Growing up in a small town where Christianity reigned supreme I learned two things: funerals had the best food spreads and the Devil was to be feared. Later on, however, things began to change. I still crave funeral potatoes at every turn but instead of fearing Old Scratch, new feelings began to take over.
No longer was I terrified of a goat-footed man waiting at every turn to devour my soul. He was now someone to mourn for, lust over, and even sympathize with. Satan went from the ultimate adversary to the epitome of rooting for the bad guy. I no longer wanted to fear him, and it wasn’t simply because I started shopping at Hot Topic. Lucifer began to edge his way into pop culture in the most devilish way possible; by being appealing. Here are ten of the best depictions of the great beast himself, in all his spooky, sultry, and tainted glory.
10. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
Doctor Parnassus is a lot of things. A steampunk mish-mash of fantasy, drama, and enough bizarre dream sequences to send your brain somersaulting into the atmosphere, the film was Heath Ledger’s (The Dark Knight) last. After his untimely passing midway through filming, Jude Law (Captain Marvel), Colin Farrell (Total Recall) and Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands) were cast as transformations of the titular character. The film focuses on a travelling theatre troupe run by Parnassus takes their audience on a journey of self discovery via a magic mirror. They present the audience with a choice of fulfillment or ignorance, although it’s never quite that easy. It’s revealed that Parnassus had made a bet with the devil named Mr. Nick. A spot on impersonation by musician Tom Waits, Mr. Nick is a laid back trickster whose words are as sharp as any knife.
9. The Devil’s Carnival (2012)
Horror and Musicals form a rare pairing in The Devil’s Carnival. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, the film keeps the joy and debauchery that was captured so well in Repo! The Genetic Opera. In this scenario, Hell is a carnival. After three people meet their deaths they venture through the carnival, interacting with the demonic carnies and attesting to their sins from their previous life. Finally, we encounter Lucifer himself. He dances between cartoonish and creepy, with clown-esque facepaint and tell-tale horns. His voice is as smooth as poisoned honey as he reads Aesop inspired fables and casually incites a war against heaven.
8. Heartless (2009)
Heartless is bonkers in the best possible way. With cheeky humor and moments that had me clutching my pillow out of straight fear, the film is a breath of fresh air when it comes to devilish plots. Jamie, played by Jim Sturgess (Across The Universe) is a morose virgin with a heart-shaped birthmark on his face. That’s the last normal sentence you’ll read about this movie. Empty and creepy alleyways nudge the viewer into a different view of London. It can be just as scary as director Philip Ridley (The Reflecting Skin) needs it to be. And he succeeds by peppering in demonic street gangs complete with reptilian faces and razor-sharp teeth. Amongst all this, Jamie meets Papa B, played by Joseph Mawle (Ripper Street). Keeping true to all things devilish, a Faustian pact is made but Papa B makes it clear the devil doesn’t have to play by your rules.
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7. NEEDFUL THINGS (1993)
The adaptation of the Stephen King novel by the same name came out the year I was born and frankly I think it’s more symbolic of who I am than my Zodiac. True to King’s fondness for small towns and the people who inhabit them, Needful Things zooms in on a small town in Maine. A mysterious new shop opens up owned by the creepy Leland Gaunt (Max Von Sydow, The Exorcist) called “Needful Things.” Oddly enough, every item seems to have incredible worth to the individuals interested them. Gaunt quickly gets to work both selling these strangely relevant items and causing the townspeople to wreak havoc on one another. The pranks start out relatively calm but quickly escalate to violent deaths, showing Gaunt’s true nature. After the town descends into chaos he leaves unscathed, although slightly embarrassed. It wasn’t his best work, you see.
