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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.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.