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Book Review: The Devil Onscreen – Author Charles P. Mitchell

by Charles P. Mitchell
Published by McFarland & Company
Publication Date: 2002
Format: Black /White – 344 pages
Price: $15.99

You don’t see hard cover releases as much these days. and that’s a shame. though with a film book dedicated to Mephistopheles a hard cover is well deserved. Unlike other horror books, this one concentrates solely on the inclusion of the “devil” on screen. So in retrospect that really means a variety of films than simply “just” the horror genre. While films such as “Angel heart” , “End of Days” and “Needful Things” are well into the horror portrayal of Satan, other ones such as “Bedazzled”, “Heaven can Wait” or “The Last Temptation of Christ” are not flat out thought in the sense of sitting down to wtach a good ol Satan film.

Horror fans might think this to be another “Exorcist” book, however that film isn’t even considered on the list of devil films. Confused? Well thats ok, the Author Charles P Mitchell does his best to sum up what this book will and wont include. And in fairness to the author this seems to be a good set of rules to keep the volume focused on his intentions. These include: first the devil must make a bonafide appearance and be played by a recognizable person. Second, it must be a feature length film. Third, the character depicted must reasonably be considered the actual “Devil” (this excludes demon possessions, cars possessed, devil dogs and well you get the idea). Fourth, skin flicks are not included (No “Devil IN Miss Jones” here) and lastly the film must still exist and be available to be seen by viewers (shucks no devil bootlegs here either)

So there you have it! Still with all these “musts” in place it still manages to span 300 pages, so you got yourself quite collection. Minor complaints? Well I would have liked to have a table of contents to flip to desired titles easier, and it would have been nice to have at least 1 picture per film. A picture gives you a better clue on titles that are unknown to the readers. There chapters are nicely organized and consumer driven. Included are performance notes and Notable Quotes. Also Charles included a rating system and alternate titles. I almost missed it but it does contain a small section on “Television Devils” and a very well thought out Index.

None the Less, I still find this a valuable read for lovers of the film genre. Many old films that deserve attention are mentioned here that might escape simple horror lovers radar. Perhaps a better description would be important ones. As a film like “Faust” featuring Elizabeth Taylor surely is a part of many repeated idea films that have come later. The devil as it seems, has shown up in many forms, shapes and sizes in his path to film appearances. Who can forget Pacino in “Devil’s Advocate”? or maybe a retro 70’s horror fare showing as in Ernest ‘s “Devil’s Rain”? or how about Harvey Keitel playing the devil in Adam Sandler’s “Little Nicky”? While these appearances have made-for-star-power to back them, my personal favorites were the showings that enveloped the evil nature of the devil. Usually these roles were played out in clever castings that seemed to just fit. Reggie Nalder in “The Devil and Miss Jones”, Jeff Goldblum as “Mr. Frost” and Viggo Mortensen in “The Prophecy” are personal favorite stand out performances. Good thing they were included!

Keep in mind, this volume which was printed in 2002 only covers the gamut of 1913 to 2000, so surely alot of films are left out on dating alone. His introduction seems pretty well knowledge and I’m glad to see that Dante’s Inferno was mentioned. “Crossroads” a fav of mine gets its due inclusion…but no mention of Steve Vai, the devils guitarist?? – shame on you. (OK well Jack Butler will have to suffice)

All in all, a fine book that I did enjoy! Not every devil title I could think of was included, but then enough to wet my appetite on film excursions to seek out. The book is well printed, and will last on your shelf for quite some time. It makes for a nice change from horror film books that are all -exclusive and represents a tighter study on the Devil in cinema for focused readers. I’d like to see this expanded into a future volume to take on more “devil rooted” films such as “Omen”, “Race with the Devil”, “Bless this Child”, Stigmata” and others!


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