So, I have a series on my other blog about fantastic TV villains – from Sue Sylvester to Elliot Goss – but there has been one specific villain of the pop culture realm I haven’t been able to get out of my head for – well, the last twenty years or so, actually. And that villain is Debbie Jellinsky, from Addams Family Values.
Joan Cusack’s turn as the charismatic, candy-coloured black widow in Barry Sonnefield’s 1993 sequel to the original live-action Addams Family movie imprinted on me as soon as I saw it (and might explain why I’ve dated so many glamorous blonde women who’ve tried to kill me, but that’s another story for another time). Of course, there’s so much to enjoy about this performance and character – the perfect mix of screwball comedy and serial killer, decked out in any number of iconic outfits and tiny gunned drapery – but I think what makes Debbie such an iconic and utterly perfect villain is the counterpart she plays to the Addams family themselves.
Debbie makes for such a formidable villain for the family because she is truly just like them. When it comes to their encounters with the Normals of the world, the everyday person doesn’t stand a chance – their all-consuming weirdness is too much for most anyone outside their bubble to handle, and it makes them all but untouchable as a result. But Debbie? Debbie plays by their rules, even if she’s doing the photo-negative version of them.
Debbie is just as unhinged as the Addams family, just as divorced (or widowed) from reality as they are, as deranged as they are – hell, she’d probably be a perfect fit for the Addams family if she didn’t insist on actually going through with the murder plots quite as often as she did. Morticia’s benevolently understanding nod in the face of Debbie getting the wrong Barbie from her parents, triggering her murderous spree – she gets it. Debbie’s issue for the Addams family isn’t that she’s a serial killer who dresses like a madwoman and demands a twenty to kiss her husband; it’s that she goes a bit too far trying to kill them all. A little bit of murder, fair enough, but the whole clan? It’s a touch too far. And doing it in pastels?
But it’s that similarity that makes her such a killer (yes, pun intended) villain for this movie – the Addams family coming up against one of their own, even if she happens to come in pastel colours instead of their usual goth styling. The best bad guys are the ones who reflect some aspect of their protagonists, the “we’re not so different, you and I” types who help illuminate our leading men, women, and miscellaneous sentient body parts. Especially for a sequel like Values, delving on to what other version of Addams oddness looks like in the world at large is the perfect choice – and, when it comes wrapped in ostrich feathers and sweetheart necklines, all the better.
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By Lou MacGregor
(header image via Nerdist)
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