During our Swampchat discussion of April’s Movie of the Month, the romantic horror comedy My Demon Lover, I proposed than a potentially interesting way to remake the film for a modern audience would be to swap the genders of its protagonists. In the 80s version there’s something really off-putting about the idea of a crass man who turns into a literal, life-threatening demon every time he becomes horny. When the film tries to make you root for this demonic loverboy’s romantic connection with a schleppy, single woman trying to make it on her own in The Big City all you can do as an audience is scream for the love interest to run for her life. There’s a predatory aspect to this gender dynamic that I think could be entertaining in the context of a raunchy modern comedy if the two leads’ genders were swapped. I’m picturing an Aubrey Plaza or an Ellie Kemper transforming into a murderous demon every time they’re turned on and I’m chuckling instead of fighting back the urge to call the police.
The problem is that I have seen a similar concept play out on the screen before in the 2000 Harold Ramis comedy Bedazzled. A remake of a darkly funny Dudley Moore classic, Ramis’s Bedazzled changes up the formula of its predecessor by casting The Devil as (gasp!) a woman, supermodel Elizabeth Hurley to be exact. The plot lines of My Demon Lover & Bedazzled don’t exactly run parallel, but both films do tell the stories of lovelorn losers shaken out of their romantic ruts by the supernatural intervention of eternally-horny demons. Instead of seducing her schleppy victim over the course of several balloon-themed montage dates in Central Park, however, Elizabeth Hurley’s Devil is much more metaphysical in her intervention. She’s not a devil, but The Devil, after all. When recent MOTM vet Brendan Fraser’s geeky office drone wishes of a fellow coworker “Dear God, I would give anything to have that girl in my life,” Hurley’s Princess of Darkness takes him up on the offer. She pressures the foolish wimp into signing a contract that cedes his very soul in exchange for several wishes designed to win his crush’s hearth through magical coercion. Each wish, of course, blows up in the dolt’s face and The Devil takes full advantage of his hubris & naivete.
There’s a little more to the difference between these two films’ central premises than gender-swapped leads & a third party romantic interest. There’s also a major shift here in terms of character likeability. In My Demon Lover the lovelorn schlub Denny is instantly endearing in her down-on-her-luck romantic struggles & the demonic Kaz is revolting in his attempts to woo her. Bedazzled works sort of in the opposite way. Brendan Fraser’s self-absorbed, Nice Guys Finish Last nerd is unlikely to inspire anyone to wish for his happiness and Elizabeth Hurley’s large than life antagonist is, well, devilishly fun to watch. If the two characters had also swapped their allotted screen time, Bedazzled might’ve actually been a campily fun romp with an occasional mean streak. Hurley has a blast here, going through more costume changes than a millionaire drag queen (nurse, meter maid, fashion bitch, etc.) & cheekily intoning lines like, “Most men think they’re a god. This one just happens to be right,” and [in response to the indignation of “You can’t have my soul!”] “What are you, James Brown?” The problem is that nearly every minute without Hurley is an eternity of agony. Only the most devoted of Brendan Fraser fanatics could possibly stomach all seven or so versions of him on display here. As he cycles through personalities like dimwitted basketball player, oversensitive poet, and Colombian drug lord, each more broad than the last, it’s easy to see why in his heyday his comedic stylings were mostly relegated to children’s media where he could find reasons to wind up shirtless.
There’s a lot more going against Bedazzled than just the imbalance of Hurley & Fraser screen time. As soon as several racist, offensively lazy gags play over the opening credits, its easy to tell that this isn’t the young, inspired Ramis of Ghostbusters & Groundhog’s Day yesteryear. The film only gets lazier & more insensitive from there and when Fraser appears in brownface as a Colombian drug lord in the first wish segment, I was in shock that I actually saw this piece of shit movie in the theater with my parents as a kid. I don’t think Bedazzled exactly stands as a warning against my desire for a gender-swapped My Demon Lover, though. If anything, Elizabeth Hurley’s horny demon antagonist was the sole bright spot in a film that could’ve used a whole lot more of her sinful charm. Bedazzled is more of a warning that gender-swapping My Demon Lover‘s central characters isn’t enough of an instant fix to patch all of the film’s moral pitfalls. There’s plenty of room for the premise to stumble without the right creative minds to steer the ship. In other words, be careful what you wish for or the results could be a nightmare. Bedazzled taught me that, but perhaps not in the way it intended to.
For more on April’s Movie of the Month, the 1987 romantic horror comedy My Demon Lover, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film, and last week’s look on how it reflects the work of director Ate de Jong.