Some Chinese restaurant with a comedy club up top of it just off-campus agreed to host the Black Mass.
In 2013, some activists formed the Satanic Temple in order to challenge violations of the separation of Church and State in the United States. They bought Halloween robes, hired an actor to play their leader, “Lucien Greaves,” and made a demonic statue which they carted from state to state and demanded be placed beside government-building monuments of the Ten Commandments. They made some salient political points and had a lot of fun.
Then things turned a little more serious.
This weekend, a documentary about these events becomes the second entry in our 2019 October Countdown.
“I think you have to take people at their word, and the Westboro folks are Christians just as much as The Satanic Temple are Satanists.”
Title: “Hail Satan?”
Director: Penny Lane
Released: January 2019
A documentary filmmaker follows a group using an invented religion to attack Christian Privilege in the United States—only to see them develop into a theological/theo-philosophical movement.
The film effectively negotiates a range of tones. The gleeful first third frequently elicits laughs, and manages, by the by, to underscore the exploitative nature of contemporary media and the simple-mindedness of current political thinking. It then must deal with the more serious issues, as the Temple gradually becomes something akin to a real religion. Greaves grows into his character, the group must expel a member who threatens, among other things, to “execute the president,” they establish tenets, receive multiple serious death-threats, and find that what started as politically-motivated fun has become hard work.
The devil, as always, is in the details.
Documentaries necessarily must be selective. Penny Lane has acknowledged leaving out many of the internal conflicts and controversies within the group, focussing only on the Jex Blackmore incident. It mentions but necessarily shortchanges the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 90s and abuse scandals within mainstream churches—although a more complete handling would further make TST’s point.
Perhaps the most egregious oversight is her handling of the connection between the Ten Commandments monuments TST campaigns against and the 1956 film, The Ten Commandments. We’re left with the impression that the monuments came about entirely because of a Hollywood promo. The reality is more complicated—though the monuments are far more recent than most people imagine, and Hollywood and Cecil B. DeMille certainly played a role in getting so many of them set up and publicized.
Editing 6/6 The film cleverly edits original footage with a bewildering range of sources, including horror movies, Christian films, and TV news—leaning heavily towards local coverage and Fox commentary.
Performance and Presentation: 5/6
Emotional Response 5/6 As they became more real, the group had to agree on some tenets. Many people I know would agree whole-heartedly with the ones they embrace, though I suspect a lot of them might balk at the Satanic label, even a literary one.
Overall 5/6 In 2019, the Satanic Temple received tax-exempt status, having met all of the I.R.S. requirements for a religion.
In total, Hail Satan? receives 35/42
Next week, we look at Zombie Comedy from Japan.
Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving!
October 5: The Joker (2019)
October 12: Hail, Satan? (2019)
October 19: One Cut of the Dead (2017-Japan and 2019-USA)
October 26: Midsommar (2019)
October 31: Judging from our votes thus far, we’ll be reviewing three different incarnations of The Cat and the Canary. But feel free to go back to that post and vote for one of the others.