Usually the Independent Film Channel will run a Halloween horror movie marathon and I was overjoyed to see that this movie was on their schedule. I’ve only seen Angel Heart maybe two or three times since I saw it in it’s original theatrical run back in ’87 and I got myself ready on my couch with my goodies wondering: could it still have the same effect on me after all this time? My happy answer is: YES. Angel Heart remains one of my personal favorites because it is photographed so well, the performances are all outstanding and it combines the private eye and supernatural genres flawlessly. It’s a hell of a movie and given the subject matter, I mean that quite literally.
Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is a private detective in 1955 New York and he’s definitely not Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. When we first see him he looks like he’s coming off a three-day binge. He’s contacted by a lawyer named Winesap (“Law & Order” regular Dann Florek) who represents a strange foreign gentleman named Louis Cyphre (Robert DeNiro) who wants Harry to find out if a 1940’s crooner named Johnny Favorite is still alive. When asked why, Cyphre simply states that Johnny Favorite owes him collateral for “certain services”. Harry is suspicious as all hell, but hey, Cyphre’s $5,000 check is good and Harry takes the case.
He would have been better off sticking to his divorce cases. Very shortly, Harry is up to his unshaven neck in a mystery that he rapidly realizes may cost more than his life to solve. The trail of the singer Johnny Favorite is a blood-soaked one that leads from a really strange church in Harlem to the voodoo haunted bayous of New Orleans and it occurs to Harry as he continues on his quest that the solution to the mystery may be more frightening than the mystery itself. But he goes on because it becomes more and more apparent that his very soul depends on him discovering the secret of Johnny Favorite.
Angel Heart has so much to recommend it; I hardly know where to begin. The performances are absolutely first rate. Mickey Rourke may have given the best performance of his career in this movie and many people cite his “I know who I am!” scene near the end as his finest. Robert DeNiro is not only sinister but also quite humorous in his role. Look closely at him in this movie because there are not only visual clues to his identity but the way he plays it and his appearance is a homage to the director Martin Scorsese and given what we find out about Louis Cyphre, it may give you a chuckle. Lisa Bonet (Epiphany Proudfoot) is really amazing in this movie. It’s such an incredibly different role and persona from what she was playing on “The Cosby Show” that even though she caught some flack for it, it gave her unshakable legitimacy as a serious actress.
If you recall anything about Angel Heart it’s probably because of two scenes Lisa Bonet has this movie. The first is a voodoo ritual scene and the second is a sex scene with her and Mickey Rourke. I’m not going to spoil either of these scenes for you in describing them save to say that I admire Lisa Bonet for taking such acting risks in scenes that could not have been easy to shoot but they do indeed contribute to the story and are not added for shock, although the sex scene is definitely not for the squeamish. In fact, there is a lot in Angel Heart that is not for the faint of heart. Most people say ‘horror movie’ and they think of “Friday The 13th” or “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. When my friends and family ask me what horror movie should they rent for a Friday or Saturday night viewing I usually recommend either “Night Of The Hunter” (which should absolutely not be seen by yourself unless you’ve got nerves of steel) or Angel Heart.
The bottom line is this: if you have seen Angel Heart then you’re probably nodding your head in agreement while you’re reading this. If you haven’t seen Angel Heart then I recommend that you rent it the very next time you raid your local video store. Get yourself the movie goodies of your choice. Put the DVD in your player and turn off the lights. And then prepare yourself for one of the most frightening movie experiences ever put on screen. Yeah, Angel Heart IS that scary.