The Devil Wears Mom Jeans

First off, a tip of the hat to Kelly, who, after reading my essay, “The Strange, Sick, Sad Career of Thomas Gibson,” clued me in to this little gem lurking in the murky lower depths of Gibson’s vast and oft-disturbing IMDB page. The Devil’s Child is a 1997 made-for-television movie, featuring Gibson as an unusually lackadaisical Devil who schemes to impregnate NYPD Blue’s Kim Delaney. It’s Rosemary’s Baby made fast and cheap, and it’s terrible. Hilariously, delightfully, endearingly terrible.

As The Devil’s Child has never been released on DVD in the United States (fancy that), I ordered my copy from overseas. For reasons that shall probably remain a mystery for the ages, the DVD box for the official UK release gives first billing not to Delaney or to Gibson, but to… Scooby-Doo’s Matthew Lillard, who has a supporting role as Delaney’s love-struck assistant, Tim.

Delaney plays Nikki DiMarco, a Los Angeles photographer who, due to a severe childhood accident, is unable to bear children. When her batty mother (Twin Peaks’ Grace Zabriskie) dies unexpectedly, Nikki inherits a windfall of cash and, at the urging of her best friend Ruby (Colleen Flynn), moves into an apartment in Ruby’s creepy old building. After a series of bizarre incidents, lapsed-Catholic Nikki begins to suspect Satanic forces were behind her mother’s death. Ruby mocks her for her religious paranoia, though in truth, Nikki’s status as the local Bible nut has been greatly exaggerated. When Ruby quotes lyrics from The Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” Nikki chimes in with, “That’s from Revelations.” Well, no, it’s not -- Nikki has somehow confused the fire-and-brimstone bombast of Revelations with the mellow, hippie-friendly vibe of Ecclesiastes.

Nikki soon becomes intrigued by her handsome and enigmatic neighbor, Alex (Gibson), who lives in the apartment across the hall and who has an outstanding secret identity: He’s the Devil, who made an unholy pact with Nikki’s mom twenty years ago to bring Nikki back to life following her accident, with the understanding that she would later bear his child.

Unaware of Alex’s sinister designs on her uterus, Nikki drops by his apartment one evening and finds him hanging out by himself, listening to music while wearing shapeless, unflattering, high-waisted jeans. An incisive commentary on the banality of evil, or just a bad call by someone in the wardrobe department? Alex and Nikki bop around his apartment together for a while (I’d make snotty comments about how their dancing is unhampered by either rhythm or soul, but he is the Devil, after all, so “soulless” is entirely appropriate), then head out for a romantic dinner, where Alex grouses in thinly-veiled terms about how it was totally bogus that God booted him out of Heaven. He also hand-feeds Nikki from his own plate, and while Nikki seems sort of charmed by this, as a general first-date rule, it’s probably best not to spontaneously reach across the table to cram chunks of your food into your date’s mouth.

Before long, Nikki and Alex tumble into bed together. Because even the Devil needs to pay the rent, Alex heads off to his day job as a Theology professor at a local university. A smitten Nikki secretly crashes his lecture and, for the first time, observes him doing something genuinely Devil-ish: using his omniscient knowledge of his students’ sex lives to slut-shame them in front of their classmates.

This, by the way, is the most diabolical thing he’ll do in public in the entire damn movie. All the rest of Alex’s dastardly deeds -- mowing down Nikki’s obnoxious coworker to snag her a plum promotion, chucking a Devil-loathing dog through a window, chucking a Devil-loathing Catholic priest through a window, sending a sexy emissary to murder Tim (ostensibly because Tim was snooping into Alex’s background, though “because Tim is a monstrously irritating twit” is also a satisfactory explanation) -- either happen demurely off-screen, or his involvement is only vaguely implied. Fine, though it’s a little disconcerting to realize Gibson brings more slinky malevolence and unfettered evil to his role in The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas than he does to his role as, y’know, Lucifer.

Nikki is horrified by this glimpse into Alex’s dark side, though maybe she should’ve caught on to his dickish nature a bit earlier when, during their post-coital embrace, she confided in him about her inability to have kids and he responded with, “I bet you’d be a great mother!” Never one to do things partway, Nikki cruises straight past “the hot guy I just slept with turned out to be sort of nasty and sleazy” and lands on “the hot guy I just slept with is an inhuman Hell-demon.”

Nikki, it is established, doesn’t date much. You can kind of see why.

Despite her damaged reproductive system, Nikki becomes pregnant as a result of her tryst with Alex. She decides to cut all ties with him, which is tricky, since: a) he still lives across the hall, and b) he’s an omniscient force of all-powerful evil. She heads to an abortion clinic, which blows up just as she arrives, then visits a psychiatrist to sort out her feelings about her erstwhile suitor. “Isn’t it possible that Alex is the Devil?” she asks. Wisely, the psychiatrist refrains from weighing in on that topic.

Nikki’s worst fears are confirmed when she develops some photos of Alex and finds the Mark of the Beast – 666 – scrawled in Sharpie across his forehead. Her due date sort of sneaks up on her, and she ends up giving birth to a baby boy in Ruby’s apartment (there’s no time for her to get to the hospital, though there’s enough time for her obstetrician to hoof it to Ruby’s place to help with the delivery). When Alex shows up to claim his son, Nikki hightails it to the church for an emergency baptism to give the kid a little divine protection against his dad’s influence.

