A couple of years ago it was reported that Nicolas Cage would play the title role in the rebooting of the Superman franchise. He didn’t get the part, the unknown Brandon Routh became the Man of Steel instead, but he didn’t give up on the idea of playing a superhero. He’s a big time comic book aficionado so he lobbied to star in Ghost Rider, Marvel comic’s story about Johnny Blaze, a daredevil motorcyclist who becomes a bounty hunter for the devil, and won the role from Johnny Depp who was originally slated to play the flame-headed vigilante.
Johnny Blaze is a complicated character. He sold his soul not for the usual reasons—power or wealth—but for the love. His father, and motorcycle mentor, was being consumed by cancer and had only days to live when one day the young Blaze was visited by a man who looked very much like Peter Fonda. The Easy Rider star, playing the Devil, offers Blaze a deal: his soul for a cure to his father’s illness. Of course when you deal with the Devil you don’t always get what you bargain for, as Blaze soon discovers.
The trade dooms him to an empty life, void of love and other worldly pleasures. Worse, when confronted with evil Johnny Blaze turns into the fiery Ghost Rider, a skeletal form covered in fire rather than flesh. That kind of thing can make relationships kind of dodgy, even if your love interest is an old flame that reenters your life years after you abandoned her.
I’d like to say that Cage “lights up the screen” or something witty like that and mean something more than his head is on fire for most of the movie, but there is something quite odd about this performance. He seems to be having fun with the part, but the movie has tone problems and most of them stem from Cage’s quirky performance.
Ghost Rider can’t quite make up its mind whether it wants to be a comedy, a romance or a supernatural action flick. It tries to be all three, but when the main character’s most noticeable trait is a flaming skull for a head it’s hard to take any of it seriously. And maybe we’re not meant to take it seriously, but with a better-realized story Ghost Rider may have caught fire.
Type in “visitor from hell” on Google and you get about 12,900,000 results in 0.17 seconds. There are ghost stories, a site for a traditional Irish band called Visitor from Hell and stories about unpleasant house guests. But I was more interested in actual visitors from hell. Celluloid demons, tortured souls and devilish characters that somehow manage to slink back from the depths of movie hell to visit us here on Earth.
Nicolas Cage, who emerged from hell in 2004’s Ghost Rider, comes back from the depths for the second time this weekend in a movie called Drive Angry, playing a dearly departed father back on this mortal coil to avenge the death of his daughter. According to that movie, hellions rarely escape and return to Earth, but a quick look at other hellhound films reveals a different truth.
Lots of actors have played Earthbound versions of Satan. In The Private Lives of Adam and Eve, Mickey Rooney played Old Scratch as a piano-playing jokester in red long johns and a straw hat with horns. Tim Curry played the Devil on TV in an episode of Dinosaurs called “Life in the Faust Lane,” and years before he became an Academy Award-winning composer, Danny Elfman did a strange Cab Calloway impression of Satan in the very odd film Forbidden Zone
But the most diabolically playful Devil to hit the big screen has to be Jack Nicholson as Daryl Van Horne in The Witches of Eastwick. As a mysterious character who grants wishes to three excitement-hungry widows, Nicholson made the wicked character unforgettable, but he wasn’t the first choice for the role. Bill Murray was.
Probably the most famous representation of hell on Earth came in the form of one of the devil’s underlings, Pazuzu, who inhabited the body of poor little Regan (Linda Blair) in The Exorcist. The images of Blair spitting pea soup and doing a 360 head spin have become the film standard for possession.
Not all of hell’s citizens are out to do us harm, however. Director Guillermo Del Toro turned his favourite comic book into two fiendishly fun action movies—Hellboy and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army—starring Ron Perlman as the World’s Greatest Paranormal Investigator, a red skinned demon named Hellboy who helps mankind by bumping back against the things that go bump in the night.