At the mention of a movie about devil worship, one immediately conjures images of B-movies ranging in degrees of schlock from Val Lewton’s 1943 “The Seventh Victim,” about Greenwich Village cultists, to the 1975 Peter Fonda-starring “Race with the Devil,” wherein two vacationing couples in a motorhome stumble upon a Satanic sacrifice in the woods outside San Antonio.
A film opening this week, “Hail Satan?,” examines the contemporary Satanic Temple, a non-theistic organization. You can unfasten your seatbelts, because this documentary is more concerned with grassroots political activism and not animal sacrifice, making love in coffins, or exaltations of Anton LaVey.
Filmmaker Penny Lane has previously scored with a 2012 doc formed from 8mm footage and newsreel footage of Richard Nixon titled “Our Nixon.” Her approach to her subjects could be best described as tongue in cheek, although her true commentary can be found in the layers beneath the surface.
“Hail Satan?” must be pissing somebody off, because it has gotten bad reviews from both The Catholic League and The Church of Satan.
The founder of The Satanic Temple, Lucien Greaves (also known as Douglas Mesner, a pseudonym to protect his privacy from death threats), has a unique look enhanced by a blind right eye that gives him an unintentional supernatural freaky deaky appearance.
During an appearance on Fox News, Greaves stated: “I would say that Satanism embodies enlightenment values — emblematic of the ultimate rebellion against tyranny. To that end, we look at the history of the crushing of the church and the rise of enlightenment values and the rise of pluralism and diversity and multiculturalism as inherently Satanic.”
Yet he’s crazy like the fox.
The Satanic Temple seems to be more of a sanctuary for free thought than any particular brand of religious idolatry. The org, which receives tax benefits due to being registered as a religious institution, promotes free thought, and the majority of their activities are centered on exposing the hypocrisy of evangelical groups in particular and religious freedom (and all that entails in a democracy) in general.
The real meat of Lane’s doc revolves around a statue of Baphomet that depicts the goat devil with two children that was erected in Oklahoma, at the state capitol, to counter a similar statue that depicted the Ten Commandments.
Greaves and company come to the support of the erection of the statue using the limited resources of The Satanic Temple to challenge the various court injunctions that ensue.
When a speeding car in the middle of the night topples the Oklahoma City Ten Commandments statue less than 12 hours after its placement, you realize that forces beyond the faculty of The Satanic Temple are operating.
Lane hits a raw nerve that may very well be the comedy fibre of sardonic awareness. Similar court battles take place as the scene shifts to Arkansas where the same statue of Baphomet makes a cameo at progressive rally staged by Greaves and gang. The resulting pile on of self-righteousness makes all the parties involved look more than a little silly.
At its best, “Hail Satan?” celebrates the outsider. Many of the members of The Satanic Temple that are given screen time are tattooed, removed from normal society (whatever that means), walk a different walk, and are remarkably different because of their views on living in modern society.
“Hail Satan?” in that aspect wants to be appreciated as a representation of the reality of the new millennium. The challenges of the times we live in today are defined as different yet similar to the changes sought by the hippies of the 1960s and the beatniks of the 1940s.
In short, things don’t change. All time periods are beset by their various repulsive reaction to change. Evolution is a rebirth of creativity.
“Hail Satan?” opens exclusively this weekend at the River Oaks Theatre.