We couldn’t be more excited for the new James Bond film Spectre, announced earlier this week, which promises to be a villain-heavy movie. First mentioned in Ian Fleming’s novel series about the super spy, the international criminal organization SPECTRE — which stands for SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion — was made popular in the long-running film series, headed by cat-loving Ernst Stavro Blofeld (first played by Donald Pleasence). Initially, SPECTRE was a way for Fleming to comment on the real-life political chaos happening during his day. “I invented SPECTRE as an international crime organisation which contained elements of SMERSH and the Gestapo and the Mafia — the cosy old Cosa Nostra — which, of course, is a much more elastic fictional device than SMERSH [the Russian version, essentially], which was no fictional device, but the real thing,” he told Playboy in 1964. “But that was really the reason I did it, so as not to rag the Russians too much. But if they go on squeezing off cyanide pistols in people’s faces, I may have to make them cosa mia again.” With supercriminals and all their naughty shenanigans on the brain, we revisited other organizations run by the biggest baddies in pop culture.
A throwback to the Les Apaches — the real-life early 20th-century street criminals in Paris (with a derogatory name referring to the Native American Apache tribe) — the Vampires in Louis Feuillade’s silent film serial Les Vampires are not supernatural beings. The vast criminal organization goes up against an intrepid reporter in the 1915 movie. Advertising for the film could have easily been some of the first viral marketing known to cinema. Mysterious posters were plastered around the streets of Paris (pictured above), featuring masked faces and the questions, “Who? What? When? Where…?” Newspapers also ran an ad that read: “Of the moonless nights they are kings, darkness is their kingdom. Carrying death and sowing terror, the dark Vampires fly with great suede wings, ready not only to do evil… but to do even worse!”
The G.I. Joe team’s main nemesis, Cobra (aka Cobra Command) is an early ’80s Marvel Comics creation that is run by the wicked Cobra Commander. His whole head hood get-up is pretty intimidating and references the old-school executioners. Cobra’s beef with the all-American heroes varies between the comic, animated series, and films, but they’re basically a terrorist organization.
The master criminal Fu Manchu, famous for his distinctive mustache, controls this elite group of Chinese assassins. They use exotic, bizarre weapons against their enemies, including live insects and serpents. The group has appeared in a variety of media over the past nearly 100 years, but critics have rallied against Fu Manchu and company’s racist clichés. Still, the Si-Fan and Fu Manchu maintain their cult status.
Expect to hear a lot more about Star Wars’ Sith Lords leading up to the release of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens in 2015. The ancient antagonists who worship the dark side of the Force have been a thorn in the side of the Jedi for a thousand years. Darth Vader was the first on-screen Sith Lord, but Ian McDiarmid’s Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious) is the most sinister of all. Creator George Lucas explains: “Palpatine considers himself the ‘savior’ of the galaxy. During the duel, Yoda realizes ‘He had lost before he started.’ That Sidious represents a small but powerful Sith Order that had changed and evolved over the years, while the Jedi had not.”
The French Connection
Blake Edwards’ 1978 film Revenge of the Pink Panther marks the last appearance of comedy genius Peter Sellers in the iconic role of the bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau (the actor died in 1980). The criminal organization that plots to kill Clouseau and prove they are a force to be reckoned with is the French Connection — run by businessman Philippe Douvier (played by 12 Angry Men’s Robert Webber). The name, of course, refers to the real-life drug smuggling ring from the ‘60s, fronted by the mafia.
We’ll let Marvel explain this evil boy’s club — whose devotees exclaim “Hail Hydra!” — and its logo (shout-out Cthulhu) to you:
Hydra is a world-wide subversive organization dedicated to global domination. At its height, Hydra was the most extensive, powerful, and dangerous such organization in history. Hydra is almost entirely composed of men, with some notable exceptions, such as former member Lara Brown, the daughter of a Supreme Hydra, and so-called Madame Hydra, who later became known as the Viper. Hydra agents wear green costumes with cowls concealing the entire head except for the mouth and chin. Their organization takes its name from the many-headed serpent-like monster known for its ability to grow two heads immediately to replace any head that was severed. Hydra prides itself on its ability to regroup and rebuild itself, allegedly mightier than before, after any major defeat. Indeed, the organization has now endured for four decades.
The Austin Powers series spoofs the James Bond films in just about every way. Mike Myers’ famous antagonist from the series, Dr. Evil (modeled after Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld) owns the nefarious corporation Virtucon Industries. His right-hand henchman named Number 2 (a parody of Bond group SPECTRE’s number two in charge, Adolfo Celi’s Emilio Largo, and… feces) helps run the empire. Evil is the oblivious one and considers Number 2 a big downer as he’s always reminding the cue ball-headed Evil of the financial repercussions of his wicked plans.
Dark underground organization Elite Hunting is a club of killers who run a human trafficking network in the 2005 Eli Roth film Hostel. They find their victims at a hostel in Slovakia, using attractive and exotic women to entice young Americans into their clutches. The group caters to the twisted fantasies of its wealthy patrons (and sometimes their own), torturing victims in the most gruesome ways until their death. The bloodhound is the club’s symbol (obviously), which is tattooed on members and printed on the club’s business card. Elite Hunting’s existence is an extreme comment on American greed, hedonism, and xenophobia.
Shadow government group The Syndicate leads the cover-up of extraterrestrial life in The X-Files, which is constantly threatened by plucky FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Members include the creeptastic Smoking Man (William B. Davis in the role of his lifetime). From an interview with Chris Carter by writer John Kenneth Muir:
JKM: If you look across Millennium, X-Files, Lone Gunmen, and Harsh Realm, you also see that in addition to the anticipatory anxiety, you return again and again to the idea of the unelected privileged — a small group, a cabal — whether it be the Syndicate, the Millennium Group of the military industrial complex in Harsh Realm dominating the many. Is that something really interests you?
CARTER: Yes, it interests me, and it’s continuing to interest me. Sometimes, I don’t even stop to consider these things, but I’ll find something of interest. A conversation with someone, for instance. I’m looking at the Zeitgeist of today and trying to make sense of it in what I’m doing. Sometimes these things are commercial, and sometimes they aren’t.