A Host of Devils*
The devil appears in more movies than any other character, with the possible exception of Santa. Hollywood has a strange relationship with the Dark Prince, picking and choosing traits from religious myths, later works, and the 80’s devil scare propaganda. Most folks, when they think of Ol’ Scratch, picture a mix of the serpent in Eden, a fallen angel, and a pentagram-loving lunatic who enjoys people in robes sacrificing kids to him. I asked several friends, on and off Twitter, which Satan they liked best. I got almost all different answers, with only one duplicate.
1. Satan, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
Two people picked this Satan, I think because of his singing voice. The devil isn’t very evil, though he tries. He’s a homebody with an abusive partner. Saddam Hussein brings out the worst in him, but given how cheerfully the hell chorus sings along, and how Kenny wanders around hell freely, I think he is probably not that bad.
The only tie to the normal devil myth this Satan has is his rule over hell. Which must be tough, as in South Park only Mormons go to heaven. The devil has to keep track of everyone else.
2. John Milton, The Devil’s Advocate
The devil calls himself John Milton. He waited the entire movie to deliver his speech against god, and that speech became the only thing anyone remembered about the movie. It’s so grand, so powerful, so convincing, that we almost miss that John is a liar and evil.
God is usually a jerk in movies, so I won’t argue that he’s not an “absentee landlord”. But John, borrowing from the devil scare and the antichrist, manipulates everyone. He’s selfish, self-obsessed, and recognizable – he’s the most human devil on this list. He doesn’t seem to believe in his argument, either; his speech seems memorized and delivered by a great actor (the devil, not Pacino). As he says, “It’s my time”, and that is his focus. John didn’t need to be the devil for his character to be believable, but we feel relieved when we find out he’s not human.
3. The Girl, The Ninth Gate
My favorite movie devil. The girl (Emmanuelle Seigner) has few lines, and her role is to protect Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) as he tracks down a book written and signed by Lucifer. The book contains a ritual to open the ninth gate, and Corso presumes this gives the opener power. It’s not until the end that he finds the truth of the ritual and the girl.
The devil usually appears and acts human; at the very least, Satan wants something, and we can understand that. The Girl doesn’t want anything. She looks human but never acts like it. Her worshippers want powers and conduct creepy rituals, but she never shows up. In the final showdown between Corso and his employer Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), she doesn’t interfere, although Corso is the skeptic and Balkan the devotee. The Girl has more in common with Cthulu than the usual devil, as she appears to be so far beyond human experience that she is inexplicable.
4. Satan, Constantine
I love the devil when he’s a minor character. The writer and (when in film) actor get to crank the creep up to eleven. The devil (Peter Stormare) is on screen for only a few minutes, and he’s not the villain – he saves the world from Gabriel (Tilda Swinton).
The antichrist makes a brief appearance and the devil is clearly a soul-collector type, but the War in Heaven is the myth that drives the scene. Gabriel, despite being in the middle of destroying the world, contends that God will help smite Satan. The punch stops just short, and Satan says with a smirk: “Looks like someone doesn’t have your back, anymore”. The history between the two characters, going as far back as the Fall, ends with Satan gloating.
There are other Satans out there, and if you’re interested in talking about more, leave a comment below, send a tweet to me at @hohmeisw, or use the hashtag #MyfavSatan.
*I looked up the group name for angels and devils. A group of angels is called a “host” or “flight”. When I looked up devils, however, I got several hundred suggestions for heavy metal band names. If anyone knows what a group of devils is called, let me know.
Image: Presumably, Trey Parker and Matt Stone own the copyright on the thumbnail. We can’t imagine they’d object to us promoting their work, and since it’s a low-res, smaller-than-original image used to illustrate criticism, we claim fair use. The rest is covered by the YouTube license.