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Soft-Spoken Sadist

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"Would you like to see my mask? I use it in my experiments. Now, probably not very frightening to a guy like you, but these crazies, they can't stand it. They scream, and they cry. Much as you're doing now."
Dr. Jonathan Crane, Batman Begins

Not every villain has to sound like one. Perhaps, instead of having a malevolent rasp, a gloating shrill, or a booming bass, the villain's voice is instead light and low. They don't yell or intimidate, and might not even be impolite — instead, they speak with a soft tone that seems unassuming, meek, or even kind, with a soft chuckle and a sort of warm energy... hiding the menace within. The end result is something dissonant and creepy, a monster who might describe just how horribly he's going to mangle you, while speaking in a voice that's anything but monstrous.

Keep in mind this doesn't always mean the character in question is a Sadist—it's just Added Alliterative Appeal.

See also Affably Evil, Faux Affably Evil, Dissonant Serenity, Creepy Monotone, and Creepy High-Pitched Voice, and compare Wicked Cultured and Polite Villains, Rude Heroes. Note that if and when they eventually drop this soft-spoken demeanor, then that's a surefire sign things are going to get worse. Blends very well with Creepy Monotone and Evil Sounds Deep, as is uses up the low end of the voice register more so than the high end. Contrast with Evil Is Hammy, though a Cold Ham can cover both.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Spider-Man's enemy Tombstone is a large, albino mobster whose teeth have been filed to points. He's vicious enough to hold his own against Marvel's other colorful gangsters (Hammerhead, Silvermane, the Kingpin, etc.), strong enough to fight Spider-Man, and his dialogue balloons are always edged with a dotted line to underscore how how soft his voice is.
  • Kurt Gerhardt in The '90s Foolkiller series. He was said by a drug kingpin to be crazier than The Punisher, yet he was not the boiling angry man with a gun that was Frank Castle. His modus operandi was always to have a Socratic debate with his intended target, just so that he could uncover a logical fallacy or hole in their argument. The coda of each debate always being his bottom line followed by "I think you're a fool. I kill fools". It was always important to Gerhardt that his targets knew why they were being killed; equally important that witnesses understood as well.
  • Tarn from The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye uses "Weaponized Conversation" where he can literally talk someone to death.

    Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm:
    • Gravemoss, who's responsible for the resurrection of ancient Asgardian undead nightmares, wields the Darkhold and routinely conducts horrific experiments on people, has a voice which is regularly described as soft and disturbingly lulling. Apparently this is either an affectation or a natural talent, because Gravemoss actually notes to Lucius Malfoy that it's far easier to sacrifice people if they're nice and calm. However, those who get past the lulling effect note that it's strangely... dead.
    • The sequel has Sinister, who's arguably even worse. He sounds like a fairly ordinary, if somewhat distracted, scientist, most of the time, and you can count on the fingers of one hand the times he raises his voice. He's also a prime example of The Sociopath and a one man production line of solid gold Nightmare Fuel.

