Of all the various subjects we like to think we know something about on this site, one I believe we can speak with clear authority about is “Bastards”. I mean, come on–the word itself is in our name! And there’s nowhere that one can find more obvious, clearly defined, and truly repugnant Bastards than in the films of the 1980s.
Movies of this era, for the most part, had a moral clarity to them you simply can’t find anymore: Within about five minutes of viewing you’ll know, without any reservation, who the good guys and bad guys are. Back then, Heroes were Heroes–and Villains were Villains, and there was rarely, if any, ambiguity about who was which.
And if you’ve seen as many ’80s flicks as I have–and have nothing resembling a career or social life to get in the way of such vital research–it won’t be long before you notice certain patterns regarding cinematic “Bastardy” (I hope that’s a word). The zeitgeist of the time period was utterly blatant about setting up certain kinds of people as inherently, irredeemably despicable–and once you catch on to this, you can spot the villains (or at least assholes) in such films unerringly and almost instantly.
Therefore, I have, as a handy reference for the aficionado of ’80s cinema, prepared a list of ten different varieties of characters who seem almost (if not entirely) incapable of decency, kindness, good will, or charity. These individuals are doomed to an existence as soulless blackguards who deserve nothing but scorn and derision–simply because of their careers, social standing, appearance, or familial roles.
(NOTE: Just so we’re on the same page, in no way should this list be taken to suggest that these individuals are morally repugnant outside of the fictional world of cinema–and the societal mores of the 1980s….thank you)
10. Step Parents
Of course, IRL, step parents can be–and often are–noble, kind, loving, and responsible caregivers….and as much “real” parents as any biological mother or father. Unfortunately, don’t expect to be so lucky if you’re a kid in an ’80s flick. It’s a safe bet that your stepmother (or–slightly rarer–stepfather) will be one or more of the following things: Cruel, domineering, draconian, dismissive, spiteful, thoughtless, or petty. Such portrayals of step parents have been part of popular culture and folklore since the days of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. As to why they were chosen so often as villains, I can’t say: Perhaps it could be to play upon childhood fears of losing one’s parents….or even a matter of promulgating Judeo-Christian morals by discouraging second marriages–which were once taboo even in the case of the death of a spouse….But these are pure suppositions.
The example above is Catherine O’Hara as Delia Deetz in Beetlejuice. Okay, I guess she wasn’t 100% “evil”–and she was somewhat redeemed by the end of the film. But for all except maybe the last ten minutes she was an obnoxious, delusional socialite who treated her stepdaughter more like an annoyance than like her own child….I mean really! Lydia wasn’t about to jump off a fucking bridge because Judas Priest told her to!
9. Frat Boys
The only time Fraternity brothers were portrayed positively was in National Lampoon’s Animal House–which was a late ’70s movie that took place in the early ’60s. In the following decade, you could be certain that frat boys in a film would be vulgar, hateful, cruel, boozed-up, misogynistic macho stereotypes utterly lacking in redeeming values whatsoever. Frat boys existed in ’80s movies exclusively to terrorize the weak and different, exploit and harrass women, and make a mockery of higher education.
Above you see the epitome of the reprehensible image of college fraternal organizations in the 1980s: The Alpha Beta Fraternity of the Revenge of the Nerds films. They contributed nothing positive to the world or to their school beyond their athletic prowess, and committed acts against those they considered inferior that would be classified as hate crimes in the real world of 2013.
8. Pretty, Upper Class Blonde Girls
Blondes have more fun, and if films of the 1980s have depicted them accurately, I hope they do–because they’re all going to Hell. Take any random ’80s teen flick: If there are two principal female characters–one will be blonde, the other will be anything else (usually brunette, but not always). And the blonde will ALWAYS be the bitch. She’ll also usually be well-to-do, and will dress and behave accordingly–adding an element of anti-elitist, populist rhetoric which implies wealth invariably equals corruption. As to why the blonde is always singled out as evil, I’ve always guessed it stems from the Aryan vision of human perfection popularized by Nazi Germany…..Whether that’s reading too much into the works of people who wrote teen comedies in the 1980s or not–who knows?
