The Lucky 13: Week Three: Demons, Witches, and The Devil
by Brutal As Hell Staff
It’s week three of The Lucky 13 and things are getting heated up! Literally. This week we emerge from the eternal pit of damnation with some choice picks of our favorite demonic and devilish horror flicks. In case you’re not familiar with the The Lucky 13, this is our summer long collaboration with The Vault of Horror, where we’re spending some time going back and looking at some of our personal favorite horror films from thirteen pre-selected sub-genres of horror. In our first week we talked about grindhouse and exploitation films, followed up by week two where we waxed poetic on our favorite Monster flicks. Now we’re taking on the devil himself with a tribute straight from the pits of hell. Get out your holy water because here they come…
(Be sure to also check out The Vault of Horror for their picks this week!)
If you listen to what “the critics” have to say about The Ninth Gate then you’ll wonder what possessed me to include it in The Lucky 13. You might be even more shocked to think that of all the low down, dirty, shameless, sleazy, smutty, gore-soaked Satanic cinema that I have to choose from that I would pick this film, a film that rates only at 41% on RottenTomatoes, and at only 25% by “Top Critics”. Nonetheless, this is my hands-down favorite of them all. Damn the critics!
Don’t get me wrong. I get it. When one puts Satanism and Polanski in the same sentence you immediately think of Rosemary’s Baby, not The Ninth Gate. And folks, I LOVE Rosemary’s Baby. Like, might even want to stick it down my pants I love it so much. But there’s something about The Ninth Gate that has brought me back to watch it time and again. No kidding, I’ve seen it at least half a dozen times, which if you know me you’ll know that’s a fuck ton of times. Watching films repeatedly is just not something I get to do much. And that repeat attraction isn’t Johnny Depp. Ironically, for as much as I love this film, I’m not a fan of Depp, but he does well here almost downplaying his name brand status. Almost.
The film is soaked in atmosphere, surreal moodiness, and ancient evil curses brought to life with ritual and incantation. You can almost smell the musty odor of the old books coming off the screen. The physical settings in the film are stunning and the cinematography simply superb. Whether it’s cobble-stoned city streets or hidden mansions in the European countryside, Polanski exhibits his flair for eye-pleasing visuals. The gorgeous French actress Emmanuelle Seigner only adds to the breathtaking beauty of the film exuding a sinister presence of mystery, and imminent danger.
While the narrative story admittedly is lacking in quality, leaving parts unexplained, or too open-ended for a mainstream audience, it is more than made up for with a film that breathes pure evil. It’s certainly less horror than it is supernatural suspense, another point to which the film has drawn criticism, yet again – it adds to what I love about the film. Everything in The Ninth Gate is about mood, atmosphere and visual stimuli, all of which is complemented by a quiet but haunting score by composer Wojciech Kilar, a score that happens to be amongst my very favorite of all film. All of these elements coalesce together to create something that feels truly evil, as if when you’re holding the film in your hand you might just be holding the keys to Satan’s kingdom and when it comes to Satanic cinema I don’t think it gets much better than that.
Dario Argento’s 1977 cult classic Suspiria is, hands-down, my favorite film dealing with witches and the occult. I thought long and hard, and almost went with The Evil Dead (and I’m surprised none of my colleagues here did), but Argento’s semi-giallo film Suspiria will always win. I was introduced to Suspiria by one of my close friends when I was 16. I knew who Argento was, but I had never seen this haunting film.
The story follows Suzy Bannion (the beautiful Jessica Harper) as she accepts an invite to a prestigious ballet academy. Immediately upon arrival she sees a terrified girl running through the woods – a bad omen of things to come. Turns out this academy is run by a coven of witches whose primary objective is ultimate destruction. The first victim meets her demise in one of the most bloody sequences in film history, and it’s made that much more effective by Argento’s execution. What you see in your head is more terrifying than what you see on screen, and any director that can ignite your imagination this way is incredibly skilled. For years, I could swear to you that during this first murder scene, the victim’s entrails come out and splatter all over the ballroom floor. That doesn’t really happen, but this scene capitalizes on the intricacies of the murder that you don’t see. Don’t get me wrong: there is blood. Lots of blood. And no, the entire movie doesn’t use smoke and mirrors to trick your mind, but little flourishes like this are intriguing and truly ramp up the fear factor. Suspiria is the first in the Three Mothers trilogy, followed by 1980’s Inferno, and 27 years later…The Mother of Tears.
Adding to the haunting atmosphere is the fantastic score by Goblin – a twisted take on classical music, and utterly fitting to the story. Goblin’s score here is one of the most notable in horror film history.
