“Smithers, who is that cloven-hoofed fellow? I like the cut of his jib.” Mr. Burns speaks, as he often does, for all of us. There’s something about the guy with the horns that’s just so likeable. He’s got class, wealth and taste. He’s the ultimate bad boy, and it never gets old. Actors always knew the villain was the most fun to play. In cave plays they all wanted to be the sabre tooth. Hollywood always knew the ultimate villain was a great hit at parties, but had to fight relentless censorship battles to get it onscreen. Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, Astaroth , Azazel, Baal, Mr. Scratch, Old Nick or Ozzie Osbourne, we love the Prince of Darkness. He’s got a pitchfork and horns. He can get you anything you want. Where would metal be without Mr. D? It is prestigious casting and has attracted the most accomplished and respected acting talent: Claude Rains, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Walter Huston and Harvey Keitel. Actors’ actors. And if they weren’t the classiest or most refined actors, they were in some of the most ambitious and influential films.
1. Max Von Sydow, Needful Things, 1991
There are a lot of well-rounded actors making movies who can roll from drama to comedy and song to dance with equal ease. But it takes a special kind of diversity to boast Jesus, the devil and an exorcist in one career. I’m sure he’s played or at least done the voice of god somewhere too. Maybe in a home movie. For God. In Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, Max Von Sydow has the authority to speculate that “if Jesus were alive today and saw what they are saying in his name, he would never stop throwing up.” Von Sydow brought more than class and great acting chops, he brought his history. We believe his wisdom because we’ve seen him see so much. He could be the real deal. This is the guy who played chess with death. His resume could get him elected Pope. As Leland Gaunt, Von Sydow is charming and fun. Just the way you want your Satan to be. He’s a great salesman and has everything in stock. His little store in Castle Rock sells Needful Things, but Gaunt sells temptation and he does it with a smile. Sure you might find yourself throwing a brick through your neighbor’s window, but you snagged a classic Sandy Koufax card. “Don’t blame me, blame it on the bossa nova.”
2. Robert De Niro, Angel Heart, 1987
Even if it was just a couple hours work for him, Robert De Niro had to know that his demonic characterization would be studied for years in film schools and Actor Studio spinoffs. He was at the height of his reign as the greatest living American actor and he had to have some vague idea of the historic significance it would hold in the annals of thespian examination. He was an admitted Walter Huston fan and must have known someone would compare their interpretations. De Niro delved deep into his method subconscious to conjure the most representative face of the prince of darkness and came up with Martin Scorsese. “Alas, how terrible is wisdom when it brings no profit to the wise.” Louis Cyphre, Mephistopheles is such a mouthful in Manhattan, is a businessman and a street enforcer, he can eat your soul as easy as a hardboiled egg. Alan Parker unleashes an amused malevolence in De Niro, a cat seducing his prey with menace. “They say there’s just enough religion in the world to make men hate one another, but not enough to make them love.” Until he lets his hair down and beads his jaundiced eyes on you. “No matter how cleverly you sneak up on a mirror, your reflection always looks you straight in the eye.” It’s a good thing Mickey Rourke was playing a guy who thought he was an atheist from Brooklyn, otherwise he’d choke on his own golden tonsils.
3. Al Pacino, Devil’s Advocate, 1997
Al Pacino presents a cogent case for infernal injustice and his closing arguments find more evidence of acting magnificence than he did when he was Looking for Richard. “Let me give you a little inside information about God. God likes to watch. He’s a prankster. Think about it. He gives man instincts. He gives you this extraordinary gift, and then what does he do, I swear for his own amusement, his own private, cosmic gag reel? He sets the rules in opposition. It’s the goof of all time. Look but don’t touch. Touch, but don’t taste. Taste, don’t swallow. And while you’re jumping from one foot to the next, what is he doing? He’s laughing his sick, fucking ass off. He’s a tight-ass. He’s a sadist. He’s an absentee landlord.” Pacino’s devil throws many temptations at Keanu Reeves, the honorable litigator, and rips them from his grasp with ghastly glee. The wall that represents hell is an artful allegory, binding the lost souls in love and torment.
