Thursday, July 5, 2012


My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Man

I first watched the 1972 film Last House On the Left with a long-term boyfriend — a “real nice guy,” in the parlance of ‘70s films, a dead ringer for Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off who treated me like a princess and would never have hurt me, even if I’d asked him to. And so began my fascination with the film’s lead: the brutally handsome David Hess.

In Last House, Hess plays a character named Krug Stillo. What kind of person do you imagine Krug Stillo to be? If you answered “Dutch jazz percussionist,” you are wrong. Krug Stillo is an escaped convict and the ringleader of a gang of lunatics who rape and murder two teenage girls, then get counter-murdered by one of the girl’s parents. Krug is also a demented caricature of the alpha male, with a fat squiggle of lip, a chin like a jagged rock, and an antihalo of black curls. He struts around with a gun, in a tight white T-shirt whose smell probably walks that voluptuous line between musk and BO.

In real life, David Hess was not evil. He was a singer-songwriter who, as a teenager in the ’50s, composed a battery of hits for Elvis Presley, Sal Mineo, and Bobby Darin, and became the first artist to record “All Shook Up.” He even wrote the soundtrack for Last House — between takes, on an acoustic guitar — and it’s pure ’70s folk-pop, with flute and everything. By the time Last House came out, Hess had served as head of A&R for Mercury Records; recorded a rock opera with John Corigliano; attended both Juilliard and Columbia, where he studied graduate-level archaeology; and played competitive rugby. He passed away last October, after a full and seemingly well-lived life. 

So Hess was in fact a rather nice caricature of the alpha male. Since I am not typically attracted to alpha-male types, it’s the “caricature” here that gets me. Hess was so manly and accomplished that he makes such manliness and accomplishment seem just a little bit off. And off-nes is, I think, the root of attraction: a quality that is unfamiliar and thus mildly threatening, and which probably appeals to us because our brains want to keep us from having sex with our brothers. He had hair to rival Engelbert Humperdinck’s, a chin that could have bludgeoned Bobby Sherman; he could have graced high school lockers and studded for bored housewives. Unfortunately, no high school student or bored housewife wants to fantasize about Krug Stillo. At least not openly.

After Last House demolished his shot at mainstream success, Hess went to Europe, where he starred as a psycho in two more movies — Hitch-Hike and House on the Edge of the Park — comprising what is now known as the “David Hess Rape Trilogy.” The Hessian psycho developed the quality of a bachelor uncle, the obnoxious ne’er-do-well who mocks his nephews and laughs at his own jokes. His freakiness is mitigated by a deeply pathetic streak: in House on the Edge of the Park, in which he crashes a rich-kid party on the outskirts of New York and terrorizes the guests, he wears a yellow leisure suit, watches over an effeminate sidekick, and ultimately gets shot in the balls. In Hitch-Hike, in which he hijacks a bickering couple’s car, he laughs like a hyena and gets shot in the back by the naked woman he just assaulted. He is the bully with the bedwetting problem, before the bedwetting problem is diagnosed as latent psychopathy.

I’m going to pause for a minute here and add a disclaimer. I am not ashamed of finding David Hess attractive in his films, because I don’t think attraction has any moral quality by itself. But sometimes Moral Me hates the me that gets attracted to immoral characters. Moral Me is ashamed to tell you about my attraction to Onscreen Hess, because Moral Me is disgusted by sexual violence, and feels sympathy for, and rage on behalf of, those who’ve endured it, and is keenly aware of what’s politically appropriate. Some of you might side with Moral Me, but others of you, I suspect, will be familiar with how much of a bummer it can be to mediate between these two.

When the villains die at the end of Last House (as with many of those rape-revenge movies, as they’re known), it’s not just poetic justice: it absolves the viewer from any illicit pleasure they’ve derived from the film thus far. Righteous violence—violence that we can root for—restores our confidence in our instincts, reminds us that we’re moral, even if our minds harbor a few Beetlejuice sandworms that prod us toward grimy horror flicks. Likewise, Onscreen Hess’s ridiculous qualities make me feel better about finding him sexy. I’m never totally in his thrall, I’m never rooting for him, and I’m always glad when he’s dead. And when the film is over, and I remember that Hess was not Krug Stillo but rather a handsome actor and family man, I regain faith in my ability to separate weird id stuff from feelings and beliefs that belong in the world.

There are two kinds of fantasy men: dream and nightmare. Dream man is smoldering and bighearted and would kill Krug Stillo if he ever met him; he is David Hess as lionized in obituaries. Nightmare man is a blurry, shapeshifting weirdo that I would never want to meet in real life, and who makes me so uneasy that my discomfort slopes into a little prick of attraction. I have absolutely no idea why this is. I suspect there is no “why,” besides the fact that sexual fantasies come from a bizarro realm where down is up and hamburgers eat people.

