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Deconstructing Villainous Make-Up

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If you are like me, you have always held an esteemed fascination with the villains of film. My love of bad boys aside, (I’m talking to you, sexy!), I find that the villain draws upon all the hidden desires for lust, power, and seedy glory that we have been taught since childhood to be naughty and taboo ambitions. And we allow ourselves to revel and indulge in these terrible and murderous characters, because it’s just a story and the hero will overcome in the end.

Freudian magnetism aside, when it comes to story-telling, a hero seems like a weakling mama’s boy, without the help of a truly bad-ass villain as his opponent. And let’s face it, villains are FUN! They are usually intelligent, patient, and creepy little fuckers. Vengeful and decisive, the best villains have been designing their evil plans for years, even decades, eerily focused on a very specific motivation. They can be precise and cool-headed as they create obscene masterpieces of destruction. Most are obsessive and extremely focused on one intention, one amazing act that will fulfill some early break in their psyche. Think Khan  from Star Trek: Wrath or Khan or Mr. Glass from Unbreakable.


Then there are the really SCARY ones. These villains are just plain evil from the inside out. There are no long-term plans or OCD thoughts of revenge. It is simply that their reality doesn’t include respect for human life or property. They take what they want or need, regardless of the consequences to the innocent living around them. These are the sociopaths and the monsters, the ruthless wrecking balls of humanity, taking apart whatever gets in their way as they live their lives. Think Hannibal Lector (Silence of the Lambs) or Marlow (30 Days of Night).

When watching a movie, in order for the audience to create the right emotional connection or, in most cases revulsion, to a villain, they have to look a certain way. We have to subconsciously reject this character and identify him/her as the one we want to lose the battle. They have to look somewhat, or totally, off-putting. Their facial features must lead us to lose any trust in them. And much of this, falls into the realm of make-up.

Today’s blog on cinematic make-up will be dedicated to the three essential features of a villainous make-up.

The Eyebrows


This is make-up 101 for villainy. Bad guys should have exaggerated eyebrows. Geometric and intense eyebrows give us the illusion of cunning and bad intentions. A high arch also eludes to a self-entitled supremacy over others, a common characteristic of the antihero. This technique for depicting a scoundrel is mostly seen in old-school fantasy characters such as vampires, witches, devils and demons. The classic vampire, Nosferatu, played by Max Schreck, had eyebrows that extended out and created a deep shadow over his face. Susan Sarandon sported some major brows as Queen Narissa in Enchanted as she plotted against an innocent princess.

The Terrible Grin

the joker

Villains have big, terrifying mouths! Psychologically, it signals to the audience that one shouldn’t trust any words that come out of those lips. It also relates to the ancient and deep-rooted human fear of being eaten by a predator. The mouth plays an important role in our human interpretation of evil.  In the celebrated literary work of Dante’s Inferno, a three-headed Satan is chewing on the worst sinners of mankind, in the deepest levels of Hell, for all eternity!  As a make-up artist, creating a terrifyingly sinister mouth for truly evil characters is pivotal. My favorite play on the evil maw of the bad guy is both Jack Nicholson’s and Heath Ledger’s versions of The Joker. These are both perfect and unique interpretations of an untrustworthy grin. Nicholson’s Joker smile is an exaggerated mockery of society. It’s a blatant and unapologetic mirror of our absurd obsession with beauty.  The Joker and his treacherous smile attempt to use this cultural vanity in a plot to destroy us through our daily cosmetic products. Ledger’s Joker grin is darker, a symbol of a self-crippling society. His mouth is decorated with random scar tissue, lacking any defined symmetry or pattern. His tortured grin is the result of a world of violence and cruelty and his mission is to grow the destruction towards some sort of fucked up natural selection.

Palid Complexion


Rarely will you see a cinematic villain with a nice healthy tan. Sunlight, and light in general, is for the virtuous and the righteous. We like to think of the criminally minded as dwellers of the dark, living far from the redeeming qualities of bright light. It is common to see yellow, gray, or greenish undertones added to the skin of bad guys. Heavy contouring of the facial bone structure is also a common practice to create the feeling of evil. Gaunt cheekbones illustrate hunger for power and blood. Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler immediately comes to mind. Although the make-up artists should have been more subtle in my opinion, his character looks the part. He’s a manipulative lizard of a human being and his pale, yucky complexion adds a punchline to his nasty persona.

Thanks for reading,

Diva Del Mar

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