4. Dustin Hoffman, The Messenger, 1999
Dustin Hoffman is a serious student of the method style of acting. When playing against Lawrence Olivier in Marathon Man, he sprinted to exert himself before a take and told the older, classically trained Shakespearean that he was preparing for the scene. Olivier asked, “Why don’t you just act?” I wonder what preparation Hoffman made to play the cryptic confessor to Milla Jovavich’s insanely saintly Joan of Arc in The Messenger? Hoffman’s inquisitor is sensitive and firm. He is a voice in her head and a physically tortuous presence who disdainfully casts aside her holier than thou act. “Who are you to even think that you can know the difference between good and evil?” What is a worse hell than questioning one’s entire perception? He rips apart her certainty. Devil is doubt. She led people to slaughter after she heard god’s voice, or saw signs in the wind or ringing clouds. God was in a sword in a field. She was sure of it. But the devil points out that it was her self-fulfilling interpretation of ordinary events that confused the message because “every event has an infinite number of causes, so why pick one rather than another? There are many ways a sword might find itself in a field.” But she chooses what she wants to see. He’s slick, this devil. Dustin Hoffman gives us a very laid back Satan, underplaying him to provoke madness.
5. Jack Nicholson, Witches of Eastwick, 1987
The Witches of Eastwick, Rhode Island, conjured the perfect cocktail of a man who pours into town as Daryl Van Horne, your average horny little devil. Jack Nicholson plays the infernal one as man of uncontrollable appetites. He’s a sugar and sex junkie and the pits of his personal hell are women. He declares that they are one of god’s mistakes, “just another little fuck-up in the divine plan” like earthquakes and floods, volcanos and tidal waves. Of course, when Van Horne makes mistakes, “they call it evil. God makes mistakes and they call it nature.” Van Horne says god made this dog-eat-dog, man-eat-man world, that has no purpose. No grace. No beauty. It’s a terrible creation, this world. “An unholy war of nature. Life against life. A parasitic cellular conflagration.” Daryl Van Horne is just trying to survive. And keep his dick hard.
6. Eddie Powell, The Devil Rides Out, 1968
Directed by Terence Fisher, The Devil Rides Out was as faithful to the classic satanic suspense novel by Dennis Wheatley as could be made. Wheatley knew both Aleister Crowley and Montague Summers, who were considered the pinnacle of esoteric knowledge in the early 20th Century. He didn’t particularly like them, but he knew them. Wheatley put meticulous research into his writing as Hammer Films put meticulous care into the detail of the film. They don’t credit the actor who plays the Goat of Mendes, but it was Christopher Lee’s stunt double, Eddie Powell. Hammer tries to make his invocation as realistic as possible. The Goat of Mendes is perfectly believable, underplayed even. It is horrifically effective because of that.
7. Rex Ingram, Cabin in the Sky, 1943
In Cabin in the Sky, Lucifer Jr. hangs with his posse, the Idea Men, at the Hotel Hades. Rex Ingram keeps his devil real, sure he’s got horns, but he’s surrounded by some pretty good horn players himself. Vincente Minnelli took a risk using an all-black cast in his Hollywood debut, but he did get to shoot Lena Horne in a Bubble Bath singing “Ain’t It the Truth.” Too bad it was cut for reasons of moral decency. They also cut Louie Armstrong’s solo of the same song, leaving the best trumpet-player, THE jazz man of the 20th Century, the inventor of jazz, without a solo in such a groundbreaking film.
8. Tim Curry, Legend, 1985
Tim Curry is the best thing in Legend, as he is in so many things. Under the pounds of latex, there is a vision of the evil one that goes back to the earliest fears of evil gods. Since the titans ate their kids. He is a devil of darkness, worships the black. “Oh, Mother Night. Fold your dark arms about me. Protect me in your black embrace. I sit alone, an impotent exile, whilst this form, this presence, returns to torment me.” So many demons measure themselves against god. They see the dark light conflict as a matter of balance and they always want to tip the scale. Curry’s infernal interpretation hints at a deeper understanding of the questions of balance, but he’s left with “What is light without dark? What are you without me? I am a part of you all. You can never defeat me. We are brothers eternal.” When this demon leaves the solace of his shadows, sunshine destroys him. This bugs me because Lucifer is supposed to be the light-bringer and should be allowed at least a little time on the beach.
9. Trey Parker, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, 1999
I wish someone would acknowledge South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut as one of the greatest movie musicals ever made. It is inspired and inspiring. It has more laughs per square inch than almost any other strip of celluloid. It has a plot that takes on the world. Satan is a wounded soul. It’s lonely at the bottom. And Satan’s bottom is gigantic and red, not to be confused with Liza Minelli. He is a needy despot. He is in an abusive relationship with a “sandy little butthole” and he wants to come upstairs once in a while. His is a simple philosophy. What is evil? “Without evil there could be no good, so it must be good to be evil sometimes.”
