RIP Max von Sydow, Beer Cinema’s Weirdest Villain

March 09, 2020

By Matthew Zuras, March 09, 2020

The world lost one of its greatest thespians on Sunday, when Max von Sydow passed away at the age of 90. The Swedish-born actor will be remembered for some of the most iconic roles in the history of cinema, including as Father Lankester Merrin in 1973's The Exorcist and as the star of The Seventh Seal, in which his character, a medieval knight, famously played a game of chess with Death.

But we’re willing to bet that nary a memorial will mention von Sydow’s stellar turn as the villain of the 1983 Canadian comedy Strange Brew. The film revolves around SCTV characters Bob and Doug McKenzie—played by Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis—who work on the bottling line of the fictional Elsinore Brewery, inspecting bottles for mice. (Really.)

Von Sydow portrays Brewmeister Smith, the head of the brewery and a classic mad scientist, who plots to take over the world by adulterating Elsinore beer with a mind-control drug that turns anyone who consumes it into an attack drone upon hearing specific musical tones. (Really.)

Wearing cartoonishly large dentures and the kind of black turtleneck beloved by both Bond villains and Elizabeth Holmes, von Sydow hams it up just as well as Moranis and Thomas, who became internationally known in the early 1980s for their “Great White North” sketches as the beer-swilling, brainless McKenzie brothers. Von Sydow’s scheming Smith—who plots to poison an Oktoberfest celebration after testing his brainwashing beer on patients at an asylum connected to the brewery by secret tunnels—chews up the scenery like no one else could.

As someone who worked on nearly a dozen films with Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman, von Sydow might seem like a unlikely casting decision for a movie that also features a flying dog and a battalion of hockey-playing Stormtroopers. Moranis and Thomas actually wrote the role with von Sydow in mind, but never expected him to take it. Luckily, the late actor’s son was such a fan of SCTV that he convinced his father to sign on to the film, and the world was better for it.

So today, why not crack open a cold one in remembrance of von Sydow and beer cinema’s weirdest villain, eh?

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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