It was James Marsters that said, “When you are a hero you are always running to save someone, sweating, worried and guilty. When you are a villain you are just lurking in the shadows waiting for the hero to pass by. Then you pop them in the head and go home… piece of cake.” But for a movie villain it often takes an awful lot of foresight, cunning and guile to mastermind a plot so devious, so meticulous…so devilish that sometimes…just sometimes, the villain has a hand in their own undoing.
What happens when the villain inadvertently helps out the hero? It’s as if the criminals in the list below took a look at the first Issac Asimov law of robotics and changed it so that A Villain may not injure the hero/protagonist, or through inaction, allow a hero/protagonist come to any harm. Perhaps it’s the hours spent toiling away in a dark, dingy underground lair, laughing maniacally to themselves and twirling their mustaches that led them to give a helping hand…but be warned, dear reader – thar be spoilers ahead!
10. David – Prometheus (2012)
Over the course of Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, we slowly learn android David’s worldview. During the latter movie, our understanding of David evolves from initial scientific wonderment to full on crazy God-like hubris. He’s a much more complex, insidious figure in the second installment of the Alien prequels and that’s what makes him such a great villain, right? Like Nazi scientist Josef Mengele, David is a eugenicist and murderer who couches his philosophies in Nietzschean rhetoric about furthering the species, complete with quotes from Romantic poets like Lord Byron – except in this case, the species is the terrifying, parasitical Xenomorph.
But let’s look back at some of the scenes in Prometheus. One could argue that it’s David’s diabolical scheming and experimentation with the black goo found in the urns of the Engineer’s Weapons of Mass Destruction installation that causes the crew to lose their lives, and more directly, the life of Charlie Holloway, played by Logan Marshall-Green. With nothing more than a dip of a finger, David seals the fate of the space archaeologist by infecting him with the alien slime that begins altering his DNA. All in the name of finding a possible cure for immortality for his human master, Peter Weyland.
BUT…HOW HE ACTUALLY HELPED
Let’s fast forward a little. Holloway, unaware of the slick new DNA dancing an electric boogaloo in his system, gets frisky with his lover Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and they make the Xenomorph with two backs on the ship that leaves her impregnated with something resembling an octopus and a severely pissed off jellyfish. After the proverbial hits the fan and the crew start dropping like flies, Shaw realises that her bun in the oven has been set to gas mark 1000 and races to the only life support machine on board the Prometheus that is equipped to deal with such a pesky life organism growing inside her. Much cutting and mind-altering sedatives later, she leaves the squid baby thrashing in the emergency life pod, only to throw on a jump suit and chase after the surviving members of the crew, as you do. When Weyland and Co. rouse the engineer from his slumber, he obviously takes a dislike to being woken up without so much as a coffee on standby and murders everyone in sight.
After more deaths and the explosion of the main ship, Shaw is chased by the Engineer back to the med bay, only to realise that her little bundle of joy has become a monstrous hell-beast Kraken, vehemently intent on playing kiss face with whatever it can wrap its tentacles around. Fortunately for Shaw, the squishy leviathan swipes right and makes an instant love connection to the Engineer and pulls the moon-faced creature into its gaping maw. So, if David hadn’t infected Holloway initially, Shaw would have been killed by the Engineer. Possibly.
9. Billy and Stu – Scream (1996)
In Wes Craven’s Scream, A quiet town in USA is plagued by a series of brutal murders, mostly of teenagers, which seem to be linked to some unsolved crime a decade or more ago. The local adolescent population naturally respond by having a party and are knocked off one by one. The main heroine, Sidney (played by Neve Campbell) goes through most of the film second-guessing who the real killer may be – could it be the High School Teacher? The highly incompetent local law officer? Her boyfriend Billy?
Well…yeah, it’s the boyfriend (Skeet Ulrich) and his mentally unhinged Scooby friend, Stu (Matthew Lillard). After much gas-lighting to the point where any sane person would be losing their mind, Sidney falls for the old ‘ah, he was injured by the killer, so he couldn’t really be the killer, right?‘ and hands him a gun. After shooting one of the teenagers, Billy reveals that he feigned his injuries, murdered her mother as she was having an affair with his father, which drove his mother away and is actually the killer; with Stu as his accomplice. So…mommy issues, I guess.
