Tag Archives: Angel Heart

Fright Club: Satanists in Horror

It’s time to sift through that bountiful gift that is satanic horror. So many movies! So many black masses! So many purple robes, goat’s heads, high priests!! So many, indeed, that we had to leave off a ton of really great movies, so even though they didn’t make the final list, be sure to check out Ready or Not, Brotherhood of Satan, Race with the Devil, Blood on Satan’s Claw, Prince of Darkness, House of the Devil, The Sentinel, The Devil Rides Out, and the brilliant short film Born Again.

5. The Day of the Beast (1995)

Funny, startling and wildly irreverent, Alex de la Iglesia’s dip into Satanism is a giddy experience. It’s not just great Satanism horror, it’s an excellent Christmas movie!

A priest, a Satanist and a charlatan comb the city of Madrid on Christmas Eve in search of the birth ritual of the Antichrist. Their hijinx are feverish and frantic in a transgressively funny horror tale.

Gleefully gory mayhem suits the outlandish performances, together driving one of the gruesome auteur’s very best.

4. Angel Heart (1987)

In Angel Heart, director Alan Parker develops a steamy atmosphere as we follow private dick Harold Angel (Mickey Rourke) through the bowels of New Orleans in search of information on missing crooner Johnny Favorite.

Rourke’s work is key to the film’s unseemly feel. Angel’s sympathetic and full of a disheveled charm. You’re sorry for him even as you know he’s outmatched and probably undeserving of your pity. He knows it, too, and that’s what makes the performance so strong.

Plus there’s the sheer diabolical presence of an understated Robert DeNiro. His well-manicured and articulate Louis Cyphre perfectly balances Rourke’s handsome slob, and both fit beautifully into this sultry version of 1955.

Deceptively bloody, unusually classy, effortlessly creepy, Angel Heart stays under your skin. Maybe it’s the casual evil, the lurid atmosphere. Maybe it’s De Niro’s understated menace, with those long nails and that hardboiled egg.

3. The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)

Winter break approaches at a Catholic New England boarding school. Snow piles up outside, the buildings empty, yet Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton) remain. One has tricked her parents for an extra day with her townie boyfriend. One remains under more mysterious circumstances.

Things in writer/director Oz Perkins’s The Blackcoat’s Daughter quietly unravel from there – although quiet is not precisely the word for it. There is a stillness to the chilly, empty halls. But thanks to the filmmaker’s brother Elvis, whose disquieting score fills these empty spaces with buzzing, whispering white noise, a sinister atmosphere is born.

Perkins repays your patience and attention. There are loads of sinister little clues to find.

2. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby remains a disturbing, elegant, and fascinating tale, and Mia Farrow’s embodiment of defenselessness joins forces with William Fraker’s skillful camerawork to cast a spell. Along with Repulsion (1965) and The Tenant (1976), Rosemary’s Baby is part of Polanski’s “apartment trilogy” – disturbing films of tension and horror in which metropolitan life and nosey neighbors conspire to drive a person mad.

Working from Ira Levin’s novel, Polanski takes all the glamour out of Satanism – with a huge assist from Ruth Gordon, who won an Oscar for her turn as the highly rouged busybody Minnie Castevet. By now we all know what happens to poor Rosemary Woodhouse, but back in’69, thanks much to Mia Farrow’s vulnerable performance, the film boiled over with paranoid tension. Was poor, pregnant Rosemary losing it, or was she utterly helpless and in evil hands?

1. The Witch (2015)

The unerring authenticity of The Witch made it the most unnerving horror film in years.

Every opportunity writer/director Roger Eggers has to make an obvious choice he discards, though not a single move feels inauthentic. Rather, every detail – whether lurid or mundane – feels peculiarly at home here. Even the most supernatural elements in the film feel appallingly true because of the reality of this world, much of which is owed to journals and documents of the time, from which Eggers pulled complete sections of dialog.

As frenzy and paranoia feed on ignorance and helplessness, tensions balloon to bursting. You are trapped as this family is trapped in an inescapable mess, where man’s overanxious attempt to purge himself absolutely of his capacity for sin only opens him up to the true evil lurking, as it always is, in the woods.

Fright Club: Twist Endings in Horror

No genre has more invested in the twist ending – in being able to pull the rug out from under you at the last possible second – than horror. The best are the films that truly sneak up on you, making you re-examine everything that preceded the surprise.

Andy Ussery of Black Cat’s Shadow podcast joins us and he has an entirely different list of movies – that’s how many there are! Kind of makes you want to listen to the podcast HERE, doesn’t it?

Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Is it a brilliant movie? Will George be happy it made the list? That’s a lot of no right there, but honestly, how do we not acknowledge this stroke of genius?

Poor Angela (Felissa Rose)! She witnesses the death of her beloved father and, while still apparently quite traumatized, is asked to just go along with weird Aunt Martha’s (Desiree Gould—amazing!) whim.

Well, it doesn’t work out well for Angela or any of the staff or youngsters at Camp Arawak. But the damage you can do with a curling iron is hardly our concern today. No, it’s that final shot. The money shot. That face! That hairy chest! That wang!!

Angel Heart (1987)

Alan Parker directed Pink Floyd: The Wall. That has literally nothing to do with this list, but still.

In Angel Heart, Parker develops a steamy, lurid atmosphere as we follow private dick Harold Angel (Mickey Rourke) through the bowels of New Orleans in search of information on crooner Johnny Favorite.

Rourke’s performance is key to the film’s unseemly feel. A sinner – never a traditional hero – still, Angel’s sympathetic and full of a disheveled charm. You’re sorry for him even as you know he’s outmatched and probably undeserving of your pity. He knows it, too, and that’s what makes the performance so strong.

That, and the sheer diabolical presence of an unsettlingly understated Robert DeNiro. That hard boiled egg thing! Love!!

Bloodshed on the bayou – languid and unseemly.

Frailty (2001)

In 2001, actor Bill “We’re toast! Game over!” Paxton took a stab at directing the quietly disturbing supernatural thriller Frailty.

Paxton stars as a widowed dad awakened one night by an angel – or a bright light shining off the angel on top of a trophy on his ramshackle bedroom bookcase. Whichever – he understands now that he and his sons have been called by God to kill demons.

Whatever its flaws – too languid a pace, too trite an image of idyllic country life, Powers Boothe – Frailty manages to subvert every horror film expectation by playing right into them. We’re led through the saga of the serial killer God’s Hand by a troubled young man (Matthew McConaughey), who, with eerie quiet and reflection, recounts his childhood with Paxton’s character as a father.

Dread mounts as Paxton drags out the ambiguity over whether this man is insane, and his therefore good-hearted but wrong-headed behavior profoundly damaging his boys. Or could he really be chosen, and his sons likewise marked by God?

Brent Hanley’s sly screenplay evokes nostalgic familiarity, and Paxton’s direction makes you feel entirely comfortable in these common surroundings. Then the two of them upend everything – repeatedly – until it’s as if they’ve challenged your expectations, biases, and your own childhood to boot.

The Others (2001)

Co-writer/director Alejandro Amenabar casts a spell that recalls The Innocents in his 2001 ghost story The Others. It’s 1945 on a small isle off Britain, and the brittle mistress of the house (Nicole Kidman) wakes screaming. She has reason to be weary. Her husband has still not returned from the war, her servants have up and vanished, and her two children, Anna and Nicholas, have a deathly photosensitivity: sunlight or bright light could kill them.

What unspools is a beautifully constructed film using slow reveal techniques to upend traditional ghost story tropes, unveiling the mystery in a unique and moving way.

Kidman’s performance is spot-on, and she’s aided by both the youngsters (Alakina Mann and James Bentley). Bentley’s tenderness and Mann’s willfulness, combined with their pasty luster (no sun, you know), heighten the creepiness.

With the help of cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe and supporting actress Fionnula Flanagan, Amenabar introduces seemingly sinister elements bit by bit. It all amounts to a satisfying twist on the old ghost story tale that leaves you feeling as much a cowdy custard as little Nicholas.


The Sixth Sense (1999)

h, you totally didn’t figure it out. Don’t even start.

A troubled child psychologist (Bruce Willis) treats a young boy (Haley Joel Osment) carrying a terrible burden. The execution—basically, seeing ghosts in every corner of Philadelphia—could have become a bit of a joke, but writer/director M. Night Shyamalan delivers a tense, eerie product.

With his 1999 breakout, Shyamalan painted himself into a corner he found it tough to get out of: the spooky surprise ending. And though this would nearly be his undoing as a filmmaker, it started off brilliantly.

Part of the success of the film depends on the heart-wrenching performances: Toni Collette’s buoyant but terrified mother, Willis’s concerned therapist, and Osment’s tortured little boy. Between Shyamalan’s cleverly spooky script, a slate of strong performances and more than a few genuinely terrifying moments, this is one scary-ass PG-13.

Fright Club: Best Onscreen Satan

In honor of our next Fright Club Live – where we unspool the unhinged French horror show Sheitan (French for Satan) – we decided to pick through all the performers who’ve played the dark lord onscreen. George Burns to Dave Grohl, we considered them all. Here, though, is our list of the best of the best.

