What do Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro and Jeff Goldblum all have in common? They've all played the devil at some point.
And why not? It's one of the juiciest roles in all of human culture. But when you look at some of the movies, TV shows and songs where Lucifer shows up, you realize that they kind of forget to make him evil. Oh, you're supposed to think he's evil, because he's the Devil. But if the exact same actions in the story had been taken by a genie or just some other dude with magical powers, you'd give him a pass.
For instance ...
#5. Daryl Van Horne in The Witches of Eastwick
It seems odd that in Jack Nicholson's entire career he's only played the Devil once. Now that we think about it, The Bucket List missed a major opportunity to explore the world's biggest theological questions by not having it be about the Devil and God taking a vacation together. Maybe The Bucket List II will rectify things.
"I'd have to say #1 on my bucket list is seeing the sky boil and the oceans turn to blood."
In The Witches of Eastwick, Nicholson uses his Satanesque sharp teeth and pointy eyebrows to seduce three reasonably attractive, uptight New Englanders (he's not explicitly referred to as Satan, but it's pretty obviously him). He teaches the three women to unleash their inner powers through magic and silly amounts of sex. He then offers them a huge mansion, nice clothes, happiness and the courage to be sexually independent beings. He also teaches them to fly.
It's probably a metaphor or something.
The only catch is they can't talk about him behind his back ... which isn't so much a "catch" as it is a pretty standard understanding between friends.
Why He's the Good Guy:
Unlike most devils, Van Horne doesn't want to bring hell to earth or destroy humanity or even to take anyone's soul for eternity. The only thing this Devil wants is to party with some MILFs in a mansion without worrying about whether they're insulting him when he's not around. Companionship. That's it. That's what he wants.
Is the occasional foursome with beautiful movie stars really so much to ask?
Yes, by the end of the movie he's going all-out Devil on the girls, using magic and shit to harass them. But he was kind of pushed into it.
So what went wrong? A few things. When a nosy neighbor decides to talk smack about the Devil, he suggests the three women curse her with the misfortune of vomiting cherry pits. So, it's more of a prank than a curse. It's mildly gross at worst. Unfortunately, nobody involved had any idea that their victim's psychotic husband would freak the hell out over her illness and beat her to death with a fire poker. That's not the sort of thing you can predict, even when you can fly.
Pokers: For when your insurer refuses to cover mental health problems.
So the lady dies and our three witchy women break their deal with the Devil. They turn their backs on him. And if you think breaking up with your first high school love was harsh, try breaking up with Beelzebub, who takes it really, really hard. He doesn't just smirk and skip town for some bigger, sexier orgy elsewhere. He's heartbroken.
So, he takes supernatural revenge on them (messing with their heads, that is -- he causes no actual injuries). But listen to the guy, he sounds borderline suicidal.
"What do I want? Christ, what does every man want? A little affection. A little trust. Goddamnit, everything I did, I did for you."
Yet we're supposed to be cheering when, in the end, the witches curse the Devil to death. So, "murdered" is probably the better word here. Oh, and that's after he got each of them pregnant. So they murdered the father of their sons, who left them his mansion (which they happily live in once he's dead) and wealth. All in all, it's a pretty crappy way to treat a guy who only asked for a nice Pfeiffer/Sarandon/Cher four-way.
#4. The Devil in "The Devil Went Down to Georgia"
This weird story-song about Satan taking on a random dude in a fiddling contest is one of the most popular depictions of the Devil in pop culture history. We're not kidding -- in 1979, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by the Charlie Daniels Band spent three freaking months in the Billboard top 40. What other song or even movie featuring the Devil as a character had that kind of success? It's pretty much this and The Exorcist.
We get the feeling this Devil is more of the bourbon and clean livin' set.
This version of Satan is the one that turns up from time to time, the Faustian "make a bet with a mortal just to fuck with him" Devil. In this case, the Devil finds the best fiddle player in Georgia and challenges him to a fiddle contest. If the kid wins, he gets a free golden fiddle. If the Devil wins, he gets the kid's eternal soul. About 10 pounds of precious metal forged into the shape of a hillbilly violin that would clearly be too heavy to play? Who can resist?
