Part 4 – Angels and Demons in popular culture.
This final episode, a snapshot of angels and demons in popular culture, closes the series for now. We’ve looked at the good and the bad, so it’s only fair to give a mention to the hideously ugly. In popular culture, demons especially, tend to be presented in this way. They crop up in various forms, from creepy dolls to out-and-out gargoyle faces, as with The Exorcist’s Pazuzu, a demon originating from way back in Assyrian and Babylonian mythology. So to be fair, he always was ugly. Interestingly, though, compared to earlier bronzes of him, Pazuzu, typical of an ego-centric male, seems to have acquired a penis enlargement for the film role.
Pazuzu – The Exorcist (1973)
The Conjuring (2013) – Annabelle
Scary dolls, or inanimate objects occupied by demons, have soared in popularity since the rise of the Chucky franchise. Although some would argue that the clown doll in Spielberg’s Poltergeist was the real inspiration. If you’re a fan, check out this facebook group: Creepy Dolls & Paranormal Experience
But demon dolls are nothing new. Demonic ventriloquist dummies hog the limelight in films dating back to the 1940s. In 1962 The Twilight Zone featured an episode entitled “The Dummy”, followed in 1964 by “Caesar and Me”, and then, of course, sandwiched delectably between them came the biggest star of all, Talky Tina.
For the ten scariest demon dolls in film, see; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUhrZtoxJhI
The Devil himself, however, seems to have come a long way since the bad old scaly-faced, minotaur-horned depictions of old; images which never quite fitted Biblical descriptions of Lucifer anyway (Lucifer meaning “bringing light”). In Ezekiel, for instance, several verses relate to Satan’s beauty and perfection before iniquity was found in him.
In the last few decades especially, Satan is brushing up quite well, not beautiful exactly, more your uber-cool businessman, far more likely to be carrying a briefcase than a pitchfork. Some of my favourite Satanic characterisations are those by Robert De Niro in Angel Heart and Al Pacino in Devil’s Advocate.
Both roles were played with a level of vanity and arrogance befitting the Satan of the old scriptures.
So, that’s the dark side, but what about the good angels? How are they coming across in the media? The Prophesy (1995), starring Christopher Walken, has the Angel Gabriel pay a visit to earth in order to settle a dispute in heaven. If you dropped into this film mid-play, however, you might not realise that. You might in fact think you were watching another depiction of the Devil exhibiting his power on earth. But if we go back to part 2 of this series and recall the angels at Sodom and Gomorrah and what duties fell to them, The Prophesy just reminds us that, though angels may ultimately be on the side of good, they can be pretty forceful in how they pursue the course of righteousness.
In fact, more and more angel-based films, contrary to their nicer counterparts, such as the saviour of It’s a Wonderful Life and Brad Pitt’s sweetly depicted Joe Black, are becoming increasingly darker, dealing with the more apocalyptic issues of the day, as with the 2007 film Gabriel, an Australian horror film set in Purgatory, and Legion (2010) enacting the Holy War as predicted in Revelation. Gaming has become similarly obsessed with battles at the gates of Hell.
On a lighter note, the selling media like to portray angels as being of the female gender, for example falling for a Lynx saturated male; clearly a good sense of smell not being one of the things they’re blessed with.
So, what of the female gender? Are we ever angels? Well, of course, as with everything historical, we are underrepresented or associated, where there’s an element of power or sexuality, with evil. Female angels are just not there in the Biblical scriptures. Angels are invariably written as men. Passages in Isaiah, however, referring to Lilith, or Lilit, the so-called night monster, also sometimes interpreted as the Screech Owl or night bird, have captured the modern imagination. Her definition may shift through Hebrew translations, but the mythology of this glorious creature, also said in Hebrew Creation stories to be the first wife of Adam, has become an inspiration to modern day artists and crops up in a range of popular TV and film, for instance as the white-eyed demon in Lucifer Rising. She most likely originated in Assyrian mythology as Lilita, a sexually powerful demonic queen.
Lilita Lucifer Rising.
I play with these ideas in Melt, presenting its protagonist with the dilemma of something apparently angelic, but that also possesses the dangerous combination of beauty and power.
So, here’s a question: who’s winning, in terms of our continued fascination with angels and demons? Are you religious person or a member of one of the growing swathes of Satanic followers? Do you paint your angels bright white or deepest black?
Are you a gospel singer, or a member or follower of death metal or dark Gothic band?
I’ll close with a quote from Voltaire, who, on his deathbed, was prompted by a priest to renounce Satan.
His response went like this: “Now, now my good man, this is no time to be making enemies.”
Join me for the next post, which will be looking at historical vigilantes and their growing trend in popular culture.
COMING SOON – MELT, the novel: ‘Desecrating an ancient graveyard can unearth enough trouble to shake up the world.’
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