What was the best spoof of villainy? For me it had to be SpaceBalls. Why? Because the villains were indeed too stupid to live. They deserved to be blown up and land on a deserted planet somewhere.
We all seem to just know what makes a hero or heroine too stupid to live. But a villain? Well, let's just say he (or she) is a cliche of evil and might live in a place like Mos Eisley. Why Mos Eisley? To quote Obi-Wan, "you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy." Great line but can we say....cliche? I knew you could.
Of course Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies is a good example of a spoof too - but he's not too stupid to live because he's more than a match for Austin. Through sheer accident, I think Dr. Evil could come out on top. Spoof-yes. TSTL-no.
So how do I know a VTSTL when I see one? He dresses like a villain. A villain should either look cool or fade into the woodwork. The minute one sculks around in black, he's done for.
If a villain believes his own press that he's the scariest guy around - then he's definitely TSTL and will soon be captured or killed by the hero or heroine.
If a villain poses and announces his intentions before killing the hero and/or heroine...he might be TSTL.
Well, I could go on an on... But why, when someone did it before and MUCH better than I could ever hope to. Who was so brilliant? The Evil Overlord himself, Peter Anspach. Who? Back in the 1990s some SF fans got together to compile a list of the things villains always do that get them killed. From this evolved The Evil Overlord's List -or- The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord. One caveat gentle reader. Before you visit this list make sure you have previously visited the bathroom and are not, repeat NOT, drinking anything which might emerge from your nose. Now not all the entries could make you incontinent or snort things out of your nose, but a few of them can. Especially if you read item after item after item. It adds up because you start thinking of books and movies where someone has violated the rule and you realize that when writing villains, you may have committed one of these faux pas as well. I have. I admit it.
So learn from the Evil Overlord what NOT to do and you will create villains like Hannibal Lecter. Now that dude is scary! He is truly a full bodied villain. Why? He has backstory. Yes, he chews on the furniture... But dang, you believe him when he does it. Hannibal can legitimately haunt the dreams of your hero and heroine. He's smart. He dresses cool (psycho cool - but still cool). He's intense. He doesn't posture. He's seriously dangerous. And he can manipulate with the best of them. I mean - look at those eyes!
Best of all, he's totally real. No paranormal activity needed. He embodies the worst of us, but he is curiously logical about how he does it. He's one villain who will never be too stupid to live. Now his doctor? That guy was definitely too stupid to live and if you've seen the movie you know Hannibal was about to invite him over for dinner. Ouch. Now that's something we'll never have on the diner's menu. As one of the cooks, I guarantee it!