5. Jack Nicholson (The Witches of Eastwick– 1987)

Old Jack really breathed life into the idea of wretched excess in this one, coming across equally as frightening and charming. Appropriate. He seems to be playing off of his own persona, but given the comedic nature of the effort, and the absurdity that this slovenly old cuss could seduce three stunning, intelligent women (Susan Sarandon, Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer) – well, it’s a charm Nicholson seemed to come by naturally, so why not exploit it here?

4. Peter Stormare (Constantine – 2005)

There are two reasons to remember this film – Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare – and luckily they have one epic scene together. But Stormare manages to even outdo the effortlessly glorious Swinton – androgynous perfection as Gabriel – and that’s something to crow about. He’s been preparing to play the dark lord ever since he pushed Steve Buscemi into that wood chipper in Fargo. Once he got the shot, he was sinister, funny, frightening…and eventually undone by Keanu Reeves, which was almost enough reason to leave him off the list, but not quite.


3. Viggo Mortensen (The Prophecy – 1995)

There is no question this film belongs to Christopher Walken – as do all films in which he graces the screen. His natural weirdness and uncanny comic timing make the film more memorable than it deserves to be, but when it comes to sinister, Viggo Mortensen cuts quite a figure as Lucifer. Unseemly, gorgeous and evil, he seethes through his few scenes and leaves the celluloid scorched.

2. Robert DeNiro (Angel Heart – 1987)

De Niro’s well manicured and articulate Louis Cyphre perfectly balances Mickey Rourke’s handsome slob, and both fit beautifully into this sultry version of 1955. It’s really a beautifully made film, courtesy of Alan Parker, who adapted William Hjortsberg’s novel Fallen Angel and directed the film. Deceptively bloody, unusually classy, effortlessly creepy, Angel Heart stays under your skin. Maybe it’s the casual evil, the lurid atmosphere. Maybe it’s De Niro’s understated menace, with those long nails and that hardboiled egg.

1. Tim Curry (Legend – 1985)

Best Satan Ever. That voice, the sultry way he drawls out every syllable, the sweltering inappropriateness of his seduction, the look. Wow. This image clearly influenced both South Park‘s vision, as well as the Dave Grohl part in Tenacious D’s Pick of Destiny. But Curry pulls it off like no one else. Tim Curry is the world’s greatest sweet transvestite, the world’s greatest terrifying clown, and the world’s greatest Satan. Too bad the character is trapped in such a crap film.

Join the whole conversation on the FRIGHT CLUB PODCAST.

Countdown: Forgetful Movies for Memorial Day Weekend

This Memorial Day Weekend, we remember our dads, a soldier and a sailor who served their countries bravely before coming home, settling down, and raising children they would eventually drive insane. But before all that, they served their countries bravely, and we truly thank them (and all veterans) for that part. That’s what we’ll remember about George and Mark today. Tomorrow is another story…

In the meantime, let’s count down the best movies about people who really can’t remember a thing.

5. Angel Heart (1987)

Pre-freakshow Mickey Rourke is private dick Johnny Angel, looking for a guy who doesn’t want to be found, maybe because a bearded, egg-eating Robert De Niro is the client searching him out. But something’s not quite right with this investigation. A steamy period piece rich with twists and soaked in blood, Angel Heart is a startling bit of filmmaking and an underappreciated gem.

4. Shutter Island (2010)

Scorsese puts DiCaprio in an island asylum in Boston Harbor to suss out the details in a disappearance. But his investigation – like Johnny Angel’s – turns up more hazy mystery than facts. It doesn’t help that his wife’s ghost keeps popping up.

3. The Hangover (2009)

A clever concept fleshed out with stellar performances in well-articulated characters, The Hangover is more than just a lewd throwaway comedy. But as lewd comedies go, the original is a doozy. Injecting the bachelor party romp cliché with more energy, surprises and hilarity than most 90 minute flicks could handle, this is a comedy that remains funny upon repeated viewings.

2. Memento (2000)

Before Memento, we did not know Christopher Nolan was a genius. And then we did. Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) has a short term memory problem. The wrong type of people use this to their advantage. Writer/director Nolan keeps the audience as riveted and confused as poor Leonard with his non-linear approach, and the culminating moments are of devastating genius.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Jim Carrey has never been better than in this Michel Gondry mind bender penned by genius screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. A fascinatingly twisty, beautiful and clever film filled to bursting with exceptional performances, it’s a film everyone should see. We are our memories, even the bad one.