Speak of The Devil


Nothing fancy today.  Just a round-up of horror films with "Devil" in the title.  One or two even have a devil in the movie!

The Devils - 1971
Written & Directed by Ken Russell
from the Play by John Whiting
from the Book by Aldous Huxley

Set in a highly stylized medieval France, The Devils tells the tale of Father Grandier (Oliver Reed at his absolute Oliver Reediest), a highly popular -- and rebellious -- priest who refuses to play but the the Cardinal or the King's rules.  He stands for the protection and independence of Loudon, and if he just happens to fall in love and get married, well that's nobody's business but his own.  It's also the tale of Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave), a nun with a spine as twisted as her heart.  She has a severe star-crush on the beloved Father, and learning that he would fall for a woman other than her, conspires to give the Cardinal and the King exactly the kind of damning accusations that it would take to bring him down.  He's accused of witchcraft, and the Sister and her sisters play the role of the possessed, plunging Loudon into mayhem.  So it's a little bit The Crucible, a little bit The Thornbirds, a little bit Joan of Arc, and a whole lot of LSD.

Oh yeah, don't mistake this for some stuffy historical drama.  This is a super stylish, very trippy melodramatic eye-orgy from Ken Russell of "Tommy" fame.  The scenery has to be strong because the actors are falling all over each other to chew on it.  Redgrave is like a snake.  The King looks like he fronts of T Rex on the weekends.  The witch hunter looks like a punk/wave villain out of a movie at least 15 years more recent.  And Oliver Reed, well, he makes the case and then rules in his own favor for the notion of a big fella as a sexy bad-ass.

The House of The Devil - 2009
Written & Directed by Ti West

In The House of The Devil, writer/director Ti West pays obsessively faithful homage to the low-budget horror of the late 70s and early 80s.  So faithful, in fact, that not only is it set in the time frame and based in the ridiculous fear of satanic cults of the era, with appropriate titles & credits and synthesizer-heavy soundtrack, but he actually had it released on VHS in addition to today's preferred formats.  Unfortunately, as much as I enjoy all this attention to detail, I would have rather had him develop the story a little bit more.  True to the retro vibe, it's about a college student who responds to campus bulletin-board posting for a babysitter which eventually -- very eventually -- turns out badly.  West was behind the creepingly-but-evenly paced horror of 2011's The Innkeepers which worked because it continued to build the tension in both the characters and the audience.  Here, however, we spend most of the movie just watching a snoopy babysitter poke around a big ol' house.  There are two very brief scenes where WE are let in on some obvious causes for concern, but the character isn't, which means she doesn't get to share her fear with us until the last 15-20 minutes or so when things finally ...go to Hell.

Devil - 2010
Written by Brian Nelson; Story by M .Night Shyamalan
Directed by John Erick Dowdle

Five strangers are trapped in an elevator.  One of them is the Devil.  They confront each other and eventually themselves as they grapple with the causes and outcome of their deadly predicament.  Meanwhile, a police detective with a past of his own investigates an apparent jumping suicide in the same building, and its connection to the seemingly unfixable elevator.  It's all meant to create a powerful sense of paranoid tension.  Or it would if it was more cleverly crafted.  The identity of the Devil was telegraphed before anyone even got on the elevator, which really deflated the sense of mystery for me, despite the many red herrings fed to us along the way.  There was enough freshness to the concept to keep in interesting, if not as engaging as it meant to be.  Now me personally, I would hope that the Devil had bigger fish to fry -- if indeed there were such an entity and not just humans acting human.

The Devil's Backbone - 2001
Written by David Munoz, Antonio Trashorras & del Toro
Directed by Guillermo del Toro

I had to watch The Devil's Backbone a second time to figure out why it hadn't quite worked for me the first time around.  So much of it had worked for me, but in the end I felt disappointed by the story.  I now realize that this was because it wasn't exactly a ghost story.  It's a people story, with a ghost in it.  That's not what we're used to, and it threw my expectations out of whack the first time around.

Set in an orphanage in the middle of nowhere (the Spanish nowhere, anyway) amid the Spanish Civil War, a young boy, Carlos, is dumped in an orphanage that takes in the children of Leftists and supports the cause with a secret stash of gold bars.  Despite the gold, which they cannot spend themselves, times are hard for them and resources scarce.  As a constant reminder of the environment, an unexploded bomb stands in the middle of the courtyard.  Soon after his arrival, Carlos encounters the ghost of another boy, and the mystery of his identity becomes something of a fixation.

