As the water levels rise and the wind blows the cranes, Pirate Jenny or whatever her name is, Sandy, is coming for us like the floods called in by disillusioned church lady Ethel Waters in Cabin in the Sky. I wanted to quick post this which I've been working on for so very long, just in case it's the last one I get to post, before the power goes out or I'm blown clear to Oz. The pressure --"this ROUGH six hours ahead - and power is just going out everywhere across the area" kind of pressure is melting me in my chair. I got Jesus in my bones and heart and I'm all right, but I need to tell you first about the devil.
Of course. The devil. In any discussion of cinematic archetypes he sticks out like a proverbial sore thumb, and that's his whole raison d'etre, an anthropomorphized swelling of sin jammed Jack Horner-like deep into the plum pie heart of man. One can argue theology: is old Scratch just working for God, challenging mortals to be better and more 'good' than they think is possible? Did God set him loose upon the world the way, say, the predators release the aliens in ALIENS VS. PREDATOR, or British aristocrats release a fox before their hunt? Or, as some CIA agents in the know have claimed, is our world owned by the devil, and God an illusion and the light at the end of the tunnel just a fishing lure, so the angler devil can haul us up into suffocating realm above (beyond gravity there is no sense of up or down, or oxygen - forget I said that!), the poor damned souls who have broken the golden rule are stuck in a lake stocked with sinners for the devil's weekend fishing pleasure!
Witches of Eastwick (1987)
"One of those magical practices, divination using the Tarot deck, still contains a paradoxical reminder of an older, more polytheistic vision of Satan, in the form of the eighteenth card of the major arcana of the Tarot, the card called “The Devil.” Juliet Sharman-Burke and Liz Greene, for example, link the tarot card of the Devil with the Greek god Pan. “Because the god was worshipped in caves and grottoes, attended by fear,” they write, “his image within us suggests something that we both fear and are fascinated by – the raw, goatish, uncivilized sexual impulses which we experience as evil because of their compulsive nature” (64).
This image of Pan as god of dark impulses is one which James Hillman as also written on at length. “Pan is the goat-God and this configuration of animal-nature distinguishes nature by personifying it as something hairy, phallic, roaming and goatish” (“Pan” xx). Ever since the beginning of the Christian era, note Sharman-Burke and Greene, Pan has been subsumed into the image of the Devil, “complete with horns and leering grin.” The notion that Pan died, in keeping with Plutarch’s famous story, is psychologically untrue both they and Hillman contend. “Rather,” Sharman-Burke and Greene observe, “he has been relegated to the nethermost recesses of the unconscious, representing that which we fear, loathe, and despise in ourselves, yet which holds us in bondage through our very fear and disgust.” These two writers further observe that “although he is ugly, he is the Great All—the raw life of the body itself, amoral an crude, but nevertheless a god.” Moreover, they conclude, “the energy which is expended in keeping the Devil in his cave, shameful and hidden, is energy which is lost to the personality, but which can be released with imensely powerful effect if one is willing to look Pan in the face” (64-65). - Richard Strommer
Simon of the Desert (1965)
"For Simon, this apocalypse of course comes in a very worldly form, specifically in the form of the luscious, womanly Silvia Pinal, a recurring Buñuel player most famous for her lead role in Viridiana. She is a seductive, strangely appealing Devil, appearing beneath Simon's pillar or even on it with him to offer him various temptations — not least of which is her own disrobed body. She appears first as a hip-swaying local woman who catches the eye of one of the priests but not of Simon, who uses her only as an example of the evil lure of women. She appears next as a faux-schoolgirl with sexy garters and stockings beneath her innocent uniform, singing a shrill and sing-songy mockery of Simon's religious devotion while trying to seduce him with her long, serpentine tongue or bare breasts. Most cleverly (and hilariously), she briefly tricks Simon by appearing to him as an embodiment of God himself, a young shepherd in a tunic with an unconvincing blonde beard and curls obscuring her femininity. Pinal is, in fact, not Buñuel's vision of the Devil but the vision of the Devil that Simon himself might concoct: the man who turns his back on the world is of course tempted by a Devil who offers nothing but worldly, fleshy pleasures. Simon, though, is stoic, and Pinal's Satan seduces the audience long before she is able to hold any sway over her faithful target." -- Ed Howard (Only the Cinema)
Ed Howard is always spot-on with his observations, and I'm the first to confess I'm farily agog over Pinal's heavenly legs. And I especially like the end which finds Simon and the devil sitting at a modern swinging dance cafe, both feeling outgunned and irrelevant. In the age of Cocoa-Cola and Marx, prophets and devils may as well be just two more revelers at a mass masquerade.
