Saturday, October 3, 2009


“How terrible is wisdom when it brings no profit to the wise.”

Angel Heart is an strange movie. Despite the fact that the film has aged extremely well, something about it just feels off, like you’re always watching it from across a room. Mostly forgotten today, if the movie’s remembered at all today it’s for it’s infamous sex scenes, and great double twist ending, I’m going to make this review spoiler free. Normally for a twenty year old movie I wouldn’t bother, but since there is a chance for people to go in on this one and get surprised, I’m going to be vague. Unfortunately that also means being vague about the films supernatural elements, which is unfortunate as this is a horror film column. Rest assured they’re present.

Angel Heart follows Mickey Rourke as Harry Angel. Angel is hired by a mysterious businessman named Louis Cypher (I guess the names Guy Mystery and Dude With A Secret where already taken), to find a singer who owes Cypher an unspecified debt. The trail quickly leads Angel into Voo Doo circles. As the occult becomes more and more prominent and the people he interviews start dying, Angel finally realizes that something might be up.

Rourke plays him as a skirt chasing dim bulb of a private eye. The character himself is dull and unlikable and only Rourke’s natural charisma keeps him from being a total wash. After a decade Of Rourke playing hardened freaks with skin like leather, it’s bizarre to watch him inhabit a standard pretty boy role, even a hungover sloppy pretty boy. He’s good, by the end of the movie he looks like someone suitably freaked the fuck out by what’s going on, but aside from a few big moments you can tell this is one Rourke kind of slept walked through.

The same can’t be said for Robert DeNiro as Louis Cypher, whose performance made me long for the days in which you could say “Oh Good Robert DeNiro is in this.” Rather than “Oh Shit Robert DeNiro is in this." His Cypher (rumored to be modeled on Scorsese, despite the fact that he doesn’t spend all of his time nervously fidgeting around and recommending Michael Powell movies) is a figure of quiet menace. Never failing to completely dominate any scene he’s in with ominous weight, despite the fact that his voice never rises above a whisper. Guy makes eating an egg frightening.

The movie is directed by Alan Parker a director whose somewhat underrated thanks to the mere fact that he hasn’t made a half decent movie in fifteen years. He does a top notch job here though. Stylish and shadow covered, filled with truly disturbing imagery. He puts together some truly frightening scenes, a journey into the dark heart of a Harlem church is particularly effective, and even a few good gore gags. Though Some Aspects of the movie have aged badly. The big Rourke Lisa Bonet blood covered sex scene, which at the time was so controversial it caused Bill Cosby to briefly fire her ass from the show, now looks like an outtake from the strangest Prince video of all time.

The film plays much more like a film noir with horror elements then vica versa. And some viewers might be put off by it’s deliberate (Read Slow) pace. It has more in common with the films of Val Lewton, like I Walked With A Zombie, and The Seventh Victim, then your average eighties horror film. But it’d be a shame if they wrote off the movie. Despite it’s flaws and some awkward moments it remains an intriguing steady march into the heart of darkness. The implications of the last line are terrifying.

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