The above photo is the Royal Queen Demon Bitch of evil blonde ’80s girls: Heather Chandler of Heathers, portrayed brilliantly by the late Kim Walker.
(Disturbing Trivia: Miss Walker tragically passed away at the age of only 32. Here’s the twisted part: An actress who became famous for the line: “Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?” died of one…..I WISH I was making that up–R.I.P.)
7. Recording/Movie/TV Executives
’80s flicks HATE corporations and businessmen, as will be demonstrated further in this list. Especially despised are those executives who dare to look at artistic endeavors such as music, cinema, or television as mere sources of revenue. I always saw this particular pet peeve as almost charmingly naive–musicians, filmmakers, and TV writers gotta make a living, too–and artistic integrity doesn’t pay as well as you might think. Maybe these guys ARE evil–but they’re a NECESSARY evil.
Anyhoo, for my “exhibit A”, I give you the late, great Kevin McCarthy–who was one of those actors born to play over-the-top, cigar munching, scenery chewing baddies–as network affiliate owner R.J. Fletcher in the under-appreciated (in my opinion) “Weird Al” Yankovic classic UHF. No one played a despicable, money-grubbing douchebag quite like Mr. McCarthy….with the possible exception of the late Dabney Coleman.
6. Political Advisers
No one likes politicians–we all know that. It’s a given that the folks we elect to represent our interests in government are corrupt, back-stabbing weasels who only care about themselves. HOWEVER, sometimes in a movie–especially an ’80s movie–the plot will call for a political figure to be heroic….or at least, NOT a total dickbag. Ergo, to satisfy the audience’s intense desire to revile politics in general, the “black hat” gets passed to a slimy, unscrupulous advisor: A “Grima Wormtongue”-esque figure who stands behind the throne and feeds misinformation to his decent and honest employer in order to advance his own eldritch agenda. The adviser’s story arc always ends the same way: His boss learns what he’s been doing behind his back, and he’s very satisfyingly fired and publically humiliated.
For your consideration, here’s Kurt Fuller of Wayne’s World and Scary Movie fame as Mayoral Aide Jack Hardemeyer in Ghostbusters II. He was the scumbag who had the boys sent to a loony bin when they threatened to go to the press regarding Mayor Lenny’s dismissal of their warnings.
5. Oil/Mining/Chemical/Nuclear Power Company Owners
Remember what I said about how ’80s movies regard businessmen? Well, when their business involves polluting the environment and/or raping the land, the usual anti-corporate spiel gets a booster shot of righteous indignation. These executives always seem to actively enjoy ass-banging Mother Nature: It’s not just about the money, it’s a mania, a tangible lust for destroying and despoiling all that is good and beautiful in the world. These guys are like Horsemen of the Apocalypse: spreading pestilence and decay, and leaving only a blackened swath of dead earth in their wake.
Our poster boy is Richard Vernon as Sherman Krader in Ernest Goes To Camp. Krader’s company wants to mine for a fictional mineral called “Petrocyte”–which I guess is really valuable for some reason. And in order to do so, he not only has to hoodwink a Native Tribe out of their ancestral land, but destroy a summer camp for juvenile delinquents. After which I assume he’ll go home and roast kittens alive over a burning pile of children’s letters to Santa Claus.
Describing evil 1980s preppies is simple: Re-read my entry about Frat Boys, and add better breeding and more money than God. The only REAL difference between the two groups is when preppies are taken to task for their “shenanigans” (y’know: beating a gay student with a sock full of pennies, making hidden camera porn with their dates and posting it online, slipping roofies into the punch bowl at a sorority mixer–shenanigans!), daddy can make a generous contribution to either the university, OR the judge’s re-election campaign if civil authorities get involved, and the allegations magically disappear. So we get to hate them for being macho fuckwads AND for having enough money and power to be above the law.
