The very first time I spoke with the father almighty, Oi Polloi’s divine creator Steve Sanderson, he asked of me to consider the Devil.
A little stumped, I paused the dismal Kid Rock (Live in Baltimore 2000) YouTube video that was keeping me from a nap. Steve elaborated - the Devil in the guise of humans, the Devil personified in a tie and slacks maybe, the Devil portrayed in film. We agreed it was an interesting theme.
I resumed watching the white trash rap-rock onslaught of Kid Rock as his mc Joe C took to the mic and squealed his verse. After claiming he was “Three-foot-nine with a ten-foot d**k” he concluded, “And I'm down with the Devil”. Meaning that he was down with Kid Rock, aka the Devil Without A Cause. Was this a sign? In light of the moronic lyrical content and the stars and striped scene on stage, it occurred to me that this performance felt like an MTV produced Trump rally. Who today is considered by many as the modern day Devil.
Which quite frankly is offensive to the Devil. Yes, Trump is a dangerous, manipulative, intolerant, toxic threat to humanity – but he’s a dull, sluggish, predictable, orange mess. He’s no myth, he’s a literal elephant in the room.
Where’s the mystery, the supernatural manifestations? The panache? The devilishly compelling eccentricity? Through film, the interpretations of the Devil are ones of artistic fiction, created to thrill, stories of evil that are safe to enjoy. Let’s get down with these Devils...
Rosemary’s Baby | Roman Polanski, 1968
Starting in the swinging 666ties (the occult was all the rage!), Roman Polanski dupes us with such a painfully stylish and idyllic bubble of young love that it’s almost easy to ignore the creeping creepiness. Guy and Rosemary inhabit a sumptuous palace of a NYC apartment, drink Coca-Cola, make love on the floorboards and plan their future... All is swell until they meet the eccentric elders next door, the Castevets, who wear a lot of red velvet, harbour a very polite ex-junkie, and lavish their new neighbours with attention and questionable cuisine.
Rosemary isn’t convinced. Her husband Guy however, a struggling actor, has a covert chin wag with Roman Castevet to talk business. And for poor Rosemary it’s down to hell from there – little does she know that her impending pregnancy has become the property of others. Namely, Satan.
A drastic Vidal Sasoon crop marks the start of Rosemary’s feverish demise into isolation, paranoia, demonic IVF and eventually her baby. The image of the Devil himself is only ever alluded to via Rosemary’s hallucinations or dreams, however his presence becomes unquestionable.
As Rosemary delivers his spawn, Mia Farrow delivers the Devil’s existence, as subtle as it is haunting, via her spectacular performance.
Devil’s Advocate | Taylor Hackford, 1998
The Devil apparently has a thing for surrogacy with young professional couples in New York City. Or perhaps Taylor Hackford just has a thing for Rosemary’s Baby. Either way the satanic strategy is the same in the Devil’s Advocate – groom the husband with the promise of professional success, isolate the wife (at which point she gets a haircut), sow your evil oats, get Beelzebub baby. In this case, there’s a lot of snogging, post watershed clawing and thrusting courtesy of Keanu Reeves, but unfortunately for the Devil, it’s ultimately all in vain...
Fortunately for the viewer, the Devil (John Milton) in this demonic romp is played by Al Pacino as the head of a naughty NYC law firm that makes good on everything that is evil and unjust. The film is rife with amusing clichés – everyone who smokes is part of the Milton’s satanic organisation, he only travels underground via the subway yet his penthouse office practically reaches heaven, he even trots about on heeled boots that resemble hoofs.
It all plays perfectly into Pacino’s effortless charisma – he is a playful Devil who singes his finger in holy water for a laugh and is decadent in debauchery. In fact the only thing that finally gets him into a tizzy is that Keanu’s character won’t play along with his (albeit incestual) game of happy families. Or maybe his patience with Keanu’s acting was wearing thin...?
Hereditary | Ari Aster, 2018
Hip hip hurray for Hereditary, Ari Aster’s terrifying directorial debut. How much does it take, Aster appears to ask, to completely dissolve a seemingly balanced, devoted, middle-class family...? Tragedy, grief, trauma - the Graham’s roll with the punches, but they endure. So Aster sends in the King of Hell, Paimon - the Devil’s most devoted crony to mix things up a little.
There is an ominous unease as Paimon takes a liking to the females of the family, steadily pushing the viewer down into cold terror as Annie Graham (Toni Collette) tries to outsmart and rid the demon from her rapidly depleting family. Although the evil presence in this film is predominantly clothed in COS linen, the penchant for beheadings and burnings keeps you trembling.
One thing is clear, Hereditary gives a whole new meaning to “you’re just like your mother”.
Hail Satan? | Penny Lane, 2019
Whilst Satan’s shenanigans are lapped up by film fans worldwide, what of the big man’s real-life worshippers? From the 70’s to the 90’s “Satanic Panic” swept the US, laying blame on devil worshippers for countless atrocities and crimes. God forbid you found your kids playing Dungeons & Dragons or listening to Marylin Manson, their souls were sold. However, like the Satans of the silver screen, the Satanic Panic was essentially all fiction. Fake news.
Fast-forward to 2013 and the birth of the Satanic Temple in the US. The mission: “to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense, oppose injustice, and undertake noble pursuits.”
Hail Satan? documents the thought-provoking, hilarious and poignant antics of the Temple on their liberal plight to challenge everything from hate groups, to religious equality in a Christian-biased system. Their leader, Lucien Greaves is as articulate as he is peaceful with his activism, but suitably could not look more like the human incarnation of the Devil if he tried. Which, you get the impression, he genuinely doesn’t.
Heart-warming rather than burning in hell, this documentary shows that with the Devil, interpretation is everything these days.
Still need to be convinced, enrol your kids in Lucien’s “After School Satan” classes.