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In preparation for Halloween this October, over the next four weeks I'm listing my favourite maniacs of the silver screen - the psychos, the killers and the monsters.
Last week was Frank N. Furter of Rocky Horror fame. This week is Disney's own psychopath, Judge Claude Frollo.
Claude Frollo; Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
If there were ever a scary kid's movie villain, this guy is it. In fact, watching this movie again as an adult, I was probably more scared of Frollo than I was when I was a kid, purely because I understood everything so much better. He was no longer just the scary old Judge who hated Quasimodo for being ugly. He was a sadistic maniac who had violent sexual urges and emotionally tortured the disfigured boy he adopted after killing said boy's mother. For the record, yes, this is a kid's movie, and yes, it was made by Disney. I sometimes find it hard to believe myself.
Let's go back to the start. To begin with, Hunchback of Notre Dame was never a story that should have been made into a kid's film. I'm not saying it's a bad movie; I love Hunchback. But the original 1831 book by Victor Hugo was... well, let's just say it wouldn't have been my first choice for a children's movie. It basically follows the story of the corrupt priest Frollo who struggles to reconcile his devotion to the church and his lust for the gypsy Esmeralda, a woman who is the object of many characters' desires. In the end Frollo has Esmeralda hung to death because she doesn't want him, prompting Quasimodo to push Frollo from the Notre Dame bell tower and then go to the morgue where he crawls next to Esmeralda's corpse and stays there until he starves to death.
Naturally the Disney adaption is nowhere near as depressing. But Frollo is still more or less the same deranged megalomaniac, perhaps even worse than in the novel purely because Disney likes their black-and-white character roles rather than Victor Hugo's more in depth exploration of what turns a man to sin. We're first introduced to Frollo during the opening song, "Bells of Notre Dame", which is a retelling of past events by the gypsy Clopin. Three gypsies are attempting to flee Paris to escape the Minister of Justice, Frollo, who is on a crusade to kill all the gypsies for a myriad of reasons (mostly because he sees them as lesser humans and assumes they're criminals). Two of these gypsies are the infant Quasimodo, a physically deformed baby, and his mother. But during their escape they're caught in a trap laid by Frollo. The narration pretty much sums up what kind of guy Frollo is fairly succinctly:
But a trap had been laid for the gypsies,
And they gazed up in fear and alarm
At a figure who's clutches were iron as much as the bells!
The bells of Notre Dame.
Judge Claude Frollo longed to purge the world
Of vice and sin.
And he saw corruption everywhere
Frollo then proceeds to chase Quasimodo's mother on horseback to the steps of Notre Dame Cathedral where he kicks her in the head, killing her. Which is actually a pretty big deal to see a priest kill a mother on screen, not dramatised - we literally see him chase her down, and from horseback he kicks her right in the head and she falls dead to the floor. Frollo then grabs her newly orphaned baby and seeing how deformed it is, attempts to drop it down a well to kill it. Frollo is stopped by the Archdeacon who comes out to see the commotion and tells Frollo that he has sinned and will end up in hell. Frollo, terrified, asks what he can do to avoid this fate and is told that he must care for the infant Quasimodo and raise it as his own. Frollo reluctantly agrees.
Not much raising goes on as he locks Quasimodo in the bell tower of the cathedral over the next twenty years, teaching him that he's an abomination who could never be loved or accepted. Frollo also tells Quasimodo that he saved the boy's life, claiming that Quasi's mother tried to drown him as a baby. It isn't until the annual Festival of the Fools comes to town that things get interesting. As a government official, Frollo oversees the festivities, but becomes infatuated with the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda after a provocative dance routine. His infatuation turns to obsession of a most violent degree. Frollo struggles with conflicted feelings - he is a man of God and gypsies are, as far as he's concerned, heathens. But now he lusts for one. Naturally Frollo blames Esmeralda for this, claiming she is a temptress witch and therefore must be burnt at the stake.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of the movie (other than Frollo smelling Esmeralda's hair and telling her how pretty she would look with a noose around her neck) is Frollo's famous song, "Hellfire". In it he sings of his lust for Esmeralda and that she must either become his lover or burn in hell. When Esmeralda escapes thanks to Quasimodo's help, Frollo claims he will find her, even if he has to burn down all of Paris. He then proceeds to burn down all of fucking Paris. Legitimately, the whole city is up in flames. He then also locks a small family of farmers in their house and sets the house on fire to make an example of people who don't give him the information he wants (in this case, where Esmeralda was hiding). When he finally catches her and attempts to burn her, Frollo gives one last ultimatum - "choose me or the fire". But of course this is a kid's movie!
Which is why Quasimodo saves the day and rescues Esmeralda, taking her to the top of Notre Dame and to safety. Frollo orders his troops to attack the cathedral and an all out war ensues. Chasing Quasimodo to the roof of Notre Dame, Frollo attempts to stab the boy to death but Quasimodo overpowers him and begins to escape. Frollo pursues and after almost falling off the bell tower, climbs onto a ledge. Raising his sword above his head, Frollo claims "And He shall smite the wicked and plunge them into the fiery pit!" (made more awesome by Tony Jay's voice acting) before the ledge inexplicably cracks underneath him and Frollo falls into a vat of molten lava below (presumably God's work).
Frollo really does make the movie. He's terrifying, more so from an adult perspective. No child could understand what he's talking about half the time, claiming that the common folk are weak and licentious and likening the gypsies to roaches that he can't exterminate. He's a sadist who's shown to enjoy the torture of his subordinates early on in the film, when he takes the new Captain of the Guard, Phoebus, down to the dungeons to show him what has become of the old Captain of the Guard (he's whipped mercilessly off-screen).
I think the fact that a character clearly not for a kid's film made it into said kid's film exacerbates how deranged Frollo is. He's the epitome of a man who hides behind power and religion to justify his horrible actions. All you need to do is listen to Hellfire to wonder how exactly the movie got the green light from the big wigs at Disney...
And that concludes the four part Halloween maniac movie month. Who are your favourite maniacs? Be it from movies, video games or books - all the madmen are welcome this time of month.
Most of all, have a happy (and safe) Halloween everyone.