Movies, Outside Thoughts

“THISsss… ain’t no funeral home.”

Clarence Williams III was memorable in a lot of film and television roles, and almost certainly had his biggest impact as part of the original Mod Squad, which was before my time, but was a significant and even game-changing show in its day, and had enough cultural cache to earn a (not very good) film adaptation a quarter-century after its last episode aired. In short, he’s known for much more than just the time he played the Devil in the once-upon-a-time-underrated Tales From the Hood (which has gained more attention and praise over time, resulting in the recent Tales 3, which I liked and reviewed here). But I’m a horror author who’s loved frightening stories since I was a kid. So, upon hearing of Mr. Williams’ passing at 81-years-old, I first thought not just of his depiction of a Hollywood Devil, but one of the best depictions of Hollywood Devil of all time.

First, let me get into what the hell I mean when I say “Hollywood Satan.” To be fair, what I’m about to describe predates film by several centuries, but film and television have been the epicenter of pop culture for decades, and Hollywood the epicenter of film and television, so that’s why I’m choosing to phrase it that way. Anyway, what I’m alluding to is the fact that the common depiction of the Devil / Lucifer / Satan doesn’t really match what’s in The Bible, Torah or Quran. Be ye religious or not you can still recognize that the Devil as he is commonly portrayed in the arts and pop culture is an invention distinct from his portrayal in Abrahamic religions. Now there’s a ton to unpack there and I don’t feel like getting into it all now–or possibly ever–but it’s easy to look up for yourself. Suffice to say, the accepted religious texts don’t provide a physical description of the Devil that gives him horns, or goat-legs or a goat-head, or any other features he’s frequently given in paintings or on screens or in books. Likewise, the religions don’t make him out to be some kind of ruler of Hell.

So with that much at least said on that part of the subject, I’m going to shift back to crediting Mr. Williams with one of the all-time greatest portrayals of assorted Hollywood Devils. He’s over-the-top, more than a little warped, funny and captivating, and ultimately terrifying.

The finale of Tales From the Hood is a grand spectacle of fright that could stand beside some of the most nightmarish moments from the likes of Jigoku, aka The Sinners of Hell. In film and television, Hell is often depicted as torturous and miserable, for obvious reasons, but it’s less often seen as endless human chaos, as it is in the two movies I’ve mentioned here. Perhaps the scariest thing about Hell as seen in Tales is the way the bodies flail and convulse in fire that looks like it burns without consuming.

Or, perhaps, the scariest part is the way Clarence Williams announces that Hell is upon our hopeless trio of gangsters. Maybe it’s the way he oversees the chaos and agony before him. Maybe it’s his true form. All I know for sure is that this is the part of the film everybody at who school who saw it talked about the most, and whatever was in second place wasn’t even close.

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I did a quick search for “greatest movie devils of all time” and was not surprised to run into article after article that gave no love to Clarence Williams III. One article had the temerity to include Harvey Keitel from Little Nicky and Jigoku in its top 25 (the former–just, c’mon; the latter doesn’t have a depiction of the Devil in it), but no mention of Tales From the Hood. To be expected, nonetheless disappointing. I’d go so far as to consider him for my Mount Rushmore of Movie Devils.