Angel Heart (1987, dir. Alan Parker)
There are several reasons why I remember Angel Heart so vividly and why it made an indelible imprint on my psyche. The first reason that I remember this movie so much that when it was released, I was nine years-old and in the third grade, never really maturing beyond that age. During that time my buddies and I were at the most horned up and curious little boys could be in the late 80s. Every little comment was snicker-inducing and all jokes about “boners” and “farts” were awesome, and gawking like little jerks at the older girls was common practice. This time was also when actress Lisa Bonet began branching out from her wholesome image as a Huxtable daughter and took a role in this movie. Her role was notorious because of her rather provocative sex scene with Mickey Rourke, which initially caused the film to receive an ‘X rating’ and put this film on my radar.
I first saw Angel Heart on cable, probably on HBO, on a Saturday night when I was on summer break in 1988. Some people are amazed at the little details about miscellaneous information that I hold, but then I tell them that I can’t do simple Algebra, and then they nod and understand how balance is restored. So, I had been looking forward to watching this movie because I used to read both Starlog and Fangoria religiously when I was younger, and the issue that had a story on Angel Heart was read multiple times, every detail pored over numerous times. There was a fat guy drowned and scalded in a big cauldron of gumbo, a guy shot through the eye, and a headless corpse in an elevator, resting against the wall, drenching the wall in blood. For a little gorehound, this was amazing. Then I read the article about the movie and it spoke of pacts with the Devil, Voodoo, ritual murder and other terrifying concepts to my impressionable little brain. All of this plus the promise of T&A… I had to see this movie.
When I finally sat down to watch Angel Heart, I wasn’t prepared for how slowly it began. It almost felt sleepy and dreary in its pacing. I was sitting on the floor with my legs crossed, placed obscenely close to the 19″ television, anticipating a rumored X-rated scene. I was excited to possibly see Lisa Bonet naked on screen, and just as the promised land of a scene with Lisa Bonet was possibly near, my dad sat down on the couch behind me in the back of the room. Moment ruined. Never liked seeing “adult themes” onscreen in the presence of my parents – still don’t; I’m in my mid-30s and I still get up to leave if so much as a nip slips on the screen. So, in response to my dad ruining the moment, I got up and offered to make us both popcorn. Ultimately, I missed the scene in its entirety, but I did sit to awkwardly watch the rest of the movie.
One particular scene, probably the most recognizable, other than the ending, is a discussion in a diner between the character Harry Angel and Louis Cyphre, who hired Harry to track down a once popular singer, Johnny Favorite. Louis now wants an update as the the investigation he hired Angel to complete. De Niro’s Cyphre slowly pushes for details from Rourke’s Angel, sipping a hot drink, then methodically cracks and then rolls a hard boiled egg. He then taunts Angel as he slowly peels the egg, waxing philosophical about the soul represented as an egg. Up until this point it is rather obvious that Cyphre is up to no good and has a not-so-coincidental homophonic name alluding to the Prince of Darkness. The scene culminates with Cyphre menacingly biting the egg in half, slowly chewing it, almost savoring each morsel. As the nine year-old hornball who settled into the atmosphere of the movie, I was shaken to my core. As stated in my Paranormal Activity 3 blog post re-publish, I was, and still am, to a certain degree, rather superstitious and fearful of the unknown, spirit realm, demons, whatever you wanna call it. I’m not ashamed to admit that I don’t even mess with Ouija boards – not even gonna. Did it once as a kid and we used an overturned Dixie Cup as the planchette. The damn cup moved beneath our fingers as the numbskull medium of our group asked for a response. I got the hell up and out of there.
The ending of Angel Heart is one that still bugs me. And “bugs” is a downgrade from “depressed the shit out of me” when I first saw the movie in 1988. For those who don’t know, the movie ends with a not-so-subtle allusion utilizing an elevator headed downwards. I don’t want to spoil the ending completely, but holy shit, I was disturbed after some revelations and then the aforementioned elevator ride. I don’t know how to express how affected by the ending that I was over the years, but for a while I refused to watch the movie at night, and even daytime viewings got to me. Even if you’re not one to believe in voodoo, Satanism, demons, the Devil, whatever goes bump in the night, Angel Heart is still an atmospheric journey into the past and visits a man in denial about who and what he really is.