“They had it coming. They had it coming. They had it coming all along.”
So sang the hosiery-clad vixens of smash hit musical Chicago. Of course, they were referring to the many men they had brutally murdered, whereas I’m responsible for the deaths of no one on this list. But it’s an appropriate introduction to a run-down of movie characters who, for one reason or another, really did bring their own cinematic demise on themselves.
Undoubtedly some of the 10 deserved their deaths more than the others. But as I’ve watched each of them shuffle off this mortal coil, either shaking my head in sorrow or slapping my thigh in triumph, I’ve been compelled to declare on each occasion, “Well, they asked for that.”
Here then (in no particular order) is a very personal take on 10 movie characters who, for one reason or another, had it coming. And then some…
Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) – Return Of The Jedi
According to the Old Testament Book of Proverbs, “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth.” Words that would have fallen on very stony ground if ever they were uttered in the presence of Emperor Palaptine, in whom we have one of the supreme gloaters of cinematic villainy.
And it is for world class gloating rather than being the very embodiment of the dark side of The Force that he earns his place in my top 10. He never misses an opportunity to crow over young Luke during that climactic face-off aboard the Death Star with jibes such as “You will die”, “The alliance will fail”, “Your feeble skills are no match for the dark side”, Blah blah sodding blah. And for a man with a face like a soggy bollock he’s pretty full of himself.
But by giving Luke a dose of Force lightening while stood next to an obviously conflicted Darth Vader, he really is asking for it. How fitting then that, in cinema’s greatest ‘face turn’, it is Vader himself who throws the old scrote plummeting to his doom in a moment that finally allows everyone to cheer the meanest bad ass in the galaxy.
Sgt Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) – Full Metal Jacket
As a leader, effective utilisation of the carrot and the stick is essential. However, in Gunnery Sgt Hartman, we have a man whose only use for the carrot would be to threaten to insert half of it into his subordinate while promising to beat him with the rest. You see, Hartman enjoys the process of taking a man apart so that he can rebuild him as a soldier.
Unfortunately, in Private Leonard ‘Gomer Pile’ Lawrence, Hartman takes the man apart, but is unable to put him back together again. So, when Private Lawrence goes insane late one night and is found in the shower room doing that Jack Nicholson thing with his eyebrows, it is clear that, if ever there was a good time to try and offer the boy a gentle word or two, it would be now.
Alas, Hartman steams in with all the subtlety of a swift kick to the oojahs, and in delivering yet another stream of invective, seals his fate (although the character reappeared in all but name in Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners). Lawrence responds by employing some motivational techniques of his own, namely how to motivate Hartman to shut up the hell up, by persuasively shooting him in the chest from point blank range. At ease, Sgt Hartman.
Dr Frederick Chilton (Anthony Heald) – Silence Of The Lambs
Anybody who willingly and gleefully goads one of the deadliest serial killers in cinematic history must surely deserve a place on a list of characters that had it coming. So, step forward Dr Frederick Chilton of the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
He really is an odious little twerp, a fact demonstrated early on by the rather ham-fisted chat-up techniques he attempts to employ on Clarice Starling. Then, having failed to turn the girl’s head with the offer of a night on the Baltimore tiles and a photograph of a nurse with half her face missing, he proceeds to set in motion a series of events that culminate in the escape from prison of Hannibal Lector (not to mention jeopardising the rescue of Senator Ruth Martin’s daughter).
Unfortunately, we don’t actually see Chilton die on screen. But the way that Hopkins’ Dr Lector casually saunters after him on a busy Jamaican street as the credits role provides a highly satisfying ending both for the movie and for the man.
The Shark (Bruce) – Jaws
The shark in Jaws is a complete and utter bastard, the very embodiment of the movie monster and, for me, the bête noire of my childhood terrors. It is a relentless, primal force of nature with big teeth and beady eyes that thinks it is perfectly acceptable to chow down on children and dogs. (Dogs, I ask you!)
But as far as I’m concerned, its unforgivable crime was instilling in me such a deep dread of the water that I couldn’t take a dip in the local swimming pool for fear that a trap door would open, James Bond-style, and the bloody thing would heave into view to the ominous strains of that tune.
So, after experiencing a childhood of seaside trips where I wouldn’t even go into the water at places like Bournemouth, I always enjoy that moment of catharsis in the film when the shark starts chewing on a gas tank just as Chief Brody blows said tank to smithereens.
The Latin name for the great White is Carcharodon Carcharias and I, for one, was glad to see this Great White forced to kiss its own Carcharodon Carchari ass goodbye.
Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) – Death Proof
If ever a character deserved to die for behaving like a big girl’s blouse, then Stuntman Mike is that man. Initially, what we have here is a very cool character indeed, personified by the loin stiffening 1970 Chevy Nova we see before he actually makes an appearance on screen.
Then we get to know Mike in The Texas Chili Parlour right before witnessing his gleeful offing of poor Rose McGowan. But, hey, that’s okay. As movie fans we’ve put up posters of bigger sadists on our bedroom walls.
Then he drives head on into Jungle Julia and friends, resulting in such gruesome onscreen carnage that we’re forced to acknowledge that yes, this is one very sick son of a bitch, indeed.
But crucially, still quite a cool villain. And then he blows it. After trying it on with the wrong bunch of girls, the tables are turned in spectacular style and he turns into the biggest puss since Garfield. By the time the women drag him from his car as he begs for mercy, you’re desperate for Rosario Dawson to finish him off with a round house to the head and a booted heel to the face. Which, rather obligingly, she does.