Alex dons his best cloak -- you know, the one he wore when he dressed up as a Nazgul for Comic Con -- and loiters around outside the church, extending himself so far as to kick up an ineffectual little windstorm in the chapel. When Nikki emerges triumphant with her freshly-baptized son, Alex unleashes the full brunt of his unholy might against her for thwarting his (unspecified) evil plans for their offspring…

Ha ha, no, of course he doesn’t. In keeping with his overall low-fuss (dare I say… devil-may-care?) attitude, he shrugs and slouches off, presumably to con more grieving mothers into letting him sleep with their daughters. In spite of all his painstaking and far-reaching plans -- in addition to Nikki’s mother, it turns out that Ruby, the psychiatrist, and the obstetrician were all in on his diabolical scheme -- the Devil is, at heart, a bit of a quitter. Humanity can breathe easy.

Comments

Dan said…
Ahhh, hilarious recap, Morgan. I am never going to watch this movie, but I'm surely glad you did.

"The Devil is, at heart, a bit of a quitter"

I knew it. No wonder he's never had a trained podiatrist have a look at those feet.
Morgan Richter said…
Thanks, Dan. 'Tis a fine, fine movie. There's a certain artistry to any film that's so entertainingly lousy that it makes me snicker all the way through when I'm watching it by myself, cold sober. I've already dropped the DVD in the mail to Ingrid to spread the joy/agony. I'm sure she'll appreciate it.
Ingrid Richter said…
Oh my. Just finished watching "The Devil's Child" last night, and my mind is spinning.

Mostly, I'm thinking:

1) Where did Nikki's mom get the windfall of money?
2) Why didn't Nikki's mom tell her about the deal with the devil before she died?
3) If Nikki couldn't touch the rosary without getting burned, how come she could thumb through bibles and enter churches just fine?
4) Why were Nikki and Ruby drinking champagne out of wine glasses?
5) Why didn't Alex want to stay for champagne? Could he not enter the room, vampire-style?

6) Why did Alex wall the previous tenant up in her apartment... alive!?
7) Was Tim (Matthew Lillard) really dead or just involved in a heavy bondage session?
8) Did Tim's one-night stand *really* look like Alex, the devil?
9) Did Ruby really make such a great deal with the devil with her paunchy, older husband?
10) Is there anything less threatening than Thomas Gibson in a cloak, slinking away from the church during the end credits?

Heh. Fine, fine film. Enjoyed it immensely, Morgan :-)
Morgan Richter said…
More questions: If the Devil could enter the church so he could toss a priest through a stained-glass window earlier in the film, how come he had to stand glumly outside kicking up a little moody windstorm while Nikki was inside getting their demon-spawn baptized? And since Nikki was both madly smitten with him and eager to have kids, why did he have to go through such an absurd amount of fuss and bother to get her pregnant?

Did Tim's one-night stand *really* look like Alex, the devil?

Yeah, what was with that? Were they trying to suggest that Tim was actually murdered by the Devil himself in disguise? If so, and if this film had really wanted to vault itself into the lofty reaches of Bad Movie Valhalla, it would have stuck Gibson in a wig and slinky mini-dress and sent him off to seduce/murder Tim.

Why were Nikki and Ruby drinking champagne out of wine glasses?

No clue, but I giggled out loud when Alex walks into Nikki's apartment, and Nikki and Ruby are standing around drinking champagne, and Nikki says, "We were just about to open a bottle of champagne!" Er... what?

Is there anything less threatening than Thomas Gibson in a cloak, slinking away from the church during the end credits?

No. No, there is not. I mean, that cloak... It's weird. Gibson usually does "threatening" very, very well (Hotch on Criminal Minds might be a total sweetheart at his core, but he's also scary as hell), and playing the Devil should've been right up his alley... but there's zero menace to Alex. At his very worst, he's just sort of a dick.
Ingrid Richter said…
I would have *loved* to have seen Thomas Gibson in drag, seducing Matthew Lillard. Then again, I'm pretty sleazy.

Trying to figure out the moral of the movie. Is it:

- Beware too-good-to-be-true real estate deals?
- Your best friend will screw you over if a better deal with the devil comes along?
- Maybe it's not such a good idea to sleep with your next door neighbor?
- Take that, child custody battle!
- No need to fear evil; it's absolutely harmless
Morgan Richter said…
Take that, child custody battle!

They missed their chance to make an absolutely riveting sequel, in which Nikki and the Devil still live across the hall from each other (Nikki has signed a long-term lease, and damned if she's willing to lose her whole security deposit), with Nikki raising their son and Alex resorting to passive-aggressive tactics to annoy her, such as playing his music really loudly at all hours and kicking up mild supernatural windstorms in her living room while she's trying to take a relaxing bath. When Nikki hits him up for child-support payments, he responds by tossing the collections agent out a window (off-screen, of course). Meanwhile, he spends his days loitering optimistically around emergency rooms, trying to strike more unholy bargains with grieving parents (when he's not off slut-shaming undergraduates in his lectures, of course).

I would have *loved* to have seen Thomas Gibson in drag, seducing Matthew Lillard.

I know, right? It would've elevated the movie to a bold new plane of awesomeness.

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