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Angel Heart is a Devil of an ’80s Thriller
Image: Tri-Star Pictures

Film

35 years later: Angel Heart is a Devil of an ’80s Thriller

Harry Angel is searching for the truth… Pray he doesn’t find it.

Nothing can prepare you for the ending of Angel Heart.

Angel Heart, director Alan Parker’s twisty New Orleans noir, arrived in March of 1987, 35 years ago this week, as a true curio in the annals of 1980s thrillers. 

It’s remembered mostly for a few things: As one of the great New Orleans movies, and for Robert De Niro’s performance in which he played Satan, while also imitating his longtime friend and collaborator Martin Scorsese. It was the movie in which Lisa Bonet performed in a bizarre, voodoo-infected sex scene with Mickey Rourke, which drew the ire of Bonet’s TV dad and boss, Bill Cosby, a man with no tolerance for deviant sexuality. And the movie’s famed twist ending was the sort of thing that Charlie Kaufman was making fun of in Adaptation, with his fake movie The Three

Rourke, on the tail end of his initial movie star run, starred in Angel Heart as Harry Angel, a New York City private eye sent to New Orleans to investigate a missing singer named Johnny Favorite. He’s hired by the mysterious “Louis Cypher” (De Niro), and sets out to figure out who Johnny was, what happened to him in World War II and after, and his different lovers. 

Angel Heart is a Devil of an ’80s Thriller
Image: Tri-Star Pictures

The plot, apropos for the late ’80s, delves into Satanic ritual, as well as the sort of multiple-personality plots that were especially popular at the time. Along with the continual violent deaths of most of the people who Harry meets — and that infamous scene in which blood drips from the ceiling — it’s a very bloody picture (the sex scene reportedly had to be trimmed to quality the film for an R as opposed to an X, which was still an active rating at the time.) 

And of course, the twist ending is that the detective and the subject of the investigation are both the same person. 

Parker, who died in 2020, had a wildly eclectic career, working in all sorts of genres. His credits included Bugsy Malone, Fame, Pink Floyd- The Wall, The Commitments, Evita, and Mississippi Burning. His last film, 2003’s The Life of David Gale, was probably his worst. 

Angel Heart is a Devil of an ’80s Thriller
Image: Tri-Star Pictures

As for Rourke, Angel Heart is one of three movies he appeared in 1987, the others being Barfly and A Prayer for the Dying; he had starred the year before in the notorious 9 1/2 Weeks. Soon after began a fallow period that lasted for most of the 1990s; while the actor continued to work for all that time, none of that work is particularly memorable. What followed, though, were a couple of comebacks, first in Robert Rodriguez’s 2005 Sin City and then in 2008’s The Wrestler, which won him a Golden Globe, an Oscar nomination, and a career comeback that even included the villain part in Iron Man 2. 

Angel Heart didn’t make much money or win awards, but it’s memorable as one of the most bonkers films of the 1980s. 

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Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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