When he’s not busy having the best tunes, making work for idle hands or appearing when people speak about him, the Devil has a real thing for guises. So tricky is old Nick when it comes to changing his appearance that spotting him in a crowd can become like a diabolical edition of Where’s Wally? Never fear readers! Vampire Squid is here, presenting you with a definitive guide to the Devil in all his forms.
The Coolest Devil
This entry was perhaps the most contentious on the list. There are many contenders for the coveted position of “coolest Devil”, including Robert De Niro’s enigmatic turn as Louis Cypher in Angel Heart and Viggo Mortensen’s unnerving and somewhat camp portrayal in The Prophecy. Narrowly beating them out is Joseph Mawle’s performance in Phillip Ridley’s bleak fairy tale Heartless.
Complete with cigarillo’s and a withered hand, Mawle’s Papa B is a world-weary roadie who looks like he could go toe-to-toe with Lemmy in a drinking competition. His mysterious companion Belle, who appears as a young Asian girl, lulls his victims into a false sense of security, making them more susceptible to his offer of worldly pleasures in exchange for immortal souls.
Runner up: Robert Deniro as Louis Cypher in Angel Heart
The Most Evil Devil
Ever since Milton’s Paradise Lost, we’ve been tripping over ourselves to paint the Devil in a sympathetic light, preferring the figure of the tragic hero to that of the unrepentant shit. Refreshing then, to find a portrayal in which the Devil is shown as an irredeemable arsehole.
In 1976’s Brimstone and Treacle, the Devil, or one of his demons, ingratiates himself into the home of a couple with a badly disabled daughter. He doesn’t want their souls or have any objective, it seems, besides to tear their lives apart and commit as many vile acts as possible.
Written by Dennis Potter at a time when chronic arthritis was clouding his worldview and dialling up his usual pessimism to 11, Brimstone is unremittingly mean-spirited and bleak. Michael Kitchen’s performance as the Devil is chilling, as is his apparent commitment to evil simply for evil’s sake. It was banned by the BBC for 11 years after the Director general of the time called it “brilliantly made” but “nauseating”.
The Most Metal Devil
El Dia De La Bestia is a Spanish horror-comedy that draws comparisons between the modernisation of Madrid and the coming of the Antichrist. A catholic priest reads signs that warn of the apocalypse and has to journey to Madrid to face down Lucifer with the help of a TV evangelist and stoned metalhead. The film wears its horror influences on its sleeve, with scenes inspired by The Devil Rides Out, featuring a goat devil sniffing around a magical circle, and The Exorcist.
When the Devil finally appears in his “gonna fuck shit up” guise, he does so in a form that wouldn’t look out of place on a death metal album sleeve. The final showdown, on the roof of a modernist skyscraper in Spain’s capital, is metal as balls.
Runner up: Dave Grohl in The Pick of Destiny
The Hairiest Devil
The Witch is one of the best horror films in recent memory, and its star turn was inarguably the performance of its hairiest cast member. Although common in the folklore of the times, these days the idea of the Devil appearing disguised as a domestic or farmyard animal appears quaint, outdated and ridiculous.
It’s testament to Robert Eggers’ directorial skills then, that an innocent goat can take on such a sinister and unnerving aspect for a modern audience. So immersive is his vision of 1600s New England that the audience quickly becomes drawn into a world of folk tradition and superstition that places a barnyard animal at the centre of an occult plot to destroy a pious family.
The Best Devil in Print
We’ve all thrilled to the subversive sacrilege of Anton Lavey’s Satanic Bible, but sooner or later, everyone has to turn 16. When you do, a better and more comprehensive look at the devil in his many forms van be found in Damned: An Illustrated History of the Devil by Robert Muchembeld.
In every other horror film about the Devil, there’s a scene where a learned academic has to consult some ancient tome full of woodcuts of devils to find the precise demon that the protagonist is facing. This book is fairly close to one he might pick up, containing a huge array of illustrations of the Devil and his minions throughout.
The book takes you through the various depictions of the Devil, from medieval engravings to modern-day cigarette packaging, and charts how Lucifer has developed in the public consciousness. It’s an invaluable resource for anyone with an interest in the Devil as an icon.
The Silent Devil
Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages is a silent film that should be in every horror fan’s collection. Although ostensibly a documentary about the history of beliefs surrounding European Witchcraft, Haxan is out to entertain and shock as much as it is to inform.
