What does the Devil look like, anyway? Filmmakers have done their best to capture him onscreen in countless movies, going all the way back to 1896 and French pioneer Georges Melies’s The House of the Devil. Like any great iconic character, Satan is open to interpretation and has been portrayed in numerous incarnations, from the truly terrifying (The Exorcist) to the comedic (Billy Crystal in Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry).
Filmmaking brothers John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle will give the Antichrist their own spin on September 17th with Devil, a tale (from a story by M. Night Shyamalan) about five people trapped in an elevator who begin to suspect that one of the group comes from somewhere far below the building’s basement level. Is it really the Devil, and why would he spend his time messing around in a stuck elevator anyway? Hopefully the movie will answer those questions, but in the meantime, here are eight other notable films in which Satan shows up and gives ‘em hell…
The Exorcist (1973)
Probably the movie most people think of when they think of the Devil, The Exorcist never quite reveals Satan to the audience -- but we end up sensing him in almost every frame of the film: he possesses two dogs locked in a death fight in the sands of Iraq, he flickers in the eyes of a homeless man on a subway platform; he growls through the cracked, pale visage of a fully possessed Regan (Linda Blair); he embodies an image of the ancient Mesopotamian demon Pazuzu; and most frighteningly, we see his skull-white, grinning, bloodshot face in a quick flash during a dream sequence -- still, for my money, one of the scariest images ever committed to film.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
We really don’t see much of the Devil in this horror classic, but we do see just enough to make us uneasy: during the sequence in which old Scratch impregnates poor Rosemary (Mia Farrow), we glimpse Satan’s burning red eyes and, even worse, one of his furred, clawed hands slowly dragging its way down her body. The scratches on Rosemary’s back the next morning prove just how rough a night it was. Satan does not reappear in the movie, but you can’t help but shudder when Rosemary looks in her newborn son’s bassinet at the end and is told, “He has his father’s eyes.”
Few of the movies on this list portray the Devil in the classic sense, but that’s not the case with this cult fantasy starring Tom Cruise and directed by Ridley Scott. Tim Curry’s Lord of Darkness isn’t kidding around, with two huge, ebony horns curling out from his head, big black wings on his back and a reddish hue to his skin that would make a lobster wince (it took Curry five-and-a-half hours to get into that rig, by the way). We winced at Cruise’s performance and the cheesy dialogue, but that’s another story.
Angel Heart (1987)
When the Devil shows up in Angel Heart, he doesn’t have horns on his head, a tail out back and a pitchfork in his hands. No, in these modern times, he comes around looking dapper , wearing a suit, and calling himself Louis Cyphre (Lou Cyphre -- get it?) in this chilling flick starring Mickey Rourke as a private detective who takes on one hell of a client. Robert De Niro is slick, dapper and urbane as Cyphre, not to mention immaculately coiffed and dressed -- which somehow makes him all the more creepier, especially when his eyeballs turn red.
Who said Satan had to take the form of a man? In this remake of the 1967 farce -- which starred Peter Cook as the Devil and Dudley Moore as his target -- Elizabeth Hurley is Beelzebub and grants Elliot Richards (Brendan Fraser) seven wishes in return for his soul. Of course, it’s not easy, because Elliot finds out each wish comes with its own price. Most of the movie’s energy comes from Hurley, whose sexy Satan adds plenty of spice to an otherwise tiresome premise.
The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
It’s always a kick when a great actor decides to just start chewing the scenery, and Al Pacino goes for it in this weird, brash mix of courtroom melodrama and horror hijinks. Pacino, in fact, chomps into the role with gusto, taking the idea of Lucifer-as-head-of-a-powerful-law-firm over the top and beyond. This is a Devil that loves his life, loves his work and even loves human beings -- plus he gets to bill them thousands of bucks an hour in the bargain.
The Devil Rides Out (1968)
We would be amiss if we didn’t have an old-fashioned Hammer Films shocker on the list, and The Devil Rides Out (also known as The Devil’s Bride) makes the cut. Christopher Lee is the good guy (for once!) as he and a small group of colleagues protect a younger couple from the onslaught of a Satanic cult led by the evil Mocata (Charles Gray). The Devil himself appears during one creepy ceremony, although his makeup leaves something to be desired.
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)
The best way to beat the Devil is to laugh at him, and that’s exactly what South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone did in their South Park feature film. Kenny dies and goes to hell, where Satan and Saddam Hussein are lovers. The couple eventually returns to Earth, where the suddenly timid Satan lets Saddam push him aside in his bid to rule the world. Satan finds his mojo again and casts Saddam back into hell, restoring everything back to normal as part of Kenny’s last wish. Satan somehow seems less scary after getting the South Park treatment.
Who played the Devil best? Anyone not on this list? Let us know by commenting below.