Why Hollywood villains have such as Freddie Kruger and The Joker have such evil laughs

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Hollywood’s most-famous villains often possess an evil laugh.

And, according to experts, the likes of Freddie Kruger, The Joker and the Wicked Witch of the West would be far less sinister if they lacked a this quality – because it appears to confirm their malevolence.

Jens Kjeldgaard-Christiansen, a psychologist at Denmark’s Aarhus University, has detailed the psychology behind cruel cackles in his latest essay. 

In it, he claims that a grim guffaw reveals an ‘open and candid enjoyment’ from other peoples’ suffering.’

Terrifying: US actress Margaret Hamilton (1902-1985, R) plays the Wicked Witch of the West in Hollywood classic  The Wizard of Oz - for which her character was renowned for a cruel cackle

Terrifying: US actress Margaret Hamilton (1902-1985, R) plays the Wicked Witch of the West in Hollywood classic  The Wizard of Oz - for which her character was renowned for a cruel cackle

Terrifying: US actress Margaret Hamilton (1902-1985, R) plays the Wicked Witch of the West in Hollywood classic The Wizard of Oz – for which her character was renowned for a cruel cackle

The effect, he says, stems largely from the fact that laughs are both visual and vocal, making them multi-sensory and thus twice as effective.

He also adds that laughs are difficult to imitate convincingly, making them trustworthy markers of misanthropy for a viewer.

Previously, Mr Kjeldgaard-Christiansen claimed that ‘baddies’ in film and TV are forced for good because they help to set our moral compass and help us spot evil in real life.

They are the characters we love to hate and are often more memorable than the heroes they are pitted against, but villains form films and books may also play an important social role. 

Back in 2016 he examined a variety of ‘super-villains’ including the witch in the Wizard of Oz and terrifying characters such as Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

While at first glance they might have little in common, Mr Kjeldgaard-Christiansen told Science Nordic: ‘A common feature is that all bad guys are incredibly antisocial and try to control all resources with no regard for anyone but themselves.’

Chilling: American actor Robert Englund poses in character as Freddy Krueger circa 1986. Science insists that his evil laugh helped audiences to reaffirm his (obvious) ill intent.

Chilling: American actor Robert Englund poses in character as Freddy Krueger circa 1986. Science insists that his evil laugh helped audiences to reaffirm his (obvious) ill intent.

Chilling: American actor Robert Englund poses in character as Freddy Krueger circa 1986. Science insists that his evil laugh helped audiences to reaffirm his (obvious) ill intent.

Heath Ledger pictured in The Dark Knight: Typically, laughs are both visual and vocal, making them multi-sensory and thus twice as effective. Plus, they are hard to fake convincingly. 

Heath Ledger pictured in The Dark Knight: Typically, laughs are both visual and vocal, making them multi-sensory and thus twice as effective. Plus, they are hard to fake convincingly. 

Heath Ledger pictured in The Dark Knight: Typically, laughs are both visual and vocal, making them multi-sensory and thus twice as effective. Plus, they are hard to fake convincingly. 

Outlining his theory in the journal Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, he said that villains are ‘selfish, exploitative, and sadistic. They contravene the prosocial ethos of society.’

Mr Kjeldgaard-Christiansen explained these fictional villain help to boost the strength of cooperation in groups and so can be examined in the light of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

It has long been drummed into societies that poor cooperation is bad for a group and that individuals should put a community’s needs before their own.

Speculating about the emergence of morals, Darwin wrote: ‘As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him.’

THE VILLAINOUS BEHAVIOUR THAT SETS OUR MORAL COMPASS 

Jens Kjeldgaard-Christiansen, a psychologist at Denmark’s Aarhus University, says villains should ‘threaten the social order and induce righteous indignation in protagonists [lead characters]’.

This gives them an incentive to band together with their peers, fight back, and finally affirm their pro-social values.

Pazuzu the demon from The Exorcist is a good example, because he ‘seeks to possess innocent people simply to make their lives, and the lives of those dear to them, miserable,’ he says.

Villains typically ‘flaunt their moral corruption’, which again gets a reaction from an audience and reminds them how they should act.

Effective fictional baddies should ‘engage others as objects to be used as means to ends that represent the autotelic aspirations of psychopaths,’ Mr Kjeldgaard-Christiansen writes.

He said Anton Chigurh from ‘No Country for Old Men’ is a good example, because no-one will stand in his way of money.

Villains with foreign accents and disgusting features also set themselves apart from a ‘good’ and righteous group.

Leatherface from ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ wears a revolting mask made of human skin and this ‘foul exterior becomes the manifestation of a foul essence.’

 

THE VILLAINOUS BEHAVIOUR THAT SETS OUR MORAL COMPASS 

Kjeldgaard-Christiansen said villains should ‘threaten the social order and induce righteous indignation in protagonists [lead characters’, incentivising them and their peers to band together, fight back, and finally affirm their prosocial values.

Pazuzu the demon from The Exorcist is a good example, because he ‘seeks to possess innocent people simply to make their lives, and the lives of those dear to them, miserable.’

Villains typically ‘flaunt their moral corruption’, which again gets a reaction from an audience and reminds them how they should act.

Effective fictional baddies should ‘engage others as objects to be used as means to ends that represent the autotelic aspirations of psychopaths,’ Kjeldgaard-Christiansen writes.

He said Anton Chigurh from ‘No Country for Old Men’ is a good example, because no-one will stand in his way of money.

Villains with foreign accents and disgusting features also set themselves apart from a ‘good’ and righteous group.

Leatherface from ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ wears a revolting mask made of human skin and this ‘foul exterior becomes the manifestation of a foul essence.’

 



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