30 Days of Fright – 27: Angel Heart

Over the years I’ve had many items of clothing ruined by money burning holes in the pockets. While this is not a major complaint (hardly a complaint at all really) it did lead to many fine items of body-covering having to be pegged out dues to all the stuff I lost from out of those holey pockets. As I’ve gotten older and found more diverse ways to throw money away as quickly as possible, the problem with the pockets has been significantly reduced. Now I find that the things I purchased with that cash are burning holes of their own as they lie idle and begging for use. Strangely though, the DVD of last night’s movie did not suffer from that problem. Don’t get me wrong, it sat on a shelf for ages before I ever watched it, it’s just that I didn’t buy it – I stole it off a friend of mine…

The action in Angel Heart (1987) takes place in 1955 and starts off in New York city, where Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is a private detective who normally works small cases like cheating spouses for divorces and the like. He is approached one day by a lawyer who wants to engage Heart’s services for a client of his, the enigmatic Loius Cyphre (Robert DeNiro).Cypher is trying to locate a singer with the stage name Johnny Favourite who apparently ran out on a contract of some sort he’d entered into with Cypher.
Favourite had been suffering from shell-shock caused by his adventures in World War 2 and for the previous twelve years or so had been receiving treatment in a hospital outside the city. Heart takes the case and quickly discovers that Favourite had done a runner from the hospital ages ago and that he, or an associate of his, had paid off a doctor to maintain the pretence thatFavourite was still a patient. Tracking down the doctor, Heart finds him to be a barely coherent morphine addict, and in an effort to get some sense out of him, Heart forces him to go without his drug of choice for a little while. When he checks in on the good doctor Heart finds that the doctor appears to have taken his own life with a bullet to the braincase.
Now fearing he’ll be questioned over the death, Heart confronts Cyphre who ups the fee he’s paying in order to keep Heart on the case. As Heart investigates further he uncovers that Favourite was mixed up in some very shady dealings and seemed to have developed a strong interest in the occult, spending a lot of time with a fortune teller and other occultists.These people were likely the ones who helped him escape from the hospital andHeart follows them to their most likely hiding place of New Orleans.
Jumping on the train to Louisiana, Heart finds himself quickly up to his neck in the local scene, made up of swinging jazz and a bizarre mix of religious and occult practices, all with a funky Creole/French accent. The clues in the case lead Heart around in some circles and more and more people connected to the case wind up dead. While everything points to Favourite being deceased himself, something else is always hinting that what actually happened to him is far worse than that…
Overcome by DeNiro’s powerful, manly presence, Mickey Rourke cops a sneaky feel
The Angel Heart DVD has been kicking around my place forages now (well over a year!) and I’ve been trying to decide if I’ll watch it as part of this seriesor not for over a year. The reason I’ve been so unsure about this film is that,as hard as it can be for other movies, it’s really, really hard to decide ifAngel Heart is in fact a horror at all. I am inclined to think it is, but amore accurate, though not perfect, description might be “Supernatural Thriller”.
Angel Heart features a wealth of occult material from tarot readers to voodoo practitioners but none of these things really come to bear on the story until quite near the end. In fact, while this hocus-pocus is evident from early on, it always feels merely coincidental, like characters that are into voodoo could just as easily have been into gardening or stamp collecting or any other more mundane hobby. The way all this is spun makes Angel Heart quite a clever little film.
DeNiro’s character, Cyphre, is the most blatantly obvious in the film and there’s very little doubt as to his true nature from the moment he appears (manifests, perhaps?) on screen. But even while you know he’s really the baddest of the bad the film still plays out like a regular detective story.Even scenes where DeNiro turns up sporting a cool pentagram ring and long finger nails he still acts in a semi-normal fashion and you forget that there’s bound to be some sort of diabolical ending to the whole thing.
But, as clever and all as Angel Heart is, its lack of clearly defined genre lines means that it’s lacking as a horror film. The dread never builds when the end does come it plays out in the same understated way that the previous hundred minutes did leaving you with more than a bit of an anti-climax on your hands. As a broody detective story Angel Heart is excellent, as a flat out horror it needs some work; I can ‘t help but feel that if the supernatural element had turned out to be something more natural instead the whole thing would have worked much better.
For a real scare, take a good look at Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart (in which he was excellent, by the way) and take a look at the poor bugger now…One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Angel Heart

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