escalating puzzles that remove their humanity a piece at a time. The Borg, who remove free will from those assimilated.
Villains provide shadows to contrast the light of the heroes. Good storytelling comes from building a villain to inspire helplessness in people and then showing the hero standing against that dark shadow.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Of fantasy, horror, or sci-fi, fantasy most often and easily draws its themes from existing myth or constructs its own myth for the narrative. Good fantasy villains tend to resemble mythological and religious archetypes…the devil, the fallen angel, underworld gods, the black knight, etc.
Not to start an entirely new heated argument but I consider Star Wars far more a work of fantasy than sci-fi. Its themes are focuses on myth, not technology. Darth Vader (the old Darth Vader, not the emo updated version) is a fallen angel. Good fantasy villains tend to represent broad, menacing themes…and I tend to think that too much delving into their character diminishes them; they are stronger and more threatening when they stand more truly as archetypes…forces of nature, if you will. We don’t really need to know about Sauron’s feelings, and he’d be less terrifying and pettier if we did…he’s The Devil, and that’s enough. Darth Vader’s final redemption is really all the deep character work we need for him…that was a big problem with the Star Wars prequels (one of many)…we got too much Vader thought, angst, conflict and emotion.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have to second the nomination for Stirling's Draka. Completely human yet completely at odds with how we in the West think and feel. I loved the books but I was very depressed when I finished them. At least until I would start another...
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
As a teenager of the '90s, I have to go with Kefka Palazzo of the SNES's Final Fantasy III.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Someone after my own heart. Top 5 favorite game of all time.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
I vote for "The Illusive Man" from the Mass Effect series.

He doesn't come across as scary... which is the scariest part about him when you realize he is literally subverting, kidnapping, enslaving, brainwashing, performing human testing, and just plain murdering tens of thousands of people across the galaxy. And he can lie to your face in such an utterly convincing manner, all with complete belief in his own righteousness, that most people believe him.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
A vote for the 'Replicators' from SG1.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Years ago I would have said Vader. The old Vader, not the pu55y-whipped "the emperor fooled me" idiot he turned out to be... Now I'm partial to The thing, from "The Thing". The one with Kurt Russel.

Honorable mention to Andromeda, from the Andromeda strain. And Hal 9000. Not evil, just a computer with a sticky problem to solve.

To come: Hal's evil sister, GLaDOS. Lots of potential there, first appearance in movies as a computer voice in Pacific Rim.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
A passive-agressive sociopathic murderous AI. The best line from the game: "The parents that you are trying to reach do no love you. Plaese hang up."
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
I would have to say the Borg from Star Trek. They adapt to any technique used to fight them nearly instantaneously. They are relentless and they can't be reasoned with. They do not care what we think; they only seek to assimilate and impose their will - sort of like our federal government.

Honorable mention to the Daleks from Doctor Who. Something about the way they scream "exterminate!" in that mechanically altered voice creeps me out. Also, like the leeches who populate our federal government, they are absolutely convinced of their superiority in all things.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Delete! Delete!
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
I like the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who - particularly in the episode 'Blink'.

It perfectly captures the idea that the most frightening things are what you can't see.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Second the motion. Fifty-four years old, and I get a cold chill down the spine whenever I pass an angel statue...

Runner up - "The Silence."

Whatever it's flaws (and, much as I enjoy it, it has many), Dr. Who has some of the very best creative sick minds in the business.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Don't blink.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
1 2 Next View All