Ordinarily, one would expect the story to center on Carlos and the ghost, or the ghost and his relationship to the other boys who knew him, and that is certainly here.  Particularly as an American, I'm to blame for not knowing much about the Spanish Civil War or caring about how it applies to the story, other than as a bit of background ephemera, but it is woven tightly into the subsequent goings-on and informs the ideology of the adult characters involved.  No, rather than being Carlos' story, or the ghost's, or even the boys', it's the story of the ghost's killer, who initially seems to be nothing more than a peripheral character, and that's why I missed so much of it in my first viewing.  It, ultimately, tells the killer's whole life story, through connections to all of the other things that make up this haunting and thoughtful film.  I'm still on the fence whether I consider it a good ghost movie, but I am unreserved about considering it an incredible movie, period.

The Devil's Rejects - 2005
Written & Directed by Rob Zombie

The Devil's Rejects is technically the sequel to Rob Zombie's much more divisively reviewed House of 1000 Corpses, but it hardly matters.  Despite the obvious character differences, it could just as easily be viewed as a sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or any number of grindhouse goregasms of the late 70s.  The film opens with a police raid on the home of the Firefly family who fill the role of the mass-murdering backwoods psychopaths here.  Seems they murdered the sheriff's brother in the previous film, so, you know, it's personal.  Again, the sheriff could just as easily be Dennis Hopper from Texas Chainsaw 2, or any cop taking a personal interest in a prompt follow-up sequel.  Given the illogiic of the introductory narrative of TCM2 (Really? There were NO signs of them?), Devil's Rejects seems a much more practical sequel.  To further fill out the homage to Texas Chainsaw, there's even a completely gratuitous callback to the hitchhiker getting smeared by an 18-wheeler; this time with more lurid and believable results.

Following the seemingly all-too-easy escape of Baby and Otis, they're joined by Captain Spaulding and go on a road trip to flee the police... leaving a trail of bloody footprints behind them.  It really kind of beggars imagination how they get away with as much as they do.  They're not remotely smart, and except for Baby, bear no charm whatsoever.  They look like something fished out of the shower drain and it seems like people should be able to smell the threat of them before they even round the corner.  Meanwhile, Sheriff Wydell crosses over to the dark side in his quest for vengeance.

Okay, so it's pretty stupid if you think about it, but this isn't the kind of movie you're supposed to think about.  Like the rickety old rollercoaster in a condemned amusement park, you just strap in and ride that crazy train ...to Hell.

I Saw The Devil - 2010
Written by Hoon-jung Park
Directed by Kim Jee-woon

The Devil's Rejects' Sheriff Wydell ain't got shit on Agent Kim Soo-hyeon!  I Saw The Devil is a two hour and twenty-three minute meditation on Nietzsche's line "One should take care when fighting monsters lest he himself become a monster."

When a fairly prolific rapist/serial killer/probable cannibal kills his fiancee, a South Korean intelligence agent vows to pay him back in kind.  And brother, he ain't kidding.  Thanks to his connections, he has four suspects from previous, similar cases, and wastes no time working his way down the list, brutalizing and torturing the first two suspects until they turn themselves in for the things they did do.  But once he picks up the trail of Kyung-hul, the hunt is on.  Now, ordinarily you'd expect your regular game of cat-and-mouse where he doesn't catch the killer until the end, so I was pretty started when he interrupted him mid-rape about a third of the way into the film and beat him to a bloody pulp.  What could possibly be left, I wondered.  If I was startled then, I was downright shocked when he let the killer go, leaving him to wake up in an open grave with an envelope of money on his chest and a tracking device in his stomach.

Kim tracks and stalks Kyung-hul, interrupting his crimes -- well, some of his crimes -- and letting his fists give voice to his complaint.  That is, until the killer gets wise and the tables turn once again.

I Saw The Devil is a BRUTAL revenge movie, but it also takes an equally harsh look at the price of that revenge.  It's arguably more savage than Rejects, yet infinitely more intelligent, emotional and mature... but, you know, without sacrificing the OMG moments.  In fact, it gives them more impact.  If I had one complaint, it would be the unintentionally implied frequency of of roving murderers in South Korean society.  In reflection of Nietzsche's caution that "when you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you," I Saw The Devil ends with the uncertainty of exactly who was the Devil in this scenario.

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