But by far, the most striking thing about Suspiria is Argento’s rich use of color and almost surreal qualities – the hallmark of a giallo film. Suspiria was made after his prime giallo years, and he definitely doesn’t adhere to the giallo rules, but the inspiration and aesthetic is there. The use of bright, intense colors, especially in this time period, went against the typical format for horror films. Horror was to be more subdued, grainy, dirty, monochromatic. Argento and his fellow Italian directors challenged convention, and they were successful…in their time. I wouldn’t recommend watching Argento’s more recent works. The only ones I’ve found enjoyable were his Masters of Horror entries – Jenifer (based on a short story by Steven WINGS Weber!) and Pelts (starring Meatloaf!) His third and final entry in the Three Mothers trilogy, The Mother of Tears, is a terrible film. I’m not sure what happened to Argento in these later years, but he definitely lost it when he made this end to his trilogy. An ending he should have done 20 years ago.
Regardless of his recent shortcomings, Argento is one of the most influential and original directors, and Suspiria is, in my opinion, his best film. Atmospheric, beautiful, dark, moody, and surreal – Suspiria is an absolutely intoxicating film.
And if the works of Dario Argento don’t interest you, then I think we can all agree that his best creation was his gorgeous daughter, Asia Argento.
Witches, and devils, and demons. Oh my. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist the pun.)
It’s kind of weird. Never in a million years would I have ever said that this was my favorite horror sub-genre, but when I started sifting through films that I though might fit this category, I realized there are a ton of films that I absolutely loved. Obviously The Exorcist and The Omen, but then there’s The House of the Devil, Hellraiser, Hellraiser II, Demons, the severely underrated The Exorcist III, Drag Me to Hell…
Damn. This list could go on all day.
Honestly, though, this was the easiest category so far for me to pick a film in. What’s my favorite film about demons or satanism or witchcraft? Easy. It’s only arguably the most iconic horror film of the past few decades: The Blair Witch Project. Check out the video post below…
Dustin Hall on John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness
There are lots of good movies featuring Satan and his demonic host out there: The Gate, Night of the Demons (featuring a nifty ‘lipstick into a nipple’ effect), um, Rock n’ Roll Nightmare *ahem*. But when I want a dance with the devil, I always turn to John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness.
First off, this movie scores some cool-points for being part of JC’s Apocalypse Trilogy. It follows The Thing and precedes In the Mouth of Madness as a series of unrelated stories that all culminate in nothing short of the end of mankind. As if that wasn’t enough, it features a cameo of Alice Cooper as a stab-happy bum, and uses the same church set as Dolph Lundgren’s Showdown in Little Tokyo. Tell me you aren’t already sold on this. I will punch you.
The story revolves around a group of grad-students (real-world aged, and not a bunch of WB rejects!) from different fields of expertise, trying to help Father Loomis (Donald Pleasence, with a wink to his Halloween character) identify a strange chemical discovered in the basement of an abandoned church. Unfortunately for them, the chemical is pure liquid Anti-Christ, and it’s been waiting to force itself down the unsuspecting throat-holes of a gaggle of grads for centuries. As the students are each possessed, they turn on their peers, and soon the sane students are outnumbered by satanic homunculus. It all culminates in the revelation of Satan’s true father, the Anti-God, and his mirror world prison, as well as the terrible sacrifice needed to keep him on the other side.
This flick features all of the customary Carpenter cheese: home-brew soundtrack, bad one-liners, and some really bizarre action-y sequences. Carpenter faves Pleasence, Victor Wong, and Donald Dun (both those guys of Big Trouble in Little China) appear. Plus it just has all the low-budget, cool weirdness that Carpenter and his visionary imagination always bring to the screen.
Beyond all of that though, is the really interesting and layered nature of the story. There’s some very interesting and unique twists to a typical devil/zombie kind of flick, here. The story plays around with elements of physics, mirror-universe theology with a side of anti-matter dashed in there, and even time-traveling messages riding tachyon pulses invading our dreams. Any crazy-assed science element you could think of is probably represented here, but to great effect. The nightmarish broadcasts from the future are really simple and haunting images, and they really come together at the end to make one of the most fantastic jump-scares of all time. OF ALL TIME! You’ll wet yourself. I’m serious.
The film has never disappointed, either watching on my own, or with a group of popcorn munching friends. A few real scares, a few real laughs, and more than a few WTF moments. Prince of Darkness, I kneel to thee.
I must confess, this week’s subgenre gave me some difficulty. This movie came immediately to mind, yet it’s debatable as to whether it really fits in this category. There are no demons, nor any devil worship on show; we might not necessarily class the pagan community of Summerisle as witches either. Hell, it’s also highly open to debate as to whether this movie even belongs to the horror genre. But this sense of ambiguity and mystery, and this openness to interpretation is so key to the enduring appeal of The Wicker Man. Diabolic or not, there’s a definite mysticism about it. (Be warned – spoilers ahead.)