10. Paul Williams, Phantom of the Paradise, 1974
Contracts are big with Satan and in the seventies, the biggest, most coveted contract a kid could want was a record contract. Brian De Palma brought them together and threw them into a mix of Faust, Dorian Grey and Phantom of the Opera. To play the devilish deed-holder he brought in Paul Williams. If the audience could believe anyone who might have sold their soul for stardom, who better? He was built like a munchkin, had Carol Channing’s voice and Dr. Zaius’ face. I believed it. I knew it when he played a rock star with groupies on the TV show The Odd Couple. This was the face of Satan. Swan taught Phil Spector a thing or two. The Beatles first singles were on the Swan label. “Everything terminates with Swan.”
11. David Warner, Time Bandits, 1981
The Evil Genius in Time Bandits is a forward thinker and a mechanical tinkerer. He understands digital watches and is on his way to understanding video cassette recorders and car telephones. Once he gets them he’ll be able to understand computers. And then he will be the Supreme Being. David Warner plays the devil as a curious man, happy in his discoveries, inquisitive and ambitious. “God isn’t interested in technology. He knows nothing of the potential of the microchip or the silicon revolution.” The Evil Genius thinks God is a lunatic who wasted his time on nonsense like 43 species of parrots, nipples for men and slugs. If the Evil Genius had created the world, he “wouldn’t mess about with butterflies and daffodils. I would have started with lasers, eight o’clock, day one.” But it’s not all science and weaponry with the Evil Genius, he feels “the power of evil coursing through my veins, filling every corner of my being with the desire to do wrong. It is good, for this is the worst kind of badness that I’m feeling.” And we feel it with him and it is good because it’s bad.
12. Tom Waits, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, 2009
Ah, Mr. Nick in his red waist-coat and his bowler hat. This is a sneaky devil. This one wants more than the soul. It wants to challenge the mind. He knows he’s not trusted, not even liked. He shows up as a cardboard cut-out shooting target with a bull’s-eye on his chest. He ain’t going nowhere. But he doesn’t want to see his acquaintances waste their lives on misery. He warns “No, wait! That’s the wrong choice! That bridge leads to failure and despair. You’ll be dead before you’re thirty. This is the one. This is the bridge to manhood.” But he is intolerant of bullshit. He is aghast at the myths of the believing clerics when faith is based on not just the improbable, but the easily disproved. Why would people waste their time on such nonsense and why would they waste it so fervently. Belief is a myth and when he holds the presses, he points out, “The story’s stopped. No more story. And yet, we’re still here, the fire’s still burning. It’s still snowing. The wind’s still blowing. Nothing’s changed.” You’re probably not a betting man are you? If you were you’d cover the line.
13. Claude Rains, Angel on My Shoulder, 1946
What in my domain is that? In Angel on My Shoulder, Claude Rains’ Nick is pleasantly amused by Paul Muni. He overhears Muni planning an escape from the infernal incarceration and knows this is a man after his own heart. Eddie puts a grin on his face and he is absolutely thrilled. He wishes the “the world was filled with Eddies.” Hell is hot, like Florida, but it smells like rotten eggs, hydrogen and sulfur. Nick is a wise devil, harking back to Satan as a bringer of forbidden knowledge. He went through the whole gamut of education. He’s fab and he knows it, “I’m a fascinating fellow.” He encourages Eddie to deny himself nothing. When Eddie, forever true to his criminal nature, has the balls to try and blackmail the devil himself, it only adds to his appeal.
14. Walter Huston, The Devil and Daniel Webster, 1941
Walter Huston received his second Oscar nomination for playing Mr. Scratch in the Devil and Daniel Webster. He wants the soul of Daniel Webster, played by Edward Arnold, who is on his way to an honorable career in politics and public speaking. Mr. Scratch tells Webster that he’s wasting his time writing speeches and worrying about people and their problems. If he wants to be president, he should begin thinking on his own. And he should want to be president. It should be the goal of anyone in U.S. politics. After all, Mr. Scratch is the first American citizen. He was there when the first wrong was done to the first Indian. Scratch stood on deck when the first slaver put out for the Congo. America is the where the money is printed and Scratch offers Webster all that money can buy. Huston doesn’t need fake cloven hooves, he stands like he’s always had them, like the goat-horned satyr he really is. You like Scratch, he’s affable and pleasant. Until he’s not. And then he turns most unpleasant. He doesn’t like losing, but he’s got all the time in the world. One courtroom battle is not the war.
