Angel Heart is a 1987 Alan Parker film (Fame, Pink Floyd’s The Wall) that craftily interlaces a pulpy detective story with supernatural horror. Parker creates an unnerving world that is both fantastical and hauntingly real. Angel Heart, for all its talk of Satanism, voodoo and black magic, truly puts you under its spell. Part of the film’s mesmerizing quality is it’s duality: both horrifying and camp, humorous and deadly.
Set in 1950s New York City, Mickey Rourke stars as a dishevelled yet devilishly handsome private detective named Harry Angel. Angel’s latest client, Louis Cyphre (played by an eerily flamboyant Robert De Niro, with long nails and hair, soft spoken voice and beady eyes) wants him to find a missing World War II hero and singer, Johnny Favorite, who disrupted a contract between them. Angel’s investigations eventually lead him to New Orleans, where Favorite supposedly fell in love with a voodoo practitioner named Evangeline Proudfoot. He befriends her and Favorite’s daughter, Epiphany. The mystery not only lies in finding Favorite, but as to why Angel’s leads continually end up dead after he meets with them. Several Satanic and Oedipal twists unfold.
The center- or heart of Angel Heart is Rourke himself. Rourke here is at the peak of his handsomeness and on the top of his acting game. He brings an infectious humor, peppered with cheeky one-liners and repetitions, his reply “I’m from Brooklyn!” to questions such as “Are you an atheist?” or “Do you speak French?” and small quirks such as his fear or “thing about chickens.” Through inflections in dialogue and the smallest of gestures, Rourke brings the charming yet ruffled gumshoe to life. Rourke also plunges into dark depths for Angel’s descent. Though it is sprinkled with sportive humor, Angel Heart is ultimately about Angel’s fall into hell, symbolized by mysterious cuts to elevators going endlessly down. The twist unlocks the key to his fate and past, unmooring him from his cheeky façade and breaking him down. Rourke’s portrayal of Angel’s self-realization is both haunting and heartbreaking. Overall, Rourke brilliantly executes the humor and tragedy of his role- dualities that play at large in the film’s genre.
Angel Heart sparked some controversy upon release- at first receiving an X rating. Trimming 10 seconds from the films culminate sex scene gave it an R. The sex scene marries sex and violence (the very fabric of the horror genre) in a blatant and, for some, somewhat shocking way. It is a fascinating (may even be daringly sexy) yet terrifying and gory sequence. Blood oozes from the walls and onto Rourke’s thrusting body. His partner is Lisa Bonet, and at the time it was shocking to see a Cosby Show kid engaging in a scene like this.
Angel Heart is a captivating Faustian noir, taking the film noir genre to new and supernatural heights by weaving old-fashioned pulpy camp to the chills of religious and mythological horror. A sexy and loopy nightmare drenched in blood. While the twists may be obvious to some from the beginning, Parker nevertheless crafts an exuberant film, anchored by an absolutely incredible performance from Mickey Rourke.
By Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero Bruce Springsteen. Some of her favorite films are Amadeus, King Kong, When Harry Met Sally, Raging Bull, The Godfather, Jaws, and An American Werewolf in London. Her absolute favorite will always be The Lord of the Rings trilogy. 70s/80s era Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are her faves. She blogs even more about her film obsession at cinematicvisions.wordpress.com.