“Power Was Given Unto Them”: The “Evil Albino” Stereotype in Horror Fiction

“Power Was Given Unto Them”: The “Evil Albino” Stereotype in Horror Fiction

Albinism is a congenital condition capable of affecting all vertebrate organisms (including humans), characterized by the partial or complete lack of pigmentation, due to an absent or defective enzyme which produces melanin.  Albinos (as those with such a condition are commonly called) frequently suffer linked conditions such as astigmatism and photophobia due to a lack of pigment in the eyes, and are more susceptible to sunburns and skin cancers.

Similarly, albinos often suffer socially: in Zimbabwe, a legend persists that sexual intercourse with an albino woman will cure a man of HIV, leading to frequent rapes and subsequent spread of the infection; in Tanzania and Burundi, albino body parts are used in potions created by witchdoctors.  This has led to a huge number of murders of albinos for witchcraft-related purposes.  Even in the first world, albinism is frequently met with confusion and ignorance.

It is speculated that the fear and distrust albinos are met with is hardwired into our brains.  In Neolithic Europe, Death was portrayed as a pale woman; this same description arises in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  Similarly, the undead throughout fiction are frequently depicted as pale; this pallidness of the dead is transposed, possibly, to the living with albinism.  This has led to a stereotype, cliche even, of the “Evil Albino”: A villain distinguished from the heroes by his aberrant appearance – pale skin, platinum blonde or white hair, and pale blue-to-pink-to-red eyes.  This stock villain transcends genre, appearing in horror, science fiction, thriller, action, detective fiction, drama.  It is with the Evil Albino in Horror Fiction that we are concerned with here today.  As usual, I will not deal in examples I know of but am not well-versed in.  So while the 1986 film VAMP features albino street gangsters, I haven’t seen it, and so can’t talk about it here.

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

While it’s somewhat questionable to call Herman Melville’s novel a horror story, themes of madness and revenge I think allow it to qualify.  Inspired by the true story of a partially-white skinned sperm whale called “Mocha Dick,” Moby-Dick is the tale of Captain Ahab of the Nantucket whaler Pequod, and his all-consuming quest to kill Moby-Dick, a colossal albino sperm whale who, years earlier, bit off Ahab’s leg.  Ahab becomes so obsessed that the lives of his crewmen become meaningless to him compared to finally achieving his victory over the accursed Whale.

I’d call Moby-Dick an “Evil Albino” because throughout the novel the Whale is depicted with human-like sentience and near-demonic will, seeming to toy with Ahab and the Pequod, spurring Ahab on and on, like a Cetacean Mephistopheles, until Ahab’s descent into the lower thunders of the ocean depths, chained to Moby-Dick’s corpse by a length of harpoon-line, is inevitable.

The Invisible Man

In H.G. Wells’ original 1897 novel, the titular character Griffin (no first name given) is an albino whose condition leads him to become fascinated with optical density.  Experimenting with pigmentation and light refraction, the sociopathic Griffin stumbles upon a means of turning flesh invisible; it’s insinuated in the novel that his formula only works because he is already pigmentless.  A sociopath and thief, Griffin robs his father (driving the older man to suicide in the process) to fund his work, turning himself invisible after months of labor.  Once invisible, he finds that societal restrictions no longer apply to him; the law cannot be applied to a man who cannot be seen, as he cannot be caught and cannot be brought to trial.  He plots a “Reign of Terror,” even dreaming up a new master race of Invisible Men.  “This is day one of year one of the new epoch,” he says, “the epoch of the Invisible Man.  I am Invisible Man the First.”

The 1933 Universal film starring Claude Raines is perhaps the definitive film version of the character, though he is neither an albino nor a sociopath in this version.  Griffin appears in Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novels, volume I and II, as sociopathic as ever, though perhaps not an albino – it is mentioned that he’d tested the process on a half-wit albino, who was killed (at the end of the original novel).  Ultimately, Moore’s Invisible Man allies himself with the invading Martians of The War of the Worlds, and is raped and murdered for his betrayal by Mr. Hyde.

The Sumerians

In Universal-International’s 1956 sci-fi horror film THE MOLE PEOPLE, a team of archaeologists (John Agar, Nestor Paiva, and Hugh Beaumont — TV’s Ward Cleaver!) discover a massive underground cavern in which a small pocket of Sumerian civilization has survived for 3,000 years.  Due to thirty centuries without light, these Sumerians have become albinos.  While nominally ruled by a king, the true power behind the throne is the High Priest, Elinu (Alan Napier — Alfred from TV’s Batman!) who rules with an iron hand.

Living on a diet of mushrooms, the Sumerians keep brutish claw-fingered “Mole People” as slaves to harvest the fungus upon which their civilization survives.  These Mole People are whipped and beaten if they try to sneak a mushroom for themselves, or even just if the overseers are bored.  If that’s not enough, the albino Sumerians also enslave atavistic, pigmented members of their own race.  While John Agar can initially keep them at bay with a flashlight (causing the weak-eyed Sumerians to mistake him for an emissary of heaven), Elinu plots to steal the flashlight for himself, and make himself king in name as well as action.

