Monday, October 29, 2012

CinemArchetype 17: The Devil


As the water levels rise and the wind blows the cranes, Pirate 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 atmospheric pressure --"and power is just going out everywhere across the area"-- 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-deep into the plum pie-heart of man. One can argue theology: is old Scratch just working for God, challenging mortals like a mean but fair swim coach? Did God set him loose upon the world the way, say, the predators releases 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 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 - so hell being below and heaven being above makes no logical sense, 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!

Bedazzled
It all kind of begins and ends with old Faust and his bargains: there's a million variations and we know them all. We make them every day. Robert Johnson met Satan at the crossroads, and his guitar was tuned to the devil's key and after his premature death ("I said hello, Satan / I believe it's time to go") that guitar mojo was loaned out via Aleistar Crowley's interdimensional brokerage to Jimi Page, who maybe still has it. I once had a visit from God but somehow over the course of three months he turned out to be, at the very least, a trickster spirit if not a devil outright. There ain't no devil / there's just God when he's drunk. That's what Tom Waits sang. Satan's got a river / so big and so wide, that's what Porter Wagoner sang. And so it goes.

Little Nicky
There's the Christian idea of the devil, a distinct entity banished from God's eye, and then there's the Screwtape variation, where he's in God's employ under the table, providing the much-needed patchouli-and-tobacco yang to Christendom's musty bible smell yin. But the horns and hooves are proof Old Scratch's really a representation of old world supernatural pantheism. He's Pan, in other words, the God of nature and fornication--the satyr, the initiator into carnal abandon--and more than ever we need him.  Not the version hailed in methed-up suburban metal attics but the version of Hades, of Pluto, the Lord of the Underworld. We need him to rule over us lost souls, to provide a pool table and a warm bed for all of us not down to receive the latest issue of the Watchtower. 

1. Jack Nicholson
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
2. Sylvia Pinal - Satana
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 fairly 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.

3. Jack Woods as Asmodeus
Equinox (1967/70)
This movie used to show up once in awhile on UHF TV when I was a kid and it scared the living double toothpicks out of me. In a plot that would be loosely borrowed by Sam Raimi for Evil Dead, some teens visiting the great outdoors stumble onto a secret book full of devilish symbols which could end the world. A friendly park ranger comes along, and would really like that book, kids. When he gets one of the girls alone he advances on her, his eye make-up darkens, and he begins sticking his face in the camera and twisting his mouth around in an obscene pucker. That's the stuff of kid nightmares, and his name was burned into my memory, Asmodeus. Later he transforms into a crude but brilliantly claymation devil with wings (below), and summons a big Lovecraftian tentacled beastie, a purple Giant, and other things.


That stuff is more cool than scary now that I'm older, but Asmodeus is still the guy we imagined trying to lure us into cars with candy, looking all official as a representative authorized of patriarchal security one minute, then next time you look his eyes are darkening and he's leering, and that's just one of the reasons this movie gave me nightmares--a scary effect few horror movies have ever capitalized on (until The Shining and then The Oregonian) The idea of being way out lost in the park and the only adult authority present 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.

4. Green ooze
Prince of Darkness (1987)
This movie got some confused reviews over the years and has a dull ugly aesthetic (a condemned Catholic church basement is not the most inspiring place to set a metaphysical movie, though it is the place most of us in AA have our spiritual awakenings), 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 like jets of Scope mouthwash to possess them. Sure it's odd that a very pale Alice Cooper lingers outside with an army of schizophrenic homeless, being lured there by their mental illness(i.e. schizophrenia is really just Satan's alpha wave transmissions which most 'sane' inner radios aren't turned to). Sure, a mysterious figure broadcasts a warning from the future into the dreams of anyone crazy enough to fall asleep, but that's just John Carpenter.


