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Review by
Scott Nicholson
by Charles P. Mitchell
McFarland Publishers
344 pp. HC
ISBN 0-7864-1049-3

The Devil is many things to many people, but there’s no denying the lurid lure of His everlasting appeal, at least as far as Hollywood is concerned. Special-interest publisher McFarland Publishers has released THE DEVIL ONSCREEN, which takes a leer at the way Satan has been portrayed in the movies since 1913.

The devil has assumed many shapes and forms, in horror, comedy, fantasy, and even musical, and many actors have donned the horns and pointy tale for the role. And it seems that the role is one to die for, if not surrender one’s soul, considering the A-list of stars
who have stepped into those cloven shoes. A roster of those playing the guy in red includes the not-so-surprising, such as Vincent Price, Jack Nicholson, Ernest Borgnine, Robert De Niro, Lon Chaney, Gabriel Byrne, and Donald Pleasance, as well as the surprising: Susan Lucci, Danny Elfman, Mickey Rooney, Telly Savalas, Richard Burton, John Ritter, George Burns, and Elizabeth Hurley. The book examines both popular and obscure films, rates them for quality, lists the complete cast for each film, and offers a synopsis.
The performance of each “devil” is also analyzed.

Among the best features of the book are the notable quotes of each movie, such as this gem from LISA AND THE DEVIL spoken by the Savalas version of Old Nick: “What does tradition mean to a poor Devil like me? More work and fatigue.”

Or how about this quip in THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE (the 1942 version, not the 1997 Al Pacino / Keanu Reeves movie)? Adolf Hitler, displaying his prowess in painting, says to the Devil, “I can change hands without missing a stroke.”

Then there’s the merely stupid, as when Jesse Ventura says to devilish Linda Blair in the widely-panned 1990 film REPOSSESSED: “Satan, you’ve got him on the run. What move are you going to use next?”

And, of course, there’s this Max von Sydow classic in Stephen King’s NEEDFUL THINGS, in response to a reference to Jesus: “The young carpenter from Nazareth? I knew him well, a promising young man. He died badly.”

Burgess Meredith* stepped to the plate twice as the boogiest of men, in TORTURE GARDEN and one of my favorites, THE SENTINEL. De Niro has also played the role at least twice (ANGEL HEART).

The part has been split into male/female in the same movie, and sometimes into multi-generational roles, because apparently Lucifer occasionally desires an offspring. Though Mia Farrow in ROSEMARY'S BABY instantly springs to mind when thinking of hellish reproduction, that film is not included in the book because the Horned One appears only in cameo as a set of yellow eyes, therefore not meeting the author’s criteria of a “bona fide” screen appearance. And to think the Devil didn’t get his due, or at least the Screen Actor’s Guild minimum for a speaking part, in that classic. Perhaps He needs a better agent.

The book also features an appendix listing of cult, short, or indie films that feature the Devil, as well as a brief look at some of the small screen’s most notable Lucifers.
Author Charles P. Mitchell, a librarian and film buff, wrote of the Devil in the introduction, “He is depicted in an astonishing range of guises from the all-powerful and unconquerable agent of evil, the supervillian of all supervillians, to a reluctant component of God’s divine plan forced to perform His dirty work. He can be terrifying or beguiling, charming or revolting, a comic stereotype or a symbol of repugnance, a despicable sadist or an honorable tragic hero.”

Mitchell has written for a number of major film magazines and in 2000 co-authored SCREAM SIRENS SCREAM.

The book is a pricy $49.95 in hardcover, limiting its appeal mostly to the serious film fan or scholar. But THE DEVIL ONSCREEN is a much sounder purchase than five cheesy pre-owned horror videotapes. Better yet, tempt your local library into ordering it.

Five bookwyrms for serious movie buffs, four for everyone else.

This review copyright 2003 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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Burgess Meredith actually stepped up to the plate three times. He played the devil (One Mr. Smith) in episode #4.9 of the original
The Twilight Zone.
The title was called, aptly enough, PRINTER'S DEVIL.





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