Legend (1985)

Weekend Roundtable: Oh, You Devil

Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub, Mephistopheles, Old Scratch, the Prince of Darkness… The Devil goes by many names and has been depicted many different ways in popular culture. This week’s Roundtable looks at some of our favorite movie and TV devils.

Deirdre Crimmins

My favorite depiction of the Devil, or Darkness in this case, is Tim Curry in Ridley Scott’s 1985 fantasy Legend. Though I loved the movie as a kid, I’ve realized as an adult that it’s kind of a hot mess. Every single surface in the entire film is coated in glitter, which is no substitute for world creation or art direction. The sets are clearly self-contained soundstages. And why did the costumer not give Tom Cruise any pants? None of this detracts from Curry’s mesmerizing turn as the dark lord himself. The creature design is powerful enough to instill fear in most, but he’s somehow able to still ooze sex appeal from behind those thick inches of latex prosthetics. Within the film’s story, Darkness is an omnipotent ruler who has near complete control over the world, and Curry’s portrayal makes me think that all of that is quite possible.

David Krauss

I always liked Harvey Stephens in the original version of The Omen. I’m not sure if the pint-sized tot realized he was playing the Devil at the time, but maybe that’s why he’s so appealing in the role. His impish nature and freshly scrubbed complexion lend a beguiling cuteness that makes his involuntary evil deeds all the more shocking. Watching him rev up his little tricycle, then furiously ride down the hall, knock his poor troubled mom (Lee Remick) off a stool and send her careening over the upstairs balcony always horrifies me. Then there’s that classic moment at the end when he turns around and flashes that sweet yet sinister grin. It chills me to the bone even today.

Brian Hoss

The Robot Devil is pretty close to perfect as a Faustian antagonist who’s occasionally thwarted in entertaining and hilarious ways, and he was also key in the original, apt Futurama finale. But as it happens, I have to recognize that Ned Flanders as the devil or “The Devil Flanders” in the Treehouse of Horror IV episode of The Simpsons did it all so well, so concisely, and so long before. His goat-legged superiority, ironic punishment division, and trial face-off with Lionel Hutz are pure gold. The petty extra punishment he doles out after losing Homer’s soul is just the topper.

M. Enois Duarte

My favorite depiction of Satan is Robert De Niro as Louis Cyphre in Angel Heart. His performance as the Prince of Darkness is exactly how I would imagine the character to live and walk amongst us. I particularly love that this film explores his special brand of wickedness as some sort of Machiavellian schemer, a darkly charming entity speaking from the shadows and manipulating events with words and ideas rather than a being with supernatural powers. Granted, there have been other similarly clever depictions, but this version told as a crime drama in the style of classic film noir is genius and, hands-down, my favorite use of the character.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

When I say that the disco-fried earworm “Do the BIM!” from the 1994 Worldvision Song Festival is catchy as hell, I mean that literally. Boogalow International Music (y’know, BIM) is run by the capital-“d” Devil. You see, 1980’s The Apple isn’t just a schlocky sci-fi musical; it’s a religious allegory.

Instead of Adam and Eve, you get the pure-as-the-driven-snow singing duo of Alphie and Bibi. Alas, Bibi can’t resist the siren song of the apple dangled in front of her by Mr. Boogalow and his minions. By “apple,” I mean “a fancy contract with Satan’s record label,” but in case the metaphor proves elusive, it’s embodied in an actual apple in a big musical number. (A musical number with nonsensical lyrics like “It’s a natural, natural, natural desire / To meet an actual, actual, actual vampire,” but I digress.)

You’ve got dog-men, government-mandated disco siestas, Alphie inexplicably squeezing the boobs of the future Professor Sprout from the Harry Potter movies, and God descending from the heavens in a golden Rolls-Royce. But the best part is Vladek Sheybal (the Russian general from Red Dawn) as a multi-lingual, howling, preening disco-devil. He even gets his own reggae number: “Life Is Nothing but Show Business in 1994,” which rolls off the tongue in the song about as well as you’d expect.

The Apple is one of the most entrancingly terrible movies I’ve ever seen. I love it to pieces.

Josh Zyber

In the CW network’s short-lived comedy series Reaper, Ray Wise portrayed the Devil not as a red-skinned or horned monster, but as a dapper older gentleman who’s quite wily and clever, and a stickler for contract details. He has a perverse sense of humor and enjoys his job being a prison warden for all of Earth’s undesirables. While it’s implied that imprisonment in Hell entails an eternity of torture, we never actually see him harm anyone or even get angry. The Devil loves ice cream, but is cursed to never eat it again, because it melts as soon as he touches it.

The show ran for two seasons from 2007 to 2009 and kind of vanished afterwards. (Supporting actor Armie Hammer had the most luck going on to bigger things.) It was very funny and built an interesting mythology storyline. I remember it fondly, especially Wise’s role.

Your Turn

What are your favorite depictions of the Devil?

17 comments

  1. photogdave

    Canadian indie film Highway 61 features a character named Mr. Skin who either is Satan or just thinks he is. He is traveling to New Orleans to redeem a soul he bought and is financing his trip by ripping off old ladies in Bingo halls. Very unique and hilarious take on the Devil and how he interacts with regular mortals.

