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5 Most Despicable Henchmen
The Despicable Me's Through the Years
By Kurt Amacker
July 09, 2010
5 Most Despicable Henchmen
© Bob Trate/Mania
Every bad guy (or girl) worth his (or her) salt has a henchman. It's that character that's not quite there--evil, but not strong; vile, but mostly self-absorbed and riding the coattails of a bigger and badder villain. They're always pretty bad in their own right. But, unlike their masters, they won't challenge you to a fair fight at the end to prove they're the best. They are the pilot fish of genre fiction. They are henchman. And today--this day--belongs to them.
5. Grover Dill
From: A Christmas Story
You've seen A Christmas Story, right? TBS runs it for 24 hours every Christmas. You remember Grover Dill (Yano Anaya)? Scut Farkus is the bully with the yellow eyes, the red teeth, and the coonskin cap. He's like Davey Crockett's redheaded stepchild. But, instead of defending the Alamo to the death, he applies a vicious wristlock to the children of Hammond, Indiana. He doesn't want your lunch money. He just wants you to say uncle... again... and again... and again. Those afternoons in the confessional seem pretty tame by comparison, don't they? Say uncle, little Ralphie.
But, Scut wasn't alone. He had a wingman--a toady, even--waiting on the top of the shed when Ralphie Parker and his friends ran from that menacing laugh at the other end of the fence. It seems like an odd choice for a "despicable henchman," but Grover Dill has all the makings. As Ralphie explains it, you were either a bully, a toady, or a victim. Grover Dill was that toady. Ralphie says it all: lips curling over the green teeth of a boy too lowly to stand on his own, but unprincipled enough to attach himself to a bully like Scut Farkus. It takes height, muscles, balls, and an abusive home life to be a bully. But, toadies like Grover Dill just wait in the wings to attach themselves to the dark forces that haunt the playgrounds and alleyways of the American small town.
From: G.I. Joe
It's hard to nail down the real Destro. A lieutenant of sorts in the Cobra hierarchy, he's the henchman to Cobra Commander--who mostly wants to rule the world or make crime replace law or something. Destro's a Scottish arms dealer and a metal head (but not in the listens-to-Iron-Maiden sense), but it's really hard to figure out his back-story. That's probably because G.I. Joe--though awesome, by definition--has about 9,183,409,812,304 different continuities between the Marvel comics, the IDW comics, the Devil's Due comics, the cartoons, the suck-ass cartoons that came after, the really awesome cartoon Warren Ellis wrote, the toys, the movie, and probably some other bullshit from Japan (undoubtedly with tentacle rape).
We know this much: he's definitely Scottish, he's an arms dealer, and he never takes off that stupid silver mask. In the old-school Marvel comics by Larry Hama, he's an amoral ally of Cobra, who'd just as soon help the Commander as he would stab him in the back and punch him in that stupid metal faceplate. Only one retarded metal mask can reign supreme in Cobra. In the cartoon, he's Cobra Commander's more serious sidekick. They're peas in a pod, but they don't always get along. In G.I. Joe: Resolute, he's scary as shit and you know that he's totally going to make the Baroness play "naughty librarian" after they kill some hostages. Unfortunately for them, Gung-Ho, Stalker, Roadblock, and Beachhead put the kabosh on whatever by-the-hour sort of plans they had afterwards. In the movie, he's played by Christopher Eccleston an arms dealer, but he doesn't get the mask until the Commander injects him with some kind of nanomite solution. That makes it more scientific and therefore more contemporary.
Still, the fact that he's both duplicitous and has 15 different origins makes him despicable, by definition. He's on the damn list.
