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Scars and skin disease: The face of cinema evil?

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Farah Ahmed
sir anthony hopkins

6th April 2017 – Dr Hannibal Lecter had hair loss, Darth Vader bore facial scars and the Wicked Witch of the West sprouted a verruca on her face.

When it comes to villains on film, skin conditions are almost obligatory, it seems.

Now, doctors have demonstrated that 6 out of 10 of the most infamous 'baddies' in movie history are afflicted with some kind of skin problem, and all of them are on the face and scalp.

How many top 10 movie heroes have skin problems? Yep, you've guessed – almost none.

The doctors warn that this imbalance could spark prejudice against people with skin diseases and conditions.

Hair loss (alopecia) leads the movie villain hall of fame, along with dark circles round the eyes. Unnatural skin colour, a wrinkled face, scarring and warts follow close behind. But it's not uncommon for cinema's most evil characters to have several problems with their skin.


Hair loss as a signal of evil dates back to the silent era. In the 1921 film, Nosferatu, Max Schreck's creepy villain is rendered even more ominous by his pallid face and hairless scalp.

More recently, psychopathic villain Hannibal Lecter, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins, is cast with stage three androgenic alopecia. His condition is accentuated by the strap of a mask that pulls back his hair and distorts the appearance of his face when confronted by Senator Ruth Martin about her daughter's abduction.

Other 'follically challenged' bad guys include Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films, Abomination in The Incredible Hulk and Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.

Unusual skin colours

The 'evil albino' is richly populated in cinema history.

These include villain Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist, whose skin whitens after an encounter with an Ouija board.

European folklore, rich with vampires and the undead, drained of blood, are said to have influenced the stereotype.

The Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, had green skin.

Facial scars

Here's another cinematic signpost for evil doings that also dates back to silent films.

In The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader's scars are prominent and reflect his violent life as a warrior seduced by the dark side of 'the force'. In contrast, Luke Skywalker has flawless skin.

Two film heroes do have facial scars. They are Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark and Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca.

However, the study authors point out that the facial scars of heroes are much subtler and shorter in length than those of villains.

The authors do concede that not all villains have skin conditions. The second most evil film villain as ranked by the American Film Institute, Norman Bates from Hitchcock's Psycho, has no such facial features. Nor does Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, who's ranked number 5.

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