15. Anton LaVey, Bobby Beausoleil, Invocation of My Demon Brother, 1969
As you will read below, The Absolutely Fabulous Devil Anita Pallenberg financed Kenneth Anger’s 11 minute Invocation of My Demon Brother and Anita knew her spirits. Anton LaVey, the founder and head of the Church of Satan played His Satanic Majesty and Bobby Beausoliel was cast as Lucifer. Beausoliel had composed the music to Anger’s Lucifer Rising and would go on to greater notoriety when he earned his satanic button with the Manson family. The use of a future killer lends an authenticity to the intent. There is no dialogue, just Mick Jagger agitpopping on the moog, as images move through color like energy moves through the chakra. Some stark, some warped or superimposed, but all filled with symbolism. Most images subvert the expectations. A tattooed albino opens and closes a smaller ceremony before the main event. A Nazi flag replaces the traditional swastika of Theosophy. Dope is ritualistically passed in a skull-shaped pipe. A Hell’s Angel insignia on a leather vest. Invocation of My Demon Brother is a ritual, it is laid out in ritual form and lets the audience make the connections. The film is meant to evoke a response out of the watcher, to cast a spell, if you will. I’ve seen it seven times, you can see it five times in an hour, so not too much of a stretch. If you watch it in the dark, you will leave with the same feeling you would take with you if you left a similar ritual.
16. Leo Marks, Juliette Caton, The Last Temptation of Christ, 1988
The Devil appears as a voice in the desert to tempt Jesus (Willem Dafoe) with riches, power and earthly pleasures. Leo Marks spoke the part with a mix of reasonableness, salesmanship and just enough empathy to almost entice the aesthetic rabbi to what was due, but didn’t quite close the deal. During the crucifixion, a girl angel, played by Juliette Caton, pulls the nails from the cross because he had done enough for man. He didn’t need to die for their salvation. There was a lot of controversy over the original book, by Nikos Kazantzakis, and the movie. I remember when I first went to see it that there were worries about bomb threats, a very Christian response. But what did the Girl Angel really offer Jesus that was so controversial? The promise of a normal life, a wife, sometimes two, a family and old age.
17. Emmanuelle Seigner, The Ninth Gate, 1999
Emmanuelle Seigner is the devil as enigma on a dark Paris street, or a library or plane. She can ride and she can fight and she can fly. She’s just a student but she has the key to the kingdom of light. Illumination. Lucifer was the light bearer and it was all a euphemism for unlawful carnal knowledge. And it is accessible through a wonderfully unholy union. That wasn’t an apple in the snake’s pocket, he was really glad to see you. Roman Polanski was no stranger to the underworld, or unholy unions. Sex magick is a tangible path to knowledge and from the look on Johnny Depp’s face, it sure beats pouring gasoline over yourself and lighting your custom-painted tie. Under it all Emmanuelle Seigner plays the girl with the undertones of the book, “A Devil in Love.” The devil protects the ones it loves. She’s his guardian angel, if he says so.
18. Anita Pallenberg, Absolutely Fabulous, 2001
Have some sympathy for this pick. Anita Pallenberg introduced the Stones to the dark side when she gave Mick Jagger the book, “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov. It inspired the album “Their Satanic Majesties Request” and the song “Sympathy for the Devil.” Cast against Maryanne Faithful, who played god, in the Absolutely Fabulous episode “Donkey,” Anita’s devil is world-weary in a way that says she’s seen it and lived it and is crashing at Keef’s old place to prove it. Pallenberg acted in the Satanist Director Kenneth Anger’s Invocation of My Demon Brother along with Mick Jagger, who she convinced to score it. And she financed Anger’s Lucifer Rising, which promised to show “the actual ceremonies to make Lucifer rise,” but starred Marianne Faithful. Anita Pallenberg is said to be quite an accomplished witch who practiced hyper-intense secret rituals. In the summer of 1979 an 18-year-old boy shot himself while lying in Pallenberg’s bed at Keith Richards’ place in Connecticut. Cops investigating the scene heard tales of rituals and sacrificed animals. Anita could play this part in her sleep.