Otis B. Driftwood

In Rob Zombie’s directorial debut, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, Bill Moseley appears as “Otis B. Driftwood,” a member of the ghastly and depraved Firefly family.  While the whole family is weird, Otis is not only a sociopathic sculptor of flesh (turning one victim into a ghoulish reproduction of the classic sideshow display, “the Feejee Mermaid”) but an albino as well, just to make the audience a little more uncomfortable with him.

While HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES is a more stylized pseudo-exploitation flick, the sequel, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, is much more firmly grounded in “realism” and Otis is allowed to have some pigment, which I suppose is an improvement in relations between the pigmented and pigmentless in this crazy, mixed-up world of ours.

Elric of Melniboné

Born from the pen of British author Michael Moorcock, Elric is something of a polar opposite of Conan the Barbarian; Sorcerer and ruler of the stagnating island kingdom of Melniboné, Elric is a physically-frail and sickly albino, reliant on drugs and magic to survive.  Born from a cruel and amoral prehuman race, Elric finds himself alienated from his people by his sense of altruism and mercy; nevertheless, he is an accomplished summoner, having frequent dealings with the Demons of Chaos (Moorcock’s world is morally aligned not along lines of Good and Evil, but rather Law and Chaos; both alignments are considered equally “good” and “evil”), most notably Stormbringer; a Demon bound in the shape of an enormous black iron longsword.

Stormbringer forms the basis of much of Elric’s internal struggle against himself; Stormbringer feeds on the souls of those slain on its blade.  It funnels some of this spiritual energy into Elric, enervating him.  While Elric enjoys this sense of vitality that Stormbringer gives him, he nevertheless is racked with guilt when he uses the Black Sword.  Additionally, Stormbringer has a tendency to twist in his hands, killing with a mind of its own; on Stormbringer’s blade die the woman Elric loves, as well as every friend he ever cherishes in life.  Elric allows himself to be fed with their souls, feeling the sword mock his weakness and dependency.

The Albino

While 1987’s THE PRINCESS BRIDE is no horror story, scenes of Westley being tortured in the bowels of “The Pit of Despair” is a pretty intense one for small children, and of course no one can forget Count Rugen’s Igor-like henchman, listed in the credits only as “The Albino.”  A cackling and cruel man, he is nevertheless a practical tormentor.  He points out to Westley the thickness of his chains and the secretiveness of the location.  He also tends to Westley’s wounds, explaining that Rugen prefers that prisoners be healthy before being tortured.

Interestingly, beyond his albinism and Page Boy haircut, The Albino’s primary physical trait is an enormous herpes blister covering an entire corner of his mouth.  So it’s not enough that he’s an albino torturer, he’s an albino who isn’t careful with the health of his sexual partners.  Lovely.

Silas

While again not strictly horror, I would be remiss (and likely reprimanded by some of you out there) if I did not include Silas.  An albino monk in the service of the Opus Dei organization in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, Silas came from an upbringing of confusion, fear, and loathing, ultimately murdering his father and embarking on a life of crime.  A seeming miracle frees him from prison, causing him to enter the Catholic Church.  In the novel and film adaptation, he is used by Opus Dei as an assassin, murdering those who threaten the version of historical fact decided upon by the Church.  Initially uncomfortable with the thought of murder, recognizing it as a sin, Silas is eventually persuaded by the argument that it is for the good of the Church.

Silas is perhaps the most notable recent example of the “Evil Albino” in fiction, even being spoofed by albinistic actor Dennis Hurley in his short film The Albino Code, in which he points out that an albino, due to congenitally poor vision, would make a lousy assassin.

***

According to the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation, a non-profit advocacy group for those with albinism, 68 films have been released since 1960 featuring negative portrayals of albinos.  Currently, the closest thing to a positive portrayal of an albino in mainstream fiction is Pete White, fey computer scientist and former DJ on Cartoon Network’s “The Venture Bros.”  What’s the matter, Hollywood? Afraid of anyone who can’t get a tan?


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Written by: | Visit Website

Bill Adcock likes long walks off short piers and eating endangered species. In addition to his work for the Blood Sprayer, his writing can also be found at his personal site, Radiation-Scarred Reviews, which he's maintained since 2008. Bill has also contributed, as of this writing, to GRINDHOUSE PURGATORY issues 2 and 3, and CINEMA SEWER issue 27.

3 Responses to ““Power Was Given Unto Them”: The “Evil Albino” Stereotype in Horror Fiction”

  1. Great write-up on a subject that is rarely addressed; particularly in horror cinema. Really enjoyed your opening segment, where you’ve placed the condition in contemporary and historical context – most interesting and thought provoking stuff. Bravo, Bill! :o)

  2. I think it’s important to remember the Princess Bride in any well rounded article on horror stereotypes. You are brilliant as always. Insightful. I have a fondness for the word “titular”… really, it’s very much like Beavis & Butthead inside this hapless mound of grey matter.

  3. This just made me think about the movie Powder… *shutters*

Leave a Reply

To get your own thumbnail image, go to gravatar.com