Total Recall: Devil Movies
With The Devil Inside hitting theaters, we look at some memorable films featuring ol' Lucifer himself.
Beelzebub. Ol' Scratch. The Lord of Darkness. The Dark Prince. The devil has no shortage of nicknames -- and no shortage of opportunities on the big screen, where he's surfaced repeatedly over the years, adding a dash of brimstone to some of our favorite (and not-so-favorite) dramas, comedies, and horror flicks. With the supernatural mockumentary The Devil Inside wending its way into theaters this weekend, we decided now would be a fine time to take a look back at some of Lucifer's previous adventures in Hollywood. Grab your Bible and unbutton your coat -- just in time for the January winter chill, it's time for a devilishly super-sized Total Recall!
Mickey Rourke as the hero and Robert De Niro as an oddly manicured, sulfur-effusing version of the devil? It might sound like director Alan Parker got his casting backwards when he filmed Angel Heart, but things were different back in 1987 -- as any of this noirish cult favorite's many fans could attest. Rourke plays Harry Angel, a New Orleans detective hired by a client (De Niro) for a mysterious mission involving Lisa Bonet, raw chicken, and lots of blood. Somewhat notorious for annoying Bonet's TV dad, Bill Cosby, when it was released, Angel Heart wasn't a commercial hit, although it earned positive reviews (Empire's Ian Nathan called it "A diabolical treat with Rourke and De Niro in fine form").
The final film of director Archie Mayo's distinguished career, Angel on My Shoulder was essentially a thin rewrite of Here Comes Mr. Jordan -- and perhaps not coincidentally, both were written by screenwriter Harry Segall. In the first film, God comes to Earth as Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains); the second time around, Rains plays Nick, a.k.a. Satan, who schemes to use a deceased gangster's soul in order to disgrace a buttoned-down judge (Paul Muni). The results are predictable, and the critics were predictably dismissive; as Bosley Crowther shrugged for the New York Times, "The story is so imitative -- and is repeated so dutifully -- that it's hard to feel any more towards it than a mildly nostalgic regard."
In most of the devil's on-screen incarnations, the character is portrayed as an impossibly charismatic man -- so it only stands to reason that in the 2000 version of Bedazzled (a remake of the 1968 film starring Dudley Moore and Peter Cook), when the filmmakers decided to make he a she, they turned to the impossibly vivacious Elizabeth Hurley to fill the role. Here, the curvier Satan is after a love-starved goober (Brendan Fraser), who sells his soul in exchange for seven progressively more disastrous wishes. Most critics found it inferior to the original, but Hurley brought considerable presence to the role, as pointed out by Christopher Smith the Bangor Daily News: "Hurley is great fun to watch, a Faustian powerhouse of curves, smoky eyes and big hair who sounds exactly like Jackie Collins doing an imitation of Madonna's pan-European accent. It's creepy, but effective."
To those who purchased tickets to Johnny Mnemonic, Keanu Reeves might be the devil; alas, in 2005's Constantine, he plays the hero of the story, a chain-smoking sorcerer locked in combat against Lucifer (Peter Stormare). Adapted from the long-running Vertigo comic Hellblazer, the movie was a $230 million box office hit in spite of largely dismissive reviews. Michael Booth of the Denver Post was one of the scribes who sided with the audience, arguing that it "takes itself just seriously enough to put on a good show" and saying, "Reeves earns some theatrical redemption, the demons put a scare into the waywardly righteous, and there are plenty of evil-duders left over for a sequel."
A movie whose climax involves Ralph Macchio defeating Steve Vai in a guitar duel may not sound like a critical winner, but Walter Hill's Crossroads is actually quite a bit better than that description might suggest. Scripted by kung fu black belt-turned-itinerant blues musician John Fusco (who later went on to write the Young Guns movies, among others), Crossroads follows the adventures of a young, Robert Johnson-obsessed guitarist (Macchio) who falls in with one of Johnson's former partners (Joe Seneca) and ends up drawn into a battle against the devil himself (Robert Judd). The Steve Vai thing? Yeah, it stretches credulity -- but not enough to dissuade Roger Ebert, who wrote, "Just when I'm ready to despair of a movie coming up with a fresh plot, a movie like Crossroads comes along to remind me that acting, writing and direction can redeem any plot and make any story new."
Plenty of baseball fans (and not a few players) have loudly proclaimed they'd give anything if their team could beat the Yankees -- and in this modern spin on the legend of Faust, when one bitter player swears he'd sell his soul for the privilege of a victory over the Bronx Bombers, the devil (Ray Walston) takes him up on the offer. Featuring a sharp script, classic songs, and game footage of real-life Yanks, Damn Yankees is a longtime favorite among musical fans; as TIME Magazine wrote upon its release, "As a cinemusical, Yankees manages to steal home by a wide margin."
As far as filmgoers who went to see Lady in the Water and The Happening were concerned, M. Night Shyamalan might as well have been the devil -- but he didn't star as the titular nasty in Devil, serving instead as the producer of this nifty-sounding supernatural thriller about a group of folks trapped in an elevator with ol' Scratch himself. "Don't let the Shyamalan snickering sway you from seeing this in theaters," warned Cinematical's Peter Hall. "You're bound to see it on DVD or cable down the line and regret that it took you that long to discover how good of a film it actually is."
What could possibly make life for a 19th-century New Hampshire farmer more difficult? His foolish decision to make a deal with the devil -- as outlined in The Devil and Daniel Webster, the 1941 adaptation of Stephen Vincent Benét's short story about a man (James Craig) who sells his soul to Beelzebub (Walter Huston) in exchange for a measly seven years of prosperity. When his contract's up, he wants out -- and turns to the famed statesman Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold) to help him escape damnation. Full of fine performances and fiery populism, Webster is what Filmcritic's Jake Euker called "Spooky, light-hearted, and never less than a joy to watch."
If the devil is real, does he wear colorful sweaters and eat pudding? This is one of the troubling questions raised by the early '80s Disney comedy The Devil and Max Devlin, in which a sleazy landlord (Elliott Gould) dies and goes to hell, where the devilish Max Satin (last name pronounced with a long A, natch) tells him he can rescue himself from eternal damnation by tricking three people into selling their souls. Sadly, most critics felt Devlin failed to live up to its intriguingly non-Disney premise, with the New York Times' Vincent Canby offering one of the few bits of limited praise: "The performances are attractive though, with one exception, not especially memorable."
Given his vulpine grin and predilection for scenery-chewing, it's somewhat surprising that it took until 1997 for Al Pacino to play the devil -- but when he finally got around to it, he made it count: Taylor Hackford's The Devil's Advocate is a loopy blend of camp and horror in which a hungry young rural attorney (Keanu Reeves) is recruited into a shady big-city firm by its charismatic senior partner (Pacino), to the growing chagrin of his increasingly unstable wife (Charlize Theron). A $152 million hit, Advocate inspired praise from critics like Margaret A. McGurk of the Cincinnati Enquirer, who called it "A literate meditation on human weakness and a hipped-out horror movie all in one."