Villain Clichés That Work – Four Lessons From The Dark Tower Movie #MondayBlogs

Original Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

It’s been a while since I saw a film that was so good I practically combusted over it. But I just saw the Dark Tower, and oh my sweet, sweet deliciously-evil villain heaven was it bloody amazing.

Now before anyone whips out their red pen and corrects this post:

Two caveats:

ONE – This post will contain some spoilers, if you haven’t watched the film and intend to, please don’t read on.

TWO – I have not read The Gunslinger by Stephen King, that’s the book the film is based on. Therefore all comments are in relation to the movie the Dark Tower only.

I lied, there’s a third caveat, this is all my opinion. If you don’t like the Dark Tower movie, I can’t do anything about your bad taste in films. :p

Why am I talking about Dark Tower? Because it had a villain that was off the chart. And you know how I swoon over a good villain. But Walter (the villain) was also a total cliché, and yet, despite that, he worked. Like really, REALLY well. So well, that I was salivating literary story joy all over the screen.

Which means the film provides a cracking lesson on how to make a clichéd villain work: 

First, what constitutes a clichéd villain?

In 13 Steps To Evil – How To Craft A Superbad Villain, I give you a whole list of clichés to avoid. But simply:

“Clichés are words, phrases, expressions or scenes that have been overused to the point they’ve become predictable and unoriginal.” p.117 13 Steps to Evil, by ME!

For example:

  • The priest saying ‘Does anyone object?’ and the protagonist’s true love bursting into the church
  • A villain or a witch with a ‘muhahaha’ laugh or a cackle
  • And then I woke up and realized it was all a dream

Why was Walter from Dark Tower a cliché?

Image from IMDB

Cliché 1 – Black 

For a start he only wore black. Not something I mind, given my fave color an’ all. But still. A black clothed villain is a cliché, even if Walter was particularly stylish and unacceptably handsome.

Cliché 2 – Lack of motive AKA evil for the sake of it

Now, I refused to believe that Stephen King wrote a book with a motiveless villain, so as soon as I got out of the movie, I googled it and discovered, that of course, in the books, he has an excellent motive. However, in the film, not so much.

Walter is one of those, evil for the sake of it villains. His mission is to destroy the tower and reign life ending apocalypse over the universe by letting in all the hell demons and beasts that are outside the universe.

Cliché 3 – A hoard of motiveless minions

There’s one thing that a dark-lord-evil-for-the-sake of it villain is great at, and that’s amassing an army of minions who do absolutely everything the villain says in fear of death, but with frankly, zero motive. It makes it a bit hard to swallow for the more seasoned plot critic.


But enough of the bad stuff. Because despite everything I just said, Matthew McConaughey nailed Walter. He was an amazing villain, and yes, that was partly because of his acting but also because the role was written well.

Here’s how he combatted the cliché

Image from Pixabay

ONE – Coohey – Look Over Here…

Divert attention away from black.

Think about the weapons your villain might have, or the mannerisms, or physical features. What is it, besides the black clothing that makes your villain evil and interesting? Make those things the defining feature rather than the use of black clothing. That way the clothes become background noise in amongst your strange and quirky villain.

Walter’s got so many other features, his narcissism, his Jupiter sized ego, his disturbingly warped mindset, his ability to wield amazing powers of villainy delight and sorcery. The black clothing was practically invisible. If I hadn’t been looking for it I might not have seen it!

TWO – Hurt The Hero 

Heroes need to suffer for their win.

Readers don’t give a damn whether your hero runs off with the maiden, or if he dies pulling hairballs out of his pet cat unless, that is, you make them invest in the hero’s journey.

And how do you do that? By giving the hero a character arc and having a villain that makes your hero’s life hell.

And boy does Walter make Roland pay. Walter ruthlessly kills everyone that walks with Roland and murders everyone he ever cares about or loves. Dead. ALL OF THEM. Without exception. The last of which is his father and it throws him into decades of isolation and self-loathing. GENIUS.

