Hey guys! Today’s post is just a little something that occurred to me while watching the very epic anime series, Fate/Zero, and I thought I would share my thoughts since it pertains to something in the cliche world that’s always intrigued me:
(Keep in mind too that a lot of this just ideas dancing around my head that makes me happy putting down in blog form. And it’s my birthday today, so be nice.)
Evil laughs even in books are just as cliched as anything else, as any that you find in movies. But the reason cliches are such is that they do contain some inherent truth pertaining to nature. The evil laugh is one cliche that has always intrigued me. Perhaps because it is the evidence of a deranged mind, and insanity in its way is that point where inhibitions against impulses are broken, often in a bold fashion that we both fear and admire. The best evil laughs then, are the ones that actually serve a mechanical and emotional purpose, as with any cliche that’s used effectively.
As much as I love Gary Oldman’s on-screen acting in things like the Harry Potter films, the Dark Knight films, and his voice acting in, of all things, Kung Fu Panda 2, I couldn’t help cringing a little over his devious laugh in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It was delicious in its way, but I think Keanu Reeves’ reaction to it kind of ruined it for me. But it’s clear that the laugh itself was coming from pure enjoyment, and that’s where laughs generally should come from.
On the other hand, the evil laugh is definitely a cliche that’s been overdone to the point that in many cases it becomes nothing more than white noise for a villain. What I look for in an evil laugh is not merely something new to it that’s brought to the table, but the simple organic feeling that it should possess as a laugh. I want to have just a piece of that villain’s joy slither into my heart and make me just a little bit invested in their revelry, make me want, just a little, to be evil too, because it looks like just that much fun.
Those are the best evil laughs.
The evil laughs that are sexy.
In movies and visual media, this isn’t precisely hard to do, since laughter is *duh* a sound. It’s up to the actor–whether physically there or there as a voice–to produce that kind of quality in the laugh. One in particular that gave me a glimpse of how ecstatic it can be to enjoy being evil is the laugh from the aforementioned Fate/Zero. The once empty and purposeless yet force-of-nature-esque Kirei Kotomine,
is gently prodded by Archer, the spirit of Gilgamesh, into heeding the call of the Holy Grail and pursuing that which gives him most joy. At first Kirei very compartmentalizingly classifies joy as a sin, but then Gilgamesh twists his thinking into believing that the ultimate truth in life to seek out joy, no matter what. Then he sits back and watches as Kirei, who by the way has never really thought much for himself his entire life, realizes that he gets his jollies out of other people’s pain, and I think that he continues down that spiral of evil in part because he believes that the Grail will show him who he really is, and at the same time that if a demon is his true nature, he has no choice but to embrace it–and at the same time, embracing it does bring him joy. I believe it is said somewhere that the worst villains are the ones who don’t really know what they’re doing.
Immediately following the climactic, cataclysmic event of the last episode, when Gilgamesh suggests that the destruction that occurs was in fact Kirei’s wish for the Grail, the laugh Kirei gives upon coming to this revelation is one of the best, probably because it is based entirely on the fact that he is finding nothing but joy in the self-discovery of his own wickedness. It’s almost like the laugh of a kid at Christmas, which is funny because kids tend to have some of the best laughs in existence, and they’re overall quite innocent. This sense of duality I think is what contributed to my experiencing an adrenaline rush of sharing in Kirei’s euphoria, even as I knew he’d become the biggest douchebag in the show. Even later on in the episode, when he gives the dagger he used to kill his master as a gift to his master’s daughter, and the poor girl finally breaks and starts to cry, we see a despicable smile play about Kirei’s face as he enjoys the irony of the situation, and while we hate him for it, it’s a totally believable thing for him to do at this point, and again it brings back the theme of delicious deviousness.
In terms of books, this kind of imagery can be harder to pull off if not done with a good amount of eloquence. But I think that the same principles can apply, just in a more literary sense. Again, a laugh that’s pure organic joy is the best approach.
For example, we love it when a character like Bellatrix Lestrange from the Harry Potter books laughs, in part because she’s so bat-shit insane, but in that insanity she truly loves to torture and kill people, and she’s passionately dedicated to what Voldemort’s trying to do–which is funny because as much as she idolizes Voldemort, she almost his fanatic opposite in that she’s emotionally invested (if insanely and sadistically so), while Voldemort’s pretty much devoid of all emotion entirely, having totally crippled his own humanity.
Needless to say, I think we wanted to kill her as much as Harry did when she cackled and taunted him over having killed his godfather Sirius. And the same time, very twistedly, we loved her for it.
Why did we though? Not just because she’s insane, though that’s all well and good. The insanity serves a purpose. J. K. Rowling herself has said that female psychopaths often find themselves attached to a male of the same mindset–hence Bellatrix’s fixation with Voldemort. As with anything, if there’s no reason, the laugh’s just pointless filler, which is what a cliche can be at its worst when it isn’t done right. The villain’s just laughing because they’re evil and they’re supposed to be enjoying it.
And no, that’s not exactly the same point I’m making here. I’m talking about joy with substance. Yes, the villain can enjoy what they’re doing, but it doesn’t have to come out in a laugh all the time. The laugh has to be warranted. In the case of Bellatrix, she is ecstatic that she not only killed her cousin Sirius Black, for whom she harbored a deep hatred since he turned his back on the Black family’s emphasis on blood purity, but at the same time caused Harry Potter pain in killing him, which in her mind is a triumph because Harry is the enemy of the one she most greatly admires, Voldemort. It isn’t a simple matter of she’s a sadist so of course she would laugh. She could have just as easily NOT laughed.
Voldemort’s evil, and he doesn’t really laugh. Why? Because there’s no basis for his character to really do that, as he really feels nothing human anymore. I’m sure he experiences an illusion of what must be joy, and certainly he takes pride in the fact that he can overcome what he fears most–Death–caring little for the cost it has on his soul. But really there’s no true joy in him, so he can’t laugh in ecstasy over it. And again, that’s what gives both his and Bellatrix’s characters their respective complexities, their differing attitudes. One thing they are united in though is their belief that what they’re doing is not “evil”–or at the very least, that what wizards like Albus Dumbledore are trying to achieve in the world are *cough, cough* “lame“.
So let your villain be as joyous in their villainy as they want, but let the reason be more than just, they enjoy it. Yes, straight-up sadists simply get a kick out of causing pain, but really human nature isn’t so precise and simple, is it? And being clean-cut is boring anyway. That’s why evil laughter has become a cliche in the first place. But if done right, the cliche feels so fresh that the word cliche doesn’t even enter into it.
I certainly didn’t feel that way when Kirei Kotomine laughed. It felt…right. Which is precisely the idea.
Now somebody look at this picture and try to tell me this is NOT anime kid Snape.