Geoffrey Macnab's best movie villains

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The Independent Culture

1. Max Schreck in F W Murnau's Nosferatu (1922)

For sheer, pestilent malice, Max Schreck's hollow-cheeked, bald vampire, below, reigns supreme. "It was as if a chilly draught from doomsday had passed through Nosferatu," wrote the Hungarian critic Bela Balazs. There is no attempt to give Nosferatu depth or to try to make him sympathetic, a victim of his deprived Carpathian upbringing. He is utterly evil, proud of it, and all the scarier as a result.

2. Robert Mitchum in Charles Laughton's Night of the Hunter (1955)

Hood-eyed Mitchum is the laidback villain. The fact that he ambles along and likes to whistle doesn't disguise his nastiness. He is the preacher with "love" and "hate" tattooed on his knuckles. When the children flee downriver, this deceptively genial psychopath follows, ready to crush the life out of them.

3. Dennis Price in Robert Hamer's Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

It is a triumph of Hamer's understated humour and of Price's wonderfully debonair performance that most audiences utterly fail to recognise what a rotter Louis D'Ascoyne really is. He gleefully kills off his entire family tree so that he can rise to the head of the family. The fact that all his murdered relatives are played by the same actor (Alec Guinness) doesn't diminish the scale of the villainy.

4. Javier Bardem in the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men (2007)

As played by Javier Bardem, the outrageously violent Chigurh is the purest kind of villain. His flopsy hairstyle only serves to emphasise his beatific aspects. While all the other characters in the Cormac McCarthy adaptation oscillate wildly between good and evil, Chigurh is entirely consistent... and entirely bad. Evil is a vocation he pursues with Jesuitical devotion.

5. Leatherface in Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The Seventies and Eighties saw a rash of horror movies with grotesque and super-violent villains. Leatherface, right, (Gunnar Hansen) was surely the most repulsive and matter-of-fact. He treats his victims in the same way that butchers do livestock: as objects to be trussed, chopped, hammered, sawn and then put in the deep freeze. There's no Heath Ledger-like lyricism to Hansen's performance, just sheer brute efficiency.