Damien arrives on A&E on Mar. 7, and it could be the beginning of something wonderful. For folks who grew up in the ’70s and early ’80s The Omen, Damien: The Omen II, and The Final Conflict were the stuff nightmares were made of in all the right ways. The story of the AntiChrist born on Earth and rising to power was filled with moments that stick to the core of the soul and featured some of the great scenes in horror history.
To celebrate the arrival of Damien to television screens we share our picks for the 11 most memorable incarnations of the Devil onscreen.
We could have done 20 or 30 if we wanted, but here’s a nice balance of obscure, popular, and offbeat examples. Now join us on a journey of darkness, madness, and the occasional chuckle.
Dave Grohl in Tenacious D & the Pick of Destiny
Say what you will about the rest of the film, but it’s hard to deny the juvenile joy of Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny‘s climactic battle with Beelzeboss. Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl has an absolute blast playing the big red guy, and he even provides drums for the film’s soundtrack. It’s a bummer that Jables and the Rage Cage decided to remake the storyline from their HBO show, but at least it gave us this goofy rock-off with the Devil (who loves metal). His foul-mouth and fast licks are more than worthy of the prince of darkness. [Drew Dietsch]
Daniel von Bargen in O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?
In this Southern musical masterpiece, the Coen brothers introduced us to escaped convicts Everett (George Clooney), Pete (John Turturro), and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson). After hiding in a barn that belongs to Pete’s cousin, the three bumbling convicts are rudely awoken by the megaphoned voice of Sheriff Cooley (Daniel von Bargen). Cooley is a vision of evil, eyes hidden behind black mirrored sunglasses as his deputies light the barn ablaze. Everett and the boys escape by the skin of their teeth, and the next morning, they meet Tommy Johnson (Chris Thomas), a well-dressed black guitar player.
Tommy Johnson is inspired by real-life blues player Robert Johnson, who claimed to have met the Devil at a crossroads at midnight to sell his soul for musical success. It must’ve worked, because Robert Johnson is still talked about today as a real life legend of Delta blues and the influential writer of songs like “Cross Road Blues” and “Hellhound on my Trail.” When Tommy confesses to the convicts that he’s sold his soul to the Devil, the convicts balk. Pete asks Tommy what the Devil looks like, and know-it-all Everett interjects, “The great Satan hisself is red and scaly with a bifurcated tail, and he carries a hay fork.” Tommy shakes his head and corrects him — “No, sir. He’s white, as white as you folks, with empty eyes and a big hollow voice. He likes to travel around with a mean old hound.”
As you might’ve guessed, this is Sheriff Cooley to a “t.” Daniel von Bargen plays him to perfection, staring blankly from under his wide-brimmed fedora and leading around a big bloodhound — a hellhound on the convicts’ trail. Cooley is just one of several villains that Everett and his gang encounter on their odyssey, but the devilish Sheriff Cooley is the most sinister. [Travis Newton]
Silvia Pinal in Simon of the Desert
The Devil sure can be sexy. In Luis Buñuel’s surreal film Simon of the Desert, Silvia Pinal plays a fierce, spitfire version of Satan that is at times seductive, disgusting, foul and very tempting. Her version of Lucifer is a female that takes many forms. She takes pleasure in tormenting the holy man Simon as he stands atop his pillar of righteousness, and every time she approaches the benevolent martyr, she manages to destroy him more and more. The film touches on many of the familiar subjects we see in Buñuel’s film work to include naive characters, self-righteous fools, abusive temperaments and sexually powerful women.
Silvia Pinal looks like she is having a blast in this performance. Her Devil first shows up as a woman carrying water, and next as a not at all innocent student hiking up her skirt to tempt Simon. The next time we see her try to make our main character lose his faith, she appears at the shepherd image of Christ and immediately blows her top and kicks a lamb. The final temptation of Simon sees the she-devil transported across the sands in a coffin, and when she finally makes the man stray from the path of righteousness, the two are transported into the hip 1960s. In a tale that begins like The Greatest Story Ever Told and ends with a Mad Men dance party, Buñuel’s Simon is a brilliant film and Pinal’s Satan is pure gold. [Andrew Hawkins]
Billy Zane in Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight
We love Michael Keaton. So does Billy Zane apparently, because his performance as The Collector in Demon Knight is obviously greatly influenced by Keaton, especially his work in Beetlejuice. But this isn’t a rip-off. Zane, like Keaton, is playing the most interesting Devil of all: the likable one. He’s a psychopath, he’s murderous, he’s dangerous beyond reason. But there’s something about him that is so charismatic and fun. You can’t look away. You’d have a drink with this guy… if he wasn’t evil incarnate.
That’s the type of Devil who works best in fiction because he’s just so captivating. This approach is also the most believable. The Devil should be like The Collector, making deals and trying to smile and charm you. But if things don’t go his way, he’ll quickly turn into someone you really, really don’t want on your bad side. Zane’s evil cowboy is funny and completely engrossing but also terrifying because you can feel his manic rage just boiling underneath his perfect smile. [Brandon Marcus]
Jonathan Pryce in Something Wicked This Way Comes
Mr. Dark is one of the finest Ray Bradbury characters to ever grace the silver screen. Many fans of the book and film debate whether the character is the Devil himself, or just a representation of the darkest evil imaginable. Regardless of opinion, Dark is not to be messed with. When his carnival rolls into a small town, people fall victim to the magic of having their deepest wishes granted for a horrible price. The evil here is very familiar to horror fans, especially those who are aware of the cautionary story of The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs.