    Films — Animation 
  • Disney's The Jungle Book:
    • Kaa (played by Sterling Holloway), especially in the first movie where, despite having the gentle voice of an genial old man, is menacing enough to scare Bagheera. Later, he uses that soft quality in his voice to "convince" Mowgli to trust him. Especially creepy given that there's almost no audible difference between Kaa's voice and Pooh Bear's.
    • Shere Khan qualifies even more, ever keeping his deep voice light and low for most of the time.
  • Bradley Uppercrust III in An Extremely Goofy Movie has a light, mild voice, and is so evil he has life-threatening assault, arson, and attempted murder under his belt. The vast majority of the other series antagonists are saints compared to him.
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire has the Big Bad Commander Rourke, who always speaks pleasantly no matter what heinous things he's discussing. Even when the chips are down and he's finally be pushed to anger, he still talks quite calmly:
    Rourke: Well, I gotta to hand it to ya, you're a bigger pain in the neck than I would have ever thought possible. I consider myself an even tempered man. It takes a lot to get under my skin, but congratulations, you just won the solid-gold kewpie doll.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Garland Greene from Con Air almost always have a dissonant smile on his face, takes time out of their criminal escape to have a tea party with a cute little girl, and is more than happy to pleasantly talk to whoever sits by him. At the same time, he gets the full Hannibal Lecter treatment when being transported, has nearly all the other hardened criminals on the plane terrified of him for the atrocities he's committed, and the things he talks about? He calmly discusses his murders and his twisted views on semantics and human psychology without a shred of regret for the things he has done. And he gets away in the end.
  • Angel Eyes from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
  • The Silence of the Lambs: Hannibal Lecter.
  • Inglourious Basterds: Col. Hans Landa, sometimes.
  • Mr. Blonde from Reservoir Dogs is a very cool-headed, soft-spoken individual who always exudes a casual aura. This makes it all the more unnerving when he slaughters a store's worth of people after the alarm goes off, or when he calmly describes to a captured cop how much he will enjoy giving him a slow, painful death.
  • Quentin Tarantino apparently likes this trope. His character Richie in From Dusk Till Dawn is a sadistic rapist with a soft, calm voice.
  • Sir from Truth or Consequences, N.M. is an icy, calm Professional Killer who never raises his voice, even when he's cutting off someone's fingers or in a massive shootout wielding a shotgun.
  • Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men embodies this trope to a disturbing degree.
  • Gaear Grimsrud from Fargo, when he is not snapping randomly.
  • The Thief of Bagdad has Jaffar, an Evil Vizier and Evil Sorcerer who raises his voice once, in order to cast a spell at sea. It sort of gets rid of the common "who would trust that guy" Fridge Logic about more Obviously Evil viziers: he sounds extremely trustworthy. Too bad he isn't.
  • Toht (the bespectacled Nazi) from Raiders of the Lost Ark is usually smirking and speaks with a halting, breathy delivery as if he's on the verge of chuckling.
  • Dr. Jonathan Crane is easily the most softspoken character in Batman Begins. (He also sprays people with a toxin designed to cause intense panic attacks, tries to burn people alive, and gives his fear toxin to someone who supposedly told him the plan was to hold the city to ransom.)
  • Mister Teatime in the adaptation of Hogfather.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Loki in Thor and The Avengers, when he isn't being a zealous would-be ruler, is overwhelmingly cool and polite. When the Avengers are all gathered on the flying aircraft carrier, the imprisoned Loki actually seems to be the calmest of them all. And even though, when things stop going his way, he breaks that pattern, he's right back to it at the very end.
      Loki: If it's all the same to you, I'll have that drink now.
    • Avengers: Infinity War: Ebony Maw, Thanos's Number Two, always speaks softly and regally, which can distract from how cruel and sadistic he can be, as demonstrated by torturing Doctor Strange.
  • Esther from Orphan is soft spoken and very rarely raises her voice, even if she's threatening your life with a gun.
  • Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
  • In Sneakers, Marty finally comes face to face with the Big Bad, Cosmo, who he's thought long dead. Cosmo speaks casually of crashing entire countries' economies. Plus this little gem:
    Cosmo: I cannot kill my friend. [to his henchmen] Kill my friend.
  • HAL 9000 of 2001: A Space Odyssey has this, overlapping with Creepy Monotone.
  • Richard Burton's portrayal of O'Brien in the film release of Nineteen Eighty-Four. He never raises his voice and, in his own creepy way, actually seems to think he is being kind in torturing Winston.
  • Nightbreed. A major contributing factor to how creepy the psychotic Dr. Decker is is how calm and collected he always remains even during his hands-on murders.
  • Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer: Henry rarely raises his voice, and his apparent shyness almost comes across as endearing. Trusting him, however, will get you killed, as Becky finds out the hard way.
  • Christopher Guest's portrayal of Count Rugen in The Princess Bride is a particularly scary example, because almost the entire rest of the film falls soundly in the Large Ham category.
    "As you know, the concept of the suction pump is centuries old. Well, really, that's all this is. Except that instead of sucking water, I'm sucking life. I've just sucked one year of your life away. I might one day go as high as five, but I really don't know what that would do to you. So, let's just start with what we have. What did this do to you? Tell me. And remember, this is for posterity, so be honest — how do you feel?"
  • Lord Cutler Beckett in Pirates of the Caribbean. Especially when compared with Barbossa, Davy Jones, and Blackbeard, who are all loud, hammy villains, he's very calm, and rarely shows any extreme emotion.
    "You can fight, and all of you will die. Or you can surrender, in which case only most of you will die."
  • The Godfather:
    • Don Vito's voice is so quiet it's sometimes hard to tell that he's actually saying words. He's also probably the most powerful criminal in New York.
    • Michael Corleone, the series' Villain Protagonist, is polite, icy and ruthless. He remains totally calm even as he gives the order to murder his own brother. The only time in the first two movies that he raises his voice is when Kay reveals that she got an abortion to spite him. He's... decidedly less collected in Part III.
  • Cobra Commander from G.I. Joe: Retaliation.
  • Solomon Lane from Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation never raises his voice above a whisper, but that doesn't stop his cruelty.
  • Kylo Ren from The Force Awakens has many fans of his oddly relaxing and mesmerizing voice. His behavior is hardly timid.
  • Darth Maul from The Phantom Menace sees much, says little, and says it calmly and quietly.
  • Warden Norton from The Shawshank Redemption.
  • Keyser Soze from The Usual Suspects arguably takes full advantage of this trope.
  • Salieri from Amadeus.
  • The spoilerific revealed antagonists from Christopher Nolan's first feature Following, The Usual Suspects, and Art School Confidential.

