Horror Movies

ANGEL HEART. Occult mystery for the ages

Alan Parker has a number of film works to his credit, several of which have already become (for lack of a better word) cult.

Edward Kelley

29 July 2023

ANGEL HEART. Crime mystery for the ages

No one needs to be reminded of famous musical films such as The Wall and Fame, or excellent dramas such as Birdie and Midnight Express. The position of the British director is unquestionable. Parker has in his achievements however a somewhat forgotten movie, in many respects completely unique and, in my opinion, the best in his career. It is of course Angel Heart.

It’s 1955 and New York detective Harold (Harry) Angel (Mickey Rourke) is hired for $125 a day by mysterious aristocrat Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to track down Johnny Favorite, a popular wartime jazz swinger. Twelve years earlier, Johnny had disappeared without fulfilling the terms of his contract with Mr. Cyphre. Based on William Hjortsberg’s tellingly titled Falling Angel, Angel Heart is a cinematic record of this investigation.

angel heart mickey rourke broken mirror

At the very beginning, it is worth mentioning that Angel Heart is not a faithful adaptation of Hjortsberg’s novel, it uses a number of threads taken from it and its fictional skeleton, but it distributes the accents differently, making the film more exciting and engaging the viewer than the literary prototype. Interestingly, unlike the novel, which is a classic detective story, the film based on it surprises the viewer with a more complex form, mixing criminal threads with supernatural elements. Thanks to this, Parker’s picture entered the strict canon of the American satanic film, thanks to which it found itself in such good company as Polanski’s ¬†Rosemary Baby or Richard Donner’s Omen.

Parker after Hjortsberg introduces us to the world of black jazzmen, smoky dives and mysterious rituals cultivated by descendants of Haitian slaves. Together with Harry, he lets us sneak through the dark alleys of New York and New Orleans, the capital of the American voodoo cult. Following the detective step by step, we meet all the people of the drama from years ago. Johnny was a popular World War II jazzman who was drafted into the Army and joined the Recreation Corps, tasked with raising the morale of American soldiers stationed thousands of miles from home.

angel heart lisa bonet voodoo priestess

However, Johnny and the team fall victim to German bombing in North Africa and return home in little more than a vegetable, ending up in a veterans’ hospital to end his days. After 12 years, however, it turns out that Johnny is not in the hospital. Soon after returning from the war, he was written out by a stranger, hiding under the name of Edward Kelley. But the commitment he made shortly before his enlistment still stands.

Starting from this level, the viewer knows exactly as much as Harry Angel. At first, it looks exactly as it was supposed to – the creditor, stretched for money and injured, decided to find the culprit. However, the view changes radically when the first (yes, yes, there will be more) victim appears. The viewer feels as confused as the main character, because the seemingly simple case of the sought-after debtor begins to reveal its hidden meaning. The client has to pay extra, or in fact bribe the detective, who on a daily basis encounters marital infidelity rather than suicides and loses the desire to deal with the case.

angel heart mickey rourke hand

Harry follows the faint trail left by Johnny: to his associates, his mistress, finally his daughter. With each step he wades deeper into the blood, sinking into the mire of ritual murders, rituals and his own nightmares, each step brings him closer to the abyss. The bottom is right there.

Angel Heart is another true example of the fact that in a sense of one’s own greatness and power, a man is able to stand on the edge of the abyss and dance with the Devil himself. The sin of pride accompanies us inseparably in life, hovering over us like a vulture over carrion. Johnny Favorite and Harry Angel sin with pride, underestimating the opponent they are facing. The Lightbringer pursues a goal with the consequence of a hellish bailiff, and the goal is to settle the score. Lucifer was God’s favorite, he was called the Shining One, he paid for the rebellion with being thrown into the Abyss, and he reemerged from the sea of fire as the Eternal Adversary. Here we find justification for the title of Hjortsberg’s novel (Falling Angel) and the funny parallel between what happened to the divine favorite and the man with the angelic name.

angel heart louis cyphre robert deniro

It must be especially gratifying for Lucifer to watch people repeat the cycle he experienced, except that now he acts as sole judge and prosecutor, and the end is always the same. Let you soar to the heights of possibilities, let you experience the adoration of crowds, success with women and wealth. Watch the ego inflate like a fish bladder, grow into pride and self-confidence to destroy everything in one move, and then watch them squirm, trying to extricate themselves from a situation that has surpassed them. Johnny Favorite reached the top, full of power, in his pride he came to the conclusion that he had reached the level where the ¬†Satan himself wasn’t enough for him, he thought that the Devil could be defeated, tricked, played like a naive at the poker table. Only one has succeeded so far in this game.

angel heart louis cyphre egg scene

Harry Angel is the showpiece of two actors: Mickey Rourke, who plays the slovenly detective Harold Angel in what is perhaps his best performance of his career, and Robert De Niro, who, although he is a rare guest on the screen, completely dominates it, sending shivers every time he appears. His Louis Cyphre is a real aristocrat, who bursts the screen with his class, and when in one of the scenes he absorbs an egg symbolizing soul and life, white as snow, we perceive it as something fascinating and perverse at the same time. The role was originally written for Marlon Brando and only when it turned out that he could not take it, it went to Robert De Niro. Today, it is hard to imagine anyone else in his place.

Cyphre’s character, although he only appears on the screen a few times, is the main driving force behind the events and it is worth spending more time with him. Contrary to Hjortsberg, who portrays Louis Cyphre rather as a buffoon and showman hiding behind the mask of a distinguished businessman, Parker opted for a decidedly coherent image of sophistication and good taste, though not devoid of a bit of perversion, which De Niro is able to convey with a single grimace. Although almost practically the entire weight of the plot rested on the duo’s Rourke – De Niro shoulders, there is no doubt that they fulfilled their task perfectly.

angel heart robert deniro mockey rourke in church

Alan Parker’s work is not only a horror film, but also a kind of dissertation on human imperfection and pride, often giving us an illusory belief in our own infallibility. Since the beginning of humanity, our species has been haunted by the desire to control demons, both those of nature and those of the world beyond the borders of our sensory perception, those whose existence we sense more than we understand. And us? Well, we can’t even control the demons that are in our own backyard – in our heads.

You’re going to burn for this, Angel.
I know. In hell!