The Devil! Is there a villain in culture more interesting? Whether or not you believe in his existence we’ve all been exposed to a version of him from just by being exposed to popular culture in movies, comics, tv shows, practically everything. However Old Scratch is rather elusive (as you might expect) and doesn’t appear in person in as many films as you’d think. He more often than not is a behind the scenes kind of presence with other characters carrying out his orders, so to make this list a little more interesting I’m going to allow myself to include characters that either I or others have interpreted as the Devil. But don’t worry I won’t pick random characters and I’ll do my best to explain my reasoning.
Honorable Mention: Faust (1926)
I had to put this here as this is the story that so many stories of the Devil come from and this film has inspired so many that came later. You can see it early in the film “Fantasia” and how it influenced the Night on Bald Mountain sequence.
5. Elizabeth Hurley- “Bedazzled” (2000)
Let’s start this list off with the funniest devil. I know some would put the original Peter Cook version here and while that version is funny and the implication that his Devil is actually more decent of a guy than God himself is interesting, I still find Hurley’s version better. One is this a remake directed by Harold Ramis and I think not only was he just a hilarious filmmaker but he was able to use the original’s premise as a jumping off point to make something truly funny. I do acknowledge that because I first saw this at a young age, the nostalgia may color my opinion.
But if you don’t find the film itself to be funny, I still find this Devil to be rather interesting. To me an important aspect of the Devil and evil in general is there should be a certain level of appeal. How else is the Devil going to get your trust to do something you know you shouldn’t do like selling your soul to him/her. Elizabeth Hurley is just wonderfully charming in the role. She takes such delight in constantly being so conniving by randomly changing the rules on Brendan Fraser’s character. You want to hangout with her and not just because she looks like Elizabeth Hurley… though that doesn’t hurt. There’s also an interesting theory that she may not be the Devil at all but an angel helping out in a really dark way, again interesting but I never believed it.
4. Tim Curry- “Legend” (1985)
Now for the most visually interesting, iconic Devil. Meaning of all of the traditional red skinned, horned, goat-legged devils, this is the best version. You can probably thank Ridley Scott for giving us this. However, in the film he’s actually called Darkness but I mean come on, look at him! Even beyond the obvious look of the character, lines like, “Dreams are my speciality, through dreams I influence mankind,” scream devil for me personally. He’s not the scariest devil but they do one of my favorite scary tropes with him. I love it when they do the trying to be charming and nice routine then for a brief second something annoys him and we see the facade break. But then almost just as quickly, we see him put a lid on it again. That’s a moment that always works for me, and an actor like Tim Curry can really sell it. After all he really sells that make-up job, he’s not a very big man but with all those red muscles and low angle camera angles on him he looks gigantic.
However if I had to classify this devil as something in particular, that would be action devil. Though he does do some manipulation and whatnot, he’s basically an evil sorcerer character for this fantasy tale. There’s no real reason for him to be the poster image of the Devil but hey you’ll never forget Darkness after you see him in “Legend.” And even as a more physical threat, I don’t necessarily have a problem with that especially when they imply they can’t really destroy him. Not in a “don’t worry audience, they will be in the sequels” kind of way but it’s in keeping with a lot of his dialog about how light can’t exist without the dark. You can defeat the devil but he’ll always be back.
3. Robert Blake- “Lost Highway” (1997)
I debated with myself for a long time whether or not to include this. The character is officially credited as “The Mystery Man.” Even for a David Lynch film “Lost Highway” is WEEEEIRD! I’m still not entirely sure what happened in the movie. I’m really not sure what the Mystery Man was. I read a number of different theories like him being the physical embodiment of jealousy. Though something during my first watching did make me think devil. I knew if David Lynch has said anything it probably wouldn’t be any help. But I did come across a quote from the actor Robert Blake, that in his opinion the Mystery Man is the Devil which is good enough for me to include him. Yeah I know it’s a really tenuous connection but it’s my list and that’s what awesome about Lynch films, there’s a lot of room for interpretations.
So if you haven’t seen the movie, this character pops up at a party attended by the main character and seems to orchestrate a lot of the events in the film, so what reason? Only David Lynch would know and even he probably doesn’t know. But I can say that visually he is the scariest looking devil. I know it may be weird that he isn’t particularly monstrous looking and he doesn’t have any of the telltale signs, but good God is he creepy. Seriously I think he may be the creepiest looking human being in the world. Again it’s a really simple makeup job. Just some white powdery makeup, dark lips, short hair parted in the middle, and the face of Robert Blake. Add to that the murder charge against the actor and you have a performance that just oozes evil incarnate. It’s also apparently rumored that “Lost Highway” takes place in the same universe as “Twin Peaks.” I looked for a while and I found conflicting reports so I can neither confirm nor deny. But what I can say is the idea that Killer Bob might take orders from the Mystery Man just makes me so happy.
2. Jack Nicholson – “The Witches of Eastwick” (1987)
Probably the most obvious choice but for good reason, Jack Nicholson was born to play the Devil and he did a fantastic job. It’s going to be hard to say things that haven’t already been said a thousand times but I’ll try. Much like how Morgan Freeman’s voice embodies what many of us would like to imagine God to be like, so does Nicholson as the Devil. He’s charming and you not only find yourself liking him but totally buy it that these three women would fall for him. A large part of that probably comes from Nicholson himself. To me he is the definition of “cool.” It doesn’t matter what he’s in, he makes you wish you could be as awesome as him. And of course his reputation with the ladies in real-life probably helps too.
Yet when it’s time to get dark, he gets dark. Director George Miller directs the film with a very good balance of comedy and darkness much like Jack. He does a great job of conveying the idea of something inhuman inside of him. So when he does turn into the giant devil monster at the end you totally buy it. He even manages to get some sympathy while still being completely vile, watch the scene where he questions why God created women in a church. I think this is how most people imagine what the Devil would be like in real life. He is practically perfect in every way, but shockingly there is someone even more perfect.
1. Burgess Meredith- “Twilight Zone”(1959)/“The Sentinel” (1977)
This may shock some people. I don’t think anyone’s going to disagree that Burgess Meredith is a great actor. He was amazing at being able to switch between all types of roles in all types of roles and I think that most likely helped him. I may have said this before but often times when deciding my personal favorite version of something where there’s multiple interpretations to choose from, it all comes down to balance. For me Burgess Meredith has that balance in the multiple times he’s played the Devil. First there was an episode of “The Twilight Zone” called “Printer’s Devil.” Another basic take off of the old “Faust” legend, the Devil shows up to a failing newspaper company and offers to make it into a success (using a printer that causes anything he writes to come true) if the editor sells him his soul. Meredith gets the allure of the Devil down but never quite loses his sinister undercurrent. He also makes an interesting argument for how he can’t possibly be the real Devil.
However what really gets him this spot is his role Charles Chazen from the 1977 film, “The Sentinel.” Again whether or not this character is the Devil is debatable since he’s never identified as such in the course of the film. But let’s look at it this way.
SPOILER ALERT! He’s the leader of the demons coming out of Hell at the end of the film. For a majority of the movie it’s a silly old man living in the same apartment as the main character. At first you assume he’s harmless, maybe a comic relief character, at worst quirky. But then at the end he masterfully changes to one of the scariest, most intense performances ever. Not only does he look right at home standing next to all the deformed demons pouring out of the shadows but then he tries to convince our heroin to kill herself with a knife and it’s one of the most chilling conversations ever. It’s quite amazing that it’s still the man from earlier in the film, so charming and nice but now just completely evil. If Old Scratch is real this is how I imagine he’d be like… and that’s just terrifying but also a great compliment to one of the best actors ever.