Re-watching Angel Heart

large_zVABs77t8P6flUShTnnTHjeTc3w  Angel Heart is a neo noir horror film from 1987.  Though this film was made with two of the biggest movie stars from the 1980’s, Robert De Niro(one of the biggest stars ever) and Micky Rourke it was not a big hit in theaters.  This was also directed by Alan Parker who had 3 or 4 hits under his belt when he made this movie. William Hjortsberg wrote the book this film is based on and has written a few other noir books.  I must say I’ve never read any of Hjortsberg’s books but hope to in the future.

With all this talent on the film, this film was more known at the time of its release for having Lisa Bonet in it.  At the time Lisa Bonet was the second biggest star of the hit television series The Cosby Show, so big she had her own spin-off series A Different World.  Both T.V. series had the biggest television star of The Cosby Show and all of television at the time,  Bill Cosby, behind them, he created both series.  Cosby had a lot riding on Lisa Bonet’s star power.  In this film Bonet plays a southern girl who is into voodoo and maybe even worse appears nude on-screen having sex with the main character while being splashed in blood.  This did not make Mr. Cosby happy, putting a black eye on two of his family oriented and biggest shows in one fell swoop.  I don’t  know if the controversy helped or hurt the film, but either way this was a flop at the box office.  Did Bill Cosby’s pull, hinder the distribution of this film?  I don’t know, but flashing forward almost 30 years we are learning more about the pull Cosby had and how he used it.  I would be interested in knowing if this being released at only 800 some odd theaters had something to do more with Cosby’s influence, then a failure on the distributors.  Even at the time of its release, it got very good reviews and was well received, but did not find an audience in theaters.  I think most people, like myself, had to wait for its VHS release to watch this film.

This film takes place in the mid 1950’s in New York as our protagonist Harry Angel goes to meet the mysterious Louis Cyphre played by Robert De Niro.  Cyphre hires Angel to find an old associate he helped with his music career before the war, called Johnny Favorite.  Johnny Favorite did not pay back his debt and has disappeared after the war and can not be found.  This leads Angel on a trail which leads to varies characters, most of which end up murdered soon after Angel interviews them.  The case leads him to the south, where he soon comes across voodoo worshipers and more craziness.

This film does have a horror element and has a great noir style in story and cinematography.  De Niro is great as Cyphre, not a big surprise, and Rourke is very good as our main character.  This is for both of the main stars fan base as well as those of Bonet.  It is also worth checking out for neo noir fans as well as horror fans alike.

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3 thoughts on “Re-watching Angel Heart

  1. You have to put this film’s release in context of its time. 800 odd screens was not that low for a wide-release R-rated thriller in 1987. No Way Out with Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman had its widest release on 806 screens that year and Fatal Attraction on 758–both fewer than Angel Heart. Wide releases averaged around 1,100 screens at the time, with most R-rated films in the 800-900 range (unless they were action films, particularly those with Stallone or Arnold). Angel Heart‘s potential was also hurt by originally earning an X rating. Even though it was trimmed to an R, it still had the stigma of being a “dirty movie” attached to it. It also had a marketing problem. Horror films at the time were primarily schlock for teenagers, tainting the genre in the minds of adult audiences (unlike, say, the 1970s, which had a number of quality adult-oriented mainstream horror movies).

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    • Thanks for that information, that puts it in a different perspective for me. I was really young when this came out, but remember it got quite a bit of publicity do to it’s controversial original X-rating and having Bonet in it. I also remember it never playing in theaters in my area. This may be due to it not doing well in it’s first few weeks of wide release, rather then lack of distribution then.

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  2. Excellent point about putting the film’s release in the context of its time. The film was also competing with Lethal Weapon, Some Kind of Wonderful, Blind Date, etc., so this – combined with the word of mouth that it was a “dirty movie” – probably kept it suppressed at the box office. I know I wasn’t able to see it until it came out on VHS. I certainly want to revisit it. Thanks for the review!

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