Hail, readers! Welcome to Devils in the Details, a monthly column examining the satanic and occult influences in horror film. This column aims to provide a non-sensational look at these influences by examining their history through the perspective of modern Occult scholarship. The study of the satanic and the occult is a life-long endeavor, and I have much yet to learn. I hope you will join me in this sojourn into the darkness!
Satan in Space! A concept that brings to mind countless story opportunities particularly for the horror genre. Perhaps Satan is actually an extraterrestrial being, an exploration of ancient alien theories. Or maybe satanic artifacts are discovered on a distant moon, leaving the exploring astronauts to deal with the existential questions that situation poses. 1990’s The Dark Side of the Moon instead takes inspiration from various sci-fi and horror films of the decade past and blends them into a monstrosity deserving of the B-movie title!
The film was released in 1990 and stars a cast of mostly unknowns. Directed by D.J. Webster in his only feature film directorial role, it’s clear from the start that The Dark Side of the Moon is not a schlocky b-movie by the way of Alienator or Maniac Cop 2 or other contemporaries. Instead, the film gives the impression that it was an attempt to cash in on the science fiction boom of the 80s taking “inspiration” from films such as John Carpenter’s The Thing or Aliens. Of course, that’s not entirely a bad thing. The ambitious blend of tropes is unique but definitely gives off familiar “watch this with some friends and quite a few drinks” vibes!
“[…] a monstrosity deserving of the B-movie title!”
The Dark Side of the Moon opens with title screens of exposition dumps. Think Star Wars only less dynamic. The following scene shows a space ship pan across the screen also in Star Wars fashion. Next, we get a scene out of Alien with a blue-collar working space crew exchanging quips as a distress call is received. These comparisons immediately come to mind as the imitations are blatant. What follows is a series of scenes introducing each member of the crew as systems on the ship begin to breakdown. The crew itself is a jumble of stereotypes complete with the obligatory AI in the form of a sexy lady sitting in a lounge chair for some reason. This one is a goldmine for corny one-liners. Just wait until close to the end. Guarantee you’ll be caught off guard or your money back!
Minutes into the film, the audience gets a pretty goo idea of what’s in store for the next hour and half. It’s as if some executive had a checklist compiled from all of the science fiction and horror films from the 80s and went down the line ensuring each trope was accounted for. But then again, a checklist of some of the most badass sci-fi horror tropes sounds pretty freaking cool! Most horror fans, though, will be able to identify the tropes. The religious faux pas, although handled similarly, are less apparent but we’ll get into that a little later.
In any case, the distress signal comes as the ship is being caught in the moon’s orbit and pulled towards Centrus B-40, the dark side of the moon. It’s at this point that the crew realizes the distress signal is coming from a 90s era NASA shuttle. After docking with and boarding the ship, the crew discovers a NASA astronaut with a triangular wound, but according to the doctor, there is no apparent cause of death. What follows is pretty formulaic for a horror film with the exception of a few scenes that may leave you wondering if anyone was editing this thing. One scene, for instance, shows the crew member in charge of the robotic AI, Lesli, lift a security protocol that he had installed to keep the rest of the crew from accessing her files. This is not addressed again for the rest of the film and plays no part in the plot as far as I could tell
The film is fun though, like any B-movie. The effects are decent and the acting isn’t the worst you’ve ever seen. In fact, some of the deliveries are actually pretty believable. However, the fact that some scenes are basically ripped directly from other horror takes away from it a bit.
Alright, now let’s get into how the religious and Satanic tropes are used. Just as the film is a hodgepodge of various themes from 80s sci-fi, satanic themes such as the number 666 and various bible passages are used almost as added flavor as the antagonist really could be anything other than Satan and still make as much sense as it does now, though it would be way less metal.
Firstly, the antagonist itself is, as you might have guessed, Satan himself, though this is mostly implied and never directly stated. Once you hear that overly modulated deep voice and see those bright orange eyes, I think you’ll agree we’re dealing with the spicy boy from downstairs! Who else could it be?
The Satan portrayed in The Dark Side of the Moon is just as much an amalgamation as the movie is to the horror genre in general. Satan can be thought of in terms of a few different archetypes. The most common and the one most audiences immediately recognize is that of the deceiver. A malevolent being whose only goal is to cause mayhem and misery and will use any sort of trickery or deceit to accomplish that goal. The Satan in The Dark Side of the Moon definitely falls into this archetype. However, other Satanic mythos are dragged into the plot, particularly that of the “Miltonian Satan”.
John Milton’s Paradise Lost presents the story of Lucifer, an angel who rebelled against God and is cast down into the pits of Hell for his treachery. This story is a creation of Milton’s and does not originate from any biblical texts. Though it is often mistaken for religious canon, it is in fact a different character from the one presented in the Old and New Testaments. Most horror fans may not be aware of this distinction and that’s fair. What The Dark Side of the Moon manages to accomplish, however, is highlight the jumble of religious themes by placing them alongside a jumble of horror themes.
For example, as the film progresses, it is revealed that the Bermuda Triangle or “Devil’s Triangle” is involved in the strange occurrences in space. The protagonist Giles makes use of Lesli, the AI, to investigate just how exactly it ties into the events onboard their ship. After using the AI to determine the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates for each point of the Bermuda Triangle (despite the triangle not actually having any set coordinate points!), Giles makes note that the number 6 only appears once in each coordinate effectively making each corner 6, or 666. At which point, Lesli quotes bible verse Revelation 13:18 which reads as follows:
“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.”
Nevermind that Lesli misquotes the passage, this is the clue that tells Giles that he is dealing with Satan. Normally, viewers would not give much thought to this passage and write it off as just another religious passage used to elicit some spiritual fear. In The Dark Side of the Moon, however, the passage and note about the coordinates stick out due to their absurdity and irreverence.
The use of these religious themes is just as egregious as the use of sci-fi tropes such as the overly militaristic crew member who is eager to start blasting his assault rifle in a pressurized space vessel. But The Dark Side of the Moon is not the only film to use these religious themes in this way. I mentioned earlier that there are several distinct archetypal “Satans.” Most films focused on The Satanic use any combination of this archetype with most audience members oblivious to the mash-up.
Indeed, even horror fans would be hard-pressed to notice the nuances when it comes to these religious themes. How many times have we seen a demonic possession with any number of names such as Baal, Paimon, Belial, etc used interchangeably? Where most horror fans could immediately identify the properties being drawn upon for the sci-fi and horror themes, the same can not always be said about themes involving Satan.
The Dark Side of the Moon is no masterpiece, though it really was not intended to be. It’s use of horror tropes, specifically Sci-fi tropes, is not subtle and neither is the use of religious tropes. But many horror fans do not immediately identify it when the same is done with these religious themes. It’s easy to overlook, but perhaps should be just as important as proper use of other horror elements. Satanic themes are as vast and distinct as any other. There are nuances in Satanic lore and stories that can be lost if they are used haphazardly. When you’re watching the latest demonic possession film, try to keep that in mind. To some, the differences may seem trivial, but to discerning horror audiences such as those reading this article, they are not!
“What The Dark Side of the Moon manages to accomplish, however, is highlight the jumble of religious themes by placing them alongside a jumble of horror themes.”
What are your thoughts on The Dark Side of the Moon? Should we be more scrutinizing with the religious themes in horror? Let us know on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, or the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook Group!