Making a deal with the devil is one thing, but making a deal with the devil without realizing it is quite another. In light of Harry and Louis’ initial interaction, this is the first thing that comes to mind. You have a character whose awareness of the supernatural is nonexistent and another who is as mysterious as he is charismatic. They’re strange bedfellows, but their interactions are engaging in that they play out against the backdrop of a series of events that don’t quite add up. Is Harry being played, or is he simply a detective who is in over his head? Given the film’s noir roots, this question couldn’t be more apropos.
There are many elements at play, such as voodoo, religion, post-war trauma, deception, repressed memories, corruption, fortune telling, gruesome murders, fortune telling, superstition, black magic, occult rituals, and the lure of stardom. It’s quite a mixture; it’s quite a blend of elements. Elements that have their allure but are also complementary to one another—elements that contribute to the mystery. Where is Johnny Favorite? And why does he have such an unusual name? Such questions are evoked as Harry’s search for answers takes him from New York to New Orleans. It’s an engaging state of affairs, one that is defined by contrasting locales and differing beliefs. Is practicing voodoo more sensible than treating a preacher like royalty? Is palm reading a reliable way of knowing one’s future? These are thought-provoking questions, without a doubt.
As is typical of a detective who is determined to get to the bottom of things, Harry’s investigation does more harm than good. It’s as though only certain questions are meant to be answered, as though uncovering the mystery would be too much for the detective to handle. I find this interesting because of the role that paranoia plays, as well as the uncertainty of Harry’s fate. His encounters with thuggish cops contribute to this, as do his run-ins with hostile locals, satanic symbols that stand out like a sore thumb, shady deals, and dead bodies piling up. Quite the list, isn’t it? Well, it’s not every day that a private dick gets embroiled in the occult, so you can bet that there are enough odd occurrences to go around.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Angel Heart is a well-made and engrossing film. It has its moments of horror—moments that punctuate its aura and round out the viewing experience. It’s a winning combination, and one that is right at home with shadowy set pieces and surreal imagery.