5 Fictional Devils Who Kind of Seem Like Good Guys
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 ...
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.
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.
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.
Cadwallader in The Twilight Zone
The Twilight Zone has depicted Satan at least a dozen times throughout the years, casting him as everything from a bearded old man in a jail cell to a bobble-headed nickel machine in an episode starring William Shatner (seriously).
He's magnificently upstaged here. Shatner, not the bobble head.
But the first time he appeared on the show was in a famous episode called "Escape Clause," where Satan goes by the vaguely Hogwartsian name Cadwallader.
We bring this episode up because 1) this is another good example of the "Devil makes you a deal that seems too good to be true" trope, and 2) because it highlights how writers don't seem entirely sure what exactly the Devil does for a living, or why.
"'Being evil' makes for a terrible CV. Realty is where it's at, careerwise."
The story goes that Mr. Bedeker, an angry asshole and hypochondriac, sees Cadwallader appear in a puff of smoke in his bedroom asking for his soul. It takes around five minutes and three monologues for this dipshit to realize that, hang on, this just might be the Devil. Cadwallader tells Bedeker that he can manifest in any form he wants, which means the Devil has a hilarious sense of humor, since he chose to look like a sweaty, obese man in an ill-fitting business suit.
You try getting demons to measure your inside leg measurement with 7-inch talons.
Anyway, Cadwallader asks for Bedeker's soul in exchange for immortality and indestructibility. It sounds too good to be true, right? If Bedeker can live forever, what does he care if the Devil wants his soul after he's gone? If Bedeker ever becomes tired of eternal life and starts longing for death, he can always invoke the escape clause in the contract and the Devil will kill him quickly.
Why He's the Good Guy:
So Cadwallader gives this guy the perfect deal, and then offers him a chance to back out if he wants. We all know where this is going. Cadwallader is going to manipulate things so that Bedeker is in an impossible situation and has no choice but to invoke the escape clause.
"Ah ha! If I stay sitting quietly here for the next millennia, there's nothing you can do."
Nope. The Devil stands aside while Bedeker spends a glorious second act jumping in front of trains and buses in order to collect piles of money in lawsuit settlements. After a short while, he gets tired of the monotony and starts looking for bigger thrills. He spends every waking hour poisoning himself, leaping off of high buildings, even eventually killing his wife. And by eventually, we mean after about a month.
We'd have barely finished watching the box set of 24 by then.
He develops an ill-thought-out plan to purposely get sentenced to the electric chair just to see what it feels like. If you predict that he'll get a life sentence and thus have to invoke the escape clause, then congratulations, you understand how ironic punishment works.
Admittedly, this is not a happy ending for Mr. Bedeker. The problem is not the deal with the Devil, though, it's that Bedeker is an idiot. It's not clear what he intended to achieve by pursuing a death sentence from the courts. Even if he had experienced the electric chair and everyone had watched him survive it, did he think that people were just allowed to go home after something like that? He would either have been forced to live in prison the rest of his life anyway or have had to pretend to be killed by the chair and then forced to spend eternity buried in a casket.
"Alternatively, I suppose I could have just taken a bath with the toaster."
So ... back to our point from earlier: Is this how the Devil spends his time? Personally finding the dumbest people on earth and then setting elaborate supernatural traps for them? We're talking about a guy who would have almost certainly done something equally stupid/evil if left completely alone. From the Devil's point of view, it's like boasting about the fish you caught at Red Lobster.
At least with the "Devil Went Down to Georgia" example earlier you could say that maybe the Devil just needed a new fiddle player in hell.
While he's going to have to suffer this asshole for all eternity.
Lucifer in The Prophecy
Viggo Mortensen plays a long-haired, posture-impaired Lucifer who likes to jump out at people and whisper creepy little threats into their ears; one of the first sentences out of his mouth is, "I can lay you out and fill your mouth with your mother's feces." In hell, that's how they say hello and goodbye. It's similar to "aloha" in that sense.
This whole "evil" thing is just some kind of cultural misunderstanding.
He doesn't pretend to be charming or compassionate and makes no secret about hating humans. He repeatedly refers to people as monkeys, making him both a bad conversationalist and a little speciesist. The only reason he even steps foot among humanity is because the archangel Gabriel is trying to steal a war-seasoned soul from earth to overthrow heaven. Gabriel is mad that humans are God's favorite and wants to punish God for it. While this might seem like a fight the Devil could get behind, in actuality he sort of likes everything the way it is and doesn't want to see heaven change.
Mortensen is a famous method actor. For this role, he bravely murdered 47 people.
Why He's the Good Guy:
We guess this comes down to the old dilemma: Who's your real enemy, the abrasive dick who doesn't actually hurt you, or the nice guy who makes your life miserable?
The Lucifer in this movie is the former. He's like your old racist grandma in that sense. He says awful things, he intimidates, he hangs out in spooky places and eats flowers for dramatic effect. But he also doesn't want souls or anything else from humanity. He just hates Gabriel.
"He stole my Pog collection a few eons back. I've never forgiven him."
So he shows up, saves the world as we know it and then just leaves without trying to bring about Armageddon, collect any extra souls or trick any musicians on his way out. Oh, and did we forget to mention that he also helps the main character, played by Elias Koteas, restore his faith in God?
"You've got to believe in him, otherwise I can't come and claim you when you inevitably mess up."
In other words, Viggo Mortensen's eight-and-a-half minutes of screen time as the Devil is more heroic than his entire experience in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He's just a dick while he does it.