THREE – Target everyone’s weaknesses

Not only does Walter hit Roland (the hero) where it hurts, by killing everyone he loves. He does the same for the protagonist (Jake). Jake is a young psychic boy, and who the story is about. His dad is already dead, so to make Jake vulnerable he prays on his only weakness, the only thing he has left – his mum. Walter kills Jake’s mum and the rage Jake feels over it, sets off his psychic powers, enabling Walter to track him down.

Not only does Walter target people’s weaknesses, he does so with an unrelenting consistency that is terrifyingly brilliant. He is one bad motherfu…

FOUR – Make the villain impossible to beat unless…

…Your hero gets over their personal barrier, i.e. their character arc.

Walter IS impossible to beat. He’s stronger, more manipulative, more cunning, and more devious and the whole universe is terrified of him. There’s no way a single gunslinger (Roland) can beat him. Especially when Walter has broken Roland mentally.

Roland’s character arc is a lie arc. I’ve talked about the lie your character believes before. But Roland, in particular, believes that he is no longer a Gunslinger because his heart isn’t pure because he wants revenge more than he wants to protect the tower.

It isn’t until our cute little psychic kid helps Roland remember that he is still a Gunslinger at heart, that he’s able to make the shot that kills Walter.

And there you have it. Four ways to beat the cliché.

Have you seen the movie? What did you think? How else have you included a cliché in your book but turned it into an awesome character?

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  1. As a lifelong King fan, I am looking forward to watching The Dark Tower. With two of my favourite fellas, what’s not to like? Your review has not spoiled anything for me, if anything it has raised my longing to a dangerously high expectation!

  2. I have read The Gunslinger and there are MASSIVE differences. For example, Jake’s only an incidental character in the book and it’s all about Roland (more Idris Elba…mmmmmmm). So I’d say the film is more inspired by the series as a whole, and not just an adaptation of the first book.

    That said. Obviously, films and books have to work differently because they’re different narrative forms (which is why I reject any criticism of the Watchmen movie). Also, if you want good Stephen King villains, watch the TV adaptation of 11.22.63 – they really ramped up Lee Harvey Oswald as a villain, moreso than the book.

    I enjoyed the film. I really did. I was, naturally, distracted by the production design, but never mind. My only issue with Walter is they didn’t give him a reason for wanting to bring about the apocalypse, aside from his comment about ‘Death always winning, that’s the deal’. Was that them saying HE’S Death? I don’t know. I loved McConnaughey’s performance, he was thoroughly detestable, which is always the sign of a good villain (and one reason why Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus is near unbeatable for me) but a bit more of a ‘why’ would be nice. After all, everyone else had one!

  3. You just talked me out of seeing the movie. Hahaha. It sounds too violent (I don’t do well with horror). But back to your points… The lack of motive for superbad villains is pretty common in movies, I think, and audiences are used to taking evil at face value, but it does disrupt the “reality” of the film for people versed in story development. I’m not surprised that you picked up on it. The good points that overcame the cliches sound really strong.

    Two thoughts here… one, that movies, as short visual entertainments, take more liberties (likely based on genre as well as the medium) and will occasionally use cliches (like wearing black) to quickly establish character. And two, that King actually did provide a strong motive in the book – which implies that authors shouldn’t take shortcuts and skip motive even if the other elements are strong. Great post, Sacha. 🙂

    1. It’s not horror at all. It’s only rated 12 in the U.K. so it’s akin to the Harry Potter movies. There’s a lot of implied but not seen – so you don’t ACTUALLY see the kids mum die.

      Agreed about the lack of motive, it’s VERY common not to have a well-rounded motive these days. I’m not sure how we ended up here with that as a movie standard?

      Totally agree about liberties too – it’s like a given because it’s a visual form of media it’s easier to engage a viewer so to speak.

      1. I can handle 12-year-old scary. Ha ha. I think the liberties and lack of motive with film comes down to time – a decision of what is essential to the 90-120 minute slot. Books and movies are similar in many ways, but the time constraints force some significant differences. (That would make a good post (hint hint)).

    1. According to Diana, I didn’t give anything away, but I feel it’s only fair to say I have just in case people see spoilers at different levels. Once you have seen it, let me know what you thought.