Alexandra Molotkow is a writer and editor whose favorite David Hess song is "The Closer She Gets."

66 Comments / Post A Comment

Heat Signature

I'd hit it.


Hey, I hope your having an amazing day!<3@t


Excellent article! Last House has been sitting on my computer for months; this has certainly impelled me to watch it. I love that he made the music for the film.


Oh, man, the banner ad for the movie Savages right above this article is particularly apt, considering I feel this exact same way about Benicio del Toro. He's playing a violent psychopath in Savages, like he does sometimes in other movies, and I don't know how I'm going to deal with all this emotional and sexual turmoil.

Reginal T. Squirge

Watch Che! He's really good in that and plays a good person. Should've got the Oscar...


@samigator Ahh Benicio del Toro in Sin City! I DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO FEEL.


@cosmia We should come up with a word for it. I VOTE HORROUSED.


@Reginal T. Squirge I loved Che! He was robbed.


@Reginal T. Squirge I am making kind of a sideways twisted face at Che being a "good person". I mean, he was a very complicated person.

Reginal T. Squirge

I'm showing my political colors (red) there, sure. But nevertheless... He was portrayed fairly sympathetically in "Che". Not as egregiously as "Motorcycle Diaries" but still.


@samigator Just came in to say that "horroused" is JUST RIGHT. I've never had a word to describe this phenomenon before and this fits the bill just perfectly. Always, always, always attracted to the dark, brooding, runawaystupidhe'stroublewithacapitalT boys. To my chagrin and dismay at times... but sometimes it was worth it.

Horroused. I love it.


Ooh, I bet I'd like him even better as a Dutch jazz percussionist.

Princess Slayer

Cameron Fryes, man.

Heat Signature

@Princess Slayer It's time to take a stand.

Princess Slayer

@Reginal T. Squirge She DOES know what's up, damn.


@Princess Slayer I saw Alan Ruck in the touring production of The Producers a few years back. He has still got it. Swoon.

Princess Slayer

@WhiskeySour ME TOO. I think that's what kicked my crush into high gear.


I have issues with finding film/TV-assholes-but-not-IRL-assholes attractive too! Well like, Pete Campbell, who is not a psychopathic rapist (or is he?), but still.

Reginal T. Squirge

See: Vince Vaughn's entire career.

Reginal T. Squirge

I had a very similar discussion about this sort of thing with a friend of mine recently. Although, I think there's a slight difference between my straight-dude dilemma and this one. Anyway, it's hard being really attracted to mostly awful people just because their faces/bodies are arranged in a certain way. Sometimes I catch myself being nice to them just because I want to fuck them so badly and then it makes Moral Me feel awful.


Also, Harry Lloyd in the first season of Game of Thrones! That hair was terrible, as was his character, but omg those cheekbones!


@cosmia I'm still appalled with myself for being so attracted to Viserys during season one.

Princess Slayer

@nicolarz @cosmia I know that feel, bro. He's not nearly as attractive in Robin Hood.


@cosmia Oh my God, yes, why. Although I actually don't hate the Targaryen wigs. I think they got the better wigs out of the cast.

Princess Slayer

@Megano! lol poor Lena Headey in the pilot.

Chareth Cutestory

@cosmia Ugh I recently developed a weird little thing for Theon Greyjoy. Don't ask, I have no idea why.


@Chareth Cutestory I don't crush on him, but he was kind of one of my favourites this season!


@cosmia I surprised myself with a full-on lady boner for the Hound. Oh, and Bronn the sellsword. I'd climb all over that.


Ha. That's an odd one. Objectively I can see why you'd find him attractive but LHOTL scarred me for life I think.


Marcel in Belle de Jour.


@psychedelicate OMG Pierre Clementi..don't get me started on him


@thatsrealbutter I KNOW RIGHT. He makes a full-length leather coat and gold teeth just WORK.


John Hakwes in Winter's Bone.

(Which is something dealt with explicitly in the book, interestingly!)


@Lucienne Also, I find John Hawkes crazy attractive in all his roles, so maybe not a great example after all.


@Lucienne Me too! I blame (thank) the X-Files episode "Milagro".


@perfect_cursive !!?! I just watched that episode for the first time yesterday and I just wanted to punch him in the face the whole time!


@keynesiancutie The trick is to watch it first when you're in college and spectacularly pine-y. Quick! To the time machine!


Holy crap! I thought I was the only one! I felt soooo conflicted!


