Angel Heart (1987)

1 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Angel Heart” is a thriller that starts out as a film-noir private-eye tale and then suddenly turns into a bizarre horror movie about something far more supernatural than neither its hero—nor us—could come to grips with until we start to really think about what has just happened once the movie is over. Nothing was as simple as we were led to think it was. We’ve seen the private eye in this movie go from place to place, looking for his subject and encountering many weird things along the way. But its ending brings things to a whole new perspective that “Angel Heart” becomes more shocking than we were led to expect. And heck, we’ve seen many dead chickens!

It’s a strange, unsettling horror movie that starts out as a regular film noir piece. We get the street-savvy private eye—a Brooklyn private detective named Harry Angel (charismatically played by Mickey Rourke)—getting an assignment to find somebody and receive pay for doing so. But his client is someone quite unusual—a strange man named Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) who has a neatly trimmed black beard, an elegant black suit, long fingernails, and slicked back hair. All that’s missing is a sign saying “I am the Devil” because his appearance and manner would make people believe that he is evil personified. Anyway, Cyphre assigns Angel to find a missing person for him, for about five grand. Angel accepts the assignment and finds himself in a mad, mad world. His leads are stale and unreliable, more bodies pile up wherever he goes, and the police begin to suspect him for murder.

OK, that all sounds standard enough for a private-eye story, except for the curious De Niro character. But I didn’t mention the voodoo ceremonies in which people dance around crazily and sacrifice chickens, hence the aforementioned “dead chickens.” All of this is weird enough, but trust me—we’re at the tip of the iceberg. But for the sake of keeping things spoiler-free, it’s probably best you don’t know too many details of the plot.

I should bring up the infamous bloody sex scene in the movie. The most memorable, disturbing scene is the controversial one—a sex scene featuring Rourke and Lisa Bonet as a young New Orleans woman whose mother knew the missing person. This scene was almost given an “X” rating by the MPAA ratings board. I wouldn’t blame them—it’s freaking insane. It starts out as an erotic sex scene (with multiple shots of Bonet’s bare breasts), only with a few leaks of rain near the bed. But then instead of rain leaking on them, it’s blood. Rourke and Bonet, I think, don’t notice that they’re being soaked in blood and the whole scene is edited in such a bizarre way as the sex gets even more graphic as it goes along.

The story for “Angel Heart” leads up to a shocking, revealing final act that is just insane. It’s one of the strangest, disturbing, chilling endings I’ve ever seen in a movie. I did not see it coming, nor did I want to know once it was revealed to me. Everything that followed didn’t really prepare me for it, which is why it was so shocking. What else I can say about it is that director Alan Parker tries everything to keep you interested and how he handles the ending is going all out to make it his own. The result is a messed-up movie, but a memorable one. That alone grants “Angel Heart” a recommendation.

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