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lip top 10: fictional female villains

In previous columns I’ve looked at awesome female characters in film, television and literature, as well as sweet as detectives, so I’m going to continue along the “fictional specific type of character” line and have a crack at some fictional female villains this fortnight. Any column where I get to watch 101 Dalmatians for research purposes is a good column. And I mean the good version, with Glenn Close, Jeff Daniels and Hugh Laurie, not the 1961 animated hackery*.

1. Cruella de Vil
I may as well start right here. Did anyone else have that moment when they got a little older and realised exactly what was going on when she was given that name? Didn’t you just feel so smart, as if you had stumbled upon a state secret? I did, although now that I think about it, it was a little obvious. I mean, she steals puppies because she wants to turn them into a fur coat! Like any good kids movie, though, of course she gets a fantastic comeuppance in the end. Mmm, molasses bath.

2. Annie Wilkes
Annie Wilkes was the terrifying woman in Misery, played in the film by Kathy Bates, taken from Stephen King’s novel. There are differences in the two stories, but in both of them she kidnaps her favourite writer and physically and psychologically tortures him because he was planning on killing off her favourite character in the series he wrote. Also in both she was revealed to be a serial killer, with the murders of her father, roommate and neighbours under her belt, with the possibility that she killed at least 11 babies. If you’ve only seen the film it might creep you out more to know that in the novel, rather than breaking his ankles with a sledgehammer like in the film, she hacks a foot off with an axe, then cauterises it with a blowtorch.

3. Esther/Leena Klammer
Orphan is a fecking creepy movie with a killer twist, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, skip to number 4 now. So, this little girl is adopted into a loving family but acts out; kind of expected for a kid going through a huge transition like that, right? How does she act out? Well she intentionally and very seriously injures a classmate who bullied her, pushes her brother in front of a moving car, and murders a nun with a hammer. Bit extreme for a little girl, yeah? Except, she’s not a little girl — she’s actually a 33 year old woman posing as a little girl because she has a condition that stunted her growth. There’s definitely more to it, but I’m not going to ruin anymore for you.

4. Nurse Ratched
Ruling with an iron fist would be a nice way to describe the head nurse in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Tyrannous would be a more accurate description. Dictatorial would be another. If you thought withholding food, medication, and even the toilet from the patients at her mental hospital was bad enough, another casual way she controls them is through drugs and shock therapy. If those don’t work, a lobotomy achieves the outcome she desires.

5. Abigail Williams
Just like her real life 17th century counterpart, Abigail Williams is pretty much responsible for 20 or so deaths in Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible. Caught participating in heretical activities, Abigail accuses people around her of witchcraft as a way to save her own skin. Hysteria grips the town of Salem and these accusations have a ripple effect as fingers are pointed every which way in place the hangman’s noose around someone else’s neck.

6. Victoria Grayson
I don’t particularly like Revenge, but I can appreciate a good villain when I see one. I watched the first season on and off before the melodrama became too much for me. Just in that season we learned that she framed a man for murder and bribed a therapist into institutionalising a little girl. And that was chronologically before the series even started.

7. Mrs Danvers
Mrs Danvers is the housekeeper in Rebecca, a novel by Daphne du Maurier. She is creepily attached to the homeowner’s deceased first wife and so tries to drive away his second wife, almost getting her to jump out of a second storey window. She fails, and as she can’t break up the marriage, she just casually burns the house down instead.

8. The Wicked Witch of the West
I’m sticking with L. Frank Baum’s depiction of her because they tend to change quite a bit in all the various Oz themed films. Her hunger for power drives her every action; seizing land, enslaving Winkies and imprisoning Dorothy. Also, she has mini armies of slaves, bees, crows and wolves.

9. Medea
In the Euripides play, Medea is a scorned wife, seeking revenge after her husband leaves her for the daughter of the king. She gets it — she kills his new wife and her father, the king. But she doesn’t think that is the best way to hurt her husband. Oh no, she also kills their children. She gets the result she wanted.

10. Agatha Trunchbull
You’ve gotta hand it to Roald Dahl — he knows how to write a villain that will scare the bajesus out of small child. I’ve gone for Matilda‘s Trunchbull here, but you could easily swap her in for The Grand High Witch of All the World (The Witches), or Aunt Spiker (James and the Giant Peach). Her punishment device is called “The Chokie”, she practises her hammer throw on little girls with pigtails, and she clearly hates happiness. What’s not to be terrified of?

*Okay, I concede, it wasn’t hackery. It was awesome. But Hugh Laurie! HUGH LAURIE!


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