DEWAR: The Devil We Know On Screen

Contemporary entertainment depictions of the devil tend to repeat the same mistake of cheapening how evil the character manifests. Most often character development becomes campy rendering the story sci-fi in nature, but the story grows philosophically inconsistent. The writers end up rewriting religiously inspired canon in a way that idealizes ‘evil’ and depreciates ‘good.’

There are two great classics that personify Prince of Darkness the most dynamically and sinisterly. First is Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, where Dante depicts the Devil as colossal, gruesome, and avarice. Secondly, John Milton’s Paradise Lost depicts the Devil as alluring, conniving, and insatiable. Neither character is overly contrived to the point that the true virulent and demented nature is explained away.

There is no doubt that it is the onus of consistency in a story is on the writer or writers of a production. Let’s take a look at some of the contemporary movies and TV shows that attempted to present this character.

1.Legend (1985)

William Hjortsberg’s Darkness is technically a precursor to the Devil in the story, but the theatrical presentation is one of the most successful fusions of Dante’s and Milton’s Devil. Darkness is a silver-tongued, horrifyingly monstrous Adonis-type. He relentlessly temps the protagonist’s love interest. However, the reality of horror is ever presently looming in the narrative.

2. The Devil’s Advocate (1997)

Jonathan Lemkin’s and Tony Gilroy’s screenplay of Andrew Neiderman’s book is a modernized version of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. A seemingly happy husband and wife slowly lose every wholesome comfort after accepting a chance of a lifetime in New York. The Devil, played by Al Pacino, makes his case in order to have his day on Earth. He is irreverent, cunning, and seductively cruel.

3. The Reaping (2007)

Brian Rousso’s story adapted into a screenplay by Carey and Chad Hayes is a manifestation of devilish dogma. The Devil entertained from within most of the characters drives the drama. A town is experiencing the biblical ten plagues of Egypt. A jaded former missionary investigates the claims in order to dispel the hysteria surrounding the mysterious citings. The protagonist then finds that her cynicism becomes a lingering faith, and discovers that the plagues are curses that inversely neutralize the town’s cultic practices one-by-one.

4. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

Scott Derrickson’s drama loosely based on the true case of a misdiagnosed teen is expertly hair-raising. The moral tests between the characters are well developed, that is, until Emily Rose’s testimony at the very end. She claims that she agrees with ‘The Virgin Mary’ to suffer the possession in order to show the world there is a God. Logically, only another demon disguising itself as such could decisive someone’s own vanity enough to agree to something that horrific. Either the canon of Christ’s suffering is sufficient, or it is not.

5. Lucifer (2016-2020)

Neil Gaiman’s portrayal of the Devil is when Lucifer comes down with a bout of dereliction for his own cause. The Devil is reduced to a schmaltzy angel of death that assists the LAPD with ‘solving’ crimes. Making Lucifer an arbitrator of justice is quite far fetched and dizzyingly wrong. Lucifer doesn’t shed his counterfeit human form until season five, and that form is about as corny as late a 90’s sitcom.

6. Damien (2016)

Glen Mazzara struggles to resurrect Richard Donner’s The Omen. The boy that is predestined to become the Anti-Christ is now thirty, and he’s an areligious man that becomes a victim to his fate. His personal agency is easily weakened, and his free-will is pretty cheap. After a friend horrifically dies in a supposed freak accident, a priest attempts to console him. He decides to go-off on the priest with an atheistic rant with the angst of a fifteen-year-old. The creepiest scenes don’t seem to have much meaning other than just being creepy or gory. 

Un-honorable mentions:

  • End of Days (1999)
  • The Box (2009)
  • The Witch (2015)

Technically, I don’t recommend any of these productions, but if you are going to watch them, read the classics first. Then maybe watch the films from a strictly literary point of criticism.

The views and opinions expressed in the guest post by my good friend Rosemary Dewar do not necessarily reflect those of StudioJake.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below. Tell me if there is a comic book, movie, or novel you would like me to review. While you are at it, check out my StudioJake episode ‘A Nightmare Before Christmas’ Retrospective: Christmas Or Halloween Film? Don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe for more posts like this one.

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