19. Clay Tanner, Rosemary’s Baby, 1968
Anton Szandor LeVay allowed the rumor that he was the technical advisor and played the devil in Rosemary’s Baby to make the rounds, but he had neither role. The lusty, scaly one who needs a manicure is played by Clay Tanner. Tanner was a consummate TV actor, appearing on such shows as Bonanza, The Fugitive, Get Smart, Perry Mason, McHale’s Navy, The Outer Limits, The Virginian, and Stoney Burke. Tanner also played the role of Satan during the rape scene of Rosemary’s Baby. Sidney Blackmer played Roman Castevet who was actually Steven Marcato, who was based on Aleister Crowley. Marcato was a play on the character name Mocata from Dennis Wheatley’s satanic thriller novel “The Devil Rides Out.” This shows a lot of thought went into the study. The ritual that precedes the rape is done through the hazy lens of a doped up sacrificial offering, but there are enough details to make it seem very realistic. Roman Polanski doesn’t stray that far from Ira Levin’s original book. The movie never strays from Manhattan.
20. Benjamin Christensen, Haxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages, 1922
For too short a time, TCM was running silent Sunday nights, actually Monday mornings, and I taped this twice in two months because they ran it under both titles. Haxan was a Swedish/Danish documentary on how superstitions clouded how people reacted to mental illness and stirred hysteria and witch-hunts. The film also re-enacted historical events, just like on today’s various history channels. The writer/director, Benjamin Christensen, played the devil, Djævlen, as well as god, and assorted parts. Christensen presents a detailed study of the 1400s-era German Inquisitors Handbook, the “Malleus Maleficarum.” This book is still referenced today in occult circles. At the time it was Scandinavia’s most expensive movie. That didn’t get it into America, who banned it because of nude scenes, torture sequences and depictions of sexual perversion. It is a classic in my view. It has a creepy ambiance that you can only get from silent pictures. The use of lighting against darkness and the images themselves, just there, to be observed, adds such a gravitas and a timelessness, that you can feel the power. German horror films of this time were also very different than anything that was being produced in America.
21. The Devil’s Castle, George Melies, 1896
The Devil’s Castle is considered to be the first horror film. Created by the genius George Melies, the lost filmmaker from Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, the film runs a little over three minutes, but is filled with camera tricks and humor. George Melies plays the devil as a vampire who enters the scene as a bat, conjures a minor demon with a long pitchfork, who pokes people in the ass and finally offers worldly temptations.
22. Clarence Williams III, Tales from the Hood, 1995
Who knew Link from The Mod Squad could be so bad? His hell-hole was pimped out old school. He was proud of his infernal eternals. “This ain’t no funeral home. It ain’t the Terror Dome, neither. Welcome to Hell, motherfuckers. Don’t worry. You’ll get the shit. You’ll be knee-deep in the shit. I’ve got it hid. There’s so much. I couldn’t even lift it all myself.” Mr. Simms is down, as down as death. He’s vicious and fun and intimidating as a glock. But at least we know he won’t be calling the cops. Actually, the cops in Tales from the Hood were scarier to me than any of the more ghoulish characters. Just going about their day to day duties, beating the shit out of political “agitators.”
23. Emil Jannings, Faust, 1926
Emil Jannings’s Mephisto is conjured by Faust (Gösta Ekman) through an elaborate rite he finds in an ancient text while standing in the middle of a circle of flame. Director F.W. Murnau creates a magnificent Hell. Emil Jannings won the very first best acting Oscar in 1929 and would go on to star in Nazi propaganda films. In 1941, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, named him “Artist of the State,” quite the satanic achievement. Here Jannings looms larger than life as if able to trample history with the same relish demonic forces took when shaping it.
24. Viggo Mortensen, The Prophecy, 1995
Viggo Mortensen pulls off a pretty scary Dark Lord in The Prophecy. He’s well-spoken, quick with a witty rejoinder and gobbles up Christopher Walken‘s heart. Who could resist a chance to chat when the choice is: “I can lay you out and fill your mouth with your mother’s feces, or we can talk.” You might want to bring him flowers though.
