For centuries The Devil has been prodding his pitchfork into the creative impulse. He served as muse for classical composers Paganini and Liszt; modeled for Bosch and Goya; became literary folly for Dante, Milton and Goethe; and has graced the stages of innumerable plays and opera houses. When removed from The Bible’s references, the Fallen Angel continually fuels not the fires of hell, but of our imaginations.
If film is the folklore of our generation, then Old Scratch has one feverish foothold. In horror films, Satan (when treated seriously) often represents the hidden or the unknown; the individual versus the masses; a form of personal liberation or transformation; one who threatens the status quo; or a way to explore the real monsters that walk among us.
For the purposes of this list, I channel the forces of darkness to evoke the ten most compelling agents of The Antichrist.
10. Horace Bones from I Drink Your Blood (1971)
“Let it be known that Satan was an acid-head!” exclaims our hellish hippie as he leads his cult in blasphemous sex, drug and sacrificial orgies which disrupt a small town. After terrorizing the locals for a spell, a young boy finally offers salvation in the form of rabies-infected meat pies. Bhaskar’s charismatic turn as Bones is a wonder to behold as he chews his scenes with menacing glee. The absurd nature of the story exhibits wit and charm, and plenty of room for excessive violence, making I Drink Your Blood one fiendish freak-out.
9. John Corbis from The Devil’s Rain (1975)
Academy award winner Ernest Borgnine uses his imposing eyebrows to best advantage as a warlock intent on retrieving an ancient grimoire, in this camp classic. He preaches the wicked word with gusto, turns into a goat-being, and eventually becomes Satanic sludge in what would be coined “the most incredible ending of any motion picture ever made.” As if. With sketchy performances from the supporting cast (including William Shatner and a young John Travolta), this is more of a drizzle in drive-in devilry.
8. Dr. Julian Karswell from Night Of The Demon (1956)
Ok, now we’re getting serious. The Antichrist of the Atom Age was a trivial affair aside from one notable exception. Director Jacques Tourneur’s conceit in this thriller is simple; a scoffing scientist (Dana Andrews) must acknowledge the powers of the supernatural to circumvent a curse placed upon him. Niall McGinnis is superb as cult leader Karswell, who’s both menacing and humanistic in equal measure. This naturalism gives it an intelligence and depth that most of these damnable ditties lack. It’s ironic that the demon raised in the film remains its most iconic image considering Tourneur vehemently protested its inclusion to producers.
7. Angel Blake from Blood On Satan’s Claw (1970)
Hands down, the most comely of our cretin. Linda Hayden stars as the inappropriately named Angel, who is anything but. She steals the excavated carcass of the Devil and forms a coven, leading the village youth to rape and murder in Satanic rebellion. Hayden swelters in her sexually charged portrayal, making the most of her unique presence as the villainess vamp. As fantastic as the story sounds, my suspension of disbelief only dips when a Priest resists Angel’s fully nude advances. This Tigon classic is a real creeper; it manages to beat Hammer at its own similar games of witchery. Skin and sin, I’m in.
6. Father Rayner from To The Devil A Daughter (1976)
Christopher Lee bedevils us as an excommunicated priest who waxes demonically, slices a baby’s throat, and beguiles a nubile Nastassja Kinski in this deviant offering. Kinski will serve as a willing vessel for the Baby Beelz, if the fallen Father gets his way. Good predictably triumphs over evil, however, in the unfortunate headache of an ending. Lee would also spread unholy gospel in the stellar Horror Hotel (1960); and the uneven The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1973). If you didn’t know Lee would pop up on this list, then there’s just no saving your soul.