Um, I'm going to go with the re-rated R rating, compared to what it got originally. It's simply something I don't want to have on my page, nor do I want to confront my conscience for finding out the rating after I watched it. I mean, this is a pretty hard R. The sex is very graphic and gory. There's a lot of nudity and violence. There's death and blood galore. Also, you know, demons. But it reads more like a film noir than an exploitative movie. For as much disturbing stuff is in the film, it's not ALL OVER the film. It just has a handful of very intense scenes. Oh, and drug use. Can't forget the drug use. R.
DIRECTOR: Alan Parker
I need to actually watch a higher def copy of this movie. I have had this movie in my LaserDisc collection for a while. But the only version I've seen of this movie is the LaserDisc edition of the film. I'll preach LaserDisc all day, but LaserDisc movies tend not to have subtitles. That's normally fine. After all, the audio on LaserDisc is beyond impressive. But when a movie is as hard R as this movie is, I tend not to blast the volume in the house for the kids to hear while I'm exercising. So there's this bombastic score and sound effects track, but then Mickey Rourke and Robert DeNiro have a lot of whispering scenes together. It doesn't make for the ideal format to write about, given all of this information.
But I wish that I wrote about this during my film noir. I know that Angel Heart is a pretty respected film in a lot of communities. But there are elements of this movie that aren't necessarily mimicking film noir as a whole, but movies like Chinatown and Body Heat instead. That nose guard thing screams the bandage from Chinatown. The over-the-top sexuality screams Body Heat. There's just something about the movie that feels like the homage of an homage; a copy of a copy. I think I know what moment did it for me. There's a scene in the first half of the movie, before he goes to Louisiana. He's sitting at a reel-to-reel recording the events of the mystery. But instead of actually seeing how Harry is breaking down the events of the story, we get to watch the summarized version of it all. We don't really get a say, as spectators of an investigation, on how the story is going to play out. Instead, we have to follow everything that Harry says. Now, one thing that I discovered very quickly about the mysteries of film noir is that sometimes we just have to agree with the decision because the filmmakers told us so. There's often a lot of content to absorb --a lot of plot to digest --that might get in the way of a theme or a message.
And Angel Heart definitely fits that bill. For as much plot as the film tries to feed us, summary or otherwise, the story is about Harry Angel being Johnny Favourite the entire time. That's why were here. We want to know the big twist ending. And the end is worth it. From moment one, we know that there isn't going to be a traditional ending to this film because of Louis Cypher (groan). Robert DeNiro is screaming that he's the devil from moment one. Maybe it is because I looked at the sleeve of the LaserDisc before watching the film. But DeNiro isn't exactly hiding that he's the devil. He's got long hair in a ponytail, a choice to be sure. But his long nails coupled with the pentagram ring really clinches it. Considering how much of this movie intentionally telegraphs a supernatural atmosphere, it's kind of bananas that my brain still wanted to make sense of everything. Every few minutes in the movie, we see something demonic or cultish. That cabinet full of weird sacrifices should have been a clear reminder that the story wouldn't have a traditional ending. Heck, I've even seen this movie before and I still wanted to make sense from a rational point of view. It's like one part of the movie really wants me to adhere to convention while the other part of the movie wants me to prepare for the fantastic. It's a very bizarre dichotomy.
I don't know if I can approve of the sense of otherness that is created by the practitioners of Voodoo / Voudoon. Every practitioner is a Black person. What this kind of casting and cultural commentary kind of makes the movie feel like Harry Angel is the white man representing civilization and culture. However, every Black person in the film seems to be some kind of backwards criminal or cultist. Watching the sexual dances in the middle of the night seems like a gawker thing. While Epiphany Proudfoot may come across as a respectable character, there's something less about her. She isn't part of society. She washes her hair in a still as opposed to a shower. On one end, this is a commentary on the primitive elements of religion. But her race has to be taken into account. Yeah, the movie doesn't say that white people are free from guilt. It actually might be the central theme, that they are responsible for the evils of the world. Louis Cypher is white and overtly white. Harry Angel, a guy who has a name that is associated with goodness and justice is secretly a serial murderer. But that doesn't diminish that the Black men and women of this movie are treated almost like savages. There's something completely primal about the belief system of Louisiana and that we're just supposed to accept that?
I'm going to go on a limb here: the blood sex scene is trying too hard. There's a moment where it is really effective. There's a few drops and the rain turning to blood is haunting. But that scene just goes on too long. At one point, artistry turns into exploitation and the entire scene comes across as slightly crass. Also, this movie screams the '80s. Having the implied sex act sells the scene. But the reason that this movie got the X rating was because of how graphic the sex was. Like, the movie as a whole isn't pornographic. Why make this scene something that would be considered pornographic? I mean, I read as an old man here. But the shock value of this reads like the cocaine nightmares of the 1980s and that's such a bummer. There's a lot going on in the movie that it really doesn't need the shock value to take the film to a different level.
One day I'll watch a good cut of this movie. That's right. I foresee that I'll watch Angel Heart at least for a third time. That being said, it's not a perfect movie. It's a functional film that tends to take the cheap way of getting to places at times. But all that said, it's probably worth a watch at least once.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.