Giving the Devil his due on film is difficult. Most world mythologies and religions have the concept of a malevolent, chaotic force, but cameras have a hard time capturing abstractions such as eternal evil. Hollywood translates the notion of Satan to more easily work in television and films. There are broad portrayals ranging from goofily intimidating (Tim Curry in Legend) to slightly more subtle insanity (Al Pacino in The Devil's Advocate). In centuries past, popular images in culture portray Satan as the king of a fiery realm -- a red hued, goat-legged, horn-wearing, pitch fork owner. However, Hollywood settles on a new, recognizable image that is simpler to transmit to audiences via audio-visual entertainment: Hell as a business. The Devil is personified as a being of authority in a modern context, a modern context with a neck tie. The Devil holds a job. He is a corporate boss and Hell is a business structure. Satan wears a suit.
A common depiction in Hollywood is the Devil as middle management. This representation associates the Devil with an animosity that some audiences have towards their own bosses. "My boss is the Devil, and the Devil is my boss." Yet, this association limits the omnipotence and malice of the Devil, making Satan more human. The boss Devil is frequently inept, likable, or even a veiled force for good. Humanizing the Devil shows the devil as holding a job that nobody wants but that must be done. These juxtapositions and context shifts are generally played for comedy. In these types of films and television shows, the Devil tries to fit into human society with wacky and educational side effects. "The Devil" is a job title.
The Devil is the ultimate horrible job and horrible boss because the Devil is the epitome of evil -- the baseline of comparison, which is odd because some of Hollywood's portrayals of Satan make the Devil seem like not such a bad being of Infinite Suffering.
These types of films and television shows have a basic job description for Satan. The Devil is the manager of a department in the Celestial Bureaucracy. The ethereal world has a government, and the Devil is a high ranking supervisor. Unfortunately, the Devil's department is an undesirable but necessary one: handling evil and dealing with errant souls. Hell is an important part of the metaphysical universe. The Devil manages both human and demon minions in an attempt to keep Hell, and therefore the Universe, running smoothly.
In the 2007-2009 television series Reaper, the Devil is translated into the modern context of a bureaucratic government. Satan acts as the prison warden of Hell. He is the administrator of a system that imprisons and reforms the deceased that have been deemed wicked. There are rules, regulations, forms, and procedures to the Devil's globe-spanning bureaucratic network. Demons work a 9 to 5 job and have off hours and vacation days. One demon working in the Department of Motor Vehicles serves as a clerk and guard of a portal to Hell.
The Devil (as played by Ray Wise) is a hands on manager. Using his powers, he keeps an eye on his demon and human employees. Specifically, he pays attention to a human bounty hunter named Sam Oliver. The Devil orders Sam to hunt souls escaped from Hell (making the show a supernatural Dog the Bounty Hunter). In his interactions with Sam, the Devil appears as a man in a tailored suit (and Ray Wise's smarm). Sam comments that the Devil is not the grotesque beast he expected. The Devil responds that he is a new Satan for a new millennium. The Devil appears as someone that Sam and possibly the audience correlate with power: a wealthy man in expensive clothes.
Reaper's makers attempt to make the Devil recognizable to modern audiences. The creepy charm of Ray Wise as Satan serves to echo other bosses that audience members may know in real life. He is a task master while being sly and playful. He is never overtly evil but shows flashes of wrath when objectives are not met. The Devil has a terrible job to do and wants it done correctly. He wrangles the worst of humanity and incompetent employees. He performs to the best of his ability. Reaper's Devil has his negative aspects that can either belong to a corporate manager or Lucifer. He is vengeful, impatient, and constantly trying to take over the world.
In a 2007 National Public Radio interview, series pilot director Kevin Smith worries about creating an eerie but believable world where the Devil walks around unnoticed. The trappings of Satan blend with modern environments. Smith is concerned about setting the aesthetic for the entire show's run. He wants a modern Devil, and a modern Devil means business. Smith cites Ray Wise as a crucial component of developing the character of the Devil. He describes Wise as knowing exactly how the Devil would act in a modern context. Smith calls the portrayal "a used car salesman," an identifiable archetype that communicates untrustworthiness and deception.
In the ongoing animated series Ugly Americans, all manner of mythical and bizarre species exist and live in the modern world. A government agency known as the Department of Integration is established to smooth relations between these species. One of these species is Demons. The embodiment of evil is an integral part of modern society on the show. Demons live as normal people with normal jobs. The show focuses on the Department of Integration, which has a demon named Twayne as its overseeing bureaucrat. He is a middle manager of an underfunded government agency.
