Go To Hell
I’m not religious, but there’s no denying that religion and mythology are some of the richest fields of artistic inspiration. Across a vast proportion of the world -and most notably in the English-speaking parts of it – Christianity is the dominant religion, and so naturally has the greatest influence on all forms of artistic expression. Hell itself makes for an excellent antagonist, its’ myriad agents whispering into the ears of mortals, the evils that lie in the heart of all of us, not to mention that demons are fun to draw.
Hell means different things to many different people, and as a result it’s depiction changes wildly depending on who’s doing the depicting. Film as an intense visual medium, has some excellent renditions of eternal damnation, from the classic to the highly conceptual. Here are some favourites of mine.
Let’s start with a comic-classic. A demon in the mask of a clown visits earth to make a deal with an honest man to grant him the chance for revenge from beyond the grave, quite literally. Al Simmons has to claw his way out of the grave to become the servant of Archdemon Malbolgia, a hellion granted immense power straight from the pit, Spawn. Eventually honesty wins out, Simmons takes his new power and goes after its’ source, straight to the depths of Hell.
As dark a comic as Spawn is, its’ rendition of Hell is very classic, almost comedically so. Rivers of fire, floating motes of scorched rock suspended in infinite chains, shrouded in smoke. Burning souls descend in torrents, and an army of the damned stand below, cheering the fight between Spawn and Malebolgia. The demon clown The Violator even has the look of the classic demon, hunched, horned with a mouth of razor-sharp teeth. Actually not dissimilar to the clown himself, but bigger.
Spawn is perhaps known better for how awesome its’ protagonist is, than the richness and creativity of its’ world. The Todd McFarlane creation draws mostly on classical versions of Hell and its’ lords, but there’s no shame in going straight to the source material. The source material is pretty fantastic reading.
A slightly different supernatural agent of comic book fame. Say what you like about Keanu Reaves (because he’s kind of earned it. C’mon man! Show a little diversity) but Constantine was a good film, if nothing else worth a watch. Expert in the occult, anonymous saviour of the mortal world and all-round scumbag John Constantine hunts demons while debating the finer points of mortality with the Devil, played by Peter Stormare and possibly my second favourite performance of the prince of darkness.
During the film, John takes a dip in a bathtub in order to take a brief jaunt to Hell, but in this case hell is more a desolate place of ruin and loneliness, where lonely souls fall into despair and despondence, and the visit of a living being is enough to raise the attention of every one of them. They have forgotten who they are, and that loss of identity and the surrounding decay is a more tragic form of Hell. Memoryless, faceless husks of what once were people, who know nothing but pain and suffering, and the endless yearning to seize upon what they were.
Like Keanu Reaves thinking about the Bill and Ted days…
Did you know that many people consider this film to be cannon-lore of Warhammer 40K? The first ship to enter the Warp, and it’s twisting mutating influence, and the first servant of Chaos? Sam Neil! I would have thought Ray Wise, but I guess they were thinking more Khorne than Tzeench. ANYWAY! To the point…
The ship, the Event Horizon tests an experimental drive designed to fold space, resulting in instantaneous travel across light-years. It fails, and vanishes, reappearing years later, seemingly the same as when it left. But where the crew have vanished, in their place is a kind of pervasive malevolence that infects the minds of the vulnerable, showing them visions of their regrets, and their sins.
Now Hell itself is a brief and blurry glimpse on a screen, the only record of the former crew. In that we see visions of pain, blood, and dismemberment that gradually spill out into the new occupants. Sam Neil rapidly gives in, as his wrong-doings are laid before him a darkness steals over him, takes control, and he begins the process of killing his companions and reigniting the engine that will feed the hunger of whatever place swallowed the Event Horizon, and asked for seconds.
I now feel like watching Daniel Radcliffe in Horns again, along with a lot of other films come to that. Hell is a fascinating concept that’s worthy of analysis, if only because of the personal vision we create of it from our own experiences and fears. So I put it to you:
What are your favourite depictions of Hell in any medium of art? And, dare I ask, what would be your own vision of Hell?
Join the conversation in the comments…