(Reuters Health) - - The scars and facial features of some of cinema's most terrifying villains may end up haunting people who share those traits, suggests a new study.
Of the American Film Institute's top 10 American film villains, most had skin conditions like scars, excessive hair loss, abnormal skin color and deep wrinkles, researchers found.
"It appears that skin conditions are used in films to drive home this dichotomy between good and evil and may facilitate a tendency toward discrimination targeted at those with skin disease," said lead author Dr. Julie Amthor Croley, of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
Using skin conditions like scars and wrinkles for movie villains dates back to the early days of filmmaking, Croley and her colleagues write in JAMA Dermatology.
In the era of silent films, "filmmakers relied on visual cues in the absence of spoken words," she told Reuters Health. "This good guy and bad guy bias was born."
For the new study, the researchers compared skin features of the American Film Institute's top 10 film villains and heroes.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter from 1991's The Silence of the Lambs had significant hair loss, for example. And under his iconic helmet, Darth Vader in 1980's The Empire Strikes Back had scars, deep wrinkles and dark circles around his eyes. The evil queen from 1938's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs also had several skin issues, including an enlarged red nose and wrinkles.
Meanwhile, only two of the top 10 film heroes had noticeable skin issues. Rocky Balboa from 1976's Rocky had cuts and bruises from his battles. Similarly, Will Kane from 1952's High Noon had some cuts on his face.
Croley said scars on movie heroes tended to be the actors' own while those on villains were "prominent, multiple, unique and applied by makeup."
She said that while using flawed skin to indicate movie villains is likely ingrained from the silent movies, modern filmmakers may instinctively use those characteristics in their movies.
This bias has persisted to present day "and may foster a tendency toward prejudice in our society directed at those with skin disease," Croley's team wrote in their report.
"What we hope to achieve from this study is an increased awareness among the general public, filmmakers and others," said Croley.
SOURCE: bit.ly/2nYUZti JAMA Dermatology, online April 5, 2017.