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Happy Halloween: Angel Heart (1987) review

Updated on November 1, 2013

Director: Alan Parker

Cast: Mickey Rourke, Robert DeNiro, Lisa Bonet, Charlotte Rampling, Brownie McGhee, Stocker Fontelieu, Pruitt Taylor Vince

Angel Heart is a supernatural horror thriller with secrets we figure out long before the main character does. The movie tells the story of New York City private investigator Harold Angel (Mickey Rourke), who's been hired to find a missing person, and stumbles upon a supernatural mystery it seems to take him forever to solve. The problem is that the film's central mystery is really no mystery at all. The clues are practically spelled out from the beginning, and by the time the movie lumbers past the 100 minute mark, the only thing you'll want to do is scream at the hero "Get there faster!"

Harold's employer is a man named Louis Cyphre (Robert DeNiro), a mysterious figure with a trimmed beard, slicked-back hair, pointed nails, and who always dresses in expensive black suits. He's hired Harold to track down a character named Johnny Favorite, a pre-war crooner who owes Cyphre a debt. The nature of the debt is kept a secret for the majority of the movie, although given Cyphre's physical appearance and the sinister way he eats boiled eggs, it's pretty easy to guess the sort of debt Johnny owes him.

"I COMMAND YOU TO SPILL THE BLOOD OF THE....I mean, would you like an egg?"
"I COMMAND YOU TO SPILL THE BLOOD OF THE....I mean, would you like an egg?"

There's not much that can said about the plot, except that Harold's investigation leads him to travel to Louisiana, where he encounters a voodoo like religion that involves its followers dancing and showering themselves in chicken blood. Lisa Bonet plays Epiphany Proudfoot, a priestess in the religion who takes an immediate liking to Harold. The movie sparked a lot of controversy when it was released due to the sex scene between Bonet and Rourke. They meet in a rundown hotel during a heavy rainstorm, and as they have wild and violent intercourse on the bed, the raindrops leaking from the ceiling start to turn to blood. It's a gruesome scene, and given what you'll probably have already figured out about the plot, it's also pretty revolting.

Rourke turns in a good performance as Harold Angel, but given the predictable nature of the story, it's hard to care about his character overall. DeNiro plays his character in a low key manner, and it works for the most part, although the scene with him eating the boiled egg got a bad laugh out of me. The actors, I suppose, do what they can with what they've been given, but the material here is so weak that, despite their best efforts, they fail to make us care.

The one thing the movie does have going for it is its look. The story takes place in 1955, and director Alan Parker captures the look of that period beautifully. Cinematographer Michael Seresin bathes the movie in a moody noir atmosphere. The movie's opening scene takes place in a mist shrouded back alley where a dog stumbles upon a dead body. It's an eerie and visually stunning opener, but there eventually reached a point in the movie where I had to ask: who was that dead person in the alley?

Maybe the movie answered that question and it just went over my head. Maybe the screenplay really has more depth to it than I give it credit for. The movie was well received by both critics and audiences alike, and has made it on certain lists for having one of the best twist endings ever. All of this hype had me prepared to watch Angel Heart with anticipation and goodwill, but after an hour had passed, I grew very impatient with it. Angel Heart has more than its share of fans. I'm just not one of them.

Final Grade: * ½ (out of ****)

What did you think of this movie? :)

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