Angel Heart

USA, 1987

Director: Alan Parker
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Robert DeNiro, Lisa Bonet, Charlotte Rampling
IMDB: 7.3

To take a break from the usual cult trash, obscure oddities and hyper-crazy foreign flicks, this week we revisit a true classic - one of my all time favourite films, Alan Parker's voodoo-infused neo-noir horror, Angel Heart.

Very loosely-based on the old time folklore surrounding blues-man Robert Johnson and his song Cross Road Blues, Parker's film (adapted from the novel Falling Angel), is a supernatural horror story wrapped within a film noir crime thriller. The result is a unique and fascinating film, enhanced considerably by a top notch cast and incredible production values.

Parker of course is responsible for many a fine film, despite not being the household name that he should be. Other films to his credit include Pink Floyd's The Wall, Midnight Express, Birdy, Mississippi Burning, Fame, and Evita - to name just a few in his diverse and award-winning career.

The film begins in the Harlem district of mid 1950's New York City, imbued with a seedy noir atmosphere through the use of a desaturated palette. It's only moments into the movie before we see the first macabre victim, while a suspicious stranger saunters from the dark alley swinging his cane.

Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is a down-at-heel gumshoe with a love of cigarettes, bourbon, and pretty women. Preferring the comforts of the bottle to taking overly-dangerous or taxing assignments, he ekes out a meager existence relying on his charm and street-smarts to get by.

There was a time in the 1980's when Rourke was widely touted as one of the most gifted actors of his generation. And in Angel Heart it's not hard to see why - as this is perhaps his finest role.

One day he is contacted by a law firm representing their mysterious client Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro), who has an unusual assignment for him. It seems that a popular crooner named Johnny Favorite has reneged on a deal, and Harry is hired to locate him.

De Niro is another actor at the top of his game here. Although his part his small, the sheer malevolence implied through the simple peeling of an egg is one of the film's, and also De Niro's, most iconic scenes.

A series of clues lead Harry to New Orleans - a city rife with superstition and voodoo. Once again Parker nails the atmosphere ... the heat and humidity of the old South signaled by portentous cooling fans, dust, sweat, and omnipresent dripping water. The move from the cold climes of New York City to the heat of Louisiana is a crafty parallel of Harry's descent into hell.

Along the way we meet Toots Sweet (played by legendary blues-man Brownie McGhee), and Parker takes the opportunity to infuse the soundtrack with some authentic down-home blues provided by the likes of John Lee Hooker, Dr John, Bessie Smith, and of course Mr McGhee.

Its in this steamy environment that he comes across Epiphany Proudfoot (Lisa Bonet). Bonet is a revelation here, in this her first feature film. She channels a raw, earthy sexuality perfectly in keeping with the role, purring her lines with the bearing and poise of a Voodoo Priestess, all the while conveying a potent sexual availability.

I'm quite sure that no-one before or since has made a simple peasant dress look so good, and its no wonder that Harry is feeling a supernatural attraction to her.

From voodoo rites to fortune tellers, it's an investigation that will cause him to question his very identity, and may even cost him his soul. It doesn't help that all his leads are being systematically murdered in turn, as he finds himself being dragged deeper and deeper into a maelstrom of festering evil.

Of course its not long before he's got Epiphany into the sack for the film's notorious sex scene. A scene that resulted in the film receiving an X rating in America, despite it being not particularly graphic.

There's really only light nudity, although the actors do turn in a vigorous performance, and there's a whole crapload of blood involved. Maybe it was the sex and blood thing that the censors objected to. Or perhaps it is to do with the real identities of the characters?

Parker went to great lengths to ensure historical accuracy, and as can be seen by the attached screen shots the film looks incredible. In combination with the score and well chosen period music, a highly effective atmosphere is created.

There's only one rating I can possibly give this film. It has an excellent story, superb actors, great music, and incredible visuals. There's sex, blood, voodoo ... and even the devil himself. I can ask for no more ...

Rating: 10/10

Release info

On Blu-ray, avoid the Region B from Amazon UK as it has zero extras. Instead I recommend the region-free US Blu-ray, which has a bunch of extra features (although disappointingly, not as many as the Special Edition DVD).

Region A BluR1 DVD


Ventilation Shaft said...

Wow! A 10/10! We don't get many of those from you ('Southland Tales' is the only other I remember).

Will have to look this up. Thanks for the review.


Hope you enjoy it! Up til now I've mostly been reviewing movies as I discover them, but this has meant that the many favorites I had before this blog started don't feature here yet.

This is the first of such retrospective reviews, and more coming soon!

lenny said...

Great review of a great movie! One of the greats. I've heard the UK BD is not that good visually. Is the US one better?


Hey Lenny - thanks for stopping by. I don't know how the US Bluray compares visually ... I bought the UK Bluray myself, not realising it was missing the extras that the US version has. So my recommendation is purely based on that extra material.

The UK Blu's video quality is nothing spectacular, but still worth the upgrade from DVD - for me at least.

lenny said...

Thanks for that; I've missed Angel Heart ever since someone stole my DVD. Time for an upgrade methinks.

BTW, feel free to stop by Not much up yet, but some of it might be of interest.

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