Revival House: Ten Movies With the Devil Personified
With a movie literally called Devil coming out this weekend, I decided to take a look at some memorable films in which Satan has taken shape in one way or another. People weary of spoilers should proceed with caution, as at least one film on this list intended that devilish revelation as a twist ending.
The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941). When the Devil, who goes by Mr. Scratch (Walter Huston), comes to collect a soul of a New Hampshire farmer who made a deal with him, orator Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold) agrees to defend the farmer in a court case — with Webster’s own soul now at stake. Scratch’s “jury of the damned” (as described by Webster) consists of (as described by Scratch) “Dastards, liars, traitors, knaves … Americans all.” Adapted from Stephen Vincent Benét’s short story, the film was originally released under the title All That Money Can Buy. Bernard Herrmann won his only Oscar for his score to this film, beating out his own score for Citizen Kane that year.
Crossroads (1986). Walter Hill directed this tale, inspired by the “true story” of blues legend Robert Johnson who, according to myth, made a deal with the Devil in exchange for his musical abilities. The final guitar duel between Eugene (Ralph Macchio) and “Scratch’s” guitar player (Steve Vai) is pretty epic as guitar battles for the soul go.
Legend (1985). It’s never been one of my favorite fantasy films by a long shot, though Ridley Scott’s 113-minute director’s cut (with Jerry Goldsmith’s score restored) is a vast improvement over the 89-minute version that was released in U.S. theaters. But I’ve always been impressed by Tim Curry’s performance as Darkness and also the amazing prosthetic makeup created by Rob Bottin.
The Witches of Eastwick (1987). In this adaptation of the John Updike novel, the Devil is presented in the form of Jack Nicholson as Daryl Van Horne, a mysterious stranger who arrives in town and begins to seduce the three bored housewives (Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer) who summoned him. Despite the film’s climax, which is a bit too over the top, it’s a fun ride — with Nicholson pretty much born to play the role.
Angel Heart (1987). In director Alan Parker’s adaptation of the William Hjortsberg novel Falling Angel, a strange manipulative gentleman with long fingernails named Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) hires private investigator Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) to find Johnny Favorite, a famous big band singer who supposedly owes Mr. Cyphre some kind of debt. The final revelation was something I should have totally seen coming, but totally didn’t. Hjortsberg, it turns out, also wrote the screenplay for Legend, which makes me wonder if he’s cut some kind of deal with the dark one himself.
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999). In Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s big screen opus, it turns out that Satan, the dark prince, Saddam Hussein’s gay lover, secretly (in song) laments for a very different life — and boy can this particular Devil belt out a tune.
Time Bandits (1981). Okay so technically David Warner’s character is called simply Evil (or “The Evil Genius” on the film’s poster) but let’s face it — he’s pretty much the Devil to Ralph Richardson’s Supreme Being. He also seems to very much enjoy blowing up people every now and then, even his own minions. The final confrontation in which Evil takes on “the cavalry” (five of them in fact) is particularly fun.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Rosemary (Mia Farrow) discovers that she is pregnant after experiencing a strange “dream” in which she is raped by some kind of demonic presence. Afterwards she begins to suspect that her husband, neighbors and (as it turns out) just about everyone she knows might be part of a Devil worshipping cult. Director Roman Polanski’s first Hollywood studio film is, to this day, one of the great cinematic thrillers.
The Omen (1976). The son of Satan takes the form of a child — born June 6th at 6am — and winds up in the care of the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck). With an army of Rottweilers and a psychotic nanny at his side, young Damien Thorn (Harvey Stephens) will stop at nothing to rise in the world of politics — with a series of fatal “accidents” that seem to befall anyone who gets in the way. That creepy, knowing smile at the end says it all.
The Exorcist (1973). When it became necessary to show the actors’ breath, director William Friedkin actually made the room cold — one of the many reasons why the events depicted in the film seem as though they’re really happening. This particular demon, the downright scariest on this list, is personified through actress Linda Blair (playing 12-year-old Regan MacNeil) and also the amazing voice work of Mercedes McCambridge — who was reportedly strapped to a chair during the recording sessions in an effort to make her feel more “trapped” in the body of the girl (especially during those moments when Regan is herself strapped down to the bed).