Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Milton's Satan as Horror Movie Icon...rough ideas

It appears as though the modern world is horrified by many things; demons, possession, ghosts, mass murderers, satanic cults, witches, zombies and serial killers but not the devil. If you take a look at horror movies from the last thirty years, all of the above feature heavily in the storylines, but Satan is very hard to find. Of movies that do reference Satan, the movies tend to fall into a couple of categories; ones where Satan either works through proxies or is an invisible force such as Spawn, The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, Prince of Darkness and Devil. Then there are the movies that feature the Anti-Christ, not to be confused with Satan, such as The Omen movies and the recent reboot. Then there are the movies that either feature lesser devils or have a humorous bent such as Bedazzled (both versions), Damn Yankees, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, Little Nicky and Heaven Can Wait. 

However, for my purposes, I am interested in examining films that feature an original portrayal of Satan as a character such as The Prophecy, Constantine, Angel Heart, The Witches of Eastwick, Mister Frost and The Devil's Advocate. However, closer examination of these movies reveals that all of these characterizations have their basis in Milton's characterization of Satan from Paradise Lost. Each of these portrayals alternately reference the war in heaven, Satan's human tendencies of pride and jealousy, his use of rhetoric, his interference with, and manipulation of, man.

It is telling that each of these movies is not primarily listed as horror. Instead, if you search, they are alternately listed as thrillers, mysteries or fantasy, with horror occasionally listed, but by no means prominent. Perhaps this suggests that the modern world no longer views Satan as a horror. As Mister Frost suggests, scientific rationales seems to have replaced the devil in man's mind. Modern horror films focus on people more than anything else, and how they deal with superhuman, but recognizable threats. It is of interest though, that when Satan is present, his characterization is that of Milton; he is a fallen angel standing in opposition to Heaven, he is a liar, able to confuse and manipulate the men around him, he is capable of great power, yet also can be thwarted (or can he?) by the free will of man. Satan, as Milton first portrayed him, is still a compelling character, even if, or perhaps because, film portrayals of him stand a little outside of the norm.

This paper will examine these movies in pairs, according to their function: The Prophecy and Constantine for the Miltonic portrayal of Lucifer as a fallen angel who stands in opposition to heavenly host, in both represented by the character of Gabriel, Mister Frost and The Devil's Advocate for their use of rhetoric, and Angel Heart and The Witches of Eastwick for their manipulative characteristics. While each of these films focus on different aspects of Satan, each is recognizable as having their roots in Milton's creation.
In both The Prophecy and Constantine, Lucifer appears late in the movie, 1:40 in Constantine and 1:14 in The Prohpecy. Both appear as a result of Gabriel's suspect behavior, casting doubt on the idea that the angels in heaven are always right. Both try to manipulate the main characters of Daggett and Constantine, only to be thwarted by the characters' free will- Daggett when he refuses to go with Lucifer, and Constantine when he choose to sacrifice his life for Angela Dodson's sister's soul. Both are self serving; in The Prophecy Lucifer is concerned that Gabriel's actions will make Earth a hell, hence encroaching on Lucifer's territory, "Two Hells is one Hell too many", while in Constantine, Lucifer  is tricked by Constantine in foiling Gabriel's plans to bring the Anti-Christ to Earth, making it a hell to test the potential good of man. In both, the foil of Gabriel is motivated by jealousy, both Walken's character in The Prophecy and Swinton's in Constantine are jealous of God's love of man and their capability for free will.
In both Mister Frost and The Devil's Advocate, the characters of Satan are seen as great manipulations, whose rhetoric is the tool they use to corrupt man. In Mister Frost, Jeff Goldblum as the devil seeks to regain his power from science. He says that modern man longer "believe in God or me" and that he is there because the scientists have messed things up. That he "must reveal to the world your [scientists] incompetence". By forcing a psychiatrist, Sarah Day, a representative of the scientific world, to believe in him, and believe that he must be destroyed/killed, Frost gains back the power science had stolen from him.  He states that "he's back because he made her believe in him".
Scholars have examined the connection between The Devil's Advocate and Paradise Lost before due to Pacino's character being named John Milton. However, this scholarship looks at the surface connections, and fails to examine how this character is a modern portrayal of Milton's Satan.

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