This is Forgotten Films’ first contribution to The Great Villain Blogathon (look for more in a few days). This awesome event is being hosted by our friends at Silver Screenings, Speakeasy, and Shadows and Satin. Be sure to head over to their sites and check out all of the great contributors to the event.
What comes to mind when you think of great movie trilogies? The Star Wars Trilogy, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Back to the Future Trilogy, The Godfather Trilogy? All are worthy of consideration; but what of the Zabka trilogy? When the challenge went out in the movie blogging community to write about the great screen villains of all time, my brain immediately went to William Zabka and the trio of films that cast him as the baddie in the mid eighties.
Zabka’s reign as the ultimate 80’s teen villain began with the greatest of the three films, 1984’s The Karate Kid, in which he played Mr. Sweep-the-leg himself, Johnny Lawrence. Johnny is leader of the gang of Cobra Kai out to give poor Daniel-san a hard time. I can’t say I blame Johnny for being so upset with Daniel, after all, his ex-girlfriend Elizabeth Shue was getting all cozy with Daniel down at the beach. Johnny is a blonde-headed ball of rage and an epic jerk if there ever was one. Whether he’s dressed as a skeleton in a hoodie or dishing out insults at Golf & Stuff, he’s a menacing figure. Still, Johnny is just the Vader to the Martn Kove’s Emperor, John Kreese. He’s the one who gives the order to “Sweep the Leg.” But who goes down as the greater villain? Vader or the krusty old Emperor? Vader all the way.
Zabka would return to the high school villain role the following year in the often forgotten gender-bender comedy Just One of the Guys. The story focuses on a beautiful student (Joyce Hyser) who disguises herself as a boy for a story she’s writing for her high school paper. Zabka plays Greg Tolan (what a great 80’s villain name), the school’s uber jock/ bully. He works out his muscles in the school cafeteria by lifting tables and spilling government approved school lunches on various nerds, dweebs and geeks. Zabka’s role is not as big as it was in The Karate Kid, and truth be told the film is much better remembered for the dramatic flash of Miss Hyser’s bare breasts during the film’s climax, but Zabka remains a great villain. In one scene where the tables are turned on Greg and he becomes the butt of the joke, the look of disbelief on Zabka’s face is absolutely priceless. The look then transforms to communicate the passing of a death sentence on the characters who wronged him through his burning eyes and flared nostrils. Few actors have such skill.
The final entry in the Zabka trilogy came in 1986 when he played Chas Osborne (again with the awesome names) in the Rodney Dangerfield vehicle Back to School. Chas is the captain of the diving team at Grand Lakes College and has managed to keep Dangerfield’s son, Jason, from advancing any further on the team than towel boy. When Dangerfield’s character enrolls at the college, he soon becomes the big man on campus. Zabka is great as the self-absorbed pretty boy who sees his popularity slowly slipping away. He also happens to deliver my favorite line of the film, “Sc-rew you Melon!”
I have a feeling that most 80’s teens knew their fair share of Johnny Lawrences, Greg Tolans and Chas Osbornes. I know I did! Perhaps that why William Zabka goes down as one of the great 80’s villains for me. He made his bully characters intimating and believable. But the best part was, we saw each one of them get their due in the end. Sweep the leg indeed!