Evil laughter or maniacal laughter is a stock manic laughter by a villain in fiction. The expression "evil laugh" dates back to at least 1860. "Wicked laugh" can be found even earlier, dating back to at least 1784. Another variant, the "sardonic laugh," shows up in 1714 and might date back even further.
In comic books, where supervillains utter such laughs, they are variously rendered as mwahahaha, muwhahaha, muahahaha, bwahahaha, etc. (Compare with Ho ho ho.) These words are also commonly used on internet blogs, bulletin board systems, and games. There, they are generally used when some form of victory is attained, or to indicate superiority over someone else (ownage), or also mockingly at a statement one finds hard to believe was uttered in earnestness. The words are often used as interjections, and less frequently as nouns.
During the 1930s, the popular radio program The Shadow used a signature evil laugh as part of its presentation. This was voiced by actor Frank Readick, and his laugh was used even after Orson Welles took over the lead role. The evil laugh voiced by Vincent Price has been used or copied many times in radio, film, music, and television, notably at the end of the music video Michael Jackson's Thriller.
In films, evil laughter often fills the soundtrack when the villain is off-camera. In such cases, the laughter follows the hero or victim as they try to escape. An example is in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Belloq's laugh fills the South American jungle while Indiana Jones attempts to escape from the Hovitos.
On the television series Dallas, JR Ewing (Larry Hagman) would often break into his trademark evil laugh whenever he knew he had put one over on somebody, especially Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval).
- Littell, Eliakim; Littell, Robert S.; Making of America Project (1860), "The Luck of Ladysmede, part X", Littell's The living age, Littell, son & company, 64: 228
- Burney, Fanny (1784), Barrett, Charlotte (ed.), Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay: 1778 to 1784, Bickers and son, p. 279
- Steele, Richard; Addison, Joseph (April 14, 1714), The Guardian, 1, J. Tonson, p. 118
- Zawacki, Neil; Dignan, James (2003). How to be a villain: evil laughs, secret lairs, master plans, and more!!!. Chronicle Books. p. 23. ISBN 0-8118-4666-0.
- Mott, Robert L. (2009). The audio theater guide: vocal acting, writing, sound effects and directing for a listening audience. McFarland. p. 31. ISBN 0-7864-4483-5.