This movie used to show up once in awhile on UHF TV in the 70s and it scared the living Hell out of me. In a plot that would be loosely borrowed by Sam Raimi for Evil Dead some teens visiting out the great outdoors tumble on a secret book full of devilish symbols which could end the world if it gets in the wrong hands. A friendly park ranger comes along, and would really like that book, kids. When he gets one of the girls alone he becomes and obscene lecher, sticking his face in the camera and twisting his mouth around in an obscene pucker. And his name was burned into my memory, Asmodeus. A great name especially since my dad's favorite word when commenting on my and little brother Fred's hijinks was 'odious' or 'odiousness.' He transforms into a red devil with wings that's crudely but brilliantly claymation-animated, and summons a big Lovecraftian tentacled beastie, a Giant, and other things I forget.
That stuff is more cool than scary, but Asmodeus is the guy we imagine trying to lure us into cars with candy, looking all official as a representative authorized of patriarchal security and that's just one of the reasons this movie gave me nightmares (and no UHF monster movie ever game me nightmares! I loved them!) The idea of being way out lost in the park and the only adult authority is trying to kill you -- that's scary shit for a kid... even in the broad daylight at home alone on a Saturday afternoon while your dad is golfing and your mom's out mowing the grass.
Prince of Darkness (1987)
This movie gets a bad rap: "the devil as green ooze, I don't think so!" But it grows on you, like moss. Sure it's a bit odd that the devil turns out to be an interdimensional glowing green slime that climbs walls and shoots into people's mouths to possess them and is kept in check only in a condemned church way past the wrong side of the tracks. But that just leads to lots of weird and cool zombie-ing around on the part of a gathering, mute homeless population. Meanwhile a mysterious figure broadcasts a warning from the future into the dreams of anyone crazy enough to fall asleep.
Like his mentor Howard Hawks, Carpenter repeats his motifs and recycles actors/characters (like his favorite quiver-voiced patriarch Donald Pleasance as a preist; Victor Wong and John Lone as scientists). There are countless super po-faced in-jokes (a character is named after Corman regular Susan Cabot; a severed hand is crawling with bugs like Un Chien Andalou); a crazy proliferation of crosses on the walls recalls In the Mouth of Madness. The church is called Saint Godard's. Lurking amid the homeless demon hordes outside is Alice Cooper. Yeah, brother! I think Mr. Loaf lurketh around too. Shit I gots to see this right now.
and Eddie Powell as the Goat of Mendes - Ride with the Devil (1968)
AKA Bride of the Devil
In Hammer's undersung and tight little adaptation of Dennis Wheatley's novel we have everything that makes British devil films great, such as Christopher Lee, intelligent hot older women, and monsters. The cult worshipping Satan through black magic are upper crust jet set bored types peppered with a few older eccentrics who look like any minute they're flying to Manhattan to behold Rosemary's baby shower. There's two devils here including a smiling black guy with yellow eyes who appears in the center of a big room with a pentagram. With his cocky, frozen grin he's pretty terrifying, his ebony blackness and the chicken in a basket connected voodoo to the fringes of this distinctly Pagan brand of devil dealing.
