I’m willing to bet that, for most people, The Road Warrior — George Miller’s diesel-fueled sequel to Mad Max — was the first glimpse they’d ever gotten of the fearsome presence of Vernon Wells. That was the case for me, and it’s a performance that I can’t quite shake for a number of reasons.
Wells plays Wez, second-in-command to the Lord Humungus and an all-around card-carrying psycho. We first meet him during a high-speed chase where Mel Gibson’s Max is being pursued by some guys who want what he’s got: the valuable commodity that is gasoline, a rarity in the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max. Half of these guys get wiped out except for Wez (and his boy toy, looking like he just got a ride home from a Winger concert), thanks to quick thinking on the part of Max. The two have a standoff of sorts across a stretch of highway, and Wez lets Max know their business with each other is hardly finished via a blood curdling yell and a quick removal of the crossbow bolt run through his arm. Then he rides off in the opposite direction, popping a wheelie as he heads off to some undetermined location. It’s a chilling scene and a perfect introduction to one of the most insane villains ever.
You can argue that Wez single-handedly defined the look, nature and overall demeanor of the post-apocalyptic heavy. Some variation on him exists in just about every other similarly-themed movie, game or TV show. There is a relentless nature to the guy that makes him absolutely frightening. See, it’s one thing to have a villain carefully pursue and stalk his prey, but it’s something else altogether to have this guy who comes after you non-stop like some jacked-up animal, a dude with little regard for his own safety who just keeps going and going. There’s a certain sadism inherent in Wez, making him the guy you don’t want getting his mitts on you, let alone have snapping at your heels.
Take, for instance, that one poor soul who gets grabbed by Wez in the middle of reloading his crossbow during the siege that occurs partway through the film. Wez grabs him and literally caves his head in with a headbutt hard enough to make the film flash white for a second. Then he laughs, throws the guy off of a catwalk and runs off to get his claws on someone else.
Wez also supplies us with one of the best jump scares in the history of cinema, right before he exits our plane of existence in spectacular fashion. The scene is a joy to watch with someone who has no idea of what’s coming. It’s a guarantee they’ll scream and jump behind the couch when Wez pops up from the front of that tanker cab like some howling, blood-streaked jack-in-the-box from the depths of your worst nightmares. There are plenty of bad guys in The Road Warrior, but because of his antics, Wez stands head and shoulders above the rest. Wells really nailed this role, probably the most recognizable of all the ones he’s ever taken on.
Welcome, Wez, to the Cult Spark Movie Villain Hall of Fame, butt-less leather pants and all.