@Lucienne Yeah, it's more like: John Hawkes in everything.


Ezra Miller in 'We Need To Talk About Kevin'? Although a google image search reveals a lot of bad haircut/outfit choices on his part.


@hollysh Also he looks 13 years old a lot of the time, so I'm still not sure I'm into it.


Maybe this is bad to say, but sometimes I wonder if I don't have that odd attraction to the really dark twisted dudes because I like my real-life dudes with a liiiittle bit of a dark twisty (but not violent or abusive) streak.


Gee, I dunno.... If you image surf him it looks like you cherry-picked the only good picture. In most of them he looks like Qaddafi without the beanie-hat


@Trilby Lovechild of Qaddafi and Sylvester Stallone?


@Trilby So, the Richard Katz character in Freedom, then.


I had the same exact experience with the actor Édgar Ramírez playing the terrorist Carlos the Jackal in the French miniseries Carlos (on netflix for anyone interested). He is so hot in that, and also a megalomaniacal terrorist womanizer.

Gef the Talking Mongoose

@zeytin : I saw the whole miniseries in one 330-minute shot at a local theater, and in Part 1 when the scene cuts from super-fit Carlos in 1973 Paris to at-least-30-pounds-heavier Carlos in 1974 Yemen there was this incredible audience gasp of collective female dismay.


@Gef the Talking Mongoose Yeah I was wondering if the actor actually gained that weight or if there was a mini fat suit thing going on. It was very realistic.


As a teenager, after seeing the movie The Doors, I decided that Jim Morrison (well, Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison) was my "dream man." He combined everything teenaged me loved - rebellious, charming, narcissistic, brooding, moody, sexy, artistic, in need of a hot bath and a little rescuing.


But nice guys finnish LAST. Think about that.


The primal attraction of such a character appeals to what my scientist friend calls the "lizard brain": this is clearly, from a biological stand-point, a good partner for perpetuation of the species. He'd plainly be able to provide for you--whatever you need he seems happy to help himself to; and he's plainly got plenty of, um, vitality. An iota of more evolved thought would send you screaming to the cellar while dialing 911 if you ever actually laid eyes on him. For me it's always been Captain Hook ... going back to when I was little and saw the Disney movie for the first time. Weird.


I am very Cameron. (Hell, I look like him.) So it is really interesting in those rare cases where I get my fangs out - if I'm around guy friends, I get a temporary respect boost. For girls, I've noticed that they will actually visibly change in demeanor (I think the effect is amplified because I am normally very composed.)

It is not hard to imagine that men sometimes exploit this dark power because the results are so immediate (and how it becomes ingrained into their personality long-term).

Vonnegut Reference

I had the same moral conundrum reading Ann Rule's The Stranger Beside Me. I feel really gross for being so physically attracted to Ted Bundy who if I'm being absolutely real with myself, would've probably ripped my throat out with his teeth if I had been alone around him (I look like a Bundy victim too!). He was a handsome, articulate, cultured law student, also! Republican, also! homicidal maniac and also! sexual sadist with a literal bloodlust who I'm glad is dead soooo..."horroused" is probably the best word for that, definitely.


@Vonnegut Reference True story (on my end, anyway) - I briefly worked with a man who said he went to law school with Ted Bundy. He said they used to double-date, and he could never figure out why Ted Bundy would always bring a different woman to dinner each time. I never figured out whether this guy was telling the straight truth, or embellishing it for a really tasteless joke.


The first time that I noticed that I eventually want to have sex with men is when I saw Highlander at 13. Christopher Lambert didn't do it for me, no, it was Kurgan. He was so...creepy and scary and sexy.

Kerri Mercury Morris@facebook

The very same reason I'm obsessed with Evan Peters' character in American Horror Story? Probably.

Deanna Destroi

Thank you for posting this. I have always found Hannibal Lecter weirdly sexy (though clearly I'd never want to meet him in real life), and Gaspard Ulliel in Hannibal Rising did nothing to help that matter. I rarely share this information because people tend to then suspect a penchant for cannibalism.

Be But Little

I've been dealing with this problem since I was ten years old and saw Phantom of the Opera. Although, clearly Andrew Lloyd Webber agrees with me. Right?


I was catatonic after seeing Jason Issacs as Hook in the 2003 version of Peter Pan, PLUS he played Col. Tavington in "The Patriot". NOBODY does sexy asshole/sociopath better. Did I mention Lucius Malfoy?

Deanna Destroi

@tournant I have a mad thing for Jason Isaacs because of this. In interviews? Meh, whatever. Total asshole? Come HERE Jason Isaacs.


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