  • Vireka in The Forges of Dawn can definitely be quite soft spoken as he muses aloud all the horrible ways he's going to torment you.
  • In Masques, the ae'Magi. He is universally considered a very nice and kind man, and his mild-mannered behaviour contributes to this. He even murders people with a kindly smile on his face.
  • Lord Roose Bolton from A Song of Ice and Fire might be the ultimate example of this trope - mild-mannered, courteous, and speaks so softly that others have to listen closely to hear anything he says. He's as cold-blooded a lord as the Seven Kingdoms can offer. His family uses a flayed man as their sigil and has a legendary reputation for torture. Although unlike his Ax-Crazy and Stupid Evil son Ramsay, Roose isn't blatantly obvious about his sadism, and cultivates a Villain with Good Publicity image (besides the whole "flaying people" thing, but that's a family tradition; it's the Bolton sigil).
  • Harry Potter:
    • Snape is described as being able to keep a whole class at attention without going much louder than a whisper in the first book, and though his speech often contains contempt and sarcasm, he rarely ever does anything but speak softly - which serves to make the times he does outwardly show his rage all the more significant. Demonstrated when he and Sirius have an argument; as they both get closer to violence, Sirius loses his indoor voice while Snape gets tenser and more waspish.
    • Umbridge's fluttery, girlish, high-pitched voice belies her true nature, though most everyone sees through it immediately as shown in book 5.
    • Voldemort speaks in an almost snake-like whisper, especially shown during the first chapter of Book 7. He rarely raises his voice, and when he does, it is supposedly extremely terrifying.
    • Crabbe and Goyle spend so much time serving as Malfoy's Dumb Muscle that Harry hardly ever hears them speak. When he finally does in book seven, he's surprised by how soft Crabbe's voice is. By this point, Crabbe's had plenty of lessons on torture from the Carrows, so he definitely fits the "sadist" part.
  • Dragon Bones: The person who eventually betrays the heroes afterwards talks softly to Ward, as if nothing happened. It creeps him out.
  • Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
  • In Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep, Flenser is described as having a voice like this.
  • Lord Vetinari of Discworld, in his scarier moments, though he's at least nominally a good guy.
  • After decades of being the very face of Ax-Crazy and Evil Is Hammy for the Warhammer 40,000 franchise, the Horus Heresy series has revealed that Kharn the Betrayer's voice was once "soft, low, and measured" before he became the herald of Khorne.
  • The Dresden Files has Nicodemus, who's two thousand years old and in a willing partnership with a Fallen Angel who feeds off pain and suffering. His demeanor is usually completely calm, reasonable, and friendly, and, when he (only occasionally) slips, he quickly regains control. Harry specifically notes that when Nicodemus laughs, it is with the rich laugh of the supremely confident, rather than the typical sadistic Evil Laugh of a Card-Carrying Villain (and Harry's had enough experience to tell the difference). The fact that most of Harry's enemies are Drunk on the Dark Side to one degree or another makes Nicodemus' reserve all the more noticeable.
    • Harry's earlier encounters with Gentleman Johnny Marcone led him to think of Marcone this way, but it becomes apparent that Marcone cannot really be considered "evil", nor is he in any way sadistic, being far too pragmatic to be anything other than ruthlessly efficientnote .

