28 October 2011

Another Halloween Top 13: My Favorite “Devils and Demons” Movie

Another year, another Halloween, and that means another of The Lightning Bugg’s Lair Halloween Top 13 lists. T. L. Bugg has annually run a movie countdown in the thirteen days leading to the most glorious of holidays, and I have been privileged to have contributed a guest list to each one.

This year’s theme is “The Devil Made Me Do It,” a countdown of films featuring devils and demons. My list is up today, accompanying Bugg’s review of Prince of Darkness, one of the films that also made my list.

Without further ado, here are my top thirteen devils n’ demons flicks: (Links to my full reviews if I got ‘em.)

13. Amityville II: The Possession (Damiano Damiani, 1982)
The only movie of this series worth watching. The first half of the movie is just grandly crazy, and the second half is a hilarious Exorcist rip-off. Yeah, I know that’s not much of a recommendation, but I like the damn thing. Director Damiani is principally a figure of Italian political cinema, and directed one of the best Italian Westerns, A Bullet for the General, so he’s got my respect.

12. Exorcist: The Beginning (Renny Harlin, 2004) / Dominion: The Prequel to the Exorcist (Paul Schrader 2005)
I am counting these two as a single film, because on their own both are terrible. Seen together, they make each other incredibly interesting, since they use the same story and many of the same actors to create two completely different styles. Each movie fails completely in an area where the other succeeds. One of the strangest occurrences in the history of film.

11. Fallen (Gregory Hoblit, 1998)
A mostly forgotten film for which I have a strange affection. Basically a body-hopping possession story with a demon (a fallen angel), it features a terrific, bleak twist ending. And John Goodman.

10. Prince of Darkness (John Carpenter, 1987)
This is the poorest of Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy” (the others are The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness, the latter one of Carpenter’s most underappreciated film) but it’s damn fun and packed with some whacked pseudo-science explanations for Satan, the Anti-Christ, and the Catholic Church.

9. Deconstructing Harry (Woody Allen, 1997)
An unhappy writer imagines himself going to Hell, where Satan is played by Billy Crystal! Satan’s best bit of philosophy: “Did you ever f**k a blind girl? Oh, they’re so grateful.”

8. The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973)
If I didn’t put this film on my list, somebody would want to know why not. I’m not dealing with that sort of hell.

7. Angel Heart (Alan Parker, 1987)
Although this film always makes me wonder, “What is so damn valuable about this guy’s soul?”, it’s a great mash-up of noir and horror, with a wonderfully creepy view of NOLA, plus Bob DeNiro as Lucifer. Love that endless elevator descent to the bottom floor!

6. The Ninth Gate (Roman Polanski, 2001)
Sometimes I think I am the only fan of this movie, which uses book hunters as its backdrop and mixes in Satan and detective work. My own obsession with old books must have something to do with it. All around fantastic characters, with a scene-stealing Frank Langella as the Satanic power-obsessed tycoon who has had it with the stupid hood-wearing coven silliness. “Boo!”

5. Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)
If I list The Ninth Gate, I have to include Rosemary’s Baby. Building from Night of the Demon eleven years before, this is another quintessential contemporary-set fright flick, with the nightmare of a Satanic-impregnation dropped into a Manhattan apartment complex with really really annoying neighbors! Showing that humor and horror were co-habiting quite well before An American Werewolf in London.

4. The Devil and Daniel Webster (William Dieterle, 1941)
This is not a horror film, but it is a great portrayal of the Devil as an icon of American folklore—a peculiar variation on the figure that is unique to the U.S. A famous lawyer clashes in court with the Devil for the soul of man; can’t get more iconic than that. But it’s Walter Huston’s great performance as the Devil that puts this over the top. His is, far and away, my favorite on-screen portrayal of Satan as a character. Every list I’ve seen of “Top 10 Actors to Play the Devil” fails to mention him. Memories are too short.

3. The Devil Rides Out (Terence Fisher, 1968)
One of the finest Hammer Horror films, this one makes Christopher Lee into the hero (bold move) pitted against a Satanic coven in the quiet English countryside. A fiercely directed movie, even if it has a quaint feel to its setting, and the assault of horrors against the heroes inside a magical circle is still shiveringly brilliant. (Read my review of the novel as well.)

2. Night of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur, 1957)
Also known as Curse of the Demon for its shortened U.S. release, this is one of the founding movies of both the Anglo Horror cycle and the turn toward contemporary-set horror movies. The demon itself, designed by future James Bond and Stanley Kubrick visual master Ken Adam, is one of the greatest looking monsters in history—the quintessential “demon.”

1. The Omen (Richard Donner, 1976)
When I think of “devil movies,” this is the one that immediately pops to mind, even though no devil makes a physical appearance. His son does, however. I think it’s composer Jerry Goldsmith who really plays Old Scratch here, with perhaps the scariest film score ever. A stylish and smart thriller that still packs a wallop all these years later. Ave Satani!