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The Great Villain Blogathon: The Lord Humungus in Mad Max 2 (1981)

Kjell Nilsson

If you’ve ever seen George Miller’s Mad Max 2 (released in the U.S. as The Road Warrior), you know the Lord Humungus.

He’s hard to forget.

The Lord Humungus is a cryptic but endlessly fascinating villain played by Swedish bodybuilder Kjell Nilsson. He’s clad in skimpy black leather bondage gear and wears a steel hockey goalie’s mask. He packs a Smith & Wesson Model 29 fitted with an optical scope (the same piece Dirty Harry carries, sans scope of course). He drives a heavily modified F100 truck with six tires, exhaust stacks, and a pair of injured, screaming men tied to poles attached to the front.

Humungus truck

The Lord Humungus is the leader of a band of marauders in a post-apocalyptic Australia. Like any good king, he has a herald. In Mad Max 2, the herald is known as “The Toadie,” and he’s memorably played by Max Phipps. The Toadie introduces his leader to the embattled denizens of a stronghold in the outback (and to the audience) with the following speech:

Greetings from The Humungus! The Lord Humungus! The Warrior of the Wasteland! The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla!

Unlike The Toadie, whose simpering whine carries across the desert wasteland without amplification, The Lord Humungus uses a PA system and has a disconcertingly quiet, rasping voice. And the fact that he speaks in Swedish-accented English is bizarre to say the least. His quiet exhortation to the besieged people that they “Just walk away” is more terrifying than a thousand threats.

Who is The Lord Humungus? Where did he come from? And what’s under that mask?

SW 29

Mad Max 2 never answers any of these questions, which is why The Lord Humungus is my favorite movie villain of all time. He is humanized, but in strange and unpredictable ways. When his vicious lieutenant Wez (Vernon Wells) screams for vengeance after his boyfriend, the “Golden Youth” (Jerry O’Sullivan) is killed, The Lord Humungus puts Wez in a chokehold, his muscles bulging, and whispers, “Be still my dog of war. I understand your pain. We’ve all lost someone we love. But we do it my way.”

I first saw Mad Max 2 on my 12th birthday, and since then I’ve seen it more times than I can count. I know every beat of the film like a piece of great music. I know every edit, every musical cue, every line of dialogue, and the way every shot is framed.

And yet … The Lord Humungus continues to terrify me and fascinate me.

MSDROWA EC016

One reason I think he’s such a successful villain is that there’s no unmasking — no single shocking moment that slowly loses its power after multiple viewings.

There’s also no back story. The Lord Humungus is humanized in a few unexpected ways, but when the film ends we still have no clue who he was before he became the leader of a band of post-apocalyptic marauders. The viewer can assume that his face is horribly damaged in some way (and his mostly bald head with a few wisps of long hair supports this theory), but we’ll never really know.

———

This post is part of The Great Villain Blogathon, hosted by Karen at Shadows and Satin, Ruth at Silver Screenings, and Kristina at Speakeasy. Click on the picture of the mama’s boy below to see all the great posts about cinematic villainy that are part of this event!
Norman Bates

8 responses »

  1. EXCELLENT! One of the baddest of the bad-bad! There’s something operatic about the guy; in fact, I’d like to see The Road Warrior remade as an old school German opera! A great write-up about one of my fave mutants!This is the first blogathon I’ve done, and it’s cool to see all the badness. Well done!

    Reply
  2. First of all, I love that a villain has no back story. He is who he is. I get a little tired of filmmakers trying to EXPLAIN a villain; often the movie suffers because of it. I respect that the makers of Mad Max 2 didn’t fall into that trap.

    Secondly, I have never seen ANY Max Max movie – it’s not my thing – but I enjoyed your review so much, I might have to give it a go.

    Reply
  3. Mad Max 2 is my favorite of the trilogy because of Lord Humungus 🙂 Nice review!

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  4. Great review! Mad Max is one of my guilty pleasures, so thanks for including Lord Humungus in this blogathon. The power of his character certainly is in the enigma.