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Adam never ever loses his cool or faux affability, yet he kills a child for the hell of it in his first few minutes.
  • Desaad from Smallville, who never loses the creepy, even tone as he kills tons of people by making them bleed to death from the inside.
    Desaad: When is the last time you had a good, hard cry?
  • Game of Thrones:
    • The Bolton family use a flayed man as their sigil and have a legendary reputation for torture. Roose Bolton is as calm and courteous a lord as Westeros can offer, but in his very first scene, he advocates torturing prisoners for information as if it's the only logical course of action, even while acknowledging that few if any of them will have any useful intelligence. He also betrays Robb at the Red Wedding. Bolton doesn't actually whisper his lines as he does in the books (it's McElhatton's usual deep voice) but his dialogue stands out because of how impeccably enunciated it is, in stark contrast to the Oop North brogue often exhibited by the other Northern lords. And then there's his bastard son Ramsay. In every sense of the word.
    • In Cersei's monstrous actions during "The Winds of Winter," she keeps a very soft tone of voice. This is especially apparent in her treatment of Sister Unella.
    • The Tickler never raises his voice while conducting his interrogations.
  • The Reaper from Criminal Minds. He's condescendingly soothing while stabbing Hotch in "Faceless, Nameless". In "100", he uses a cool, conversational tone to taunt Hotch on speakerphone while calmly playing toy soldiers with Hotch's son. He even covers the kid's ears and spells out "D-I-E-S". He plays it so well, the kid isn't even sure if he's a bad guy. This is seconds before he murders Hotch's ex-wife while he listens.
  • In The Twilight Zone episode "What's in the Box", Sterling Holloway (his second time on this list!) plays a mysterious but malevolent television repairman who he acts the role of the friendly old blue-collar worker, who gives an exasperated man some extra perks in his cable, and then gets to watch, smile, and subtly gloat as his "product" ruins two lives, never dropping the benign facade.
  • In The X-Files:
    • The Cigarette-Smoking Man has a pleasant, avuncular New England accent. (Except for the times he has a pleasant, avuncular Canadian accent.)
    • The death fetishist Donald Pfaster from season 2 episode "Irresistible" has an unsettling soft voice.
  • In the Star Trek: TOS episode "Wolf in the Fold," John Fiedler played a serial-killing alien, and he spoke in the same tremorous, timid voice he used when he was playing Piglet.
  • Adelai Niska, Firefly's resident psychotic crime lord, can be very soft-spoken in the tone of a kindly old man. The fact that he does this while he's zapping the living daylights out of you, cutting off your ear, or even worse things makes him utterly rutting creepy.
  • Marlo Stanfield from The Wire. He's very soft-spoken and almost never raises his voice—even when ordering the murder of a man and his family.
  • In Supernatural, Lucifer is very calm, collected, and acts in a casual and gentle manner. He also tortures and kills anyone to get what he wants.
  • The Goa'uld Tanith in Stargate SG-1. Unlike most of his kind, who are very much of the Large Ham variety, Tanith preferred to coldly taunt his enemies before utterly destroying them. Politely wiped out a civilization.
    • Ba'al, after spending too much time on Earth, eventually stopped using his Goa'uld-voice entirely, with his later interaction with SG-1 was conducted in a rather pleasant, if sardonic, tone of voice. No one is fooled that he's not still the same guy who repeatedly used a Sarcophagus to revive Jack after torturing him to death.
  • Wynn Duffy from Justified, played by Jere Burns, is a ruthless Dixie Mafia henchman, but he has a very soft, almost meek voice.
  • On Burn Notice, Anson Fullerton, the Diabolical Mastermind behind Michael's burning, affects this, in keeping with his Psycho Psychologist persona. Played by Jere Burns, as with Wynn Duffy above.
  • Arnold Rothstein from Boardwalk Empire is polite and soft-spoken - but he's a ruthless gangster, who once tricked a man into choking to death just for his own amusement.
  • In Babylon 5 Captain Sheridan gets captured and is brought to a Torture Technician to be physically and mentally broken until Sheridan disavows his cause and publicly supports the fascist regime of President Clarke. The torturer is a skinny, balding, older man with glasses who looks and sounds as if he should be teaching math to children.
  • The killer in the Law & Order episode "Hubris." McCoy tells the jury that he's going to ask them to realize that this "nicely dressed, soft-spoken young man" is a murderer.
  • In the third season of The Walking Dead, the Governor very rarely raises his voice, but he definitely enjoys killing.
  • Deucalion in Teen Wolf is like this whether he's exhorting someone to murder, scheming, or disciplining his subordinates. Except the time he screamed "I AM THE DEMON WOLF!" at the top of his lungs, but that's very much the exception.
  • In NBC's 2013 Hannibal series, serial killer Hannibal Lecter speaks calmly and softly at all times.
  • Wyatt from Prison Break. He sounds like he's telling his son a bedtime story, just as he's about to kill you.
  • Gus Fring in Breaking Bad is a kingpin who rarely ever raises his voice, to the point that he's a lot more menacing when he does raise it.
  • Emmett Milbarge from Chuck. Imagine the gentle-voiced Buster Bluth of Arrested Development, only he's a sociopath and has delusions of authority. That's Emmett, and both characters are played flawlessly by Tony Hale.
  • The Nightmare Man of The Sarah Jane Adventures is a classic example of this trope, with a very soft, quiet voice and an absolutely unnerving presence.
  • Kiss Me First: Adrian, whose voice is always a very soothing, even tone, never rising in anger or alarm, yet he also enjoys manipulating people to kill themselves or others at his bidding.