With tongue lolling and eyes bulging, the Devil leaps from behind lecterns to terrify portly friars, seduces women away from their husbands, and lures naked young girls into the woods (“I watch it for the history!” – 1920s man).
With vivid depictions of black masses, Satan running amok in a nun’s convent and witches brewing baby stew in a cauldron, Haxan’s Satan is red in tooth and claw. It’s hard to imagine the shock with which this film would have been met in 1922. It remains a powerful and fascinating film, which tells us just as much about 1920s sensibilities as it does about medieval fears of witchcraft.
The Grotty Devil:
Constantine is a movie that was, to be charitable, less than the sum of its parts. Based loosely on one of the very best storylines of one of the very best comic book characters (The Dangerous Habits arc of Hellblazer), the film features Tilda Swinton as the Angel Gabriel and some very cool production design. It never quite lives up to the promise that it has on paper, but one thing that didn’t let audiences down was Peter Stormare’s turn as Lucifer.
It’s a captivating performance. Stormare’s Lucifer is outwardly urbane in his pristine white suit, but the tar or mud that seems to drip from his feet and the dark tattoos that disappear under his clothing hint at the possibility of something monstrous contained within. Add to that the animalistic grunts and snorts that pepper his conversation, as if he’s actively supressing some feral rage, and you’ve got an interesting portrait of a devil who presents an illusion of normality while containing something dark, icky and terrifying.
The Hottie Devil:
Back in the 1840s, if you wanted a statue of Lucifer to terrify your parishioners into penitence (and maybe into dropping a few coins into the coffers), you went to one of the Geefs brothers. So it was that the cathedral of St. Paul in Liege, Belgium approached Joseph Geefs with their commission- a statue to form the centrepiece of their new pulpit, intended as a monument to the triumph of religion over “The genius of evil”.
Imagine the surprise of the church officials, therefore, when the finished sculpture caused them to feel strange, tingly feelings beneath their cassocks. The sculpture, with it’s suggestive serpent, open-legged stance and barely-there loincloth, was simply too damn sexy.
This Devil, they said, was “too sublime” and was sure to distract “the pretty penitent girls” from their prayers. Then they quickly disappeared into the vestry for some private prayer and contemplation.
The statue was removed, and a new commission was given to Joseph’s brother Guillaime Geefs for a Satan whose abs didn’t make them feel as uncertain about this whole “celibacy” thing.
The Best Acolyte:
When Jack Parsons, a famous rocket scientist whose experiments with solid-fuel rockets paved the way for the moon landings, accidentally blew himself up in his shed, a few of his friends decided that it was time to redecorate. After all, the press would soon be there, so maybe it would be a good idea to paint over that giant mural of the devil, put a throw over that altar and hide a couple of these pentagrams.
Jack Parsons had, for many years, lived a double life. Working as a famed rocket scientist and pyrotechnics expert for Hollywood movies by day and heading a Thelemic cult in his California mansion under the direction of Aleister Crowley by night.
Of course, for Parsons this wasn’t a double life at all. His occult practices were merely an attempt to do with his mind and spirit what he was also doing with chemicals and explosives- transcend the mundane and reach for the stars. Each rocket that Parsons launched would be blessed by him chanting Crowley’s hymn to Pan. Eventually, L. Ron Hubbard would join the cult, and the two would attempt “The moonchild ritual”, a month-long invocation meant to summon the antichrist.
Eventually Hubbard would steal Parsons’ girlfriend and all of his money in a yacht-buying con. But Parsons’ life’s work got us to the moon, whereas Hubbard gave us Battlefield Earth, so Parsons definitely wins in the coolness stakes.
The Funniest Devil:
The Devil has always been a comedian. After all, he’s been speaking truth to power, tweaking the nose of authority and teaching us to have a little fun since Genesis. Andy Hamilton’s portrayal of him in radio drama Old Harry’s Game may be a bittersweet look at the Devil as a lonely, thwarted despot, but it’s also funny as hell.
Joined by inveterate sinner Thomas, sycophantic demon Sumspawn and a kind-hearted intellectual called “the prof” who was damned for his atheism, Andy Hamilton’s Lucifer presides over a hell rich in ironic punishments.
Not least of these is the “Pope enclosure”, where deceased pontiffs are kept in a permanent state of late-term pregnancy. Basically, Old Harry’s Game is what would happen if Little Nicky was both cleverer, funnier and on the radio.
Runner up: Peter Cook in Bedazzled