HAIL SATAN? / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: PENNY LANE / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 23RD
Penny Lane’s documentary on the Satanic Temple, Hail Satan?, is always fascinating and frequently frustrating. The organization is swathed in mystery, to the point where the group’s spokesman and co-founder, Lucien Greaves, has a pseudonym for his pseudonym. Various members interviewed are shown in shadow, so as to hide their identities.
It’s a novel concept, but it means that Hail Satan? is less a straightforward story of the Satanic Temple, and more of a tone piece, wherein the viewer is introduced to various members of the Temple, and taken through the group’s various legal battles. This leads to an interesting film, but one which might leave the viewer with more questions about the history and story of the Satanic Temple as a whole.
A stunning example is the fact that Jex Blackmore, founder of the Temple’s Detroit chapter, is shown at one point speaking at a ceremony, wherein she emphatically states, “We are going to disrupt, distort, destroy. We are going to storm press conferences, kidnap an executive, release snakes in the governor’s mansion, execute the president,” after which Greaves makes a comment that she was asked to leave the Satanic Temple.
It’s not followed up on at all, and presented as a short aside in the grander story of the Temple’s legal battles regarding freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Director Lane keeps to those who support the Temple, making Hail Satan? what is basically a propaganda piece. The voices of dissenters are presented peripherally, as part of interactions with Temple members -- frequently Greaves or Blackmore -- or in news clips, as the Temple attempts to refute Ten Commandment monuments on government property with their own Baphomet statue.
As a matter of fact, the use of film clips in the earlier moments of the documentary are some of the most effective arguments Hail Satan? has for their free speech arguments, as the point of the documentary is essentially that Christianity in America has presented any dissenters to its point of view as evil and dangerous. Scenes from Fantasia’s “Night on Bald Mountain” segment, Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, and Rosemary’s Baby all enforce this argument, and do it well.
Were that the rest of the film would interpolate more counterpoints to reinforce the argument being made by the Satanic Temple. By film’s end, the viewer’s been given a cozy, warm depiction of the group in Hail Satan?, but Penny Lane fails to really hone in on any particular aspect of the Satanic Temple with effective accuracy. It’s intriguing, but any number of readily Google-able articles will provide a deeper dive in five minutes than the 90-minute runtime of the film.