  • From the Harold Pinter play One For The Road, Nicholas is an extremely genial person who happens to be in charge of torture for his government.
  • CLAUDIUS. Dear God, Claudius.
  • Sweeney Todd, in his Sondheim incarnation.
    ''Inconspicuous Sweeney was,
    quick, and quiet and clean he was.
    Back of his smile, under his word,
    Sweeney heard music that nobody heard...''
    • Which makes it fantastically ironic that Hearn was cast as Sweeney, really.
  • In Margin for Error, the Consul speaks calmly and unctuously so long as he feels assured of himself, especially when he's issuing veiled threats.

    Theme Parks 
  • Universal's Halloween Horror Nights has two examples.
    • The Caretaker is generally perfectly polite and soft spoken, even when he autopsies people alive. Sometimes he gets a bit excited though.
    • The Usher is very calm about murdering people who break his movie theater's rules. It wouldn't do to interrupt the movie after all.

    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 
  • Carl in Llamas with Hats is comically nonchalant about killing people, though he does raise his voice a bit more often in the last two episodes after he's destroyed all other life on Earth.
    Carl: In that case, I should probably mention I've been filling our luggage with orphan meat.

    Web Comics 
  • The Daemonslayers Lady Blood (aka Aster), a seductive demoness whose sole purpose in life is to torture, interrogate and ultimately break her prisoners into serving the demonic armies, which she does with orgasmic relish. It was Aster who eventually broke Blackjack's mind when he was transformed into a dracosvulf by the late demon queen Shine and stripped of his memories to make him more pliable.

