How to Build a Great Horror VillainJanuary 31, 2015
Over the past thirty years I’ve watched many horror films and TV shows, read short stories, novels, comics and played many bloody video games. Suffice to say, I have discovered villains and embodiments of evil from all walks of life.
So I asked myself, just how does one create a villain? How do you invent an evil character that is central to your idea yet not simply a carbon copy of monsters from other parts the horror genre?
Here is what I came up with. It’s not in any particular order; just things I think are important in building a memorable horror character.
Background/Setting: Your character needs to have some sort of violent or evil backstory to his/her/its life, or innocence lost by some sketchy event. Not many evil characters, especially the iconic ones, are creatures of an innocent past.
More often than not, some incident either changes them or pushes them further into the arms of evil. As this is horror, this is not only a good thing, but something that is more or less required to lay the groundwork to the life of your abomination.
The setting or area the story takes place can also have a huge impact on how horrific your villain can be. Cannibalistic families, forests, swamps, dingy back alleys and backroom experiments have all been wonderful breeding grounds for sowing the seeds of evil.
Name: This is more important than it might sound. Also, attention should be paid to both the first name and last (if there is one). Sometimes a name by itself isn’t so intimidating but when you put two together it changes the whole feeling towards the character. For example, Jason does not sound scary or evil. However, when you combine it with Voorhees it begins to register a bit on the creepy meter.
Capitalize on a fear: There are plenty of things in the world, both real and imagined, that scare the hell out of people. The problem becomes how to narrow it down to be something your character can use to help along the reign of terror.
When your character can be easily identified with a certain kind of fear, you are really onto something. The next step is to be sure not to get lazy and continue to twist and turn the way your evil creation exploits this fear.
Design/Appearance: So, what is your evil creation going to look like? Again there are lots of designs or looks to choose from and being the horror genre; nothing is really off limits. Of course, once you draw or make a model of the image in your head, you will soon realize if it really works or not.
It goes beyond on what your own spawn of Satan will simply look like. Clothes and accessories also can play a big part in the overall appearance. Who would have ever thought throwing a hockey mask on a hulking, seemingly indestructible creature like Jason would turn out to be such an iconic look?
Weapons: Talk about a lot of options. In fact, you almost have too many options, to the point that it can be quite confusing. As with other parts of your creation, you need to find something that fits the particular part of horror genre you are interested in. There are many iconic killers in horror that are known just as much for their weapon of choice as they are for themselves. Freddy has his glove with claws, Leatherface his chainsaw and so on.
However, you can bet it took some tossing around of different ideas and designs to come up with the perfect fit. In the end, it needs to look natural and completely intimidating.
Music and/or Theme: Never, ever underestimate the power that music has, especially in the world of horror themes and building up tension.
I’m not really talking about soundtracks but a theme or particular few musical bars that can be easily identified with the coming of your creation. This again is a trial and error work in progress. Try different music styles or tones and you might be surprised at what you come with.
If you believe I’m placing too much importance on this, just think of some important horror films for a minute. How scary would the shark in Jaws be without that theme of impending doom? How about the shrieking violins to announce that Jason has arrived?
Script/Actors: I’ve seen many interesting or down right scary creations get flushed down toilet with horrible scripts or uninterested actors.
A decision early on whether you even want your little bundle of evil to even speak is also important. If you do want it spouting dialogue, make sure it is both simple and straightforward or sarcastic and quick witted, it all depends on where you are taking your character. If you don’t make this distinction right away, your character will sound more like a cartoon then a harbinger of doom and destruction.
You also need the actor to really sell the evil he or she is portraying. Horror fans are quite smart and can quickly see if someone is sleepwalking through a role. Simple movements and gestures, done properly, can go a long way in the image you want your creation to bring out in the audience.
By no means am I an expert on this topic and don’t pretend to be. Horror is a very fluid genre and what scares people changes constantly as the years go by.
However, I have watched and read enough horror to know there are some simple formulas that always need to be followed to have a successful final product and a wonderfully evil creation.