Dark Angel: The Ascent (1994)
Directed by a woman (Linda Hassani) who is seemingly from another planet, DARK ANGEL (no relation to the TV series starring Jessica Alba) has a bit of a space cadet glow, kind of like MY SO-CALLED LIFE if Angela Chase was a demoness looking to find herself in the world above her Hell home, etc. What's cool is the relative lack of CGI or misogyny as Veronica finds her way through the city, romancing a young, dumb doctor and wandering around the park ripping spinal columns out of rapists and feeding the meat of sinners to her dog, Hellraiser. When Veronica's about to do a number on someone her eyes glow green or red. We learn that Hell is owned and operated by God and that the Devil is just a grunt who still bows and scrapes when angels come along to drop off memos. Most of all we learn that if acting is really really bad it becomes almost like innocence.
Sure she's not the devil devil, but she's close and this is my list so shut up I love her low-key performance and the dreamlike grungy fairytale threadbare quality is endearing in a Guy Maddin-meets-Silk Stalkings (Hassani's directed a few episodes) way. It's thus the perfect film to pass out to by the tenth whiskey of the night. And if you're one of those horror fans who has to really search his collection to find a suitable date movie, here it is. Once you see Veronica offer the would-be rapist's spinal column to his intended victim as a trophy to look upon and contemplate, you know there is a God, after all.
The Undead (1957)
My favorite Corman! Satan shows up about 2/3 of the way through and recognizes our hero instantly as a time traveling hypnotist. It's hilarious! Pamela Duncan is hypnotized to travel through the sea of time to her past lives, but she ends up derailing the scheme of things when she's able to whisper advice to her about-to-be-beheaded for witchcraft Middle Ages incarnation. Her prior self escapes the axe, and while her loyal suitor and the palace guards give chase, the hypnotist joins her in the past to try and correct the matter, where he runs into Satan and his autograph book. I saw this when very young on TV and the scene were Duncan seeks shelter at the witch's house is to me the eternally definitive Halloween moment, Neumann the definitive witch. She's a good one despite her crooked nose (putting to rest the libelous claim of Glenda in OZ that "only bad witches are ugly") and I love the casual way she asks the stranger at her door "Are you from this era or from a time yet to be?" as if hypnotists from the future were not uncommon. Alison Hayes is awesome as the va-va-Voom-level hot 'real bad' witch with eyes on Pamela's man. But as the devil, Richard Devon is a delight -- incorporating modern traits and ancient evil in a good-humored beatnik trickster who transcends time itself.
The Devil's Rain (1975)
There was a deluge of devils in the 1970s but I picked Earnest because this is the movie all us kids from the 70s remember seeing commercials for on TV and it looked badass: faces melting, horned freaks, guys in robes, William Shatner. The other Satan film I most wanted to see as a kid in the 70s was WHATEVER HAPPENED TO ROSEMARY'S BABY? I even had a wild dream about it, where I was the baby, and then later the mother, and then a girl demoness... weird man, but it left me feeling a bizarre Satanic kinship with the film. I see it now and it's just okay... but whatever. It's iconic. That feeling of these films having some supernatural power is gone, but as a kid growing up in the Satanic 70s, just seeing the TV commercial for THE DEVIL'S RAIN was enough to give you sexy nightmares and make the world seem full of strange polymorphously perverse magic.
9. The Nuclear Reactor in the Middle East (and Simon Ward)
Rain of Fire (1977)
aka Holocaust 2000, The Chosen, and Hex Massacre
With an Italian director and Ennio Morricone score, this film would have to pretty bad to go wrong, and it's not bad, so why isn't it better? It's still watchable thanks to Kirk's performance (notes Samuel Wilson at Mondo 70:
"I don't think Kirk Douglas would know how to merely go slumming in exploitation cinema. He earned stardom in a series of apoplectic performances (Champion, Detective Story, Ace in the Hole) in which his characters drove themselves into early graves by force of pure will, it seemed, and at moments here he taps into that early fury. He throws himself into the show with Bela-like commitment, putting himself through more than Lugosi ever had to endure in a picture. Two scenes stand out: a feverish dream sequence that requires him to run naked through a desert and martyr himself (sort of) in a crowd of demonstrators; and a furious insane asylum visit that comes off less like Douglas's dream project of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and more like Shock Corridor, albeit with more color and violence."The highlights are the various hallucinations where Kirk sees an ancient hydra drawing on a cave wall near where he plans to build a giant solar-powered nuclear reactor in the Middle East, at the shores of the Red Sea, and it looks much too much like the proposed nuclear plant for comfort. Good luck stopping the project though, when your son's the devil and he's going for the long con.
