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The Student News Site of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

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The Weekly Movie Thing – Angel Heart (1987)

Photo+from+Quad+Cinema.
Photo from Quad Cinema.

“A movie made by white America that cast a black girl, gave her voodoo things to do and have sex”.

– Bill Cosby 

 

Well, it’s been over thirty-five years since the release of Angel Heart (1987) and we have a quote from Bill Cosby. Apparently, he found the explicit content of Alan Parker’s film objectionable, taking it upon himself to speak out against something that sexualizes its star, Lisa Bonet, who also happens to play his daughter, Denise Huxtable, on the former-hit series The Cosby Show. Well, let’s start by dropping the c-word; Bonet consented to be in the film; of course, this concept might be lost on Mr. Cosby. 

On the one hand, we have a talented actress who took a daring role in an even more daring, transgressive horror film with a plethora of artistic merits, and on the other hand, we have petty words from a convicted serial rapist; so lets not waste any more time on Bill Cosby, he’s gotten away with enough hasn’t he?

 

For a lot of people, October is their favorite movie-going month as it’s the perfect time to play some ideal horror movies; it’s the perfect way to spend our tenth month, and for some reason, this transitions into one of my personal annual movie viewing habits, “Noirvember”. So what better way to bridge the two inspired seasonal pairings than with a title that epitomizes the semi-limited noir horror genre, Angel Heart. 

The improbably named but semi-suave private man, Harry Angel (played by the always captivating Mickey Rourke), is like the best of the movie private eyes; he’s attractive, a wee-bit clever, kind of smart but is, in essence, a pretty unremarkable guy. Maybe that’s why we don’t bat an eye when he doesn’t pick up on the equally unlikely moniker of Robert DeNiro’s character, Louis Cyphere (get it?), who engages Angel to track down an elusive crooner that inevitably leads him down a dark path of murder, sorcery, sex, voodoo, and intrigue where it might be that his very soul is one of the many things being trafficked in the many duplicitous wheelings and dealings that layer the densely populated cast of shady characters.

 

Angel Heart isn’t a perfect film, and that’s precisely why it’s a relentlessly interesting one. A heady genre hybrid fusing the familiar horror tropes with the machinations of the distinctly American dimensions of film-noir, Alan Parker’s penchant for broad dramatic swings pulls the dense scripting and predictable segues into something that feels delightfully naughty, a forbidden fruit cocktail tinged with boozy reminiscence and violent kinetic bursts of ritualistic sexuality. This film reminds us why the lure of darkness and evil is always more tempting than the goody binarism of chastity and virtue. 

Alongside the more flaccid and self-serious modern horror fare as of late, Angel Heart will provoke, jab, and instigate a modicum of weird feelings in its audience, and those who are game have a head-start; others will proceed with caution. While there’s no doubt that American Horror Story writers and creators Ryan Murphy & Bradley Falchuck wear their influences on their sleeves, and we’d have the series with or without this movie, I’m sure that the third (and arguably best) season of American Horror Story, AHS: Coven,  wouldn’t look or feel the way it does had it not been for Angel Heart; see it for yourself. 

It seems like we’re so concerned with “elevating” horror, using psychologically relevant or rather exploiting them to “legitimize” movies by their over-reliance on trauma as the catalyst for narrative accelerant. This feels corollary with genre hybrids that give more dimension to potential B-movie sensationalism. Still, Angel Heart does so by leaning into the darkness instead of trying to pick it apart for the sake of feigned legitimacy. Other movies that I feel fly in the same orbit go back as far as the forties, with Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked With a Zombie (1943), where famous b-movie producer Val Lewton sought to make a zombified adaptation of Jane Eyre as a richly textured melodramatic horror film. Alongside is another Caribbean set, voodoo-laden sojourn is the underrated Wes Craven outing, The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), both of which feel related to Angel Heart and are wonderful companions. 

 

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