We only called him Igor up there because that's what everyone thinks his name is. Except that his name was never Igor. Dwight Frye played Fritz, the hunchback assistant to Dr. Frankenstein in the 1931 Universal classic. And, unlike the traditionally inept yes-master sidekick, Fritz was one mean bastard. After dropping a good brain at the medical college like a douche, he grabs the clearly labeled abnormal brain. Then, Dr. Frankenstein goes through the whole it's-alive-it's-alive bit. The creature (Boris Karloff, being awesome) has just gotten his legs. He seems nice enough. But, he doesn't like fire. Fire bad. So, Fritz decides to come at him with a torch to...do nothing reasonable, that's what. There's this seven-and-a-half foot long, 54-inch gorilla (Dear Mel Brooks: Do not sue me. I am poor.) with a criminal brain and he just decides "Why not? They haven't invented TV, radio, or internet porn, so I'll just wave fire at the monster. This can only end well!" If you were born with a crippling physical deformity, you have to be nice to people. If you're born pretty, you can be as mean as you want. But if you're ugly as shit, you've got to be relatively pleasant. Fritz fails on all counts. Rather than spend his freakish hunchbacked life comforting the less fortunate, he helps a mad scientist rob graves. Then, he grabs a bad brain (one without "that PMA") for the creature and then--what the hell--waves a torch at it. Despicable. Screw this guy.
Just to clear up the whole Igor/Fritz thing: in the 1938 threequel Son of Frankenstein, Bela Lugosi played a hunchbacked blacksmith named Ygor, who decides to revive the monster in order to be evil and maintain Universal's box office receipts. Somewhere along the lines--between hundreds of cheap Halloween costumes and issues of “Famous Monsters of Filmland”--someone confused Fritz and Ygor and misspelled one's name. The two became synonymous. The end.
Renfield first showed up in Bram Stoker's original 1897 classic “Dracula.” We mean the book. Read one, if you haven't. On film, he's been portrayed by a bunch of different actors, but two really stand out: Dwight Frye and Tom-freaking-Waits. If you've read this far, you know that Dwight Frye played Fritz, which gives him some kind of record as a despicable henchman. And, in the 1931 Dracula from Universal, he tore it up. He goes to Dracula's castle (instead of Jonathan Harker, changed from the novel) to close a real estate deal. He leaves as a giggling, bug-eating lunatic. For all of that movie's shortcomings (namely that it looks like a play somebody filmed), Frye sold it like a used car with the blood barely cleaned out of the back seat. And, Tom Waits is inherently awesome. He usually plays the piano and sings the blues like no white guy can or should. In Bram Stoker's Dracula, he plays Renfield closer to Stoker's original. He's more like Dracula's herald. He still eats bugs and awaits the master's commands, but he does it with an over-the-top Brit swagger that goes past campy into awesome. Instead of talking about bugs and lives like Frye did, he walks up with a plateful of the beasties and offers Jack Seward an hors d'œuvre. Renfield is everything we love to hate about the despicable henchman: he's weak, sniveling, and utterly lost without his master. He'd never hack it alone, but he's more than willing to do the dirty jobs that his boss won't touch. Eat bugs, jerk-off.
1. Grima Wormtongue
From: Lord of the Rings
In J.R.R. Tolkien's original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, we don't get much description of Grima Wormtongue. We know he manipulates King Theoden into complacency on behalf of Saruman. That jackhole of a wizard practically qualifies as Sauron's henchman, but he's got nothing on Wormtongue. And Tolkien's version isn't half the bastard that we see in Peter Jackson's movies. Brad Dourif voiced Chucky in the Child's Play movies and played the Gemini Killer in the way-underrated Exorcist III. But, he takes the creep factor up to 11 and plays Wormtongue like a homeless goth guy who has to send a postcard out whenever he moves (because he's a sex offender). It's like you found him on your couch after he convinced your Wiccan roommate that he has psychic powers. Except the roommate isn't an 18-year-old Women's Studies major at Sarah Lawrence. It's freaking King Theoden, and the fate of Middle Earth hangs in the balance. To make matters worse, he's trying hard to bone the king's daughter Eowyn, which would make the creepiest sex scene this side of True Blood. Seriously, this guy is just a sleaze. He boils the blood of anyone with a shred of humanity. It makes you want to go find the magic ticket from Last Action Hero so you could just go into the movie. Then, you could beat him until even Aragorn is telling you to cool it. Seriously, Wormtongue is the worst. Thank God that Legloas kills him in the longer, nerd-friendlier extended edition of Return of the King. He deserves nothing less.
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