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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What are your favorite depictions of the Devil?