If my memory is correct I first saw The Wicker Man in 2003, on a chilly autumn morning. Appropriate enough as, despite the story being set around the May Day festivities, it was shot in the autumn. Almost immediately, I was spellbound. Even before we get to the story, there’s a hypnotic beauty about it all: the picturesque highland scenery; the haunting folk rock soundtrack. (That Neil LaBute openly mocked the original’s music in interviews should have been the first sign of what his remake became – let us say no more on that subject here.) Then as Edward Woodward’s Sgt. Howie sets about finding the missing child, and is met at every turn by not only subterfuge but also religious customs and philosophies that fly in the face of all he holds sacred… even after numerous subsequent repeat viewings, I can’t help but be engrossed.
And it’s always equally fascinating to see how different people react to the film. Those with strongly held belief systems rooted in that book by Mr. Gideon may find the activities of the people of Summerisle blasphemous, offensive and barbaric, while those of a more Richard Dawkins-ish persausion may dismiss both the islanders and Howie as equally insane. As for heartfelt fundamentalist agnostics such as myself – well, personally I can’t help thinking how nice life on Summerisle seems. Everybody gets along, they’re always bursting into song, the girls get naked in public by day and everyone fucks in the field by night. Doesn’t that seem like a nice way to live? And if it requires the occasional human sacrifice, could it perhaps be worth it…?
Also, I must emphasise that the first version of The Wicker Man I saw was the director’s cut, and this is by far my preferred version of the movie. It’s unfortunate they weren’t appealed to improve the sound and picture quality of the re-inserted footage, but this is a minor impediment. Aside from the additional scenes, the director’s cut is so much more effective due to the placing of one key scene: Willow’s song. In the original cut, it comes in the first act; sure, it’s still an effective sequence, but it makes so much more sense and carries so much more power in the director’s cut, wherein it concludes the second act. Here, with Howie having been on the island for two days, come to learn the extent of their practices and been sickened to his guts by it all – for him to have seen all that, yet still found that, despite himself, he is tempted… brilliant.
Whether it’s a witch movie or not – whether it’s really a horror movie or not – I definitely regard The Wicker Man one of the finest films Britain has ever produced, and consider it a crying shame that director Robin Hardy has done almost nothing since. It’s not surprising, then, that I have mixed feelings about the upcoming Wicker Tree, what Hardy calls a “spiritual sequel” to his original masterpiece, due later this year. But I’ll do my best to allay those fanboy anxieties about how it can’t ever compare, will only serve to sully the original, yadayada. After all, as we have seen, The Wicker Man stands testament to the fact that no sequel or remake, no matter how bad, can hurt the original. (Oh shit, I said I wouldn’t bring up the remake again. Well, sue me.)
It happens to the best of us: we fall in love with a handsome guy and at the first opportunity, he slips you a mickey and peddles your ass to the devil for a profit. And people wonder why I refuse to get married.
People also wonder why I always say “Rosemary’s Baby” when asked what my favorite comedy is. Oh sure, watching Mia Farrow get stripped and spread-eagled on an altar and ridden by a crusty demon until her ribcage pleads for mercy is no picnic, but the rest of the movie? Total high camp. It’s all a crude joke that everyone – cast and audience alike – are in on…except for innocent little Rosemary who is still so prim and proper that she makes fun of the garish copy of Jokes-For-The-John that the Castavets keep in their crapper, not realizing that she IS a joke for the John by that point. “Hey, didja hear the one about Rosemary? Got fucked by Satan and thought it was her husband. Hardy fuckin’ har!” Even said husband is flippant the following morning, how can we not be too?
Apparently unaware of the fact that he could alter the story if he so wished, Roman Polanski stayed so absolutely true to the original story by Ira Levin that it was almost pointless. Ira Levin’s story – along with The Stepford Wives – was pure black humor, their terrifying climaxes anticlimaxing themselves with sick jokes. For Stepford, it was bigger boobies for Katharine Ross. For Rosemary, it’s a horned baby with his father’s eyes. Next time you watch Rosemary’s Baby, watch for the scene towards the end where the Satanists are exaggeratedly tiptoeing through the apartment, or the shot where frumpy Laura-Louise childishly sticks her tongue out at Rosemary, and tell me I’m wrong.
That’s not to say there aren’t any moments of pure horror to be found. The setting alone is bone-chilling. Has there ever been a more unnerving and intimidating structure than the Dakota apartment building on Central Park West? All German Renaissance and gargoyles and Strawberry Fields Forever. It’s a monument to death, and seems like the ideal place for all of them witches to gather and conduct their obscene rituals over some whiskey sours. And if the witches themselves weren’t the absolute epitome of white trash, slovenly, Wal-Mart shoppers, this film would be a lot more scary. But that’s the point! These aren’t intimidating, elegantly cool sophisticates with jade cigarette holders and a permanent table at Dorsia – they’re us, they’re the obnoxious relatives whose smelly couches we sit on and whose pork rinds we eat and whose second-hand cigarette smoke (most likely Pall-Malls) we inhale.
And THAT is precisely what makes this scariest of all.