  4. Didn’t read because of your spoiler disclaimer but will share and be back once I’ve seen the movie. I read this many years ago so wouldn’t know if it’s true to the book but I’ll just enjoy as a film.

  5. Oooh…Sacha, best use that name here, although it reminds me of anecdote about a friend on Facebook that used the pen name to sign for an important package relating to some blogger bash thingamy and it causing all sorts of embarrassment with the postal people… you might know her 😉

    On topic…villains yes, Walter, Randalf Flagg, Martyn.. which ever guise the Man in Black so chooses to walk. Appears in a number of books as it happens including The Stand.

    I digress, DT uber fan and am aiming to do a film review because some of the bad ones I’ve seen are so barking up the wrong turn of the wheel. Loosely based on The Gunslinger yes, but can’t follow the book because he carries The Horn of Eld. See end of The Dark Tower itself for a reference to the cyclic nature of his quest…it’s in his gunna as he clears the Towers door at the top and begins chasing the Man in Black across the dessert again for Ka knows how many times. In the Gunslinger; the horn was left with his friend at the Battle of Jericho Hill. Ergo, the film cannot follow the books literally. This time he is closer to the right path…question is whether on the scheme of things Walter is teasing him in the right direction each time through. I feel he could have killed Roland many times including the palaver at the end of the Gunslinger when Roland time slips.

    Also…this time he did not drop Jake… not the waystation, but over the cliff. I think this is why the film settles on Jakes story… I rather liked the film; a few plot issues, but on the whole loved it…not accepting Walter is dead mind. That seems way too easy given his tendency to appear all over. And too early in the path to the Tower IMO.

    Hmm, #ramble. Arch villain yes, black seems to have the right connotation in clothing; unless its a clown… “We all float down here.”

    Super post and I hope I capture villains in somewhere close to this particular example 🙂

    1. hahaha I have no idea what you’re talking about, as if I’d do that with LEGAL papers! :p 😛 okay WOW you are a huge mega DT fan! I don’t think I knew half of those things, I did know that it wasn’t based on the books very much though and I think that if people watch it with that in mind it has a very different outcome for them, overall I thought as a film it was pretty good apart from his lack of motive of course!

      1. Haha, we shall call it an alleged signature incident then 😜
        I think the problem in reviews I’ve seen is that if you don’t know the back stories a lot of the references are entirely missed. The real clue to the way this goes is in the very last two paragraphs of the final book. There it basically says next time round is going to be different…the horn I mentioned is one clue. It tells us forget the books because this turn of the wheel cannot be the same. Some will be yes, Jake for example…but this turn he isn’t dropped and passed over while Roland chases Walter. De facto that means Jake has a much bigger role early on and Roland’s path is not chasing Walter in the same way. I’m not saying the film captured everything and parts were not that good (IMO), but I think if you compare it to Star Wars or Fantastic Beasts you see very much a pilot film. It doesn’t look like an uber budget film in the same way maybe Chamber of Secrets was compared to the known profit later ones.

        Totally agree though, if people watch it knowing it won’t or cannot follow the books then they will get a far better experience 😊

  6. Oooh this is good to know. All the other reviews I have seen of this movie seemed to hate it. I LOVED the books (well, the first one was a little slow, but the others were so, so good!) so I think Ill be a little sad that they mashed the whole story into one film…

    I had decided not to go and see it in the cinema after all the bad reviews, but I’ll totally watch it if it makes it onto netflix!

    Are you thinking about reading the books now?

    1. Hey thank you so much for commenting. haha, yeah there’s lots of the book lovers slating the film. But I think if you go in and just don’t associate the books to the film you’ll be okay, as the film is so different (apparently) but as a standalone its awesome.

      I actually tried to read the book before I saw the film, and I know this is an outrageous comment, but I didn’t like the style, I couldn’t get into the voice. I know. That’s a ridiculous thing to say, it’s Stephen King, but *shrugs* beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

      1. I actually agree. I wasn’t a fan of the first book. I am not sure why I even kept reading it… BUT the later books are so much better.

        Maybe try picking up from one of the later books. (It goes over the main plot points at the beginning anyway, so you’d know the story) It gets really surreal but awesome.

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