Iron Maiden said it best a long time ago (summarizing passages from the Book of Revelation, of course): “Woe to you, oh earth and sea, for the Devil sends his beast with wrath because he knows the time is short. Let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number. Its number is six hundred and sixty-six.”
Yes, 666 is the number that has long been linked to the Devil. And while Ultimate Classic Rock is in no position to comment of topics religious or metaphysical, we’re pretty damn good at putting together lists. Thus, a collection of six films about Lucifer himself. (Actually, let’s make it ten, just so we don’t call down some kind of crazy curse on ourselves.)
Some of these movies are great, some are campy, and some are just plain bonkers, but they’re all fun. And they all deal with the kinds of unique questions the Devil-movie genre presents: What does Satan actually look like? What are his powers? What kind of people are really, really into making him happy? And is he more akin to a lawyer or a space alien? (Okay, this last question is only relevant to two of the more gonzo films on the list.)
So hold onto your cloven hooves, because here’s Ultimate Classic Rock’s list of 6 (or ten, really) movies from the ’60s through the ’80s about our old friend Beelzebub.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Why not start out with the film that created a whole cottage industry of movies about the Father of Lies? An ambitious young couple named Guy and Rosemary (John Cassavetes and Mia Farrow) move into a swanky old building in New York City. So what if their neighbors are eccentric and there are rumors that the building used to be a hangout for Satanists? And never mind the fact that Guy seems to be acting strangely, or that Rosemary has a nightmare about being sexually assaulted by a monstrous pig-beast while the other batty tenants watch. She’s finally pregnant and thrilled about it! Genuinely psychologically scary, loaded with social innuendo, and feeding everyone’s suspicion that their horrible neighbors actually might be up to something nefarious, Rosemary’s Baby killed it at the box office and with the critics, spawning an entire brood of imitators in the following decade.
The Devil Rides Out (1968)
While Rosemary’s Baby was playing to social fears in America, on the other side of the pond British pulp-movie maestro Terrence Fisher was summoning up a flick about Mephistopheles with a strangely conservative message. The Devil Rides Out takes place in the 1920s and tells the story of one Nicholas, Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee) who takes on the challenge of discovering why one of his friend’s sons is acting so weird. Could it be…Satan? Of course! Nicholas and a pal wrestle the young man Simon from the clutches of a group of devil-worshippers lead by a magnificently malevolent fellow named Mocata (Charles Gray), only to find that now Mocata is after them too. Featuring a wonderfully entertaining series of twists and reversals, and a rollicking comparison between ’60s radicals and worshippers of the Fallen Angel, The Devil Rides Out is well worth checking out, for those who like these kinds of things. And it gets bonus points for a classic depiction of Satan himself: half-man, half-goat, and all-scary.
The Blood On Satan’s Claw (1971)
The first film on our list that’s truly and gloriously gaga, The Blood on Satan’s Claw mines for all it’s worth the folk-horror genre that started in England in the 1970s with things like The Wicker Man and has been recently updated by films like The Witch and Midsommar. Set in the 18th Century, it starts with a farmer who unearths a bizarre skull in his field. This leads to a nearby woman having horrible nightmares, after which she wakes up with a huge claw instead of a hand. Soon, the children in the village are growing patches of fur on their bodies and killing each other, and I think we all know who’s behind it. Conceived, written, directed, marketed and celebrated as an exploitation film (one that rips off the lurid content of other movies or social trends to make a buck) The Blood on Satan’s Claw transcends these boundaries by sheer creepy commitment.
The Exorcist (1973)
Years before Jaws and Star Wars, it was The Exorcist that established the possibility of the blockbuster movie in the 1970s. People fainted in the theater, they wept, they vomited – and then they lined up around the block to see it again. It grossed almost $450 million against a $12 million budget, and created sequences that once seared into the brain will never be forgotten. A little girl gets possessed by the Devil, and a hard-ass priest appears on the scene to do battle for the girl’s life. Her head spins around, she spits pea soup, and someone takes a tumble down a long flight of stairs – what connoisseur of on-screen depictions of humanity’s wars against Old Scratch could ask for more?