    Web Original 
  • In Dino Attack RPG, Dr. Carolyne Provencal is known for acting sweet, kind, and polite. She is also one of the most sadistic villains in the RPG.
  • Ask That Guy with the Glasses: Ask That Guy's voice tends to remain calm and even cheerful as he goes on about the bizarre murders, rapes, kidnappings, and assorted other crimes he's committed.

    Western Animation 
  • Katz from Courage the Cowardly Dog only ever sounds mildly annoyed, even while sending people to their deaths or strangling a troublesome dog.
  • Transformers Prime:
    • Airachnid likes to eviscerate her victims inside-out. She also has smooth feminine voice and likes to make small talk with her victims in order to torment them psychologically.
    • Shockwave is disturbingly effective at this. Especially when applying the Cortical Psychic Patch.
  • Batman: The Animated Series:
  • Marvin the Martian from Looney Tunes is quiet, soft-spoken, and polite. This makes his frequent attempts to commit genocide all the more unnerving.
    Bugs: 'Scuse me, Doc. Can you direct me to the bus back to Oith?
    Marvin: The Earth? Oh, the Earth will be gone in just a few moments.
    Bugs: Oh, well, never mind then. No point tryin' to get back to da Oith if it — zuh?!
  • In The Legend of Korra, Zaheer may be the prime example. Zaheer is always soft-spoken, polite, and nice to his opponent. But below his affable likable exterior rests a sadistic man who will go to any lengths to secure his goals. His lack of remorse or empathy to his victims is simply disturbing. It also doesn't help that he's a Bomb Throwing Anarchist to boot and will kill anyone who could possibly stand in the way of achieving his goal. It's to the point where the fanbase started disliking his voice in the beginning, but fully saw him as this in the end.
  • Kim Possible had many hammy villains, but Señor Senior Sr. was entirely different: Courteous, composed, and gentlemanly. Good manners, good sportsmanship, and domination of the world were his three priorities. It certainly helps that there was no real malevolence behind his schemes; he is simply a bored, very rich old man who took up supervillainy as a hobby.
    Señor Senior Sr.: We will meet again, Kim Possible. Until then, be well!"
  • Darth Maul is like this in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. He's usually very calm, and even when he's angry, his voice simply gets tenser rather than louder. He is also willing to kill anyone, even kids, if it benefits him in any way, and is also obsessed with making Obi-Wan suffer as much as possible.
  • One of the villains the protagonists of Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero encounter is The Milkman, who's voiced by Paul Reubens and speaks in a polite, friendly tone while doing things that are... neither polite nor friendly, to say the least.
  • Steven Universe:
    • Navy, a Homeworld Gem speaks only in a sort of half-whisper and doesn't seem at all intimidiating. She has a lovely time hanging out with Steven, Lapis and Peridot, until she takes them on a trip with the Roaming Eye and tricks Steven into opening the door, causing everyone but her to get Thrown Out the Airlock. Even when she says she brought them onto the ship (instead of just stealing it when no one was looking) to see the look on Steven's face when he realized he'd been tricked, her voice never raises above a soft, sweet whisper.
    • Blue Diamond speaks with soft, slow deliberateness, contrasting her with her far more forceful counterpart, Yellow. This doesn't make her any less capable of brutal retaliation towards those who would disturb the order of Homeworld (or murder her beloved fellow Diamond).
      Blue Diamond: I want to know what [Rose Quartz] thinks we're going to do with her. Because I want to do something worse.
  • Donbot from Futurama never loses his temper or raises his voice above a low, polite, eloquent drawl even when calmly discussing acts of theft, sabotage, and outright murder. The angriest he ever gets is a near inaudible grumble when Joey Mousepad takes his Deadly Euphemism at face value.
    Donbot: That scab's gonna have a little on the job "accident" tomorrow.
    Joey: With all due respect Donbot, I don't think we should rely on an accident happening. Let's kill him ourselves.

    Real Life 
  • The (in)famous fire and brimstone preacher Johnathan Edwards often delivered his terrifying sermons in a calm, quiet voice.
  • Pol Pot was by all accounts very calm and spoke with a soft voice.