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  5. you gotta love being just thrown into a character without exposition and backstory, it gives the actor freedom to put his spin on it which he did, and lets your imagination go wild, which our sure does. love these movies and Humungus reminds me of Bane, only way better. Thanks for joining the event 🙂

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  6. Yikes, Adam — I’m scared of this guy from just watching the clip! Like Ruth, I’ve never seen a Mad Max movie, and I think I can safely say that I never will, but I sure enjoyed your write-up and your enthusiasm for this film! Good stuff!

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  7. i think lord humungus is fifi from mad max 1

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  8. I’ve also heard a fan theory that Humungus might be Fifi from the first movie, along with some interesting evidence to back that up. Even so, it doesn’t clear up very much more of the mystery.

    There are a few additional tantalizing hints of a backstory for Humungus scattered around the film, which give the character a little extra depth, without ever giving us anything definite to go on: that revolver is an odd choice of weapon on its own, but it’s contained in a presentation box like a precious memento, along with some war medals and some photos… of Humungus, giving us some hint of who he was before the movie, perhaps a veteran of the war that drove the world into ruin? Or was the revolver stolen from someone else? We never really find out, and even if we did, the clues hint only at the possibility that Humungus might have been a sort of war hero, before he was disfigured and fallen, only to rise again as the leader of a band of wasteland outlaws.

    Like the Fifi theory (which suggests that Humungus was Max’s commanding officer in the police force until that last bastion of law in a lawless world fell), the war-hero-turned-bandit-king theory does dovetail in interesting ways with the movie series’ themes about Mad Max: a good cop with a loving wife and family, Max ends the last movie a vigilante in a stolen car with nothing left to live for after getting his revenge, wandering the wastelands as a scavenger as order collapses completely. Characters in the Mad Max movies remark more than once that Max seems little better than the roving bands of thieves and murderers that make up the cast of villains, and that point is echoed in the way that some of the bandits we see in the background are wearing police uniforms.

    So, in a way, we know almost nothing about Humungus, and we have only a few sketchy hints of who he was before the movie which suggest a couple of fan theories that are probably a little far-fetched. But, in a way, we know something really important about who the Humungus is: he’s a dark reflection of Max, a man who was destroyed and scarred by the end of days, only to rise up from the ashes, and become a survivor with a choice: to become part of the problem by joining the lawless bandits in feasting on what is left of the world, or to do the right thing, and help the civilized people of the besieged camp by taking on the role of a hero again.

    Which then brings us to the way Max’s decision to stay and help the camp like a good lawman plays out in the movie’s cynical twist ending….

    And, what a shame there are so many comments from people who never plan to see any of these movies! There’s some great stuff in these movies, they run much deeper than they might seem, and certainly a lot deeper than a lot of critics might give them credit for! The Mad Max movies stand up really well alongside their twins: the best spaghetti westerns and the art-westerns that preceded them (see,for example, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence”, “High Noon”, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, “High Plains Drifter”), and the best rogue cop movies (“Magnum Force”, “Dirty Harry”, “Serpico”, “Death Wish”…), and (to a lesser extent) some fine film noir (like “Double Indemnity”, ‘Touch of Evil”), which explore similar themes about the conflict between order and chaos, the responsibility of powerful men to stand up to those in power and make sacrifices to try to serve and protect a civilization that doesn’t seem to be worth saving, and/or the temptation to turn one’s back on that responsibility, abuse that power for violence or profit…. And make no mistake: the Mad Max movies are certainly ambitious variations on the most cynical and introspective art-westerns and cop movies, as products of earlier eras of social upheaval when audiences had come to doubt whether civilization, government, law and order, the police and military, and even the audience themselves could be trusted, or were worth saving, with these kinds of movies rarely offering up easy answers!

    Even if you don’t think the Mad Max movies are likely to be your type of movie, I’d recommend checking them out anyway, especially if you have enjoyed movies like those!

    And the reverse is true, too: if you enjoyed the Mad Max movies, give some of those movies from other genres a try, i think you’ll like them, too.

    And if you’ve never seen any of these movies… wow, you’re really missing out on some great stuff!

    Reply

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