  2. Jon

    Al Pacino in The Devils Advocate. What better way to cap the “lawyer’s suck” decade then by making Satan the head of a law firm? Plus Pacino is clearly having a great time in the role.

  3. William Henley

    Constantine with Peter Stormare as Lucifer was the first one to come to my mind. Lucifer as someone so focused on the thing he is seeking, he almost misses that he is about to be overthrown.

    Of course, I also love South Park’s depiction of Satan. Just a complete perversion of everything (including the fact that he is just a total pansy in this show). From the first time we see him in season 1 when he bets on Jesus to win the fight and takes a fall to the movie where all he wants is to be loved and rule the Earth while being Saddam’s B is just classic.

  4. Csm101

    My two favorites were already taken in De Niro’s and Pacino’s versions of the devil. I’m glad I had to dig a little deeper because the next one really creeps me out. Rosalinda Celentano’s androgynous take on Satan in The Passsion of the Christ genuinely unsettles me. In an honorable mention I’ll have to go with Viggo Mortensen and his slick mullet sporting handsome devil in The Prophecy.

    • William Henley

      The Passion of the Christ was certainly a unique one, and is still controversal to many. I like it – it had the advantage of never being done before.

  5. David Krauss

    E, I also loved De Niro’s performance in Angel Heart. So I’m curious… Am I the only idiot who didn’t get that Louis Cyphre was actually Lucifer until it was revealed at the end for all the dummies in the audience like me?

    • Judas Cradle

      Great film. I wish Louis Cypher wasn’t so “on the nose” as a name!
      The twist is still a great one. I hope people can see it and not have spoiled the reveal of who Johnny Favorite is.
      The line “I know who I am.” Is a classic in my book.

  6. EM

    Burgess Meredith as the wily “Mr. Smith” in the “Printerʼs Devil” episode of The Twilight Zone. Imagine Batmanʼs adversary the Penguin as the Adversary and a newspaperman rolled into one. His outrageous fake news becomes unwelcome reality—talk about the enemy of the people! Got a light?

    But Adam Tyner deserves some sort of prize for his shout‐out to The Apple—truly one of the great sci‐fi/fantasy disco epics of all time.

  7. julian

    Joe Black in ‘Meet Joe Black’ is my favorite. If he’s just the Grim Reaper, I’ll go with Ted Danson in ‘The Good Place’. If he doesn’t count either, I’ll echo Brian’s vote and go with Devil Flanders. The segment is just seven minutes long, but it has enriched my English vocabulary with gems I use on a yearly basis. E.g. ‘The sound wasn’t on, but I think I got the gist of it’, ‘Daddy’s soul donut’, ‘Hmm, forbidden donut’, ‘I like the cut of his jib’, ‘He’s your eleven o’ clock’, ‘It was scrum-diddly-umptious’ et cetera.

  8. EM

    Over the weekend I gave the subject some additional thought, and now Iʼd like to give a special mention to the titular character of Georges Mélièsʼ “le Locataire diabolique”—“The Devilish Tenant” or “The Diabolical Tenant” or some such. He may not be the Devil, but apparently heʼs a devil of sorts, who even leaves a blast of sulfur in his wake. The short subject is a classic Méliès camera‐trick film, with his Luciferian lessee impossibly unpacking a trunk of furniture, other possessions, and even his own family—and then eventually packing them all back in again! Not so famous or sumptuous as Mélièsʼ “Trip to the Moon”, the movie is nevertheless packed (and unpacked) with devilish fun.

    And that reminds me…one of the few Méliès‐centered monuments in the world—namely, his final resting place—is in sore need of restoration. Méliès, a stage magician, had quickly seized upon the emerging medium of the motion picture, becoming the worldʼs first special‐effects wizard and a pioneer in the art formʼs narrative possibilities. Yet in spite of his inventive and entertaining genius, he died penniless. Nevertheless, his family managed to give him a respectable grave, complete with bust—but the monument has sadly deteriorated. His descendants seek to give Georges back some of the glory he eternally deserves, but they canʼt afford to do it all themselves. So, they have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds. At this writing, with seven days to go, theyʼre still about 7⁠ ⁠500€ away from their 36⁠ ⁠000€ goal. Mélièsʼ grave lies in Parisʼ famous sprawling and beautiful Père Lachaise cemetery, which is entirely free for the public to visit. (Minus airfare etc.…) When I made my pledge, I felt gratified to be giving back a little…something like those members of the French public who chipped in to give America—and the world—the Statue of Liberty. At the moment the worldʼs eyes are swiftly turning to the restoration of another Paris monument, Notre‐Dame. Already one wealthy family has pledged 100 million euros for the Notre‐Dame project. With such competition, itʼs all too easy to overlook the Méliès project, just as Méliès has too often been overlooked in life and in death. If youʼre interested in learning more about the Méliès project, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2036153312/save-the-grave-of-georges-melies-the-cinema-pionee

  9. Shannon Nutt

    Does Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo character in the first season of Fargo count? That would get my vote.

  10. Thulsadoom

    Without a doubt, I have to go Tim Curry in Legend. I love the film itself, as well. 🙂 After that, I’ll pick what’s probably an unpopular choice, and go with Gabriel Byrne in End of Days, which I consider a seriously underrated Arnie movie. 😉 And as someone else said, a special mention to Viggo in The Prophecy.

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