“Killer Instinct”: Top Ten Disturbed Deviants in the Movies

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Cinema deviants can come in all forms or variety. It is just a matter of taking your pick as to what kind of deviant you consider. Perhaps your preference of deviant is of the sexual or molesting persuasion? Or maybe in the arena of hustlers or swindlers or cheaters? Will notorious gangsters and corrupt officials fit the bill for your definition of legitimate deviant sources?

The one type of deviant prototype that no one can question or disregard in terms of an impacting impression is the serial killer…or any killer where the impulse to slaughter is mindless fun or in some cases a perverse release to punish society for their own inner psychological demons and despair.

In “Killer Instinct”: Top Ten Disturbed Deviants in the Movies we will look at the selections of twisted individuals whose overwhelming passion for the pleasure of pain and punishment against their fellow citizens is rooted in colorful carnage. The morbid experience in watching these disturbing deviants on the big screen go through the manic motion of creating death and destruction is both compelling and confusing.

Maybe there were other obvious or overlooked killing deviants that were omitted for the theme of this particular column? If so then that is certainly understandable as film throughout its decades of entertaining the masses have definitely showcased its generous share of psychopaths from all walks of life. In any event, the choices as displayed in this written piece are not too shabby in their sordid reputations as societal psychos in the cinema world.

The sinister selections for “Killer Instinct”: Top Ten Disturbed Deviants in the Movies are (in alphabetical order):

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1.) Patrick Bateman from American Psycho (2000)

THE KILL THRILL: The Mary Harron-directed and co-written American Psycho (based on Bret Easton Ellis’s novel) presented the ideal black psychological dramedy that mixed the excesses of Reagan-era 80’s corporate financial stability and consumerism with murderous rage and disillusionment from the perspective of serial killer Patrick Bateman (future Oscar winner Christian Bale), a New York-based handsome investment banker gone furiously berserk. Bateman is as smooth as silk in his high-priced office setting as business (and his penchant for womanizing and drugs) is booming solidly. However, Bateman comes unglued when his unstable psychological rage (unbeknownst to his work colleagues) unravels causing his toxic tendencies to explode hideously into a killing rampage away from the posh workplace. Bale is undeniably superb as the materialistic maniac Bateman spiraling out of control in an era where corporate chaos defined the “me” generation for self-indulgent yuppies at the time. Indeed, Patrick Bateman is seriously underrated as the decadent deviant at the beginning of the movie-making millennium.

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2.) Max Cady from Cape Fear (1962 and 1991)

THE KILL THRILL: Cape Fear’s creepy ex-convict Max Cady (played with roguish relish by Robert Mitchum in the early 60’s and then three decades later by Robert DeNiro) was a hardened rabble-rouser not to mess with in any way, shape or form. Cady, a convicted rapist, was methodical in his madness and set his mind on terrorizing his former defense lawyer Sam Bowden (who unsuccessfully defended him) and his family. Cady’s unshakable grudge against Bowden is the driven impulse to get even because Bowden is to blame for his 14-year incarceration behind bars. Now Cady wants to play monstrous headgames with the defensive Bowden…much like a conniving cat picking on a confused mouse. Muscular and menacing, Cady was relentless in stalking and taunting the Bowdens with his brand of psychological sadism by playing mind gymnastics on the exasperated legal eagle. When an intense and insane character such as Max Cady inscribes “love and hate” on his bare knuckles and is impervious to random beatings by hired thugs sent to “silence” him then you know that you are dealing with a special kind of avenging thug. Sure, Cady did kill as a method to get to his intended target. Both Mitchum and DeNiro were mesmerizing in their portrayal of a philosophical deviant that was both strangely charismatic and relentless.

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3.) Tommy DeVito from Goodfellas (1990)

THE KILL THRILL: Nobody was as shocking and disturbing as unpredictable gang-banger Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci in his Oscar-winning role) in Martin Scorsese’s blistering gangster crime drama Goodfellas. Certainly the hostile (and oddly hysterical) DeVito overcame his Napoleon complex because despite his diminutive size this mischievous mobster could scare an 800-lb. grizzly bear after staring him in the face for several minutes. DeVito was small-packaged dynamite waiting to detonate. Importantly, DeVito enjoyed killing and had no reservations about sending anybody to their early grave even on a whim. Famously, moviegoers will recall DeVito’s haunting “What do you mean I’m funny…but I’m funny how,,,I mean funny like a clown…I amuse you?” speech at the dinner table to fellow mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). The verbal exchange alone by Pesci’s terrifying Tommy DeVito was enough to send chills up one’s spine without actually witnessing his senseless joy of kills.

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4.) Henry from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

THE KILL THRILL: Co-writer-director James McNaughton’s unsettling and piercing Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer truly made the audience delve into the morbid mindset of a gratuitous killing machine in a seedy-minded psychological thriller that surprisingly was overlooked as one of the most absorbing criminal character studies in mid-80’s cinema. As serial killer Henry, actor Michael Rooker reached into the depths of depravity to portray this deviant destroyer of lives as a lethal loner wallowing in deadly malaise and mistrust. Fictional Henry’s documented on-screen killing crime spree is loosely based on the real-life account of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. Although stunningly overlooked, Rooker’s Henry is one of the most criminally explosive deviants ever realized in modern-day cinema.