6. ANGEL HEART (1987)
Another book adaptation that also featured Robert De Niro (Taxi Driver) at his tastiest. A horror film that smacks you in the face with philosophical dread, the movie feels like the handsome stranger at the end of the bar who seems to know more about you than they should. Mickey Rourke (Sin City) plays Harry Angel, a private investigator hired by Louis Cyphre (doesn’t that sound a little mysterious?) to track down a singer known as Johnny Favorite. The film spirals through neo-noir cult sacrifices, gratuitous amounts of blood and Robert De Niro’s long fingernails. Instead of a mafia story we are fed Dante’s Inferno through the lens of booze and city grit.
5. DEVILMAN (1972)
The wild card on the list but an essential part of any Devil-discussion. The original manga ran through the early seventies and inspired countless anime, manga, and even Western television. The latest adaptation was an anime run by Netflix and capitalized on gratuitous violence and sex crazed demonic dance parties. But an essential vein that ran through the original and every adaptation was Satan himself. The protagonist Akira Fudo fuses with a demon but retains his humanity, essentially turning himself into a “devilman.” Unfortunately for Akira, his best friend Ryo, who orchestrated the change, reveals himself to be the fallen angel himself. The world erupts in a world war between demons and humans and Ryo ends up going head to head against the only person he loves, Akira. Throughout the final scenes between Akira and Ryo we learn the reason for Ryo’s rebellion against God and why the sting of it is so painful. I won’t spoil the ending, but it leads the audience to sympathize with the Devil probably more than they’d like.
4. THE PROPHECY (1995)
The Prophecy was the first in a string of films that included four sequels. The plot focuses on the angel Gabriel who is inexplicably played by Christopher Walken (Sleepy Hollow) as he strives to find an evil soul on earth. The world’s unluckiest police detective finds himself trapped in the middle of a civil war between the angels and fights for his own survival. The film focuses on the bloody antics between the angels as they struggle against one another, leaving humanity’s souls incapable of entering heaven. Lucifer enters the game when he realizes the end can only mean heaven will become the new hell and frankly, he just doesn’t want the competition. Viggo Mortensen (The Lord of the Rings) plays a morose Lucifer, and somehow seems more of a hero than anyone else in the film. He chides Gabriel, reminding him that the heart of his war is based on arrogance, and that’s his territory.
3. LEGEND (1985)
Alright, Alright. I realize that Tim Curry’s (Rocky Horror Picture Show) character Darkness isn’t technically the devil, but come on. He looks closer to what many would imagine Satan to look like and he legitimately wants to kill unicorns. He even tempts the princess Lili with fine clothes, jewelry, power, and glory. Even at the edge of death he reminds those that would vanquish him with daylight that he can never truly be gone, as evil lurks in everyone. Plus no one could forget those red, rippling abs.
2. CONSTANTINE (2005)
While we’ve made it clear that the film is a terrible comic adaptation, I will fight for the rest of my life that by itself, Constantine is a great movie. Partially due to a melancholy, chain-smoking Keanu Reeves (John Wick) as the titular character, an innocent Shia Labeouf (Nymphomaniac) and a somewhat terrifying Tilda Swinton (Suspiria) as the half human/archangel Gabriel. But also for its stellar Satan. Peter Stormare (Fargo) plays Lucifer Morningstar in a way that’s a breath of fresh air. He’s not sexy, he’s not red, and he’s not entrenched with lawyers. Instead, he looks closer to the plague personified. He tempts Constantine as he arrives to personally escort him to hell. He’s slimy, haggard, and so sharp-witted to remind the viewer that yes, he truly is the Fallen One.
1. The Witch (2015)
Puritanical horror at its best, few things have caused audiences to reevaluate their life choices than a goat’s sultry voice at the end of the piece of art that was The Witch. Yes, I do like the taste of butter! Yes, I do want to live deliciously! And I wasn’t alone. Suddenly, a goat named Black Phillip was causing religious mayhem. But anyone who has seen the movie will be quick to point out he was probably the least evil of the characters. Rather, it was humanity’s own dark aspects; pride, fanaticism, paranoia. But Black Phillip was there, in all his spooky glory. A throwback to America’s own deep fledged fears paired with a sultry voice, Black Phillip truly is king of sand and sea.