Twayne is a horrible boss in that he is both evil and inept. The department is run in a typical bureaucratic fashion with reports drafted, forms filed, and a chain of command. Twayne has no idea what he is doing, is forgetful, and slow to understand situations. Like any inept boss, Twayne delegates the daily operation of the office to his underlings: the half human daughter of the devil, Callie Maggotbone, and the naive human, Mark Lilly. Twayne prefers to spend his time committing acts of instinctual evil and infiltrating the government. In a modern context, Twayne does not run Hell as a business but rather runs his business as a personal Hell.
The Devil himself appears on the show. "Devil" is the term for the head of the Demonic High Council, and the Devil does indeed run Hell as a business. He wears a suit with large golden spaulders to note his position as highest ranking demon. At different points in the show, the show's writers place him roles that connote negative emotions: CEO, lawyer, and churlish father. The Devil manages the demons in his corporate structure and drives them towards the business objectives and requirements of Hell. In the opening to an episode titled "Wet Hot Demonic Summer," the Devil holds a business meeting to discuss the details of an upcoming project to conquer an opposing species: the Wizards. He establishes goals, milestones, and sets project managers in Callie and Twayne. The Devil returns throughout the episode to check up on his employees. The Devil is an efficient if not an effective boss.
Ugly Americans juxtaposes the concept of pure evil in a modern context by directly showing how the Devil would fit into the world today. The Demons of Ugly Americans are not hidden but assimilate into modern society. Even though they have their own hidden organization and government, the Demons act like humans. The show demonstrates how demons and the Devil would seek positions of power to propagate their evil doing. This means they would seek to be bosses and be the most horrible bosses they could be.
By showing the Devil in a modern context as a literal boss, these types of shows humanize the Devil. The Devil is fallible. The Devil makes mistakes. The Devil is human. In Reaper, Sam constantly stymies the Devil's long-laid machinations. The Demon bosses in Ugly Americans are merely clumsy and blunt. In this manner, the Devil is worthy of pathos and pity. The Devil is merely misunderstood and is not as bad an individual as previously thought. Evil is not inherent to the Devil in these shows and films, and the Devil is shown in a different light. "Devil" is a job and not a personality description. In some instances, the Devil is even likeable.
In the 2000 film Little Nicky, Harvey Keitel plays an aging boss Devil. The Devil in Little Nicky is a benevolent ruler of Hell and runs the Inferno as if he is a cruise activities director. Again, the position of Devil is an essential government position in the Celestial Bureaucracy. He organizes the demons in welcoming incoming souls and directs souls to their interesting punishments in the afterlife. On multiple reported occasions, the Devil attends office parties in Heaven and mixes with angels and demons alike.
On a daily basis, the Devil politely administers Hell. The Devil has an assistant named Jimmy the Demon who keeps his schedules. An important meeting that the Devil keeps is rectally inserting a pineapple into Adolf Hitler dressed as a French maid. The Devil relishes this meeting. He is also a stern but fair boss. After a demon (Kevin Nealon) fails to perform his duties, the Devil punishes him by causing a pair of breasts to grow on the demon's head. The Devil keeps Hell running smoothly and does it with a smile.
Little Nicky's writers, Steven Brill, Adam Sandler, and Tim Herlihy, place a great deal of effort into the opening scenes of the film in making the Devil sympathetic. They place him in a recognizable modern context and show him to be a nice guy for being the Devil. This sympathizing and likability is important as the Devil is placed in peril. The audience needs to care about the Prince of Darkness.
The Devil starts to waste away and die after his eldest sons shut off the flow of souls to Hell. The Devil refuses to retire and allow his eldest son to succeed to the throne. The Devil thinks that his oldest son is too evil for the role. The Devil emphasizes that the role of Devil is to be a balance to good -- the essence of a necessary evil. Without evil, good is ambivalence by comparison. The Devil makes good look good. If the audience does not buy the Devil as a likeable boss, his dying does not serve as an effective ticking clock to progress the plot of the film. The Devil is humanized in his weakness and failure. He is an ordinary guy with an extraordinary job.
Another large example of a humanized, sensitive Devil is the timid Satan from South Park. South Park's Devil's job is the boss of Hell. He manages the demons and doles out punishment to the damned. Like Milton's Lucifer, Satan on South Park is cast out of Heaven and sentenced to rule Hell as a punishment. Unlike Milton, Satan does not feel it is better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. The position of the Devil does not have many career growth opportunities.
Satan is suffering and is emotionally wounded by his job. His boyfriend Saddam Hussein dominates him and forces the Devil into performing acts he would rather not. Saddam Hussein is a greater villain than the Devil and makes the Devil look sympathetic. The Devil is the boss of Hell and has tremendous power, but he is lonely and in misery. In this instance, the position of boss of Hell is horrible rather than the Devil being a horrible boss.
