Posted May 30 2019

Sundance London 2019 Preview - Hail Satan?

Dir: Penny Lane

Starring Lucien Greaves, Jex Blackmore, Chalice Blythe, Nicholas Crowe

Who would have thought that a group of modern-day American Satanists would end up making the strongest argument for democracy? Lane’s film is a nice subversive little number about The Satanic Temple – yes, those that recently sued Sabrina the Teenage Witch over appropriating their devil statue – and their unexpected political rise in the US. As much as they all wear black, use bizarre pseudonyms (never explained) and have a thing for the horns hand gesture, for the most part the group look on themselves as challengers to the status quo, those who refuse to accept that American values should be dictated by an overwhelming and long established dominance of Christianity, but rather should be questioned and be made more open to differing points of view. Oh yeah, and then they all go “Hail Satan.”

But that aside, there’s a lot of interest going on here and told, by the majority of the members Lane interviews on camera, in an articulate and reasonable manner, none more so than the testimony of founder and erstwhile leader, Lucien Greaves (not his real name.) The film follows the groups’ extraordinary growth – from 3 people initially to thousands on a global scale, focusing primarily on their fight to erect a devil statue next to a civic backed replica of the Ten Commandments which, ironically, turns out to have been a promotional item from Cecil B DeMille’s 1956 epic, widely distributed throughout the United States to essentially plug the movie back in the ‘50s. And, yes, Chuck Heston is here on archive to hammer home the point.

Lane makes strong use of archive throughout to convey images of (mis)interpretation of Satanism, from Mario Bava to Porky Pig, all of which helps to make a strong argument for these people being anti-conformist and pro-democracy. It meanders a bit towards the end, and has to deal with a wayward group leader going off script and calling for the assassination of Trump (the group as a whole do not condone this) but it’s a fascinating portrait of another way of life, and one which both Lane as filmmaker, and the group itself as a subject, bring a good deal of humour to. Witness a great moment early on when they take on the appalling “God Hates Fags” Westboro Baptist Church by getting gay couples to kiss over the grave of the Church’s leader Fred Phelps’ mother and call her out as having become a lesbian in the after-life. It’s silly, vulgar in some ways, but also inspired and priceless.  

Who would have thought, in the current climate, that a bunch of Satanists would be the ones talking the most sense?


Hail Satan? plays Sundance London 2019 on June 2

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