’80s preppies are USUALLY high school or college students, but whenever I think of the word, the first image that enters my head is of the quartet of asshats shown above from the 1983 John Landis masterpiece: Trading Places. If you recall, these dickholes were Louis Winthorp’s “friends” and fellow country club members–Until Winthorp became part of Mortimer and Randolph Duke’s “wager” and lost everything. After that, these walking miscarriages kicked him to the curb–one even started boning his fiancee! Fucking preppies!
3. Handsome, Athletic Blonde Guys
Remember the “Pretty, Upper-Class Blonde Girls” from earlier? Here are their detestible, incestuous mates…..and I’ll bet some of you were wondering why I was just picking on blonde GIRLS, eh?
We all know the score with these guys in ’80s movies: They’re good looking, strong, talented–as far as sports go, anyway–and think they rule the school. They’re the quarterbacks, the captains of the wrestling team, the expert skiers, the Karate champions….and everyone who cannot match their prowess must bow to them. They ARE often from wealthy families, but this is incidental–although they are NEVER poor. It’s against the oldest, most sacred rules of Hollywood to have a poor villain, but I digress. In every case, eventually a dark-haired challenger will rise from the oppressed ranks to take on the Blonde God, and he will be toppled from his pedestal. In some cases, he will have learned some humility–he may even apologize for his past behaviour, but usually he just slinks away–defeated and forgotten.
No actor of the 1980s portrayed this archetype better than the great William Zabka: Best known as Cobra Kai leader Johnny Lawrence in The Karate Kid, he also had a small part as Audrey’s cheating boyfriend in National Lampoon’s European Vacation, and was the villain of underrated ’80s teen comedy Just One Of The Guys: Greg Tolan–who is my above example. Sure, more people know Johnny Lawrence, but he experienced that humility and redemption I previously mentioned after catching Daniel-San’s Crane Technique square in the face. Greg Tolan, however, was still a douchenozzle even after having his ass handed to him by that guy who played the Admiral who took de-aging drugs in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
2. High School Principals
Unless your ’80s movie is about a badass, no-nonsense educator who becomes principal of a run-down, inner city school and almost magically turns it around, it’s a given that any high school principal of the era is going to be an utter tool. Movies about high school are generally aimed at high school students, and what high school student wants to see authority celebrated? These are the people responsible for making them miserable for eight hours a day, five days a week–teens want the catharsis of seeing such individuals demonized and ridiculed. If you’re the kind of teen who loves his principal, your parents probably don’t allow you to watch movies like this, anyway.
For my example, I had to show Dick some respect. Yep, that’s Paul Gleason as Principal Richard Vernon of Shermer High, in John Hughes’ immortal The Breakfast Club. I thought about giving props to Jeffery Jones as Principal Ed Rooney of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off–but Rooney wasn’t exactly “evil”, he was more like Wile E. Coyote to Ferris’ Road Runner. There were times when you actually pitied Ed Rooney–no one could EVER feel sorry for Dick Vernon.
1. Real Estate Developers
If ’80s movies are to be taken as accurate depictions of the time period, then back then a real estate developer’s entire purpose on this planet was to find summer camps, nursing homes, teen centers, mom and pop businesses, animal sanctuaries, homeless shelters, and so forth–and bulldoze them to the ground to build high-rent condos, shopping malls, sweatshops, tacky theme parks, country clubs, or any other structure devoid of any positive contribution to society. They’re worse than the media moguls or oil barons described earlier, since all they do is destroy good and helpful things to replace them with evil, useless things.
The photo above was a wonderful find: That’s Mark Metcalf–whom some of you may remember as Neidermeyer from Animal House, or the dad in Twisted Sister’s video for “We’re Not Gonna Take It”. Metcalf shined in One Crazy Summer as evil real estate developer Aguilla Beckerstead. This human sewer’s diabolical plan was to raze a private senior citizen’s home run by Demi Moore’s grandfather to build condominiums–heartlessly dooming dozens of peniless old folks to homelessness. In this shot, Beckerstead is seen enjoying his favorite pasttime: As well as being in real estate, he also owns a chain of seafood restaraunts, and for fun he likes to boil lobsters alive–with a stethoscope in the water so he can hear them scream as they die…..DUDE!!!