Disney’s musical Fantasia is mostly a collection of animated music videos long before there were music videos, setting gorgeous animated vignettes to pieces of classical music. Most of them are pretty, and of course “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” with Mickey Mouse is pretty iconic, but there is one piece that stands out above all the rest: “Night on Bald Mountain.” It is in this piece, by far the scariest and most disturbing piece of animation Disney had done up to that point, and debatably ever, that we meet the eternally frightening Slavic god of darkness known as Chernobog.
Now, it is possible that I may be cheating a bit here. Chernobog isn’t nearly as much of a character as most of the villains on my list, and while he clearly represents evil, it’s hard to call him a villain as there’s no hero to directly oppose him. Nevertheless, what Chernobog lacks in motivation and personality, he more than makes up for in sheer archetypical terror. In case it’s not obvious from the picture, Chernobog is a mountain come to life, a demonic horror with gigantic bat wings and horns, rippling with muscle, and wreathed in shadow and flame. He is just about the platonic ideal of fear, and from a very early age, he made a permanent impression on me. I’ll throw in one more picture just to drive the point home.
The story of Night on Bald Mountain, such as it is, is that Chernobog rises on Walpurgisnacht, and summons all the ghosts, monsters, and devils to him. Around his mountain home, these creatures dance and cavort, while Chernobog seems to conduct their actions as he might a demonic symphony. He opens a pit to hell, dropping some creatures in, bringing some out. He changes some creatures into others, and smiles as the evil around him rises. He holds them in his hands, watching their dances in amusement. In the end, of course, the coming of the sun, and the church bell that accompanies it, ends the evening of evil, and Chernobog sends his children back to their graves and lairs. He himself retreats into his mountain, but it seems inevitable that he will rise again the following year.
Chernobog seems to embody the natural fear of the night and darkness that most humans have always possessed. Though over the years, religion and science have served to banish these fears and assure us that we’re safe, there always remains the notion that somewhere, in the dark corners of the world, true evil still exists. Perhaps it’s just that one night a year, and perhaps the sun still serves to banish him, but on that night, no one is fool enough to cross Chernobog’s path.
Oddly enough, while I understood as a child that Chernobog was scary, I wouldn’t say my initial reaction was to be afraid of him. Rather, I was fascinated. This monster spoke to me, and set loose all manner of disturbing inspiration for me. He was part of what drew me to mythology, to fantasy, and to the macabre. Perhaps if not for Chernobog, I wouldn’t even be doing a Villains Month list like this.