Bernie Bernbaum (John Turturro) – Miller’s Crossing
“Look in your heart Tommy. I’m praying to you, look in your heart.” It is with these words that Bernie Bernbaum successfully begs for his life when faced with Gabriel Byrne’s ice cool Tom Reagan in the Coen Brothers gangster classic. It’s a highly affecting scene, a rare moment in cinema where we are exposed to the reality of what it means to take another man’s life and hear him plead for it while doing so. You feel for Bernie and want him to embrace the second chance he’s been given.
So, when he subsequently blackmails Tom by threatening to reveal his continued existence to the mob boss who ordered his death, you feel cheated. And as he sneeringly issues his threats, it becomes clear that he’s nothing but a low down dirty rat who’d sell his own mother for two bits.
When a similar scenario plays out again later on in the film (Tom having successfully taken care of anyone who could cause him trouble), neither the viewer nor Tom are prepared to be taken in again. Bernie once more pleads that Tom look in his heart. Tom retorts with a bullet between the eyes and the line “What heart?”
Liz Hunter (Cassandra McGrath) – Wolf Creek
Okay Liz, you’ve shot and injured the insane Aussie serial killer but he’s clearly not dead, so go over there and finish him off. Don’t worry that you’re out of bullets. Just bludgeon his head to spaghetti sauce with the rifle butt. No! What are you doing?! Don’t give him two ineffectual taps on the back. Smash his skull in!!
Oh. You’ve chosen to make a run for it, thus giving him ample opportunity to come after you in the dark in an area you’re unfamiliar with, but he knows like the back of his hand. Brilliant. I’m sure that’ll work out just fine.
Ah, there now you see? You’ve reached a dead end and so you’ve had to backtrack to his camp leaving your terrified friend in the outback on her own. Okay, okay, get another car if you must, but do it quickly!
Hang on. What are you doing? Don’t dilly-dally looking at videos of all the other people he’s murdered. Just get out of there now! And before you get into that car to make your escape, check the back seat! The killer is always in the back seat! Erm, Liz, you haven’t checked the back seat. Oh, I give up.
Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Russo) – The Godfather
The first time I watched The Godfather I remember thinking how much I was looking forward to seeing Sonny Corleone dish out some Sicilian justice to Carlo Rizzi. Carlo, you recall, had just given Sonny’s sister another beating, making Sonny very angry indeed.
Unfortunately, Carlo knows that Sonny is a man for whom revenge is a dish best served piping hot and, in taking the bait, Sonny is lured to the tollbooths, where he dies in a hail of machine gun fire. I was devastated.
Not only had I been deprived of seeing Carlo the slime ball get his just desserts, but my favourite character in the whole movie had just been brutally slain. And as the film rolled on, I began to suspect that Carlo was going to get away with it, since nobody mentioned the role he’d obviously played in setting Sonny up.
And so I rejoiced like the big mamaluke I am when Michael finally reveals to a weeping Carlo that he’d known about it all along. Assuring him that he won’t be killed, Michael then ensures that Carlo receives a nice, big hug from Clemenza, as the fat man wraps piano wire round Carlo’s throat. Badda, as they say, bing!
Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) – Aliens
Oh, Carter Burke, you spineless corporate gimp. There are a number of things that irk about Burke. There’s the way he sits astride a chair and wears those suits with the stupid turned up collar. (Yes, I know it’s supposed to be futuristic, but he still looks like a tit). Then there’s the way he talks about ‘substantial dollar values’ and ‘exclusivity rights’ in a way that marks him out as the sort of numb nuts who would appear on a futuristic version of The Apprentice.
But, of course, it is for his acts of cowardice and treachery that he earns his place on this list. First he sends the colonists on LV-426 to their doom with orders to investigate the abandoned alien spacecraft. Then there is his dastardly plan to impregnate Ripley and Newt with alien embryos by locking them in a room with a couple of facehuggers. All to make a dollar, whatever the cost in human life.
He probably likes Dire Straits and drinks white wine spritzers as well. So, it is always a moment of intense satisfaction for me when he finds himself on the receiving end of the ultimate French kiss from a Xenomorph. The git.
Rika van den Haas (Patsy Kensit) – Lethal Weapon 2
There are many reasons why a movie character may deserve a sticky end. Displays of arrogance, insensitivity, stupidity, treachery, cowardice and just plain old villainy are justification enough for the Big D of Movieland to swing his scythe in a character’s direction. But having witnessed the performance of Patsy Kensit as Rika van den Haas in Lethal Weapon 2, I’d venture to add another reason. Namely, the crime of bad acting.
Now, at the risk of jeopordising my hard man of film geekery image, I’ll state here and now that on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing Patsy Kensit seems like a lovely woman. However, Lethal Weapon 2 she’s just bloody annoying. Everything about her grates. She has a dodgy South African accent, the charisma of a stale sausage roll and often adopts the look of a woman who’s vaguely trying to remember if she’s left a bath tap running somewhere.
Still, the performance does improve when Rika is found washed up and drowned, having come a cropper at the hands of some fiendish South Africans who discovered the nature of her relationship with Riggs. Well, either that or they’d just watched her in Absolute Beginners.
What are your favourite, most satisfying justified exits? Add them to the comments below.
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