THE DEVIL AND MAX DEVLIN (1981)
Finally, a movie that truly sounds like it hails from the 1980s: Steven Hilliard Stern’s soul-stealing comedy The Devil and Max Devlin. It’s got Elliot Gould. It’s got Hell. It’s got Bill Cosby. Let’s get going.
Max Devlin (Elliot Gould) is an asshole. He’s a mean shitty landlord who hates children and gives old ladies a hard time. What a dick. I guess this makes us feel alright about him getting hit by a bus and descending into Hell mere minutes into the film.
I kept expecting those bodies to rotate into a swastika, but I guess this is still a Disney movie.
Hell is fucking rad!
Elliot Ghould, bwahahahaha.
Anyhow, Max has done fucked up. He’s in Hell. And worse, Bill Cosby is there with him.
Who would have thought that this would be a more fitting portrayal of Bill Cosby’s afterlife than Ghost Dad?
Cosby plays a bizarre Hell lawyer named Barry Satin (GET IT?) who offers Max a deal: he can get out of Hell if he convinces three unsullied innocents to sign their souls over to eternal damnation. Sounds legit. For some reason he has to damn three specific people, which I didn’t think was ever how this type of thing went, but whatever.
Them’s the Hell rules.
Unlike Bill Cosby, Barry Satin isn’t a complete monster, so he gives Devlin superpowers to help him in his task. Basically, Max can now use limitless magic on anything within his field of vision. To me, this seems like it would make his task stupid easy. I mean, set the kid’s house on fire with his mom inside, and tell him that the only way to save her is to sell his soul! Boom, you’re done. But apparently he’s either too nice or too stupid to try shit like that, and an opportunity for the film to be badass is missed. Anyhow, he can also teleport by doing whatever this is:
Fuck it, moving on.
His first target is young Stella Summers (played by actual non-super-famous musician Julie Budd!), a shitty singer-songwriter with dreams of fame. Max’s brilliant plan to run off with her soul involves helping her sing well, becoming her manager, and… well, that’s about as far as he gets.
Side note: This allows the movie pad its runtime with awful musical numbers!
Victim number two is Nerve Nordlinger (David Knell), some nerd who wishes he was good at motocross, because apparently that’s what all the cool kids are doing. Max’s plan for him is to help him become good at motocross… and again, that’s about it. Apparently Max is really shitty at being on the Devil’s side of Faustian bargains.
ASK FOR THEIR SOULS AFTER YOU’VE PROVEN YOUR POWER, BUT BEFORE YOU’VE GIVEN THEM WHAT THEY WANT, YOU ASSHAT!
Finally, Max must corrupt a tiny child (Adam Rich). So, obviously, he teleports to a carnival and creepily follows the kid around. At least this time Max makes some pretty decent offers, but unfortunately the kid isn’t interested in the power to turn invisible or some shit. All he wants is a dad. Awww.
But instead he gets a creepy man trying to steal his soul at a carnival.
So, unable to even trick a child, Max agrees to try to marry this little twerp’s mother (Susan Anspach). To Max’s credit, he genuinely tries to woo the woman without the use of his magical powers, no doubt because he understands that in matters sexual, anything less than full unambiguous consent is rape (unlike one famous comedian who happens to star in this movie).
Zip zop zoobity bop.
Alright, so eventually Max tries to get all three of these assholes to sign Hell contracts, but they say no, because who the hell signs a Hell contract? Max is distraught, and Barry Satin starts breathing down his neck to get those souls. In a panic, Max gets everyone to sign, basically by just lying about what they’re signing, which seems a little dumb. If just tricking someone into getting a signature was all he needed to do, couldn’t he have just signed them up for whatever the 1980s equivalent of iTunes was, but thrown in the Hell bit somewhere in the middle? Oh well. I guess Hell doesn’t make too much sense. Anyhow, good job, Max, you damned three children.
At this point Satin shows up, congratulates Max on a job well done, and tells him that all these kids are going to die immediately and go to Hell forever. Max, who apparently had never really stopped to think about what the fuck he was doing flips a shit, and threatens to destroy the contracts. Satin takes on his true form and yells at Max, reminding him that if he burns the contracts, he himself will have to return to Hell.
Surprise. Satin is Satan. I bet no one saw that coming.
But he burns them anyway. And oh, I forgot to mention something earlier—this whole time Max hasn’t had a reflection, because apparently if you work for the devil mirrors don’t work on you. I’d always thought that was just for vampires, but what do I know? Anyhow, Max suddenly sees his reflection and realizes that he’s not damned after all. There’s no real explanation and the movie just ends. Hooray?
The Devil and Max Devlin makes one thing clear: the afterlife is confusing. If you’re a bad person, you go to Hell. That’s pretty straightforward. But wait! You may have a way out. Corrupt three innocents and you get out of jail free. But what then? Do you get to go to Heaven? Do you live a while longer and then end up back in Hell? It’s unclear.
And what about those innocents? What qualifies as becoming corrupted? Does just signing the piece of paper count? Does it matter if you didn’t believe it to be real? What about if you were tricked? All of these seem to work in the movie. But what does God have to say about that? It seems kind of shitty, and I heard that he was supposed to be super just or something. Oh well. Guess you can land yourself in Hell just by not paying attention to what you autograph.
I mean, her singing is unbearable, but she doesn’t deserve to burn eternally for it.
I guess the thing to take away from this is that if life is unfair, afterlife is even worse. The rules make no sense and there’s no one looking out for you. Enjoy rotting outside the city gates where there will be great weeping and gnashing of teeth, you fucksticks.
Better get used to those flames, kid.
WHY DON’T PEOPLE LIKE IT?:
Well, for a film promising satanic hijinks, this flick is pretty tame. Honestly, I was hoping for some crazy fun Hell shit (à la Warlock), but all I got was some asshole magically making a lady sing, teaching a dork to ride a bike, and hanging out with some kid’s mom. I would not be in the least bit surprised if audiences back in ’81 were as disappointed by this as I was.
Even the Hell council is bored by this movie.
Also, Bill Cosby does very little as the second-billed star. When you hear that Cosby is going to play the devil, you expect him to be constantly up to zany antics. Poking people with tridents, making strange noises, fun shit. There is none of that. I doubt that moviegoers in the ’80s were particularly pleased by the complete lack of fun brought to the table by this rising star. And, of course, now nothing Cosby-related is fun or enjoyable.
At least there wasn’t really much good in this film for Cosby’s presence to tarnish.
So yeah. Then and even more so now, this film is a bit of a downer.
MOST REGRETTABLE MOMENT:
Cosby’s presence at a party where drinks are being served.
Unless you’re going trying to go through every movie ever made about Faustian bargains, I can see no reason why you would want to watch this. It has an almost fun premise that if fails to wring any enjoyment out of whatsoever, and Cosby’s presence is the rotten cherry on top of the pile of dog shit. Let’s just move along. Nothing worth seeing here.
This is John’s twenty-sixth week of the experiment. Check up on his sanity in his second quarterly report.