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5.) Richard Kuklinski from The Iceman (2012)

THE KILL THRILL: You know that you are a bombastic badass when simultaneously juggling a double life as a contract killer and devoted family man without missing a psychological beat. Writer-director Ariel Vromen’s severely underrated killing caper The Iceman featured an unflinching and effortless performance by Michael Shannon as the conniving calm and collective Kuklinski whose service to his corrosive “craft” in routinely snuffing out lives while exemplifying the role of a supportive breadwinner for his loved ones (whom never knew of Richard’s killing credo) defies logic. Indeed, Shannon’s Kuklinski was as cool and solid as his nickname “The Iceman” which impressively signifies a deviant mastermind under control of his professional brutality. The Iceman is based on the real-life experiences of Richard Kuklinski’s exploits as the gun-for-hire family man out to add another notorious notch to his belt. Convincingly, The Iceman definitely cometh in this sinister showcase of domesticity and appointed doomsday death.

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6.) Dr. Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

THE KILL THRILL: Now what top ten best list about deviants of any kind would be considered solidified without the inclusion of one Dr. Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter (Anthony Hopkins in his Oscar-winning role)? Even secured behind solid bars Dr. Lecter was demented and dangerous while exuding an alarming aura of self-assured manipulation. The penetrating pulse and purpose that fed the psychological tension and suspense in The Silence of the Lambs was Hopkins’s sophisticated yet off-balanced succulent performance as the locked-up lunatic with the misguided palate for human flesh. Lecter is the unlikely adviser to the FBI’s Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster in her Oscar-winning role) in trying to track down another skinning-crazed serial killer in the cross-dressing Jame Gumb a.k.a. “Buffalo Bill” (Ted Levine). What do you know…we are treated to two decorated deviants in Lambs in the perverse presence of Dr. Lecter and Buffalo Bill? Not bad for a two-for-one sale of high-powered killing kooks, huh?

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7.) John Allen Muhammed from Blue Caprice (2013)

THE KILL THRILL: Independent filmmaker Alexandre Moors’s crime caper Blue Caprice was the fictionalized account of the real-life events involving the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks that crippled a region and puzzled the nation. Furthermore, Blue Caprice served up a hostile “father figure” in disgruntled John Allen Muhammed (Isaiah Washington) taking a young protege under his wings in the form of foreign-born youth Lee (Tequan Richmond). Together, the misguided mentor Muhammed and his trainee-in-crime Lee terrorized their surroundings by causing panic as they targeted and shot unsuspecting people through the peepholes of a blue Caprice vehicle. Compelling, outrageous and armed with indignation, Blue Caprice’s John Allen Muhammed was a poisonous deviant in that he corrupted a young impressionable mind while sinking in his quiet despair and disgrace. Washington’s portrayal of this horrendous societal sniper is sharply calculating and drives home the point about underlying turbulent psyches igniting at will against the walls of vulnerable humanity.

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8.) Tommy Udo from Kiss of Death (1947)

THE KILL THRILL: Let’s face it, folks…The Kiss of Death’s Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) was a piece of work. With his psychopathic tendencies and the penchant for embracing his demonic urges, Udo was the ultimate twisted terror. He is the original inspiration for the likes of Cape Fear’s Max Cady or even Goodfellas’ Tommy DeVito because he is a warped weasel that is empowered by his horrifying hedonism. Udo is determined to seek revenge against his former partner-in-crime Nick Bianco (Victor Mature) for squealing to the authorities about their criminal ventures that sent them both to the slammer.  Now Udo wants blood against Bianco and his family as he teaches them a serious lesson in retribution. Udo is so ruthless and rancid that his inhumane gesture in pushing a wheelchair-bound elderly Mrs. Rizzo (Mildred Dunnock) down the staircase to her death literally oozed disgust but critical praise for Widmark’s on-screen robust wickedness. Tommy Udo was the classic bad boy from yesteryear and Kiss of Death owes its gratitude to one the earliest deviant-killing crooks causing heavy-handed havoc on the big screen.

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9.) Eileen Wuornos from Monster (2003)

THE KILL THRILL: Deviant diva Eileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron in her Oscar-winning role) was the controversial subject matter of director Patty Jenkins’s riveting crime-driven biopic Monster. South African model-turned-actress Theron shed off her natural beauty to step into the shocking shoes of Daytona Beach-based homely-looking prostitute-turned-serial killer Wuornos and earned her Academy Award for a complex and spell-binding portrayal of a lost woman on the continuous edge of self-destruction. Wuornos profoundly had her embedded turmoil dating back to a troubled childhood that haunted her in embittered womanhood. Wuornos turned tricks and grew paranoid, desperate and distrustful of the shady male customers she serviced while trying to savor a slice of romantic normalcy with her lesbian lover Shelby (Christina Ricci). Indeed, Wuornos–with all her tumultuous histrionics of dysfunction and negligence–was a monster by societal standards. The question remains: how culpable was society for shaping the monstrous Eileen Wuornos to the point of her brutal psychological unraveling? Only the late Wuornos and her spiritual guide can answer such a bewildering inquiry, right? Maybe not.

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10.) The Zodiac Killer from Zodiac (2007)

THE KILL THRILL: The search for the San Francisco-based serial killer known as the Zodiac killer was the basis for director David Fincher’s under-appreciated crime mystery Zodiac. As headed up by a top-notched cast with leads Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo at the helm, Zodiac tells the real-life tale of the unknown murdering menace whose killing spree of Bay-area women between the late 60’s and early 70’s caused a ferocious, highly-publicized frenzy. As if the Zodiac killer was not disturbed enough with his butchering of feminine victims he (or is it a she?) engaged the inquiring local media and journalists in a bizarre guessing game by mailing assembled letters, clues and hints to the newspaper as he dared the curious authorities to track him down. Overall, Zodiac was sensational enough for audiences to nostalgically recall the riddled rampage that left San Francisco residents stymied by the manhunt for this elusive attention-getting serial killer.

–Frank Ochieng