Private detective Harry Angel is hired to trace the whereabouts of former crooner Johnny Favorite, who disappeared after World War II, by a mysterious gentleman with whom Favorite has a contract on which a debt is due. Favorite’s trail leads Angel to New Orleans, where he finds much voodoo, blood, and sex, and a surprising conclusion to his search.
I saw this movie when it first came out, under quite a bit of controversy because it just squeaked by with an R rating after the sex scene was edited down by 10 seconds. It was one of the first R-rated movies I saw on my own, having turned 17 a few months before it came out, and I remember the transgressive thrill of the juxtaposition of sensuality and gore was a big part of its appeal. I’ve probably seen it once or twice since–it relies on a (somewhat clunky and obvious) twist for some of its appeal–and I was surprised that it still holds up more than 30 years later. Some of the soundtrack has an ’80s smooth jazz feel that is a bit dated (though the music in New Orleans is great), but the acting is solid, the atmosphere is perfectly executed, and the story is still enjoyable.
Without the voodoo trappings and supernatural twists, this would be a pretty standard murder mystery story, perhaps something that Jim Thompson or James Ellroy would write. But without the voodoo and the devil, it wouldn’t be “Angel Heart,” and the world would be a somewhat drabber place.