The idea that a power plant being built has been misread as a hydra by the psychedelic prophet envisioning it in the ancient epochs is pretty intense. Annoying hippie protestors tie in the anti-nuke environmentalist factor to the other popular subjects of the day, like Satanic offspring (The first Omen had been a nuclear hit the year before). And let's face it, no one does devil movies like the Italians! With their centuries of deep Catholic guilt putting the horns back in horniness you know they had some serious anxiety and secret pleasure in having a Catholic priest facilitating an involuntary abortion!
The Shining (1981)
Note that the ghost bartender Lloyd appears at Jack's big moment of crisis - when Shelly Duvall accuses him of hurting his son. Here he's wasted five months not having a single drink (out of some dorky fatherly guilt since he hurt Danny once while drunk) and it's all for nothing as he's accused of hurting Danny while drunk anyway. His language finally breaks up a bit from the mantras and he mutters he'd sell his soul for a drink. Bingo. If there's no booze in this dimension, just step into the next one, where momentary salvation and permanent destruction are all tied up in a single ghost Jack on the rocks. (more)
11. Walter Huston as Old Scratch
The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)
(looking over the contract)Daniel Webster: This appears - mind you, I say appears - to be properly drawn. But you shan't have this man. A man isn't a piece of property. Mr. Stone is an American citizen... and an American citizen cannot be forced into the service of a foreign prince.
Mr. Scratch: Foreign? Who calls me a foreigner?
Daniel Webster: Well, I never heard of the de... I never heard of you claiming American citizenship.
Mr. Scratch: And who has a better right? When the first wrong was done to the first Indian, I was there. When the first slaver put out for the Congo, I stood on the deck. Am I not still spoken of in every church in New England? It's true the North claims me for a Southerner and the South for a Northerner, but I'm neither. Tell the truth, Mr. Webster - though I don't like to boast of it - my name is older in this country than yours.
Don Juan in Hell (1951)
This isn't a film (that I know of) but I'm a huge George Bernard Shaw fan, and love this most of all - it was done as a record, I think, with Charles Boyer as Don Juan, Agnes Moorhead as the Old Woman. Here's a sample of the scintillating irreverent dialogue:
THE STATUE: ... In future, excellent Son of the Morning, I am yours. I have left heaven for ever.
THE DEVIL: [again touching the marble hand] Ah, what an honor! what a triumph for our cause! Thank you, thank you. And now, my friend - I may call you so at last - could you not persuade him to take the place you have left vacant above?
THE STATUE: [shaking his head] I cannot conscientiously recommend anybody with whom I am on friendly terms to deliberately make himself dull and uncomfortable. (full show above)
The Exorcist, The Exorcist II: The Heretic
The Catholic idea of the devil is rooted in a purely Freudian subconscious wherein he acts as a catch-all basket of repressed desires and speech, possessing Regan for no other reason apparently than to curse like a rabid sailor, even using 'cunt' as a verb! Regan is also subjected to several cruel medical procedures (including two brutal spinal taps) as science becomes a nouveau inquisition, torturing the 'truth' out of her as if science's own unconscious is itself possessed, with the idea of slowly torturing what it cannot understand, until the devil falls in line with the parameters of mental illness as they know it. Just as the toes of schizophrenia are mutilated to fit the shoe of Satanic possession in the Middle Ages, so Satanic possession is mutilated to fit the shoe of schizophrenia in our modern age. Like angels, Pazuzu knows your sins before you do, and calls them and you by name and for that must be destroyed, or assimilated. We never learn where he goes once his new host Father Merrill is killed. Perhaps he goes back into the ether, awaiting his sequels. Perhaps he was never there at all. You can't kill a sitcom by smashing the TV.