In the Disney adaptation of Something Wicked This Way Comes, Jonathan Pryce plays the menacing and very intimidating Mr. Dark. Pryce is at his best here. The way he carries himself in the role and delivers every bit of dialogue with a controlled and yet chaotic reservation makes his portrayal not only scary but dangerous. The film is by no means perfect in regards to its visual effects and pacing, but every scene that features Mr. Dark is electrifying. Whether he actually is the Devil is left open, but you can’t deny that he is pure evil. [Andrew Hawkins]
Jeff Goldblum in Mr. Frost
One of the most criminally underseen independent horror movies, Mr. Frost is a great example of the nature of a beast in human form. Jeff Goldblum is at his best as the mysterious man in police custody whose words cause people to do horrible things. One of the most underused aspects of the Devil in cinema is simply his joy in playing with things just because he can. Mr. Frost doesn’t mind spending his time with a handful of people on a really small scale here and in many ways that’s a lot more powerful than an End of the World goal for the character.
Goldblum is given a lot of dialogue that is rich and fun and his delivery is perfect. It strikes a great balance between scary and goofy and the result is a movie and a character that is so much better than they had any right being. [Nick Nunziata]
Peter Stormare in Constantine
Constantine is so very close to being a truly great movie. It’s good, but has some fundamental flaws that hinder it from excellence. The one thing the film absolutely knocks out of the park is its version of Lucifer. His appearance is held back until the very end of the film, and it’s the best payoff ever.
Character actor Peter Stormare (Fargo) plays the Morning Star with the relish of a coked-out crime lord. The added touch of his feet being soaked in some kind of sizzling black oil is too perfect. This is a role Stormare was born to play, and it though it’s short-lived, it’s easily the most memorable moment in the entire movie. [Drew Dietsch]
Jeffrey Jones in Stay Tuned
Jeffrey Jones just looks like the Devil. And, no, that’s not because he’s got red hair. It’s his smile, his voice, his entire demeanor. He’s not the happy-go-lucky, I-wanna-be-your-best-friend Devil. This is the Devil as a smooth-talking, conniving businessman. A guy who steals souls not just with trickery but business plans and contract signatures.
Stay Tuned is an original and fun and actually fairly scary film. It’s a comedy about two people stuck in Hell Vision, the underworld’s version of TV. And Spike is the ringleader behind it all, the man in a suit pulling strings. Jones plays the part perfectly, smooth and professional with a heat just under the surface ready to blow.
The Devil as a network executive is eerily accurate and Jones nails it. [Brandon Marcus]
Walter Huston in The Devil and Daniel Webster
There’s something charming about the classic depiction of the Devil as a huckster. There’s no better version of this than Walter Huston as Mr. Scratch in The Devil and Daniel Webster (originally titled All That Money Can Buy). Huston treats the silver-tongued King of Lies like your favorite crass uncle, cackling and smoking his way through the picture with impish delight.
This classic New England story deftly balances its humor and eeriness, and Huston anchors the whole thing. He’s just as lovable as he is despicable, and the ending shot of the film is one of the best fourth wall breaks in all of American cinema. A classical portrayal by a classic actor and a foundation for all cinematic Satans to follow. [Drew Dietsch]
Jack Nicholson in The Witches of Eastwick
If ever there was an actor to portray Old Scratch, it’s Jack Nicholson. His Daryl Van Horne is quintessential Nicholson, playing on his charm and wickedness as he conducts verbal and romantic jousts with the considerable talents of Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer. There’s a bit of the Devil in Nicholson’s characters in The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and A Few Good Men, and this film plays on the offscreen version of Jack as well.
Watching him arrive into a small town and try his hand at messing with the balance leads to plenty of wicked material and because the film chooses the comedic path whenever possible, it all comes off as broad as such a film could be considering the subject matter. Even more fun is watching the three leading ladies beat him at his own game, because as fun as Nicholson’s Devil is, he’s still the Devil and he can’t actually win. [Nick Nunziata]
Tim Curry in Legend
The only reason Legend is still on our pop culture radar is Tim Curry’s iconic turn as Darkness in Ridley Scott’s syrupy ’80s fantasy. With his massive horns and glistening crimson skin, Darkness is the epitome of Hell’s ruler both cosmetically and in practice.
In addition to killing unicorns and attempting to marry women against their will, Darkness is driven by manipulation and ferocity and his evil threatens to corrupt the entire land. Curry’s voice is perfect for the character and he relishes his turn as the film’s Big Bad, delivering his dialogue with delicious decadence and making the most of his menacing costuming. It’s one of the great villains in fantasy film history. [Nick Nunziata]
We also love Al Pacino in Devil’s Advocate, George Burns in Oh God You Devil!, Robert De Niro in Angel Heart, Elizabeth Hurley in Bedazzled, a scary hand in a mirror in Prince of Darkness, Viggo Mortensen in The Prophecy, and so many more, but this is a cross section of vile, horned folks we think represent a century of screams.