Did you catch the premiere of The Following the other week? Kevin Williamson’s serial killer cult thriller detective thing has got Kevin Bacon as the usual washed-up ex-FBI agent who fell from grace after catching cutter-upper of college chicks, Joe Carroll. The loon has a sort of entourage of other loons who need to be tracked down and eradicated…
While the Scream echoes are nice, what struck me most about the pilot is that, yet again, the chief bad guy is English.
Seems to be one of the major tropes of American cinema is casting a British actor – more specifically one with a very well-spoken English accent – as the nasty, scheming villain. Die Hard had Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs in The Patriot, General Zod, Billy Zane in Titanic, Elizabeth Hurley played the fucking DEVIL! Even the kids’ Disney film Bolt name-checked the cliche: “…the villain with the creepy English accent.”
So how does horror stack up? Well, most iconically there’s Dr Lecter, played with theatrical gusto by Sir Anthony of Hopkins.
In slasher territory, British villains aren’t massively over-represented, but in the handful of mystery-body count films where there’s a character with an English accent, it’s never turned out to be anyone else behind the lunacy… As ever, MASSIVE SPOILERS ensue.
Who else could be knocking off the traumatised cops at a remote rehab clinic in Nowhere, Wyoming? Why, of course it’s Christopher Fulford – the only British geezer, who moonlights as a maniacal serial killer on the side. Naturally it takes super-buff American Sylvester Stallone to stop him. Didn’t stop the film from being shelved for three years and barely getting a release at all, though.
Who else could be slashing up a group of teenagers of various nationalities at a swimming complex in Prague? Why, of course it’s John Hopkins – the only English geezer (James McAvoy was already murdered and is Scottish so doesn’t count). Naturally it takes the American final girl and her manly boyfriend to stop him.
Who else could be doing in a group of FBI agents during a profile training expedition? Why, of course it’s Jonny Lee Miller – the only British geezer. I can’t remember his motive n’ all that – serial killer, I think. Naturally it takes super-masculine American LL Cool J and final girl-slash-woman (who I also can no longer remember) to stop him.
Elsewhere, British characters are instead done away with once they’ve wrung out the red herring card: See Cal in Harper’s Island, the pair of backpacking buddies in Turistas, Kelly Brook in Ripper, and the doomed girlies of Wolf Creek.
However, it should be noted that, in Hack!, the only surviving chick is the hot English girl, though she was earlier assumed dead and doesn’t really aide the final boy much, and in bizarro South African flick Return of the Family Man, the post-punk proto-Spike dude also escapes the chop.
So what’s it about, Hollywood? Some would claim we’re just an island of toffy assholes, which, when you consider none of these villains EVER have a regional accent, would be a skewered opinion. Conversely, America being such a patriotic place, it’s surely a short cut for them to cast an outsider as the villain, and to overcome any confusing accents or bad translations, why not choose the country whose language they speak?
However, I think it comes down to that horrible term: Theatricality. British actors are more ‘stagey’ than most American film actors. With little film industry of our own, actors are more adept at ‘treading the boards’, therefore enabling them to camp it up in the way the best super-villains do. And judging from the stiff-upper-lip tripe we keep churning out, it’s no wonder…
By now though, it’s gone beyond a cliche. The Following probably elicited a few groans when the lead-loon was revealed to be a literature-obsessed Englishman who charmed the pants off sorority girls before killing them. So, like, cut it out filmmakers, it’s way too predictable.