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Could it be... Satan?

By Jesse Fox Mayshark

MARCH 9, 1998:  Ever notice that the devil shows up in popular entertainment much more often than God? This could be evidence of the depraved Hollywood secularism Bob Dole ranted about in '96. Or maybe filmmakers figure it's safer to fictionalize Satan than the Supreme Being—who's going to boycott your movie because you're unfair to Beelzebub? More likely, though, it's for the same reason lots of people read Dante's Inferno but few make it through Paradiso: Demons are exciting.

The devil and his disciples crop up in a couple of recent video releases. In The Devil's Advocate (1997, R), Al Pacino gets the role of his lifetime as the boss of a world-beating law firm who just happens to be able to make holy water boil with his fingers. When he lures small-town Southern lawyer Keanu Reeves to his New York headquarters, it's clear he has more on his mind than billable hours. Reeves is slightly less wooden than usual, although I don't know why they keep giving him roles with accents. (Couldn't he have been a small-town California lawyer?) The movie's pretty silly, not very scary, and filled with inconsistencies, but it has one redeeming quality: Pacino. He's obviously here to have a good time, and the film rewards him with one wild-eyed monologue after another. This isn't acting, exactly, but it's fun to watch, and it temporarily makes you forget the dopiness that surrounds him.

Event Horizon (1997, R) could use Pacino. Instead, this ridiculous (and ridiculously gory) sci-fi/horror gumbo has Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill, fine actors in the right roles but hardly the guys to lend watchability to hokum about demonic spaceships. The plot has to do with an experimental inter-dimensional craft that reappears after a seven-year absence, sending SOS signals filled with lots of screaming and (uh-oh) snatches of Latin. Neill, the scientist who designed the ship, accompanies a small, multicultural rescue squad sent to investigate. Is it possible the ship has been (ta da!) to hell and back? Will the crew members split up and wander into its dark corners alone even after they realize it's haunted? Will grotesque scenes of disembowelment, burning flesh, and bloody vomit make up for the lack of an intelligible story? What do you think?

Far more intriguing, if not exactly coherent, is Brimstone and Treacle (1982, R). The sexual psychodrama has Sting (back when he was interesting) as a drifter who cons his way into a middle-class home as the caretaker of a young, comatose woman. Written by the legendary Dennis Potter, the film is full of religious iconography and hints that the drifter may be acting on behalf of some dark power. Could it be...?


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