Speak of the Devil: The Many Faces of Cinematic Satanism

Speak of the Devil: The Many Faces of Cinematic Satanism (photo)

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The Bible says that Satan “masquerades as an angel of light. In popular culture, we tend to think of him as a big red dude with horns and a pitchfork, or as a talking snake, or as Al Pacino in an Armani suit. The devil, in other words, comes in many different forms. And his followers come in just as many. Unlike a lot of other horror movie staples, there’s no visual archetype for satanists. We recognize a vampire when we see his fangs and a zombie by the rotting flesh, but a Satan-worshipper? Tougher to spot.

In the new indie horror film “The House of the Devil,” an unknowing teenager looking to make some quick cash is lured into a babysitting job by a crew of weirdos who are ultimately revealed to be devil worshippers (not a spoiler, folks, look at the title). This particular coven of satanists are a bunch of suburban eccentrics, living in their creepy old house, speaking quietly and persuasively.

If the movie makes you worry about satanists (and I’m talking murderous cinematic satanists, not contemporary religious ones) lurking amongst us in society, I have bad news for you: according to the movies, they really are everywhere, and they’re awfully hard to spot until they’re using your body for a piñata. As a public service to help people identify blood-drinking devil worshippers in a more timely fashion, here’s a list of just a few of the different ways satanists have appeared onscreen.

10302009_SeventhVictim.jpgAs Refined Greenwich Village Socialites
In Mark Robson’s “The 7th Victim” (1943)

The few tried-and-true hallmarks of movie satanists — unholy rituals, chanting, drinking blood, sadistic brutality against non-believers — are almost completely absent in this film from famed horror producer Val Lewton. A young girl at boarding school named Mary (Kim Hunter) learns her sister has stopped paying her tuition, and heads to New York City to figure out why. Mary can’t find her sister, but the trail of breadcrumbs eventually leads to a group called The Palladists, a cult that’s a study in contradictions: they worship Satan, but preach non-violence. They hang out in Greenwich Village, but they’re all well-dressed, middle-aged urbanites. Eventually, they do get their hands on Mary’s sister, but they don’t sacrifice her; they sit her down at a table with a cup of poison and peer-pressure her into drinking it.

Clearly, what we have here are some satanists with their hands tied by the strict morality and violence guidelines of the Hays Production Code. Unless you find the idea of sharply dressed white people alarming, this is not a particularly horrifying bunch, though director Mark Robson does use the Palladists’ beliefs as the basis for one terrific shot. Fearing Mary is getting too close to the truth, the cult sends one of their members to intimidate her, which she does while Mary is taking a shower. We never see the cultist’s face, just a shadow on the shower curtain, one that bears an unmistakably devilish shape.

10302009_RosemarysBaby.jpgAs Nosy Neighbors
In Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968)

Since satanic cults worship the devil, and the devil is the embodiment of evil, films about satanists force us to consider what the embodiment of evil looks like. In the case of “Rosemary’s Baby,” evil is personified by the old couple across the hall who are incapable of minding their own business. Young marrieds Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse (John Cassavetes and Mia Farrow) think they’ve found the perfect New York apartment: big, cheap and in a great location. There’s just one problem: nosy neighbors Minnie and Roman Castevet (Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer), who are constantly sticking their noses where they don’t belong.

When Rosemary gets pregnant, they insist she use the obstetrician they recommend; when Rosemary wants to take pre-natal vitamins, Minnie forces her to drink a daily herbal smoothie. And sure, they seem to mean well, but they become so controlling Rosemary starts to wonder; why do they care so much? Could it be… Satan? As in “The 7th Victim,” the satanic cult’s membership is predominantly older, white, and upper class, though this particular organization is larger and more conspiratorial, with bigger goals and more powerful means at their disposal. It’s particularly upsetting how easily — and how quickly — they are able to turn husband against wife with promises of undeserved career success, and how no one around Rosemary notices the sad fates that befall anyone who gets curious about the Castevets. If only good people were as nosy as Roman and Minnie.

10302009_IDrinkYourBlood.jpgAs Rabid Hippies
In David E. Durston’s “I Drink Your Blood” (1970)

“Let it be known, sons and daughters, that Satan was an acid head!” says Horace Bones (Bhaskar), the leader of a band of hippie Lucifer lovers. True to his confused but sincerely held beliefs, Bones and the rest of his motley crew — including a pregnant girl in an obvious wig, a mute teenager, and a middle-aged Asian woman — drop acid, freak out, and sacrifice farm animals to their dark, tie-dyed lord. Bones and his gang don’t murder people so much as they just rough them up, probably because they’re too high to know the difference. One of their victims is a teenage girl who witnesses one of their rituals; when her younger brother finds out what they did to her, he retaliates by feeding the hippies a batch of meat pies poisoned with rabid dog blood. Soon, they’re all foaming at the mouth and running amok through the town, killing some of the people they encounter and sickening the rest with rabies. “I Drink Your Blood” is low-rent grindhouse cinema, with dialogue and acting as laughable as you’d expect — not to mention a story that requires a ten-year-old boy to draw a syringe full of blood from a dead dog and then inject it unnoticed into a dozen meat pies — but the idea of satanism as an infection spread from one confused young person to the next is a perfectly paranoid metaphor for the early 1970s, when folks were scared shitless of crazy hippies thanks to Charles Manson and his deranged Family.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.