In the 1999 film South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut, Satan sings a song with a chorus of tortured souls called "Up There." The song summarizes his plight. In the songs, Satan laments being forbade to go to Earth. He explains that he is lonely as the manager of Hell. He wants to enjoy the beauty of Earth where "babies burp, and flowers bloom." He questions the duality of good versus and evil and states that good needs evil to exist, "so it must be good to be evil sometimes." The Devil hates his job and station in immortality. It is not hard to imagine other managers hating their jobs and singing rock ballads bemoaning their position.
The Devil proves to be a good motivator and a good boss in an episode of South Park titled "Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics." Satan decides to celebrate Christmas and throw a Christmas party for his employees and wards in Hell. He sings a song called "Christmas Time in Hell." He cheerfully celebrates Christmas with his employees and the damned. He even gives Hitler a Christmas Tree. In South Park, for the most part, Satan is a nice guy and a great boss in the worst possible place.
This humanizing of Satan as a pitiable boss serves multiple purposes. His failure and timidity make him a likeable character and an underdog. His humanity, despite being the Font of All Lies (Comic Sans MS), makes him forgivable. A human is redeemable while the concept of perpetual evil is not. Having Satan be a human-like character stuck in a terrible position is more interesting than an amorphous aura of evil.
South Park's creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have a different reason. Having Satan as the emotional boss of Hell is unexpected, and the unexpected is shocking and funny. The pair come up with the idea for the characters of Saddam Hussein and Satan during breaks in filming on the set of BASEketball. They improvise the characters for fun and intuitively arrive at the conclusion that a humanized, submissive Devil is humorous.
All of these examples come from comedic shows and films (half of them animated) because the Devil as a corporate boss is often played for comedy. The difference from the norm compares expectations with the reality presented by the piece of entertainment. The transformation of the Devil from an eternal symbol of evil to the much smaller, individually relatable human boss is funny in its disparity. The Devil in this context is recognizable because the Devil can plausibly exist. Satan as a human boss is an assembly of human traits. The comedic factor allows Satan to be framed as the embodiment of human urges rather than a concept. The Devil is assembled from human temptations, and the Devil's job is to leverage this fact. Although, this framing also portrays Satan as a force for good, accidentally or not. The job description shifts slightly when temptation is involved.
In the 1967 film Bedazzled and its 2000 remake have the Devil as the boss of Hell's soul retrieval team. Satan is played by Peter Cook in the 1967 version and Elizabeth Hurley in the 2000 version. Both Devils are given a quota of souls to fill and lead their teams in doing their duty. Peter Cook leads a team of bumbling demons representing the 7 deadly sins. Elizabeth Hurley is a hands-on boss and seeks souls herself. Both Devils strike Faustian deals of the "be careful what you wish for" variety. Unwitting victims trade their souls to Satan for a series of wishes in a signed contract. The Devil then turns the wishes into a teaching experience. Satan takes the job of tempter and makes it educator.
Both Bedazzled Devils place their victims in a series of comedic situations. The victims are reincarnated into different people. The woman that they desire is placed just out reach. Each wish illustrates how the victim wants to be someone he is not. In the end, the victim saves his own soul. The 1967 victim is so pitiable that the Devil releases him from the contract. The 2000 victim redeems himself and is saved by a legal loophole on the heavenly law books. Everyone learns a lesson.
The difference between the two Bedazzled films rests in the jobs their Devils fill. Peter Cook works for God and is beholden to the Almighty. When God uses a technicality to avoid letting the Devil into Heaven, the Devil curses God by plaguing the Earth with the trifles of modern convenience. Elizabeth Hurley's Devil has more agency. She holds business meetings, makes her own decisions, and has a sizable (though skimpy) wardrobe. Her job in seeking souls is more independent, allowing her to cause trouble to release tension. This independence and outlet for frustration allows her to be kinder and less vengeful than Peter Cook's Devil. Elizabeth Hurley's Devil has the better job with better benefits.
The comedy from these two films comes from the unexpected. The roles the Devils serve are unexpected and the results of their capering is unexpected to them. The Devil as a profession is the basis of this comedy.
According to film and television, the job title of "the Devil" is the Boss of Hell. It is a powerful position but only a middle-ranking job. The job carries certain burdens and problems that nuisance the Devil. On film, the Devil is only a bureaucrat. Devils often try to break out of their role by having mischievous hobbies but are rarely outright evil. These films and television series blunt the evil of Satan and show the Devil as human, making human mistakes and having human fallacies. The Devil fails sometimes. By having a sympathetic Devil in recognizable jobs, filmmakers make the Devil comedic in juxtaposition with the expected. The Devil on film is frequently placed in the circumstances as Hell as a business. The job is tireless, thankless, and troublesome.
"The Devil" is a horrible job, but somebody has to do it.