BUT…HOW HE ACTUALLY HELPED
Billy and Stu discuss their plan to kill Sidney and frame the murder spree on her father, whom they have taken hostage (villain monologue, amiright?). In order to make it look like even more of a Jason Voorhees‘ after party, they take turns stabbing each other so that when the police arrive they’ll look like victims and that they didn’t survive the massacre unscathed.
It’s this point however that weather reporter Gale, who survived an earlier crash, intervenes, and Sidney takes advantage of this to turn the tables on her attackers, killing Stu and Billy. Now, one could argue that if the two psychopaths hadn’t started stabbing each other, they may well have gotten away with it (insert your own ‘if it hadn’t been for those pesky kids’ pun here) I mean, the two had been successful in their killing endeavors up until that point, right?
Look back at the film when you get a chance – Stu is rapidly losing blood, to the point of passing out, while Billy loses his cool and starts marching through the house looking for Sidney. If they hadn’t stabbed each other thoroughly like pigs, they may have had more energy and vitality to carry on their nefarious attacks. In the end, even when Stu rugby tackles Sidney onto the couch and he finally ends up with a television set on his head, one can only wonder whether the outcome would have been different if they hadn’t decided to shank each other to get the method approach of ‘victim teenager massacre party,’ just right.
8. Dick Jones – RoboCop (1987)
Okay, so we’re starting to veer away from horror into sci-fi territory here, but in all honesty – finding a horror movie villain that inadvertently helps the hero is a tough gig. Look, go through your movie collection and come back to me with a horror film where the villain unintentionally helps the protagonist. Go on…I’ll wait.
You all know RoboCop. It’s an instantly quotable film – ‘Can you fly, Bobby?‘ ‘Dead or Alive, you’re coming with me,’ and the always memorable quote I use after several whiskies on a Friday night: ‘Dick, I am very disappointed.’ The scene in question sees our part-man, part-machine marching into the OCP offices to arrest one of the top executives, Dick Jones (Ronny Cox). It turns out Jones ordered the assassination of fellow OCP executive Bob Morton as revenge for creating RoboCop and upstaging his own proposal for a technological law enforcer.
The problem is that as soon as RoboCop goes to arrest Jones, his body starts shutting itself down.
BUT…HOW HE ACTUALLY HELPED
Yeah, it’s the patented movie villain monologue speech again. But it’s pretty epic as it ends with two robots fighting each other so I’m going to let it slide. As RoboCop twitches and spasms like an epileptic toaster, Jones calmly explains to him that he added a secret directive to RoboCop’s program that prevents him from acting against any member of OCP upper management. Directive 4. Yeah, that’s right – it’s mustache twirling time. During his villain soliloquy, he also admits to having ordered Morton’s death – knowing that in a few moments RoboCop will shortly get pulped and made into Tamagotchi components.
But Jones did the 1980’s equivalent of sending a pic of his junk on Tinder to a random – RoboCop’s a machine that records everything he sees and hears – his memory is admissible in court as evidence. What makes Jones even more of a fool is the fact that RoboCop was actually playing an audio clip Clarence Boddicker shouting “I WORK FOR DICK JONES!” as he walked toward Jones‘ office. Finally, when RoboMurphy enters the boardroom, exposing Jones, RoboCop tells everyone at the board that he can’t touch him because he’s an OCP employee, and has to play the file on his oh-so-cool-finger-USB/death spike. It’s like bitching about that annoying guy at work to your colleague who you thought was your friend but was actually recording everything and tattling to the boss.
7. Vilos Cohaagen – Total Recall (1990)
Man, Ronny Cox really drops the ball in his films. Not content with blurting out all of his deepest, darkest secrets to a walking fax machine, we find him again on this list by committing the ultimate James Bond villain faux pas by explaining his nefarious exploits to the hero and also follows suit with the second most despicable villain act in Total Recall – namely by letting his goons do the dirty work for him.
