It’s hard to imagine a world of extreme music without its mischievous maestro the Devil pulling the strings from behind the scenes. After all, he’s been a mainstay of heavy music for over 50 years now, and whether the imagery has been used for pure provocation or as an earnest mythological device, it’s had a profound influence on many a young, budding rock star.
The concept of the Devil goes back to the Old Testament. and from there, the original Dark One has had a wildly successful career as both villain and (anti)hero, which is a major reason why the character makes for such great subject matter.
Aside from his career in heavy metal, Satan (or Lucifer, Baphomet, Beelzebub, plus a host of other namesakes), has had a vast and varied cinema career on the silver screen dating back to the early 1900s with films such as Faust, The Student of Prague, and Häxan, just to name a few. Interest in such bedeviled films enjoyed a renaissance of sorts during the ‘60s and ‘70s with the likes of Rosemary’s Baby, Black Sunday, The Devil Rides Out, The Masque of Red Death, The Exorcist, and The Omen, plus a slew of trashy, lower-budget Euro-flicks capitalizing on the trend.
Now, it seems to be coming back around a bit with the recent release of a few more titles, and we’re going to take a look at a couple of them now.
An American Satan (Omnibus) is a documentary focusing on the Church of Satan. Founded in 1966 by former circus organist and lion tamer Anton Szandor LaVey in San Francisco, the Church of Satan quickly became the place to be for various celebrities, artists, socialites, and esoterics of different stripes due to LaVey’s celebrated wit and knack for storytelling. In 1969, as part of a major publishing deal, he authored The Satanic Bible (Avon Books) to a fair amount of fanfare. And, obviously, with the glut of Satanic films hitting the screens during the period, the timing was dead-on.
The book outlines a philosophy that emphasizes self-belief over worship, and self-fulfillment over blind faith, and in reality, has far more to do with atheism than ancient rites and rituals. The book positions the image of Satan in a metaphorical light, representing the eternal outsider, which ties in well with LaVey’s essays promoting individuality and personal liberty. (Think Ayn Rand with horns and a tail.)
An American Satan traces the history of LaVey and the original Church of Satan all the way up to the present day, where we meet High Priest Peter H. Gilmore, along with a colorful cast of characters who speak about their positive experiences within the organization. LaVey is held up as a deity of sorts, while Gilmore emphasizes that “Satanism is an atheist philosophy that uses Satan as a symbol of pride, individualism, and liberty.”
The cast includes legacy members who knew LaVey, several “witches” performing in various stages of undress in cabaret settings, one gay member who publishes a homoerotic magazine, and a Black member who speaks of the inclusive environment, as well as those who’ve spun off from the church and formed their own groups.
In all, director Aram Garriga does a decent job of showcasing an alternative belief system that seems to make its members very happy and relatively unified—regardless of their social standings or backgrounds. In the film, the flock seems to be very small, but what the Church may lack in opulence, it makes up for in the quirky characters it attracts.
Far less shocking than what one might expect, the brood in question here are essentially Libertarians dressed in black metal garb and reveling in their strong sense of individuality and deliverance. Aside from a few clips from the ’80s proclaiming a “Satanic panic,” there’s very little drama to be had at all, just a slice of life from a pack of exceedingly happy non-conformists.
Hot and fresh off the burner, we also have horror drama, Baphomet, (Cleopatra/MVD). This film has garnered a bit of buzz due to the fact that it features Dani Filth from black metal stalwarts Cradle of Filth. I’m generally skeptical of most straight-to-video horror films, as they often are littered with bargain-basement sets, shoddy scripts, and go directly for the crotch in terms of shock value instead of conjuring up a truly horrific atmosphere. Baphomet has a few different things going on that elevate it beyond standard, low-budget horror fare.
The film centers on the Richardson family who reside on a nondescript ranch. Awaiting the arrival of their daughter’s baby, the happy family are approached by a group of black-clad deviants who offer to purchase their land for a handsome sum, claiming it to be of significant importance to their congregation. Of course, the family refuses the generous offer, and that’s when shite goes awry on an epic scale.
Dani Filth plays occult expert Lon Carlson, who advises the family in the ways of the dark arts while connecting them with the services of a white witch to try and combat the mayhem. While there are some tongue-in-cheek aspects to be ss=een, Baphomet adds some purposeful kinks in its contrast of the black-and-white forces, some svelte special effects, and the dirty secret behind the disputed property. F
ilth is also very effective and believable as the occult expert, shedding his trademark hair and makeup routine for a more disheveled, professorial look, and this adds a bit of extra bit of authenticity to the proceedings. In the end, it’s an entertaining view, especially for those who appreciate a bit of hellfire in their horror.
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. Cheers, Kaz