This week sees Tom Hanks return to the role of author Dan Brown’s most famous son, Robert Langdon, as the box-office hit Angels & Demons arrives on Blu-ray and DVD. While Langdon does battle with scheming Illuminati, ponderous popes and parachuting pontiffs, we celebrate with our list of the most angelic and devilish heroes of cinema…
It’s in the trees, it’s coming! Jacques Tourneur’s 1957 classic (originally known as Night of the Demon) is a master class in tension, suspense and subtlety. Or at least it was until American producers added a giant demon to spice up the film’s chills. Based on M. R. James’ The Casting of the Runes, the plot has Karswell, an evil magician, mark his victims for death by passing a cursed note secretly upon their person. That night, in a maelstrom of fire and smoke, the demon appears and stomps his chosen victim to death. The director might have hated the horned addition but the beastly image became a classic of horror cinema.
He may file down his horns to disguise his true identity but there is no mistaking the origins of ‘Big Red.’ Hellboy, the Babe Ruth-chomping, cigar -toting, wise-cracking behemoth summoned from the bowels of Hell by the Nazi’s in World War II is now a monster-smashing government agent. Ron Perlman vividly brings Mike Mignola’s comic book artistry to life from under layers of Rick Baker’s make up. Guillermo del Toro directs with style and panache, populating the alternate reality with a myriad of devils, demons and knife wielding Nazi robots.
Clive Barker’s Hellraiser introduced the world to Pinhead, the leader of the Cenobites, a group of demons summoned by careful manipulation of a puzzle box called The Lament Configuration. The S&M horror poster boy, Pinhead (played by Doug Bradley) used to be a mere mortal himself but, in his search for the ultimate in sexual pleasure. was banished to Hell — only to appear when a like-minded soul wants to push the boundaries of their own erotic experiences. Pleasure and bloody pain are his calling card; anyone who beckons the Cenobites must pay the penalty with their soul.
All eyes were on Ridley Scott to see what he would produce after Blade Runner. Few could have guessed Legend, a big budget fantasy set in a mythical world where Darkness, a demon, is threatening to pitch the entire world into shadows forever — with all that lies between evil’s descent being the tiny figure of Tom Cruise. Frank ‘N’ Furter himself Tim Curry takes the role of Darkness, covered head to foot in an astonishing prosthetic job by Rob Bottin. His entrance, as he slowly emerges from within a mirror from the hooves upwards, is breathtaking — and one of Scott’s most audacious visions.
Why have one demon when you can have a cinema full? Produced by Dario Argento and directed by Lamberto Bava (son of Mario), Demons is a delirious, ’80s gore fest that pits our heroes against a picture house full of flesh-eating demons. The evil contagion is passed on through putrid puss and, once infected, it’s not long before almost every member of the audience is hungry for something more substantial than a choc top. With garish Italian high fashions, a pounding soundtrack by Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti, a demon erupting from its victims back and a finale involving a random helicopter falling through the cinema roof, what more could you want?
Colombo with wings! Yes, Peter Falk plays himself in director Wim Wenders’ West Berlin-set 1987 masterpiece. Against the backdrop of the Cold War, two angels hover over the German city and observe Berliners leading their everyday lives. Problem is, they can look but they cannot touch. Immortality comes at a price and the angels yearn for physical human contact. It is revealed that Falk was an angel but exchanged immortality for a life full of love. In a beautiful touch the angel’s celestial point of view is shown in black and white whereas the human view is technicolour.
The perennial family favourite is a heart-warming tale of Christmas cheer as George Bailey’s (James Stewart) life is turned around by the appearance of his guardian angel. Suicidal, George’s angelic benefactor shows him all the wonders of his life and how the lives of his friends and loved ones would have changed if he had never existed. Director Frank Capra’s classic shows that even the most seemingly normal of lives can have a huge impact. Everyone’s life is wonderful — sometimes people just need a guardian angel around to remind them.
Written, directed and starring Warren Beatty, Heaven Can Wait was a box-office sensation in 1978. Beatty plays an American footballer whose spirit is accidentally taken from his body by a blundering angel and placed into the corpse of a recently murdered millionaire. A remake of the 1941 film Here Comes Mr Jordan, the film came at the twilight of Beatty’s pin-up power years after he won hearts in Shampoo. The film has certainly dated but marked his transition from poster boy to director.
Who better to play an angel than Audrey Hepburn? Her ageless beauty and angelic smile are perfectly cast as the guiding hand to lead fire fighter Richard Dreyfuss’ lost spirit after he dies in a plane crash. He returns as a ghost to guide his successor, only to find that his young replacement pilot is also making moves on his widow (Holly Hunter). Steven Spielberg’s remake of 1943’s A Guy Named Joe seemed like an odd choice at the time, yet in hindsight it’s a nostalgic romantic comedy that fits his CV ideally.
At the height of his career resurrection John Travolta made the decision to play an Angel in Michael. As far removed from his Pulp Fiction hitman as humanly possible, this boisterous portrayal of the messenger of God adds boozing, swearing, smoking and sex to his angelic duties, but he manages to imbue his character with enough warmth when he spreads his wings to do good. Director Nora Ephron avoids sentimentality but — being an Ephron film — you know a tear-jerking finale is just around the corner.