Today is Halloween, America’s horror holiday. Health care is all over the news, with millions of Americans HORRIFIED by cancelled health insurance policies, skyrocketing insurance rates, and a government-run website which devours one’s hours and exposes one’s personal info to all the world’s Internet scammers. We could all use a distraction. So what could be a better prescription for Halloween distraction than a Top Thirteen List of Pop Culture’s Most Evil Doctors and Nurses?
Notice – this is a list of the most evil, not the most famous. So I’m not including the most famous mad doctor of them all, Dr. Victor Frankenstein (or, in the movie version, Dr. Henry Frankenstein). I’m leaving out the good Dr. Frankenstein because he really is the good Dr. Frankenstein – he embarks upon his experiments with the purest of intentions, wanting only to further the cause of Science and advance mankind’s knowledge. He doesn’t intend to unleash a homicidal monster on the world. (Unlike, perhaps, the drafters of the 1100 page Obamacare law.)
So here’s my list of a baker’s dozen Evil Doctors and Nurses, going from Least Evil to Most Evil.
Okay, technically, Zombie Nurse isn’t really evil… she’s just misguided, and really, really hungry. But she’s one of the bit players from George A. Romero’s horror classic who never fades from your mind. Because isn’t the notion of a nurse who wants to devour your flesh just a wee bit disturbing?
Climbing the evil scale just a bit, we come to Dr. Genessier, protagonist of Georges Franju’s atmospheric Franco-Italian co-production. Yes, he’s a murderer, but he has the best interests of his daughter, Christiane, at heart. Don’t take that at face value, however; Dr. Genessier’s game is to acquire a fresh face for Christiane, who has been horribly disfigured in a fire. His pursuit of Christiane’s happiness involves multiple heterograft surgeries, the removals of entire faces from healthy young women. Unfortunately, Christiane’s body rejects them, one after one. What’s a daddy to do, when his daughter is so unpleasable?
Dr. Cortner faces a similar dilemma to that of Dr. Genessier. In this case, it’s his fiancée, Jan, who desperately requires his medical skills. Poor Jan was decapitated in a car wreck, but clever Dr. Cortner finds a way to keep her head alive… sort of. Of course, being mounted on a liquid-filled tray isn’t much of a life, so the good doctor goes in search of a donor of a body from the neck down. Not too many of those get advertised on Craig’s List, unfortunately…
Nurse Ratched may be the most subtle evil practitioner of medicine on this list. She doesn’t do anything overtly bad to any of the patients at the Oregon State Hospital; any accrediting auditor who would follow her around to observe quality of care would probably give her high marks for professionalism. Still, she drives one patient to suicide, maneuvers another into a lobotomy, and destroys the self-esteem of the whole lot. A career-making (and career-destroying) performance by Louise Fletcher, who won an Academy Award for Best Actress and became so associated with Nurse Ratched that she was never offered another role a tenth as good.
I had to get Boris Karloff on this list somehow. He played an entire platoon of mad doctors over his lengthy career, including a descendant of Dr. Victor Frankenstein in Frankenstein 1970. But I do believe the most evil doctor he portrayed was Master George Sims, who was based upon the real-life Dr. John Monro, chief physician of the infamous Bethlem Royal Hospital. Sims takes a sadistic delight in showing off the the peculiarities of his mental patients to any curious observers, and he is more than willing to abuse his legal powers and commit any critics of his practices to his asylum. Perhaps Nurse Ratched is a descendant?
In this masterpiece of German Expressionist cinema, Dr. Caligari cruelly exploits a zombie-like somnambulist, Cesare, both to earn him an income as a carnival attraction and to murder the doctor’s enemies. The film’s twist ending (one of cinema’s first) deflates Caligari’s evil considerably; but for the first nine-tenths of the film, Werner Krauss’s mad hypnotist provides a lurid archetype for all the hundreds of mad doctors to follow.
