A blog about movies and filmmaking.

The devil’s in the details

In drama, Horror on May 28, 2009 at 8:11 pm

With the new Sam Raimi movie, DRAG ME TO HELL – about a woman who wants to move up in her job, at a bank, and is then put in the moral quandary of do I do the right thing, or the thing that will allow me to get ahead? Naturally, in the story she has to make the wrong choice or else there isn’t a horror story for us to enjoy. But, the story of a woman being haunted and terrorized by a demon made me think of one of my favorite movies, which also then led me to think about other movies that feature people being tortured by evil beings. Sometimes it’s just a demon and sometimes it’s actually the Devil. 

In THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, Kevin Lomax is an all-star lawyer in Gainesville, Florida, who is brought to New York and wooed by a large law firm headed by John Milton. Milton, who is seemingly mentoring Lomax to a place of power in the firm has something else going for him. He just happens to be the Devil. Unlike DRAG ME TO HELL, whose evil presence seems to be more ethereal – other than the moments when a scary, old gypsy woman makes appearances to scare not only us but that movie’s main character – THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE’s villain is on-screen for a good portion of the movie. And here we get probably one of my favorite personifications of the Prince of Darkness – in the guise of Al Pacino. It’s pretty apparent that in the last twenty or so years, Pacino has kind of moved on from being one of our best actors to basically a god that is above acting in the same manner as normal beings. And in this movie, that used to it’s greatest effect. He’s loud, bombastic and in almost every scene he’s in, he walks into or out of frame with a big grin and cackling like he’s got the world in his pocket. 

The rest of the cast, rounded out with Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron, Connie Nielsen, Craig T. Nelson and Jeffrey Jones, are all fantastic. Reeves puts on a southern accent for the movie – which fades in and out throughout, but I think that it works because this character is of two worlds (literally, in one aspect) and therefore putting on a southern accent and have it fall out with a more polished, urban way of talking, works. This movie is also pretty much our first experience of two of today’s (in my opinion) most beautiful and talented actresses: Charlize Theron and Connie Nielsen. (And thank god for that, if nothing else.)

THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE came at a time right before all the hullabaloo and emphasis of the millennium and talks of the end of the world and the return of the Devil. There are a number of iconic scenes here; a scene on the roof of the Continental Building in New York City, with waterfalls pouring off the side of the buildings. The final showdown between Reeves and Pacino, (and Nielsen, nude for the most of the scene) features a fantastic not only set-piece of marble that comes alive with figures caressing and worshipping each other – but also probably one of the top soliloquies, given by Pacino. Directed by Taylor Hackford (RAY and 1982’s AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN) and a screenplay by Tony Gilroy (The BOURNE trilogy, MICHAEL CLAYTON and many more) this movie is a favorite, that I was kind of hesitant to rewatch for fear of it not holding up, but you know, it’s still just as engaging as it was the first time I saw it. There are some CGI moments that look a little fake, but it’s pretty excusable. 

The two movies that THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE reminds me of are ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE. 

ROSEMARY’S BABY, the classic horror/thriller from Roman Polanski starring Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, is the story of a couple that move into a nice New York apartment, meet some neighbors who have some questionable motives. Rosemary (Farrow) who is trying to be a good housewife, she tries to get along with the neighbors, played by Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer. Soon, when the husband becomes more distant – and yet having increasing luck in his acting career – she becomes increasingly paranoid after she’s had a strange dream where some sort of satanic beast is having sex with her, and then discovers that she’s pregnant. 

A great movie where we’re not sure whether Rosemary is going crazy, and in building up tension until finally the baby is born and we’re left seeing Rosemary having to accept the child that she has borne to the exclaimations of “HAIL SATAN!”. 

Add in the woman tortured by devils, and THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE’s court room sort of drama, we get THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE. A movie about a young girl, played by Jennifer Carpenter (DEXTER) who in the opening scene of the movie has died and the rest of the movie is telling her story. The crux of the story is a court room drama about a priest that is being tried for the responsibility of young Emily Rose’s death. The priest is played wonderfully by Tom Wilkinson and is represented by a character played by Laura Linney. 

This movie is really a better mix of THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE and THE EXORCIST. It’s terrifying, and dramatic and very touching. It’s the more skeptical movie, approaching the subject matter as both possibly being supernatural but there’s also arguments that instead of Emily being possessed by demons, she actually suffered from a number of illnesses that could have been treated and possibly cured. There are some great, and very freaky special effects – sort of in the vein of DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, where it’s subtle but also discomforting. 

Some of the other interesting movies that feature demon/devil’s that I want to recommend:

GHOST, which is a movie that I wouldn’t really usually think about recommending – despite it actually being a pretty good movie – but the demons here I remember as being very scary when the movie first came out. The first time we see them, it’s very subtle shadow movements and soon they shift into these shapes that are sharp edged, but their real effect is the sound design as their screams are what really effects you. 

Next is JACOB’S LADDER, the Adrien Lyne movie starring Tim Robbins who is haunted by visions of monstrous people and he’s journeying through his own hell. There are two moments in this movie that whenever I think of this movie, can’t help but still chill me. One is of men driving in a car past Tim Robbins and there’s a person in the backseat whose head is shaking frantically and is virtually faceless. The other is a party scene, where Robbins’ character’s wife is on the dance floor, and goes from dancing with some guy to being penetrated by some kind of demon’s phallus – which makes it’s way all the way out of her mouth. 

And lastly, we have THE NINTH GATE. Another Polanski movie, starring Johnny Depp as sort of a book-seller/investigator. He’s hired by a shady, rich man – Boris Balkan, played by Frank Langella – to study the authenticity of a book he owns that supposedly was written by the Devil himself. Along the way, Depp’s character meets a number of other rich and eccentric people and then there’s his guardian “angel”, played by Emmanuelle Seigner. She shows up throughout the movie, but we get the hint that there’s something other-worldly with her – when attempting to save Depp’s character – when she appears by floating down to a canal from an upper-walkway, in Paris. 

In the end, Depp gets what his character has seemingly been hunting for. He finds out the truth to this mysterious book and goes to bask in the glory of Satan. 

I’m excited for DRAG ME TO HELL – this is kind of a pre-review, before I’ve seen the movie, but I’m guessing it’s going to be one of the summer movies that I would want to write about anyway. The only question at this point is whether it will make this list, the next time I feel the need to write about movies with devils and demons.


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