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Stacie Ponder – The Thankless Task of Playing Evil Sidekick


Blogger Stacie Ponder’s horror columns appear every Wednesday.

In the forthcoming animated feature Igor, the eponymous mad scientist’s lab assistant (voiced by John Cusack) grows tired of being a second banana and decides to become a mad scientist himself. Who can blame him? I mean, I’m not exactly sure what being an evil sidekick entails as I’ve never been one myself, but I assume a lot of time would be spent running errands — buying test tubes and the such — and interjecting a “Yes, master” every once in a while as the mad scientist expounds at length about some nefarious scheme. Let’s face it, being a mad scientist’s assistant is a thankless job with very little chance for promotion or advancement. If the typical hunched back and atrocious teeth of the evil sidekick are any indicators, then the gig also has a crappy health insurance plan, if any at all.

Igors Over the Years
While the name “Igor” almost assuredly conjures up images of Boris Karloff and neck bolts in one’s mind, the lab assistant in Frankenstein
(1931) was actually named Fritz. I suppose that’s serviceable enough,
but it seems so… ski instructor to me. The name “Fritz” gets me
craving the cool sensation associated with a York Peppermint Pattie,
not the eerie sensation associated with gothic horror.

The first Frankenstein-related Igor was, in fact, “Ygor” as played by Bela Lugosi in Son of Frankenstein and The Ghost of Frankenstein .
While the name was right, however, the profession was all wrong — Ygor
was a cuckoo nutso blacksmith who assisted no one (he opted to animate
the monster himself), and there was nary a hump on his back to be
found.

Perhaps the most stereotypical incarnation of Igor comes courtesy, surprisingly enough, of a comedy: Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein .
Marty Feldman plays the lab assistant Igor (that’s “Eyegore”) to Gene
Wilder’s mad scientist Dr Frankenstein (err, “Fronk-en-steen”). Feldman
is exactly as I want my Igors to be: all humpbacked, crazy-eyed, and
full of sassy zingers.

Dr Frankenstein isn’t the only creep who’s got a need for a weirdo
minion — Dracula and other assorted vampires seem to require a
sidekick as well. Most likely this is because vampires need someone to
run errands for them that can only be accomplished during the day, such
as banking, picking up dry cleaning (capes are a real bitch to
maintain!) and appearing in traffic court.

Executive Vampire Assistant Renfield
Bram Stoker introduced the world to the Executive Vampire Assistant with Renfield in the 1897 novel Dracula.
Renfield was insane, interred in an asylum, and under the spell of
Count Dracula; whether this was the cause of or a result of his madness
is debatable. As assistants go, however, I think Dracula should have
perused a few more resumes before settling on Renfield: Pretty much all
the guy does is sit around eating bugs. I’m just saying, if you’re
going to go through the trouble of having a sidekick who’s entirely in
your thrall, why not have one who’s somewhat useful? I wouldn’t hand
Renfield the keys to my car, even if he wasn’t confined to the nuthouse.

Dazzle
your friends with trivia: Actor Dwight Frye launched his career by
playing evil assistants, appearing as Fritz in James Whale’s Frankenstein and Renfield in Tod Browning’s Dracula . Wow!

Mr. Straker
See, Mr Barlow of the Stephen King/Tobe Hooper joint ‘Salem’s Lot
did it right in hiring on Mr. Straker as his henchman. Straker does
everything for him! He settles into their big, creepy mansion in The
Lot, he gets their antique business up and running, he keeps away pesky
busybodies, he procures food… all the while calling Barlow “The
Master”! Straker really seems to love his work, although you have to
wonder what he gets out of it besides room and board in a big (albeit
spooky) house. Even though Barlow is the rat-faced bloodsucker, it’s
Straker who’s the real monster in ‘Salem’s Lot — he’s such a
snob! He talks down to everybody and he totally thinks he’s so big just
because he runs an antique shop and he assists a friggin’ vampire in
his day to day affairs. Whoop-di-doo. What a jerk.

The evil sidekick trend has died down in recent years, although a notable exception is Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) from the Saw
series.  Amanda appears as a victim of sadistic (but sadistic with a
purpose!) killer Jigsaw and soon becomes his apprentice. By the third
film in the series, Amanda has been trained to take over for Jigsaw
when he dies; she becomes sadistic without a purpose, however, and
proves most unworthy of her position.

If you’re in the market
to become an evil henchperson, I guess there would be worse people
to… uh, hench for than Jigsaw. He’s certainly better than Dracula. At
least he actually gives one-on-one mentoring and grows his company from
within — and he doesn’t demand you call him “master.” Hmm, I wonder
how good his health insurance plan is…

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A fan of horror movies and scary stuff, Stacie Ponder started her blog Final Girl so she’d have a platform from which she could tell everyone that, say, Friday the 13th, Part 2 rules. She leads a glamorous life, walking on the razor’s edge of danger and intrigue.

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