The Omen (1976)
It’s not completely accurate to say that The Omen is a big-budget attempt to exploit the devil-movie mania that had led to so many profitable films the 1970s…okay, it is pretty accurate to say that. The formula seems rather simple: get a good director in Richard Donner (who would go on to direct things like Superman, The Goonies and Lethal Weapon), big-screen stars in Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, and then all you need is a story about Satan that hasn’t been told yet. Okay, how about this? A high-powered American politician, who just happens to be the best friend of the President of the United States, adopts a baby that turns out to be the anti-Christ. If they’re not careful, young Damien is going to kill his parents and get himself adopted by the President, positioning himself to someday be the ruler of the free world. Expertly made, and featuring a number of classic set-pieces, The Omen proves that in Hollywood lack of originality is not always a sin.
The Evil (1978)
One of the annoying things about Satan is that he’s always building portals to hell under some creepy old building, much to the horror of the people who then find themselves moving into that building. This is the premise of many, many films (including the next one on this list) and one of them is the underappreciated haunted-house Devil-flick combo The Evil. Psychiatrist C.J. Arnold (Richard Crenna) buys an old mansion and decides to make a rehab center out of it. Unfortunately, he and his friends get trapped inside when he unwittingly opens the infamous portal (note: if you ever find yourself tempted to remove a silver cross that’s obviously holding an ancient underground door shut, don’t). It’s short, sweet, features some surprisingly effective scares, and portrays Satan as a cheerful old guy in a white suit, sitting in a floating chair. Good stuff.
The Beyond (1981)
If you like over the top fare about the Dark Lord, don’t rest until you’ve sought out Italian director Lucio Fulci’s work. The Beyond is bizarre, scary, mesmerizing, and doesn’t care a whit about your demands for narrative continuity. The plot involves a woman who moves from New York City to Louisiana to reopen an old hotel, only to discover that it was built on…you guessed it, one of the seven gates to Hell. What ensues is a rapid descent into enveloping chaos. Fulci is a master at dismasting the viewer and leaving them adrift in strange terrifying worlds with rules all their own, and The Beyond does this as well as any of his films. Blind women with German Shepherds? Flesh-eating spiders? Zombies? Basement mazes you can never escape? This one’s got it all.
Prince of Darkness (1987)
Have you ever wondered if Lucifer – not God – was really the most powerful being in the universe, and if Jesus was actually an alien who came down to earth to protect us from him? Of course not. No one has, except for John Carpenter, who investigated this possibility in Prince of Darkness. When a Catholic priest finds an ancient crystal chamber filled with swirling green stuff in the basement of his church, he invites a local physicist and his grad students to do some tests on it. Things go sideways, a homeless man turns into a pile of bugs, and the scientists realize that the Big Evil One himself is trying to access our world through the power contained in that green liquid. Pure, delicious ’80s cheesiness pervades this oddball entry in the genre, and one can never say enough about Carpenter’s ability as a director of this kind of stuff.
Angel Heart (1987)
Combining a film-noir plot with a seedy New Orleans setting may seem like an unwieldy way to get into a Devil movie, but Angel Heart pulls it off in spades. A small-time detective (Micky Rourke) gets hired by a man with the unlikely and extremely suspicious name of Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to track down a long lost soldier. But what starts off as a missing person case grows steadily more eerie as the detective realizes that the missing man may not have been who he said he was, and that Mr. Cyphre is most certainly not who he says he is. At base, it’s a story about the oldest piece of advice in the book: never make a deal with Old Pointy-Tail, because he’s a heck of a lot more powerful than you. Little seen at the time of its release, Angel Heart has grown in stature over the decades until it’s now regarded as one of the classics of the genre.
The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
Okay, so when we said we were only going to talk about movies from the ’60s through the ’80s? We lied. And not just because this is a list of movies about the King of Lies himself. Who in their right mind could leave The Devil’s Advocate off this list? Like Angel Heart, this one is an exploration of all the things that go right when you make a deal with the Devil – wealth, sex, power – right up until the point when the payment comes due. Keanu Reeves plays a young hotshot lawyer who takes a glamorous new job in New York City, only to realize a bit too late that he is literally working in Satan’s law firm. But the sulfuric center of the picture is Al Pacino, playing perhaps the only role which is impossible to over-act. He struts, he smiles, he speechifies, he flicks his tongue over his teeth and makes you feel uncomfortable. And like sin itself, he can never be completely defeated, just driven back underground until he gets another chance to emerge.