Pity the female villain.
Male villains can look forward to world domination, tons of moolah and all the power they can handle; females, on the other hand, spend all their time scheming to sabotage various weddings when they’re not forcing their daughters-in-law to mop floors while dressed in rags or nagging their husbands to death. And if somehow they manage to stumble onto a bitchin’ gig, they might just find themselves laboring under gallons of body paint and CGI because God forbid they show an actual live woman having the sort of fun men having been having for ages now (before getting blown up or dissolved in a vat of acid, naturally).
Male villains get cool names, all the chicks they can bang, and fly around the world like the billionaires they frequently are; female villains are typically the mom or the wife from hell, nobody loves them much less wants to bang them, and all their plotting and planning usually leaves them with a wrinkly face.
Chee. Who’d want to be a female villain?
So it’s always nice to stumble across a proper villain in a dress. Especially when it’s Glenn Close.
Every ten years or so, Close manages to play one woman character who is so dead-on perfect for that decade, it’s absolutely uncanny. They’re not your run-of-the-mill female villains; they embody everything we’re supposed to fear about women that generation. It’s no accident that they’ve become by-words in pop culture.
Fatal Attraction (1987) – Clearly, there’s something fishy about Alex Forrest (Close). She’s a sexy, capable, career woman who knows what she wants and when. She could have anybody at all but she inexplicably sets her sights on the charming (some would say smarmy but that’s just Michael Douglas for you) Dan Gallagher.
Good ol’ Dan, our sympathetic hero, has a wife and little girl at home but when offered an illicit weekend with the sexy Alex, Dan couldn’t be more ready. The sex is amazing but once the weekend’s over and the wife is on her way back, Dan would like nothing better than to put it all behind him. This is when Alex informs him that she has some ideas of her own. Ideas she probably culled from a horror movie.
By the time the 80s rolled around, sexism was still rampant in the workplace not to mention the home, but change was definitely afoot in the gender wars. However, things hadn’t evolved to the extent where strong, successful women working outside their homes were the accepted norm. Close, dressed in those sexy suits with her hair done just so and the mascara smudging around her eyes so you wondered whether she’d just rolled out of somebody’s bed or was finishing up a long day at the office, perfectly captures the threat implied by women like Alex.
She is off the leash, so to speak, a woman whose sexual liberation conveniently masks a sexual predator; the ice queen who (spoiler alert!) could boil a child’s bunny rabbit without a qualm to send her prey a message; the bitch who threatens to emasculate you because she is more powerful than you. Even her uterus, that sacred vessel of life, is a threat to this decent family man who made one little mistake and his innocent family.
Towards the end of the movie, it really does transform itself from a thriller to a horror film, but that too is in line with its theme of a woman run amok – she’s not just an evil woman, she’s a monster. She can’t merely be defeated, she must be eliminated because she will not stop! By the time she meets her end at the hands of the Good Wife right when things look very black indeed for the Erring Husband, it’s turned deliciously 80s… yet Alex the Psycho is such a powerful image, she resonates even today.