Like any movie villain, Cohaagen constructs an elaborate scheme that only a mastermind genius could fathom – in an effort to weed out the rebels’ group from the inside, his trusted right hand man (Arnold – Hauser) volunteers to have fake memories implanted in his Austrian brain to infiltrate the group like a goddamned ninja and exterminate their mutant leader. Up until this point the audience have believed that Arnie has just been in a dream…or a spy that scrambled his brains when he went to get a fake holiday. Or something. But then he’s captured by Sam Fisher from Splinter Cell and is strapped to the most metal-looking head baker contraption ever conceived in celluloid history. Cohaagen (who hasn’t learnt from his earlier farce with RoboCop) tells Hauser/Quaid that in a few minutes he won’t exist because his mind will be replaced by an alternate personality.
BUT…HOW HE ACTUALLY HELPED
Because the film would have ended prematurely and quite abruptly if his mind would have been wiped at that point, Arnie/Quaid/Hauser breaks the restraints and murders everyone in the room in typical grunting and yelling Arnie fashion – ‘YARRRGH! COME ON, YARAGHGGUHUH!’ (Go on, I know you want to do an Arnie impression. I won’t tell anyone.)
Now, Cohaagen could have ordered the scientists to sedate him before spilling his beans about his master plan, and in a procedure of this nature you’d think that would have been one of the first things to check off the list – you have to remember that this isn’t the first time Hauser/Quaid has had his mind wiped. And they did this successfully BECAUSE HE WAS SEDATED. So either the mere presence of Cohaagen caused the scientists to forget about the procedure, or his monologue distracted them, we’ll never know. But you’d think for someone who was almost single handedly colonizing Mars and could come up with a scheme so diabolical it would make your three-boobied cousin gasp at its sheer audacity, it’s pretty disappointing that all his plans went out the window because someone forgot to sedate the Austrian oak. Maybe next time, Ronny Cox. Maybe next time.
6. The Queen Alien – Aliens (1986)
In Space, No One can hear you scream. For James Cameron’s sequel, it was personal. Thrown back into the fray, Ellen Ripley discovers that colony outpost LV-426 is host to a bunch of brain-smashing critters. After some pretty sweet Bill Paxton lines throughout the film, the girl who had been surviving quite well before the gung-ho marines showed up gets captured.
Due to machismo and harsh words, the core reactor has been breached. The clock is ticking and the survivors need to escape. Ripley and Hicks reach Bishop in the second drop-ship, but Ripley refuses to abandon Newt. A heavily armed Ripley enters the hive and rescues Newt. The two encounter the alien queen in her egg chamber. When an egg begins to open, Ripley uses her flamethrower to destroy the eggs and the queen’s ovipositor. The audience cheer – all that fury and anguish is released in a flurry of pulse rifle artillery. Grenades explode, eggs blow up – Ripley and Newt escape and jet off into space. USA! USA!
BUT…HOW SHE ACTUALLY HELPED
Let’s back track a little, here. Imagine you’re at home, tending to your favourite Bonsai trees. You’ve got a lot of them – because you want to achieve that Buddhist-like zen you’ve been striving for since your boyfriend dumped you for your hotter, more bubbly friend, Charlotte. Each day after work you painstakingly cut, shape and mold these bonsai trees. They’re more than plants. They’re your babies. They’re your everything. Smell them – doesn’t that aroma just make you feel all tingly inside? Now imagine a complete stranger bursts into your living room with a flame thrower and ignites all your hard work. You’d be mad, right? Same story here.
The Alien Queen gives them an out. When Newt and Ripley stumble into her lair, she calls back her drone warriors. She’s saying – ‘hey stranger…it’s okay. You came in here, not knowing where you were going. Just kindly leave the way you came out and I’ll make sure no harm comes to you. Sorry about earlier with that whole mess with the marines…but let’s be honest, you interrupted what I was trying to achieve over here…okay, okay – they get a little protective, you know? Just don’t step on any of my eggs, I’ve been busting them out of my ass all day long and – WHOO! am I tired.’
One could argue that the Alien Queen is simply luring them towards an egg that curls open, causing Ripley to flip out and gun down everything and everyone in the room, but look it from the Queen’s perspective. She’s just trying to save her bonsai trees, you feel me?
