Cinema's greatest psychos are the ones you feel as though you've met before.
Forget Freddy Krueger, Hannibal Lector, Leatherface or any of those other cartoonesque horror movie villains. It's the chillingly plausible ones, with personality traits you’ve encountered throughout your life that linger longest in the memory.
As British cinema once again plumbs the depths of damaged souls in gritty prison drama Starred Up, we pause to celebrate the greatest on-screen examples of men and women you'd do almost anything to avoid, counting down from 9 to 1.
9 | Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) – Meet The Parents
A comedy, yes, but lurking beneath the slap stick facade of this Ben Stiller rom-com is one of the most common and recognisable psychos in everyone's life: the overly protective in-law. Robert De Niro is on fine form as the universal disapproving father figure (which could just as easily be a mother, sibling or best friend), the loved one who takes one look at you, decides you're not up to scratch and makes your life as difficult as possible from then on.
8 | Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) – The Big Lebowski
Walter is the good friend who scares you from time to time, raising the silent but important question: is it ever OK to dump a mate because he’s 'a bit much'? Goodman nailed the role as the short tempered but loyal Sobchak in what is still The Coen Brothers’ funniest film.
7 | Combo (Stephen Graham) – This is England
Shane Meadows’ films often feature a corruptive older male influence, and Combo is just that – the skinhead racist who attempts to indoctrinate a young gang in right wing extremism. Like a lot of nutters on the wrong side of politics, Combo is made all the more terrifying by the fact you can’t tell if he’s just misguided but essentially kind, or an out and out bastard.
6 | Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
In a movie about the inner workings of a lunatic asylum, the most frightening character is the one who ought to be the most reassuring and sane. Nurse Ratched, played brilliantly by Louise Fletcher, is everything a medical practitioner is not supposed to be: cold, indifferent and inhumane. When even Jack Nicholson can’t crack a smile, you know something must be seriously up.
5 | Richard (Paddy Considine) – Dead Man's Shoes
Shane Meadow's darkest film flirts with horror elements, but the man at the centre is frighteningly plausible. Richard, the returning squaddie out to avenge the despicable death of his disabled brother at the hands of some local drug dealers, is fearless because he has nothing left to live for except revenge. Considine’s performance, swinging wildly from sorrow to rage, is terrifying.
4 | Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) – Goodfellas
It’s probably the most over-played and oft-quoted scene in gangster movie history, but with good reason. The ‘I'm funny how?’ table scene in Goodfellas sees Pesci’s character Tommy abruptly turn on Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill, turning the jovial atmosphere in the room on its head in the space of about four lines. He’s the classic inferiority complex guy waiting to explode. Has any one actor nailed any one scene as absolutely as this?
3 | Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) – Fatal Attraction
Alex Forrest is the embodiment of the fear you get when a person you’ve let down gently after two dates sends you twelve unanswered texts in a night, or when a chance encounter tracks down your Facebook account and tries to add you at 3am. The term ‘bunny boiler’ was invented after Fatal Attraction to refer to a spurned woman who can’t let go (of a knife, as much as your relationship), but really the ‘psycho ex’ or 'overly keen stranger' is a common experience across the genders, and never more so than in the digital age. Who have thought the 80s would prove so prescient.
2 | Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) – Sexy Beast
Anyone who doubts ‘Sir Ben’ is an acting genius should check out how he transformed himself from the exceedingly posh man who played Ghandi into a fearsome cockney psycho reducing Ray Winstone to a cowering wimp in Sexy Beast. One part extreme paranoia, one part hectoring school boy bully, there are few men in the world you be less inclined to spend an evening with than Don Logan.
1 | Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie (Robert Carlyle) – Trainspotting
One of the many masterstrokes in the 1996 adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting was to hire the 5’ 6”, slender-chested Carlyle to play Begbie, the novel’s principle unhinged hard man with a temper shorter than the average person’s tolerance for bagpipes. Despite not looking how fans of the novel expected, Carlyle nailed the role and helped seal this as arguable the most iconic British film of the 90s. Begbie takes the top spot here, no because he does the worst things of all the characters on this list, but because there is one of him lurking in every pub and on every high street in Britain. Watch your step.