Throughout all of history, there has been no more villainous or diabolical piece of head wear than the top hat.
A milliner’s delight and the most sombre of fashionable pieces, the top hat shows a level of both style and irascibility that represents the true villain.
In fact, it could be said that the stereotypical villain is a monocled Victorian gentleman sporting a finely twirled moustache and an enormous top hat.
Personally, I find that these Dick Dastardly types are at the very foot of the pecking order of villainy. They are surpassed by a far higher calibre of villain and so I present to you my top 5 villains in Top Hats.
Number 5: Mister Babadook
Spoiler warning – skip this entry if you haven’t seen the film titled “The Babadook”.
If it’s in a word,
or in a look,
You can’t get rid of the Babadook.
Whether you believe the Babadook to be a symptom of a mother’s grief at the loss of her spouse or a genuine supernatural creature of massively malign intent, the Babadook is a wonderfully menacing individual.
The Babadook forced its way into my list, displacing Oswald Cobblepot as my fifth favourite top hatted villain, with his attempts to convince a young Mother to throttle her irritating (and needy) son before persuading her into taking her own life.
His repeated chanting of his own name is so catchy, that I have set it as my text message alert – just to keep me on my toes.
Like other great villains on this list, the Babadook gives off an eerie aura of east european origins. Like a cross between Fagin and Freddy Krueger, I can imagine the Babadook nesting in a dark forested, fairytale home – amongst the bones of dead children.
I’ve been unable to determine whether Mr. Babadook is an original creation or based on actual folklore. If you look into the mythology surrounding “shadow people” and other night terrors you can easily see a theme of long-clawed humanoid creatures wearing hats. Take Freddy Krueger of Nightmare on Elm Street fame; my nightmares were plagued by a Freddy clone years before the film was produced.
Number 4: Papa Lazarou
Whilst Papa Lazarou pre-dates Mr. Babadook, he seems born of similar east-european origins.
Part gypsy, part black and white minstrel, Lazarou’s villainy manifests in an unstoppable urge to kidnap people to add to his harem (or zoo).
You wanna buy some pegs Dave?
Papa Lazarou features in the British television comedy series, The League of Gentlemen, a dark piece of social satire that dredges the depths of British humour with a shading of dystopian horror and fear of the North.
Merging aspects of racism in early television, stereotyped voodoo couture and the small village fear of outsiders, Papa Lazarou is more a creature than a man.
My love for Lazarou runs deeper than all that. A true bogeyman for its generation.
Whilst villains like the Babadook carry a threat of very real harm, Papa Lazarou offers a fate far worse. Inescapable torment and servitude to a creature of pure malevolent chaos.
Number 3: Old George
The Wachowski brother’s cross-generational science fantasy piece, Cloud Atlas, met with very mixed reviews when it was released.
Cloud Atlas appears to have been overly ambitious in its execution.
That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the story it wove.
I found the concept of following the same old-souls as they enacted and re-enacted the tropes of their own lives to be fresh and inspirational.
Old George isn’t really named in the film, I had to research him to discover a name.
Played by the excellent Hugo Weaving, Old George is a persistent figment of Tom Hanks’ post apocalyptic incarnation. Like the old Indian Chief guiding Jim Morrison through the desert, Old George plagues Hanks’s character like a promise of malice.
Clearly influenced by the next villain on my list, Old George is like a fallen guardian angel. An angel whose advice can only lead to pain and suffering.
Is Old George a kind of “Hungry Ghost”, included as a nod to the film’s eastern influences or is he merely a fragment of Tom Hanks’ psyche?
My recollection of the film left me with the impression that the latter scenario is the case… I’d like to believe otherwise however.
Number 2: The Hitcher
The Hitcher is a recurring villain in the collected works of The Mighty Boosh, a British comedy collective.
Do I look like a reasonable man to you, or a peppermint nightmare?
A green-skinned cockney villain who would happily slaughter his victims whilst filling them with Eels, this polo-minted fiend is actually called Baboo Yagu.
A parody of the Slavic fairytale bogeywoman, Baba Yaga, the Hitcher carries a similar supernatural taint. He appears at a whim, when least expected and always offers violence or death.
The Hitcher shares traits with others from this list. he is clearly the inspiration for Wachowski’s Old George and is as inescapable as Papa Lazarou. His name even has ties to Mister Babadook.
Despite that, he is still only second on my list.
Number 1: Baron Samedi
There can be no greater top-hatted villain than Baron Saturday.
Propelled into popular culture through my favourite Bond movie, Live and Let Die, Baron Samedi is a voodoo Loa – a kind of spirit entity that operates between our world and that of the divine.
In the original story behind Live and Let Die, Baron Samedi is a role believed to be adopted by the villain-de-jour, Mr. Big. The rumour spread amongst the West Indian underground is that Mr. Big is Baron Samedi. Mr Big maintains this rumour to maintain an atmosphere of terror amongst his people.
In the film, we see that this is simply not the case. Mr Big (the actual villain of the story). Baron Samedi steals the limelight however. We are left without a doubt to the Baron’s supernatural nature.
From the moment he is left as cracked porcelain shards to the final scene of the movie, we are shown that Baron Samedi is beyond death. I’ve always interpreted this as the Baron being the influence behind Mr. Big.
In the book, Ian Fleming writes Mr. Big as working on behalf of SMERSH; I prefer to believe he was working at the influence of a greater villain.
So there you have it, the top 5 villains in top hats.
Notable top-hatted villains that didn’t make this list include Dick Dastardly, The Penguin, Raffles the Gentleman Thug and Mr. Hyde from the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.