Saturday, October 12, 2013

My Top 5 Favorite Devils and Demons Movies

An overlooked film from the 1980s with
a lot going for it, and then some.

Possession and a loss of personal control, as I said earlier elsewhere in this series, are one of the things that most scares me in horror movies.  It’s no surprise, then, that I approach the subject of demon possession movies with some trepidation. I think with these movies, the phrase “Your Mileage May Vary” is terribly appropriate, because if you aren’t scared by these movies, or the ideas they contain, your list will be very different from mine.

Demons and devils in movies seem to be of two different varieties: The havoc-wreaking kind, and the possessing and controlling kind. There is frequent cross-over, too, as some uglies will possess a victim and then use that person to wreak havoc.

Curiously, there are very few “deal with the devil” movies, although that motif is still widespread in literature and short stories. I wonder why that is. I love those stories, myself. But these movies below kept me up at night, thinking and wondering, and concocting elaborate contingency plans for what to do if I ever come across a moldering old tome in a deserted cabin.

See, I wouldn't want to walk down that hall, either.
Night of the Demon (1957)
Adapted successfully from the M.R. James story, “Casting the Runes” Night of the Demon (the slightly shorter Curse of the Demon is the American release of the same movie) is high on the list despite being mostly atmospheric and moody until the big reveal at the end.

As a story, it’s well-done, even if every single still and ad campaign I’ve seen for the movie insisted on spoiling the surprise at the end. Gifted director Jacques Tourneur filmed Night of the Demon like a film noir movie, which really helps with the atmosphere. Emphasizing form over function, Night of the Demon is evocative, if not terrifying, but it’s still really good and satisfying as a movie.

This movie was not good for Mia Farrow's health.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Arguably Roman Polanski’s most famous movie, and the film that made Mia Farrow a star, Rosemary’s Baby is a study in paranoia straight out of the Cornell Woolrich playbook, even though the book was written by Ira Levin. Maybe my favorite thing of all about the movie is that it’s produced by the legendary William Castel, who should need no introduction to anyone reading this list.

Unfortunately, while the paranoia is spot on, the pacing is positively glacial. If you’ve never seen it before, you’ll sit on your hands wondering what’s going to happen next. After you’ve seen it, you may want to fast forward through the middle hour of the film. However, the payoff, when it finally comes, is pretty disturbing.

That's the worst Carol Channing impression I've ever seen.
The Evil Dead (1981)
The movie that put Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi on the map is also a cult classic by any definition you’d care to use. Like the other horror movies in Raimi’s canon, the first Evil Dead movie has a little bit of everything, including humor. Maybe the humor is there because Raimi also chose to include a scene wherein a demonic tree rapes one of the girls. Who can really say?

This is the start of the “Five kids head out to a cabin in the woods” genre, which the recent remake thankfully kept intact, and the brilliant Cabin in the Woods referenced so reverently. The film is violent, bawdy, colorful, funny, and yeah, it’s even scary in places. The shoestring budget and subsequent effects may turn off new viewers, but if you’re going to watch horror movies and you don’t watch The Evil Dead trilogy, then you’re not doing it right.

Yep, that's Alice Cooper, and he's the least of your worries.
Prince of Darkness (1987)
John Carpenter’s demonic particle physics movie got uneven reviews when it first came out, but if you know anything about experimental physics, and if you’ve read any Lovecraft or similarly cosmic horror, then you were probably completely unnerved by this strange and creepy movie.

A priest dies, the last of his order, and the church finds something strange in the basement. Scientists are called in, including members of the college physics department, and they start trying to figure out what’s inside. I’m going to let you figure it out for yourself, based on the movie title. When it gets out, it behaves in a very un-liquid-like fashion and that’s when the trouble starts. For me, the scariest parts of the movie are the dreams that everyone starts receiving. I was afraid to close my eyes the first time I saw the movie, and it’s creeped me out ever since.

Gross. Just...gross.
The Exorcist (1973)
Two priests, one young and one old, a little girl with an imaginary friend, and a concerned high society mother are the focus of William Friedkin’s version of William Peter Blatty’s novel. It’s a long film, with lots of apparent side trips, but in the end, you’ll see, it all comes together. Special effects legend Dick Smith created the complicated and subtle make-ups for the movie, and it’s mostly through the special effects that the jacked-up horror comes across, and very convincingly, at that.

The movie is legendary, and widely considered to be one of the scariest movies of all time. It benefitted at the time from the trend in Hollywood filmmaking towards realism and a kind of stylized “no style,” which gives the movie a kind of dull flatness to it. When the demon hits the fan, it’s such a marked contrast to the rest of the movie that it’s legitimately shocking and off-putting. Despite numerous attempts to make a franchise out of the success of the first film, the original The Exorcist remains the best by a considerable margin. All other possession movies are compared to it, as a result. 

Only in Hollywood does she get to play the "ugly duckling."aaaaaaaaaa
Bonus Movie! Jennifer’s Body (2009)
I almost feel sorry for Megan Fox. I’ve seen her act in some smaller, art-house movies, and you know what? She’s got pretty good acting chops. It only she could have kept her mouth shut, and her prima donna attitude in check, about those Transformer movies. Oh, well. It’s probably because she needed the money that she agreed to star in this wonderful flawed masterpiece.

Amanda Seyfried plays the ugly duckling to Fox’s swan as friends in high school. One wild night at the club, listening to that devil-music rock and roll, finds Jennifer in possession of a malevolent entity with a real appetite for youth, both literally and figuratively.

What makes the movie work, despite a couple of leaps in logic, is the sharp and witty script by Diablo Cody. Jennifer’s Body fits more on the great fun end of the spectrum than the screaming terror end, but it’s got some moves and some great eye candy, to boot.
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