Friday, October 28, 2011

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 compaint 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. Stangely 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 andstarts off in New York city, where Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is a privatedetective who normally works small cases like cheating spouses for divorces andthe like. He is approached one day by a lawyer who wants to engage Heart’sservices for a client of his, the enigmatic Loius Cyphre (Robert DeNiro).Cypher is trying to locate a singer with the stage name Johnny Favourite whoapparently ran out on a contract of some sort he’d entered into with Cypher.

Favourite had been suffering from shell-shock caused by hisadventures in World War 2 and for the previous twelve years or so had been receivingtreatment in a hospital outside the city. Heart takes the case and quicklydiscovers that Favourite had done a runner from the hospital ages ago and thathe, 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 bea barely coherent morphine addict, and in an effort to get some sense out ofhim, Heart forces him to go without his drug of choice for a little while. Whenhe checks in on the good doctor Heart finds that the doctor appears to havetaken his own life with a bullet to the braincase.

Now fearing he’ll be questioned over the death, Heartconfronts Cyphre who ups the fee he’s paying in order to keep Heart on thecase. As Heart investigates further he uncovers that Favourite was mixed up insome very shady dealings and seemed to have developed a strong interest in theoccult, 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 quicklyup to his neck in the local scene, made up of swinging jazz and a bizarre mixof religious and occult practices, all with a funky Creole/French accent. Theclues in the case lead Heart around in some circles and more and more peopleconnected to the case wind up dead. While everything points to Favourite beingdeceased himself, something else is always hinting that what actually happenedto 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 tarotreaders to voodoo practitioners but none of these things really come to bear onthe story until quite near the end. In fact, while this hocus-pocus is evidentfrom early on, it always feels merely coincidental, like characters that areinto voodoo could just as easily have been into gardening or stamp collectingor any other more mundane hobby. The way all this is spun makes Angel Heartquite a clever little film.

DeNiro’s character, Cyphre, is the most blatantly obvious inthe film and there’s very little doubt as to his true nature from the moment heappears (manifests, perhaps?) on screen. But even while you know he’s really thebaddest 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 longfinger nails he still acts in a semi-normal fashion and you forget that there’sbound 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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