25. Ernest Borgnine, The Devil’s Rain, 1975
Ernest Borgnine does double diabolo duty as the high priest of a Satanic coven, Corbis, and as a half-man, half goat entity in The Devil’s Rain. Demon sweat emanates from his pores. Borgnine lets loose here in a way that was almost camp. When you add William Shatner to the mix and sew up his eyes and burn him alive you go past camp. Robert Fuest, who directed The Abominable Dr. Phibes, hired Anton LaVey, the head of the Church of Satan, as tech advisor to make sure the rituals were accurate. Fuest used Mexican extras to chant in enochian keys while Ernest Borgnine bellowed extracts of The Ceremony of the Nine Angles. LaVey also made a cameo. Borgnine’s Demon has heart. It has soul. Specifically, Shatner’s and he lets you know by eliciting a classic Shatner scream, or a Mr. Tambourine Man out-take. Borgnine rips through the ritual enthusiastically.
26. Peter Cooke, Bedazzled, 1967
A could-barely-be-bothered Peter Cook deigns to visit a hapless, helpless and loveless Dudley Moore after faulty plumbing botches a suicide attempt. The Horned One, an upper crust Brit in a Dracula cape, doesn’t do anything about it. Doesn’t try and stop it. Would be just as happy if it played itself out to a grisly, gurgly end, though he knows it won’t. When Moore objects, the devil stipulates “suicide’s a criminal offence, in less enlightened times they would have hung you for it.” Rather, he could come to terms on a different bargain. Bedazzled evolved out of a series of Cook and Moore routines that they’d done on the BBC-TV’s skit comedy shows “Not only…But Also” and “Beyond the Fringe.” Sort of like a British version of The 2,000 Year Old Man, but not really.
27. Elizabeth Hurley, Bedazzled, 2000
If you think mommy and daddy made up the devil so you’d be a good boy, Elizabeth Hurley’s Princess of Darkness might tempt you to go the other way. The “Barbra Streisand of Evil” offers seven utterly fabulous wishes to hunky doofus Brendan Fraser for his piddling little soul. She can give him the world, but stiffs him for four bucks. But as always is the case, the devil is in the details and so she’s outs herself as another hostile takeover, corporate manifest destiny. Hurley’s devil is a not-for-profit cooperation, with subsidiary offices in Purgatory, Hell, and Los Angeles. She is putting a lien on his meaningless soul. “It’s like your appendix. You’ll never even miss it.” But she’s a Disneyland devil at best (Although there is something about Disney that scares me on a cellular level). Kindergarten CCD. Her big evil secret, the “whole good and evil thing, you know, Him and me, it really comes down to you. You don’t have to look very hard for Heaven and Hell. They’re right here on Earth. You make the choice” But if someone finds himself looking at an eternity in hell, it might not hurt to have a friend like her.
28. Rodney Dangerfield, Little Nicky, 2000
God doesn’t give Rodney Dangerfield’s Lucifer any respect. He threw him out of heaven to rule in hell for ten thousand years. There was nothing in hell when he got there. When Lucifer started hell, it was a unique fixer-upper, but he gives all the credit to his first wife. He started it slow. For years he just gave people hot foots. But now, retired, he can’t “enjoy anything. I go fishing. I catch nothing. I go to orgies, I catch everything.” Lucifer abdicated his throne to Satan, who ran it for another ten thousand years. He thinks things are going fine. Of course, the last time he told his father that, the renaissance happened.
29. Harvey Keitel, Little Nicky, 2000
Harvey Keitel proved in countless roles that he can reach into the deepest recesses of depravity and come up with nakedly raw performances that are beyond the scope of the most dedicated of actors. There’s a chillingly blasphemous moment of savage anguish in Bad Lieutenant where Keitel demands of a holy vision of Jesus Christ, “Where the fuck were you (oo oo)?” because the savior couldn’t save a young nun from being raped. Keitel does none of that in Little Nicky. Sure, hell and existence itself may be at stake, but really, Harvey’s playing a concerned father. And a doting son, he lets Lucifer have sex with the gatekeeper’s head.
30. Billy Crystal, Deconstructing Harry, 1997
Billy Crystal’s Larry slept with Woody Allen’s girlfriend and then Crystal’s devil takes him to hell. Hell and earth are like Vegas. One day you’re up. The next hand you’re down. You may never crap out but in the end, the house always wins. Life is short. It’s frustrating. Following the rules, doing what’s right. Working every day and for what? Get your fun where you can. Fuck a blind girl, they’re so grateful. So, you wind up in hell. Hell is so bad? It has air-conditioning, mainly because it fucks up the ozone layer, but it has it.
