Well fire and damnation, this week we’re all going to hell.
Nicolas Cage is riding to your local theater on a motorbike fueled by Satan and there’s little anyone can do to stop it. I’ve seen Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and, quite frankly, it ain’t good. That said, if I hadn’t seen it yet and twenty-five people told me it stunk, I’d still go. I love Crazy Nic Cage and I like fiery demons. What can I say, it’s something that speaks to me.
With Lucifer on the mind I figured this week’s column would be about Satan, Satanism, demons, witches, possession and whatnot. There’s a whole world out there beyond the obvious (fantastic) Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby and the color-saturated visions of Dario Argento. Such as. . .
Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922); Benjamin Christensen, director
Oh, so there Hoffman goes – a straight shot to snootyville with a 90 year old Danish movie. Well, yes, you get tons of cred for watching this one. . .but it is also REALLY GOOD.
An “expose on witchcraft and satanism” done in a documentary style (think of it as very early America’s Most Wanted-style reenactments) this macabre masterpiece is chock full of fantastic evil and nightmarish imagery. The film is partially an adaptation of an actual 15th century “guide for inquisitors” called the Malleus Maleficarum (somebody call Doctor Strange!) but concludes with a “modern” section explaining how studies into mental illness can explain away some possessed behavior.
Some, not all.
Haxan is in the public domain so you can watch it in its entirety right here. I do recommend, however, Criterion’s fantastic release with its quite fascinating, scholarly commentary track. (Obviously the clip included above is a promo for a one-time event, but it gets the vibe right.)
Bedazzled (1967); Stanley Donen, director
Since we never quite got the “Derek and Clive” movie we all deserved, this is the best bet for people discovering the comedy of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.
If you only know Dudley Moore from Arthur you should know that the diminutive Cockney had quite a few characters up his sleeve, and he could play a runt overwhelmed by lust just as well as Dustin Hoffman was doing in The Graduate at roughly the same time. Peter Cook pulls off an amazing, suave Satan who grants Dudley the wish of pure, animal magnetism in exchange for his soul. Lots of terrific set pieces in this one and a great window into swingin’ 60s London.
Prince of Darkness (1987); John Carpenter, director
We’ve seen images of Satan as a red beast with horns or cloven hoods (or as Al Pacino in a 5th Avenue penthouse) but who is to say the Dark Lord won’t manifest himself as. . . a large tube of bubbling green goo?
Yes, that’s right, John Carpenter’s most batsh*t of all movies features a group of postgraduate scientists holed up in a shoddy church fighting off liquid Satan as Alice Cooper and a band of thugs lay in for a siege. And that’s just the set-up, once the fighting and the portals to other dimensions open up, things really get weird.
Prince of Darkness will never be mistaken for one of Carpenter’s best films, but it has a dedication to its own warped vision that one can’t help but respect. . .as well as some 80s synth grooves that seem to last for 20 minutes as the tension rises and rises.
Night of the Demon (1957); Jacques Tourneur, director
Jacques Tourneur is one of the great directors of atmospheric, expressive genre pictures from the 1940s and 1950s. Have you ever seen Martin Scorsese discuss his personal influences? He can’t shut up about the guy. Tourneur’s early collaborations with producer Val Lewton, such as Cat People and I Walked With A Zombie, used their low budgets to great psychological advantage by keeping much of the tension off-screen.
Tourneur later moved on make a stand-out Western (Canyon Passage) and one of the five best film noirs of all time Out of the Past. When he came back to the world of horror with Night of the Demon fifteen years after Cat People he was firing on all the thrusters. Night of the Demon, about a psychoanalyst investigating a murderous Satanic cult, oozes ambience out of every gorgeous black and white frame.