The 1980s gave audiences plenty of timeless bad guys like the Terminator, Boba Fett, and Vigo the Carpathian. The decade also dished out plenty of incompetent and ill-conceived villains. Let's explore the 1980s wing of the Annals of Mediocre Villainy.
1.) Emil from Robocop (1987)
In Robocop, Emil was simply a lowly Detroit henchman, content to be bossed around by crime lord Clarence Boddicker (a.k.a. Red Forman from That 70s Show ). All that changed when crashed his truck into a vat of toxic waste. Emil quickly melted/mutated into a walking pimento loaf, until he was mowed down by a less-than-contrite Red. I love that this scene does nothing to advance the plot. I guess Robocop director Paul Verhoeven really wanted a scene of guy melting, so he threw this in. When your death becomes a throwaway sight gag, that is the apotheosis of regrettable.
2.) Thunder from Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
In this John Carpenter classic, the evil David Lo Pan has three magical henchmen: Thunder, Rain, and Lightning (who was the inspiration for Raiden from Mortal Kombat). At the end of the film, Thunder (who can blow gusts of wind) makes a last-ditch attempt to kill the heroes by becoming a living grenade. Unfortunately, this plan fails miserably, and Thunder explodes into a tidal wave of Cobb salad. Again, no dignity in death.
3.) The Gorax from Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984)
The latter half of the Star Wars trilogy has so many regrettable bad guys — the Rancor keeper, any Stormtrooper who was killed by an Ewok — but at the end of the day, I had to go with the Gorax of Endor from this infamous made-for-TV movie. The Gorax is a 100-foot-tall monster who's defeated by a bunch of Ewoks, a laser-pointer-like "Wistie," and some kids who couldn't act. Even Salacious B. Crumb didn't have to put up with this shit.
4.) The Nuclear Man from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
The Nuclear Man was Lex Luthor's Superman clone with the body of actor Mark Pillow, the voice of Gene Hackman, and the best superpowers $15 million (in Eighties dollars) could buy. Incidentally, an earlier cut of the film had punkier, more Bizarro-like clone portrayed by Clive Mantle. You can watch those fairly crappy scenes here.
5.) The roaring shark from Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
None of the Jaws sequels were worthwhile, but Jaws 4 was an unapologetic bottom feeder. In this final sequel, a new evil shark stalks Chief Brody's family while they're vacationing in the Caribbean. Nothing makes sense, the effects are terrible, and I'm fairly sure Michael Caine once denied he was ever in it. The worst part? The damn shark roars.
6.) Cobra Commander from G.I. Joe The Movie (1987)
I liked G.I. Joe The Movie, particularly for the Cobra musical number at the beginning and the oddly poignant final scene in which Sergeant Slaughter beats the stuffing out of a mutant while screaming about America. What I found somewhat less enthralling was the revelation that Cobra Commander was a hyper-evolved repto-sapien from a Lovecraftian city known as "Cobra-La." Learning that the entire Cobra empire was run by a bunch of stinky monster-people was one thing, but seeing the once proud Cobra Commander transformed into a literal snake was a downer. I do however quote the line, "Nemesis Enforcer, throw this worthless sewage into the Abyss of Oblivion" maybe 10 times daily.
7.) The monsters from Inseminoid (1980)
Inseminoid was a totally artless Alien knock-off. In Alien, the insect-like face-hugger implanted a xenomorph in the host's chest. In Inseminoid, you become an alien host when a monster rapes you. Seriously, the filmmakers took the body horror of Alien and warped it into a tale of ET sexual assault. To make matters worse, the Inseminoid's host develops the super-strength and temperament of someone high on angel dust. This eschews the need for special effects! For more 1980s alien pregnancy stupidity, a dishonorable mention goes out to 1982's Xtro, in which a woman gives birth to a grown man.
8.) Q — The Winged Serpent (1982)
David Carradine and a lot of guns versus Quetzacotal in New York. I like Q, but let's be honest. This movie was 90% Michael Moriarty freaking out, 10% monster on the rampage. Also, he goes down like a chump in the end. This film was like The French Connection directed by Ray Harryhausen.
9.) Every stalker from Running Man (1987)
In the dystopian classic Running Man, criminals must compete for their lives on a televised death match against "stalkers" (a.k.a. American Gladiators who kill you). All of the stalkers are way goofy, such as the hockey-themed Sub-Zero, Dynamo the electric opera singer, Buzzsaw, and Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura, above). Like Predator, Running Man was a film where future governors were made.
10.) The Brain (1988)
Truth be told, I kind of dig The Brain — it's about a giant psychic Swedish meatball that runs a Scientology-style cult. But his many sneak attacks are too funny to be frightening. The movie is like Saturday Night Live's Land Shark sketch writ large.
This post originally ran on io9 December 2010.