31. Vincent Price, The Story of Mankind, 1957
At a tribunal held in outer space, it could hardly be held in heaven, Mr. Scratch holds court. Vincent Price is deliciously insubordinate while presenting the case against mankind. He snickers through man’s history as a knowing and indulgent Dutch uncle. This is the last film where the three Marx Brothers appeared. The hell of it is that they’re never in the same scene.
32. Tom Kane, The Power Puff Girls, 1999
Splendidly evil, isn’t He? Tom Kane plays Him as a vain, cross dressing Chief Blue Meanie in red. Power Puff Girl creator Craig McCracken took quite a bit from Beatle lore, especially in the PPG episode Meat the Beat-Alls, but pulled the psychedelia of hell through the portholes of a Yellow Submarine. Him has humor, charm, seduction and keeps himself in great shape. Him is the only villain to best the young superheroes, using their own competiveness to bend time itself.
33. Rosalinda Celentano, The Passion of the Christ, 2004
Rosalinda Celentano is a very eerie presence in a very scary movie. The Torture of the Christ is a good horror film in the Saw or Hostel tradition. It’s painful to watch. The special effects and makeup are top notch. Told in a dead language, it levels all audiences to equal status as slightly lost and without bearings, subliminally drawn into the depth of the suffering of the damned. Celentano’s throaty rasp delivers us up the evil. She’s no leather-face, but if Christopher Moltasanti on the Sopranos had lived to make Cleaver 2, she’d earned her torture porn bones.
34. Victor Buono, The Evil, 1978
Seated at a throne under a waterfall of clouds that looks more like limbo than hell, Victor Buono’s devil finds man to be an endless source of amusement because they ponder ever deeper meaning into a faith based on “that piece of holy excrement, the cross.” An impatient imp, he feeds on terror.
35. Peter Stormare, Constantine, 2005
Peter Stormare’s Lucifer is a pleasant distraction in an otherwise distracting film. He saves Keanu Reeves’ Constantine from cancer and gets him hooked on chewing gum.
36. George Burns, Oh, God! You Devil, 1984
In the sequel to the sequel to Oh God, George Burns lights his stogie without lifting a finger. After two leisurely turns as the Rocky Mountain High almighty, Burns went solo for Oh God. You Devil. He plays Harry O. Tophet, you might think that’s God, given the past couple pictures. But guess again. He’s playing both. The Burns and Burns show. Who else had that kind of experience? Burns had been around since before Methuselah and knew hell very well. Philadelphia. Hell is these tired fucking jokes that go back before Vaudeville. These are the jokes that got the chosen people kicked out of Egypt. Solomon wouldn’t tell these jokes. But it kept him alive and happy. Give the devil his due. He’d earned it. Light takes on dark dawdlings.
37. Lon Chaney Jr., The Devil’s Messenger, 1961
The old grey wolfman ain’t what he used to be. Lon Chaney Jr., would seem a little long in the tooth as Satan, but consider how old the old devil is himself. In The Devil’s Messenger the son of the father of special effects motion picture makeup sends a young woman who has committed suicide for love (“Love is such a stupid emotion.”) back to the land of the living to deliver a one-way passport to join their society, down there. Nothing is ordinary down there. It’s not what these people have done to deserve the ticket, it’s what they “are about to do.” Chaney seems a little tired. He’s not the debonair Larry Talbot regretting ever neck he’s nibbled. He’s just a bean counter in hell now. He comes to life when he has to, but he doesn’t really have to. But isn’t that the devil too? Who is it that finds things to do for idle hands?
I can’t include it because I haven’t seen it, but I have to mention Conrad Veidt, Satan, 1920
Sadly, only stills and clips remain from this movie, but I’m sure Conrad Veidt, who played Major Strasser in Casablanca and the Sultan in Thief of Bagdad, as well as countless German expressionist films like The Cabinet of Caligari, The Head of Janus and The Hands of Orlac was a masterful Mephistopholes. He had played Satan before in Der nicht vom Weibe Geborene from 1918. Director F. W. Murnau sends Satan through the ages searching for a shot at redemption. To get back in the graces, Satan has to find one instance in history where good came out of evil. He doesn’t and is forever damned.
I know I’m leaving out quite a few, probably all your favorites, but I will return to this theme as most of these films deserve a second look.