The strings would snap every time you played it. Who thought this was practical?
So they have a fiddle-playing showdown, the kid (Johnny) wins and good prevails.
Why He's the Good Guy:
First of all, the portrait they paint of the devil in this song is ... kind of sad. We know from the very beginning of the song that the Devil needs a soul to meet some kind of quota:
"The devil went down to Georgia, he was looking for a soul to steal.
He was in a bind 'cos he was way behind and he was willin' to make a deal."
Who he's reporting to is a mystery, though -- the Devil Sr.? A committee?
"Oh, please lose. Daddy needs to repave the highway to hell."
Whoever it is, you picture him hovering over the Devil's desk on Monday morning looking for that soul and the Devil having to sputter excuses to keep from getting fired.
Even sadder? Listening to the Devil try to play the fiddle in this song. The best the Devil can do is muster a few measures of screeching while his backing band does the dirty work. Then Johnny, the backwoods prodigy, rocks his fiddle for about 20 minutes of fiddlin' goodness.
Seriously, that is clearly the first time Satan has ever picked up the instrument.
But wait, the Devil could still have won. He never spelled out the judging terms of this bet. There was no independent panel set up to decide whose playing was superior. So, we can assume that the whole deal is dependent on the honor system and that Satan can just declare himself the winner. And yet ... the Devil throws his hands into the air after hearing Johnny play and accepts defeat. He doesn't make any effort to lie, or take the soul by force on the grounds that he's the goddamn Devil and Johnny is just some dude. He simply acknowledges that he couldn't keep up with Johnny's fancy fingerwork, with lyrics like:
"Chicken in a bread pan pickin' out dough
Granny does your dog bite? / No child, no."
So, to recap, the Devil challenges the guy to a contest, there is no catch, the Devil doesn't cheat, and in fact the Devil voluntarily declares Johnny the winner. He's not trying to tempt Johnny's sinful pride about his fiddle playing or laying a moral trap. Johnny wins fair and square and the Prince of Darkness happily gives Johnny the golden fiddle he promised (and again, there's no catch -- it's not like filled with snakes or made of sponge cake or something).
Heaven forbid such deliciousness.
Johnny even taunts him as he leaves, and the Devil doesn't respond. He does all of this despite falling woefully behind in his quota, since surely thousands of other people around the world died in the time it took him to take part in this asinine competition. His whole plan is undone because he's a good sport.
#3. Jane Kowski in M. Night Shyamalan's Devil
Devil is the M. Night Shyamalan-produced thriller about a bunch of people trapped in an elevator. It's very much like a modern day Breakfast Club, except the room is smaller and Judd Nelson has been replaced by the Devil.
Detention seems a lot more murdery lately.
Throughout the film, these complete strangers are picked off one by one, getting beaten, stabbed and hanged every time the lights blink out. It's essentially the world's worst game of red light/green light. Naturally, they begin to suspect each other of the murders, until it's revealed that (spoiler alert) the little old lady was the Devil the whole time.
The real twist is that Shyamalan ran out of legitimate twists right around Unbreakable.
Why She's the Good Guy:
The point to this story is that everyone killed in this movie is a horrible, horrible person. The victims aren't horny kids on a weekend getaway or innocent children with cursed televisions. They're each bad in their own way (one guy killed a mother and son while driving drunk) and the elevator is where they get their comeuppance. So, the Devil purposely rounds up all these ne'er-do-wells and executes them, Old West style.
And sure, you think, but the Devil is still killing people and they're not getting a fair trial. So that's pretty evil, isn't it?
"God loves due process. This really drives him crazy."
All right, try this:
Cross out every instance of the word "Devil" and replace it with "The Punisher."
Exactly. What's more, the Devil even adheres to rules of repentance. The drunk driver/murderer of the group admits his crime to the police, who are watching on a closed-circuit TV, and gets to live because of it. Thanks, Satan, for letting the courts decide what to do with this criminal. You can damn well bet that he wouldn't get that kind of mercy in a Liam Neeson revenge movie.
Judge not, lest ye be judged. Unless it's a film produced by Shyamalan, in which case -- judge away.