Imagination Connoisseur, Kal Kamel, writes in to continue the conversation about monsters by proposing his nomination for biggest baddie of all-time: Satan.
Watching your stream on the subject of cinematic monsters made me wonder: is there an older monster that has haunted the big and small screens alike than the Devil a.k.a. Satan a.k.a. Lucifer a.k.a. The Prince of Darkness? After all. humanity has been preoccupied with the Devil, or at least the concept of him, since roughly 2000 BCE.
He has been the key figure in countless poems, plays, and novels throughout history and there is a long list of movies which demonically play on our obsession with mankind’s oldest enemy, and it’s not hard to fathom why. Since the release of THE EXORCIST in 1973, which scared us in a way we’ve never been scared before, movies which deal with the devil court a fascination within us which is without equal.
Just like his scriptural persona, he has worn many faces and taken many forms in movies and TV shows, with such A-list actors like De Niro, Pacino, Hoffman, Gabriel Byrne and even non A-listers like Elizabeth Hurley portraying the character. Has there ever been a cinematic villain that has been played by so many actors throughout the history of film?
Choosing the Devil as a character on film presents filmmakers with all sorts of intriguing choices: will he spew fire and brimstone or leave his threats implied? Will he snarl and threaten or seduce and cajole? With each film and actor, different interpretations and unique styles have been been used to flesh out the Devil, so much so, he’s pretty much a pop culture icon just like he is a scriptural one. Just look at the popularity of shows like LUCIFER and SUPERNATURAL and you’ll realize what a unique character he can be in the hands of the right writers and filmmakers.
There’s a plethora of films featuring the Devil ranging from excellent to downright bad. Some of my favorites include THE OMEN, THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS, ROSEMARY’S BABY, ANGEL HEART, THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE and even CONSTANTINE, which featured Pete Stormare as Lucifer looking like a junkie who has overdosed on depravity and every pore on the deathly pallor of his skin seems to ooze corruption and vice.
But of all these representations and films, there are two that I can call my favorite. The first is a movie that both you and I hold dear: Roman Polanski’s THE NINTH GATE. Although the Devil is not the principal antagonist, which in this film is Boris Balkan played by Frank Langella, he plays a pivotal role in the proceedings. It is the book that he inspired that is the film’s MacGuffin and his presence is strongly felt in the background, although it has been argued that The Girl (played by Emmanuelle Seigner) is actually the Devil, or at least a representation of him.
Johnny Depp’s Corso evidently becomes the one the Devil deems worthy enough to solve the mystery of the Nine Gates, as Corso is protected and guided by him throughout the film. It doesn’t exactly have the most clearcut ending, but I like the fact that it opened the question of Corso’s fate to the audience’s interpretation. I certainly thought the film was better than its source material, Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Club Dumas, which, while it was a good book, can get a bit convoluted at times.
The other favorite of mine is Gregory Widen’s THE PROPHECY, which to me is a terribly underrated horror film. I have a love for stories that feature angels and demons battling for humanity, and THE PROPHECY is definitely high on my list. Christopher Walken as the archangel Gabriel who has rebelled against God is a delight to watch, but it is the brilliant, albeit brief, performance of Viggo Mortensen as Lucifer that is one of the film’s highlights. Mortensen is brilliantly both endearing and creepy as the Prince of Darkness, as well as having some of the best lines in a film chock full of great quotes. It is too bad that the sequels were supremely mediocre and were just painful to watch, but fortunately, The Prophecy is great enough to enjoy as a standalone film.
Whatever form he may take in films, there is no doubt that the Devil is one of, if not the greatest, of all cinematic monsters.
Kal a.k.a S’wak Props