Carpenter wrote the script under the pseudonym Richard Quatermass, which is apt since the metaphysical triangulation of demonic myth, physics, and human evolution in the story recalls QUATERMASS AND THE PIT and very few others... so

4.5 - Grasshopper -Five Million Years to Earth 
(AKA Quatermass and the Pit) (1967)
I dig that truth and belief have nothing to do with each other and yet create each other. I dig that the human ego is extraordinarily narrow-minded when it comes to consensual reality and maybe for good reason. Few of us want to connect the dots that lead us to the unpleasant possible truths such as the possibility that our difference from other life on earth is the result of some long-dead biotechnically advanced alien's dabbling, especially since it's hard to prove it in any 'scientific' manner and it's scary to think about. We scoff but it's partly that we don't want to be considered 'nuts.' But those who hear the horrible truth can't help but go nuts, unless it's told to us as fiction. (more)

5. John Brown as the Black guy with glowing eyes
and Eddie Powell as the Goat of Mendes - Ride with the Devil (1968)
AKA Bride of the Devil
Here in Hammer's tight little adaptation of Dennis Wheatley's novel we have everything that makes British devil films great: Christopher Lee, some intelligent older women, Charles Gray as a sophisticated, witty villain, and upper crust Jet setters cult worshipping Satan through black magic, peppered with a few older eccentrics who look like any minute they're flying to Manhattan for 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 connect voodoo to the jet setter devil cult, as if two branches of the same happy pagan family. Hahaha!

6. Angela Featherstone as Veronica Iscariot in
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 demon looking to find herself in the world above her so-called-hellish home, etc. What's cool is the relative lack of CGI or misogyny as Veronica finds her way through the city, romancing a dumb doctor, wandering around the park ripping spinal columns out of rapists, and feeding the meat of her slain sinners to her dog Hellraiser. Whenever she's about to do a number on someone Veronica's eyes glow green or red. And we learn from the opening act 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 Veronica Iscariot is damned close and I love Featherstone's low-key performance and the dreamlike grungy fairytale threadbare quality is endearing in a Guy Maddin-meets-Silk Stalkings kind of way. It's thus the perfect film to pass out to after ten whisky sours. 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 rapist's spinal column to his intended victim (for a trophy!) then you know there is a God, after all.

7. Richard Devon as Satan
The Undead (1957)
Pamela Duncan is hypnotized to travel through the sea of time to visit 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 with her help, so she's fucked her future selves up! While her loyal suitor and the palace guards give chase, the hypnotist has no choice but to join her in the past to try and correct the matter. It's there he runs into Satan, who recognizes him right away! Oh hey, it's the time-traveling hypnotist! It doesn't get more awesome.  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 nothing there is uncommon, which it never is to a young child. 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 steals the show-- incorporating modern traits and ancient evil as a good-humored beatnik trickster who transcends time itself.

8. Earnest Borgnine
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: faces melting, horns, and robes, and William Shatner. The other Satan film I most wanted to see the end of 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... weird man, but it left me feeling a bizarre Satanic kinship with this 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 hammy but committed 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 drawing of a devil-ish hydra rising from the Red Sea on a cave wall near where he plans to build a giant nuclear reactor, and it looks way 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 got all your money already, 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 brilliant (and ties in with the transmissions in Carpenter's Prince of Darkness). 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 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 its a secret pleasure to see a Catholic priest facilitating an involuntary abortion here! Only in Italia! Vivo El Ennio!

10. Joe Turkel as Lloyd the Bartender
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 and it's all for nothing as he's accused of hurting Danny anyway, and he didn't do it, to his knowledge. His language finally breaks up a bit from the mantras and he mutters he'd sell his soul for a drink. Suddenly he lightens up, "Hi Lloyd!" 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 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.


12. Charles Laughton
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)


13. Pazuzu
The Exorcist, The Exorcist II: The Heretic
 The hardcore Christian or 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 were mutilated to fit the shoe of Satanic possession in the Middle Ages, so Satanic possession is mutilated to fit the shoe of schizophrenia today. Like the 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.


I would personally like to apologize to all the dark lord incarnations brevity prevents including - Peter Cook in Bedazzled, Al Pacino in The Devil's Advocate, Robert De Niro in Angel Heart, Peter Stormare in Constantine, Gabriel Byrne in End of Days... they are legion, and God bless them.

4 comments:

  1. This is a great overview of movie devils!

    Very cool.

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  2. I know it's a tv show and not a movie, but I always loved the cheezey Devil in that Twilight Zone episode, The Screaming Man (I think). John Carradine was in it? I should really look at the box set before I start these things.

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  3. Speaking of "Legion"--Brad Dourif in Exorcist 3, (Legion)is a favorite. Not technically Satan himself, well maybe.

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  4. thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete