Scorpio, from the 1971 film Dirty Harry is one of the most underrated movie villains, or even movie characters in general, which is surprising considering actor Andy Robinson received many death threats for his portrayal of the “Scorpio Killer,” (he secretly attended one of the first public screenings and had to leave early because of the audience’s reaction to his character.) Loosely based on the Zodiac murders in San Francisco in the late sixties/early seventies (apparently the Zodiac Killer was still terrorizing SF while the movie was being filmed there), it follows San Francisco P.D. Detective Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) as he tracks down the boyish-looking sniper serial killer, only known as “Scorpio” in his taunting letters to the San Francisco Police Department.
The reason I am so fascinated with Scorpio is that he is not the typical movie psycho; he’s far scarier. Kind of a Norman Bates vibe, in that he is not exactly badass or an epic movie villain. He’s actually cherub-faced and very cowardly (i.e. getting a ghetto black guy to beat him up and then whining to the police accusing Harry Callahan of doing it). In the football stadium scene when Harry steps on Scorpio’s gunshot wound, he does not keep his cool. Rather, he screams and yelps and makes freaky animal noises, while demanding his rights. It’s truly very, VERY creepy. He’s like an animal caught in a trap; if you let the bugger out, he’ll just go back to what he was doing before. Scorpio begs for mercy, manages to wiggle out of his situation and goes right back to his usual: beating a liquor store clerk, stealing his gun, highjacking a school bus and beating some kids for not singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”
Another thing I find interesting about Scorpio is that he does not have any redeeming qualities. He is not funny, nor is he charming (in an attractive way), although he seems like he COULD be. There are a few instances where we THINK he might be normal, though. The scene that comes to mind is the liquor store. Scorpio limps in, charms the clerk for a bit and then we learn the real reason for his visit: to see if the clerk carried a gun, which he violently takes by smashing his bottle of Seagram’s over the clerk’s head. “My wife’s brother. I hit her, so he hit me… several times…”
The background of this character is supposed to be severely tarnished (note his skewed peace symbol belt buckle), a Vietnam vet ex-hippie (remember, this is 1971 San Francisco). Perhaps he saw some horrific atrocities in ol’ Charlieland? Maybe he PARTICIPATED in those atrocities, enjoyed it, and decided to act out his fantasies in a place so known for (at the time) it’s “peace, love, blah blah blah” stance? Or perhaps this is his way of scolding the US for the war in general. Well, those things come to mind, but he’s probably just off his nut. The fact that there are so many questions about his background just proves how intriguing he is. Everybody who watches wants to know what his damn deal is. There is clearly more motivation for his murders than 200,000 bucks. He’s not just a scheming genius who wants to live on an island to fuck babes and drink pina coladas all day. He’s truly sick in the head. It is possible that he knew he wouldn’t be able to get away with it (I kind of sensed a suicidal vibe), but just seriously got off on the idea of having so much power over an entire city. Seriously, in movies, a guy like THIS doesn’t even come close to winning. But it’s interesting to see his rise and fall from power.
Scorpio is simply one of the best and most terrifying characters in movie history because he is BELIEVABLE. He’s not suave, he’s not a millionaire with minions running around. He’s an all-American, blue jeans-clad guy with a horribly sick and twisted mind. Considering he steals the spotlight from CLINT EASTWOOD (the original scene-stealer) is certainly something to be recognized. He is one of the prototypical movie psychos without a conscience. Actors who play villains ever since owe their ass to Scorpio for directly or indirectly influencing the personality and representation of the movie psycho.
Thank you, Andy Robinson, for scaring the shit out of four decades of kids everywhere.