This Japanese-American co-production, an early example of tokusatsu (Japanese film or TV which relies heavily on special effects), probably shows up on nobody’s list of horror classics. But its mad doctor, Dr. Robert Suzuki, appears on this list at #7 because he is such a conniving manipulator and sneak. He pulls an awful stunt on American news correspondent Larry Stanford, who only means to do the doctor a favor by writing a puff piece on him; Dr. Suzuki slips him a mickey, knocks him out, and injects him in the neck with an experimental serum meant to chemically induce evolutionary change. Oh, but that isn’t all – once poor Larry wakes up, completely unaware his veins are full of monster-making juice, Dr. Suzuki butters him up, convincing him to stay in Japan longer than he’d planned (so the good doctor can observe the results of his work). He hooks Larry up with a voluptuous assistant, Tara, and wines and dines him after taking him to some swanky nightclubs and massage baths. Meanwhile, Larry is growing a second head on the side of his neck. Hope the sushi was worth it, Larry!
Talk about your bait-and-switch (and how appropriate, since we’re also talking Obamacare). All middle-aged sad-sack Arthur Hamilton wants is a chance at a new life. The doctor-entrepreneurs of The Company offer him just that: a brand-new life as Rock Hudson, following a few days’ worth of plastic surgery. What the poor shmuck doesn’t realize is how badly he’ll come to miss his old life. But once he’s signed on the dotted line, there’s no going back. As soon as he voices his displeasure too strongly, the docs and their orderlies put the hurt on him and disassemble him into fresh parts for new clients. Old Arthur didn’t read the small print at the bottom of that HIPAA release form…
We need at least one Nazi dentist on this list, and Dr. Szell is it. Nobody who sees this movie will ever forget what Laurence Olivier’s Nazi war criminal dentist does inside Dustin Hoffman’s mouth. This film has probably been responsible for more dental care procrastination than any other movie in the history of cinema.
This horror novel by the extraordinarily gifted writer Thomas M. Disch hasn’t yet been adapted into a film, but it should be. Dr. Michaels is the possessor of a magical caduceus, a talisman he has owned since childhood. The caduceus is capable of miraculous feats of healing. But in order to do so, it must first be “charged” with the energies stemming from monstrous acts of evil. Dr. Michaels learns he enjoys using the caduceus for evil every bit as much as he does using it for healing. Perhaps even more…
In this first film adaptation of H. G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), Charles Laughton’s Dr. Moreau has no redeeming qualities. Unlike Dr. Frankenstein, he does not seek to aid mankind. Unlike Doctors Genessier and Cortner, he isn’t trying to do a solid for a daughter or fiancée. His goal, it seems, is to bring more human beings into the world; but any twelve-year-old who has gone through a sex education class could tell him there are easier ways to do this than to vivisect hundreds of innocent, helpless animals. This is a man who would gladly cut up Bambi and Rin-Tin-Tin. That’s just evil.
I am not easily creeped out by a movie. But this David Cronenberg flick about twin brother gynecologists did it for me. I nearly crawled out of my skin watching this. Couldn’t make it through to the end. They might not be the most evil doctors on this list, but the Doctors Mantle, with their eager application of medieval torture device gynecological instruments to Genevieve Bujold’s mutant lady-parts, are certainly the most unsettling of the bunch.
And coming in at #1 is history’s most nefarious and infamous evil doctor, utilized by best-selling author Ira Levin as the villain of his 1976 science fiction thriller, made into a popular film two years later. In book and movie, Dr. Mengele wants to recreate his beloved Fuhrer through cloning, certainly evil enough to get him to the top of this list. My only misgiving about Mengele’s depiction here is the very odd casting of Gregory Peck. I mean, come on, who can believe that Atticus Finch is history’s greatest monster doctor? Laurence Olivier was in this one, too, but as a Nazi-hunter, this time. Maybe after his star-turn as evil dentist Dr. Szell two years earlier, he figured he’d done his quota of Nazi roles. Too bad.
So, there’s our list! Keep an eye out for these particular doctors and nurses. Obamacare promises to vastly increase the demand for medical care, but does nothing to increase the supply. So these thirteen paragons of mercy and healing may be called out of retirement… to staff an Obamacare clinic near you!