5. Bub – Day Of The Living Dead (1985)
Zombies have overrun the entire world, outnumbering humans 400,000 to 1. The surviving humans live in barricaded camps and secure underground bunkers. Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty), believes that the zombies can be trained to become docile and, accordingly, has amassed a collection of test subjects, which are kept in a large underground labyrinthine-like maze in the compound, despite the objections of Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato).
The tension between soldiers and scientists worsens in the face of dwindling supplies, loss of communication with other survivors, and slow progress in research. But Dr. Logan is especially proud of “Bub” (Sherman Howard), a docile zombie who remembers some parts of his past life and engages in rudimentary human behavior: listening to music, aiming a pistol, saluting Captain Rhodes, and even repeating a string of gobble-de-gook words. Tensions spill out and zombies escape (of course) leading to our survivors running for the escape door. All the time, Captain Rhodes has been the archetypal douche bag throughout the film – case in point: Rhodes finds out that Logan has been feeding the flesh of his dead soldiers to Bub as a reward for his docility and positive behavior. Enraged, Rhodes kills Logan and his assistant Dr. Fisher. Dick move, Rhodes. Bub escapes though, and gets himself a pistol.
BUT…HOW HE ACTUALLY HELPED
To be honest, Bub simply prevents Rhodes from escaping. He doesn’t necessarily help the other survivors as such – but this one is more of a ‘HOO-RAH!’ for the audience than anything else – Bub displays some human emotion when he sees Dr. Logan’s corpse and goes after Captain Rhodes with a gun. It’s similar to seeing the bully at school get his comeuppance, when Rhodes is chased and shot several times by the gun-toting Bub. Bub mocks Rhodes with a salute and departs, as the other zombies tear Rhodes to pieces. CHOKE ON ‘EM!
4. John Kramer – Jigsaw (SAW franchise)
In the series’ narrative, John Kramer is a former civil engineer dying from an inoperable brain tumor. After a failed suicide attempt, John finds a new appreciation for his life, and decides to dedicate the rest of his life to inspiring the same appreciation in others by testing their will to live. In earlier installments of the franchise, he would concoct elaborate death traps that he considered ‘tests,’ in which the subjects are usually forced against their will to inflict pain upon themselves or others in order to escape. These tests were typically symbolic of what Jigsaw perceived as a flaw in each person’s moral character or life.
BUT…HOW HE ACTUALLY HELPED
Okay, okay – this is a bit of a push – he’s not inadvertently helping out here, but instead adopting a kind of morbid psychological catharsis of the subject from the ordeal they go through. But hey, it works…in the instances that the victim survives, at any rate. There’s a Steven King short story (Quitters, Inc.) about a guy who wants to give up smoking – he visits a clinic and they tell him that he’ll always be monitored, so if he lights up they’ll take his wife to a room and electrocute her. If he smokes again they’ll electrocute his kid and then so on and so forth…kind of what’s at play throughout the SAW franchise. The movies became more convoluted as time went on, but one ‘victim;’ (previously introduced in the original Saw), having survived her trap, sees John not only as a savior, but as a mentor and father figure, continuing on his legacy.
3. The Running Man (1987)
He said he’d back, and for this list he certainly is! Arnie plays Ben Richards, a former military pilot that becomes an unwillingly game participant in the future gameshow, The Running Man – where, for your entertainment, he’s chased LIVE on the tee-vee by a group of stalkers and hosted by the ruthless Damien Killian, who wouldn’t think twice about shoving his grandmother in front of a bus if it meant he’d get higher ratings for the show.
María Conchita Alonso plays Amber, a woman working for the network that gets entangled with Richards as he tries to make an escape from the country. After getting caught, she begins to realise that maybe Richards was framed, and does some sleuthing in the Network’s vaults to find a laser disc tape with footage proving his innocence. Unfortunately she gets caught. And this is where Killian’s time to shine glitters like gold.
