Controversial 80’s supernatural thriller Angel Heart is an overlooked classic that mixes genres with style and class. Pulp fiction detective noir and a supernatural sting in the tale makes this a must-see for Halloween, but not if you’ve got a thing about chickens.
If you are looking for a little something different to help you through to Halloween this year, you could do far worse than Alan Parker’s Angel Heart. Made in 1987, the film should have been a box office success. Directed by Parker, and starring Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro, the signs all pointed to a classy supernatural thriller that would fill the cinema; however, it was a production marred with controversy that eventually caused the film to be buried under an R-rating.
Even a return to the editing suite couldn’t dissuade the censors from issuing the R, and Angel Heart died on the vine. However, those that eventually did see the film were blown away by the mix of genres and the superb performances from the two leads. Every scene with De Niro and Rourke simply sizzles with electricity. Many claim it to be Rourke’s finest performance, and he would later recall enjoying the production, working well with other cast members Lisa Bonet and Charlotte Rampling.
The film itself, based on the novel Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg, starts like a traditional film noir detective story. Parker decided to make a black and white film, in colour, so the palette is muted and rain-drenched.
Rourke is Harry Angel, private detective, hired by De Niro in the mid-1950’s to track down a missing crooner named Johnny Favorite. It leads Harry down a rabbit hole that gets deeper and deeper the further he goes, ending in a darkly twisted conclusion that flips the screenplay on its head and, at the time, left many viewers stunned and confused.
Perhaps nowadays the film’s ending can be readily guessed, however at the time of release very few managed to pull this kind of trick off so convincingly, and when rewatching it now, you can see the influence it may have had on similar productions.
The trailer tried to convince us that the film mixed Chinatown with The Exorcist and as such spoiled the direction that the film would take in the last act. The violence and subject matter was also too much for many critics, and the film struggled to make it’s budget back.
It was only on its release on VHS, and eventually DVD, that the true audience for Angel Heart was found. The dark tone and brilliant direction eventually found a fan base, and years after it’s release, it gained a reputation for being genuinely unsettling. It’s now highly regarded by those that have seen it since, and surprisingly it stands up well today. The stylish and meticulous detail combined with some mesmeric performances and a devilish plot makes Angel Heart a classic underrated horror ideal for Halloween.