BUT…HOW HE ACTUALLY HELPED
Instead of simply killing Amber, he sends her into the Running Man game too – in an effort to boost ratings. Not only does she remember the freakishly long code to cut off the network’s satellites, she also retains the tape of the footage that gets broadcast by the rebels proving that the Network, the Government and Killian are all tyrannical despots hellbent on making you their slaves. All of this could have been simply avoided if she had of been taken out to the parking lot and shot in the back of the head. But I guess that wouldn’t have been good for ratings.
2. Roy Batty – Blade Runner (1982)
Rick Deckard is the emotionally stunted Bladerunner – his job is to track down bio-engineered beings known as replicants and “retire” them from life. Roy Batty is the leader of the Nexus-6 replicants, having escaped from the off world colonies he and a few other androids come to Earth to find their creator and gain longevity to their four year life-span. The climax of the film sees our villain in a dilapidated building, discovering that all his best buds have died and he’ll soon follow as the Duracell batteries in his noggin are starting to power down. He chases Deckard through the building, where they both end up on the roof. Deckard tries to jump to an adjacent rooftop, but is left hanging between buildings. Roy makes the jump with ease, and as Deckard’s grip loosens, Roy hoists him onto the roof, saving him. Before Roy dies, he delivers a monologue about how his memories will have something to do with raindrops. Or rainbows. I forget now.
BUT…HOW HE ACTUALLY HELPED
His last act on this mortal world is to save the person that’s been hunting him. Now, this in itself isn’t the inadvertent (literal) helping hand he gives Deckard – by saving his life he confirms something that Deckard had long forgotten – that he should be living his life as much as he can before it’s extinguished. Deckard goes riding off into the sunset with Sean Young and as Vangelis’ synthesised awesomeness starts to kick in, we all think to ourselves: Who cares if Deckard’s a replicant or not…Roy Batty is a badass.
1. Walter Peck – Ghostbusters (1984)
As much as we love them, the Ghostbusters are a group of deranged mentalists. Consider this: If you saw an advert on TV now about four men running around the city with weaponized nuclear accelerators strapped to their backs, capturing ‘ghosts’ and putting them away somewhere, you’d be concerned, right? Enter EPA agent Walter Peck – bringing a legitimate concern about the validity of what the Ghostbusters are doing and is keen to examine the cause of the supernatural occurrences popping up all over the place.
Wouldn’t you think it strange that this crack squad of scientists suddenly appeared right around the same time that these phantoms appeared? We live in a world where tea-spoon bending is ridiculed and mediums are harangued at length by professionals for schilling their schlock, so why would we entertain the thought of men capturing ghosts? Walter Peck is a smug git, granted – and he can be considered the movie’s villain for releasing all the ghosts captured into New York City, but his job is simple: He wants to see if there are hazardous chemicals in the basement of the Ghostbuster’s HQ. Once he discovers what could potentially be the New York version of Chernobyl, he does the one thing he can: He shuts the whole thing down.
BUT…HOW HE ACTUALLY HELPED
All the captured ghosts are released in New York and channels the massive influx of electro-plasmic ghoulishness to bring Gozer into the world. Or something to that effect. The Ghostbusters are taken to a mental asylum and Walter Peck goes home to have some staypuft marshmellows. Maybe. But then the mayor gets involved because of the terrified public, releases the Ghostbusters (in a win-win scenario for himself) and they go on to save New York city. But what would have happened if Peck hadn’t shut the eco-containment down? The Ghostbusters would have gone on doing what they do, busting ghosts – until they got burnt out and decided that maybe running around the city sweating profusely, zapping apparitions that materialize out of thin air isn’t really their thing. Walter Peck essentially handed them their iconic reputation as saviors of the world because he was doing his job. He gave the Ghostbusters their PR, their marketing and cemented them as heroes simply by doing his job. And being a smug git about it in the process. Walter Peck made the Ghostbusters a requirement – a necessity for the city.
And what does he get in return? He’s covered in marshmallow flubber. Just because he was doing his job. That’s why the number one slot goes to that unsung villain, Mr. Walter Peck. Because he’s the villain New York deserves, but not the one it needs right now, so Peter Venkman will hound him. Because he can take it, because he’s not a hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector, a Dark EPA Knight.