If you’re going to be a sinner, be the best sinner on the block.” -- Anton LaVey
An incredible snapshot of the Church of Satan, newly preserved in 2K from AGFA + Something Weird!
SATANIS: THE DEVIL’S MASS is the unseen and unbelievable exposé on Anton LaVey, America's favorite leader of the Church of Satan. Feeling like a bedtime story as told by Kenneth Anger and Russ Meyer, this is a wild glimpse into the witches, black masses, and sex lives that built San Francisco’s most infamous cult. From LaVey’s daughter ("I think they're nuts!") to a nude woman who performs a satanic rite with a Boa constrictor, you’ll meet numerous proto-goths, midnight maniacs, and daytime Draculas—and even a pet tiger named Togare! In the words of LaVey, “There is a beast in man that should be exercised, not exorcised!”
sleepdirt3 June 2001
This film swings the doors to the early days of the Church of Satan (CoS) wide open and was, for quite some time, the only interview footage of Anton Szandor LaVey available. (Scenes from this film are still in use today in news specials and documentaries, often times used as propaganda by some groups to turn people FROM Satanism. Most of the humor in this film will not be seen by the audiences that these groups are trying to influence.)
This documentary interviews neighbors, friends and enemies of Anton LaVey and his church and helps shed some light (dark?) on origins of the philosophies that were codified in this unique religious movement. This ilm is not without it's tongue-in-cheek moments. During one of the opening scenes, one of a Satanic ritual, the participant's solemn mood is broken when the Priest of the ceremony (LaVey) says, "Okay, that's enough for that part." Perhaps it was the director's idea to show some incidental humor in the film.
One thing that will probably strike everybody as strange is the sense of humor shown throughout the film by most of the people that are interviewed. Satanists are often seen as dour, humorless folk, but, as Anton LaVey points out in the film, a person without a sense of humor is intolerable at worst, and doesn't make a good Satanist. Humor abounds and stands in stark contrast to the rituals.
Also seen, as noted before, are some of the enemies to LaVey's cause. There are interviews with Mormon missionaries and priests from the area and they are given a chance to voice their outrage towards this philosophy. This film is highly recommended as a documentary of a rather maligned religion. It can be a bit hard to find, but it is available.
Needed information...no, really.
Anton LaVey was one of the most intelligent men that ever walked this earth.
Satanism got a bad rap because everyone thought they were mutants that only lived to kill babies and listen to bad heavy metal. La Vey sets the record straight by pointing out it's 'natural' inclinations.
La Vey came off as the showman that he is. One gets the feeling he loves putting people on.
I thought seeing the other (Unknown) people that joined him was interesting. The fact that folks from all walks of life joined his movement.
This really should be seen by those who truly believe in freedom of religion. This shows a side of one of the most misrepresented religions that ever existed.
The real deal
For those of us who were turned on to Satanism after LaVey's death and never got a chance to see the infamous "black house" (now demolished) this is as close to it and its magic that we're going to get. The ritual sequences in this film are fantastic, the occasional infared camera work really adds to the diabolical mood. LaVey presents himself in this film as a sensitive soft spoken gentleman with a great sense of humor and a philosopher's mind, much to the dismay of many an armchair Christian. By contrast, the Christians interviewed in this film are stark, boring and dull. LaVey's flock are equally charming in this film and appear as a group of fun loving freaks who, with their arcane sense of individuality, have formed an elite think tank to be reckoned with. Each of them are truly a star in Crowley's sense of the word, as each of their colorful personalities demonstrate, (the adorable elderly woman reminds me of my grandmother). For those who want an introduction to Satanism this was/is the real deal. Shemhamforash! I give it a 9/10.
No surprises, but good enough
This movie doesn't contain much that's really exciting, much less surprising, about the early Church of Satan, but it does show LaVey and his cronies at a time when he was still optimistic and not cynical about the future of his organization. There are also great shots of the Black House during its heyday (before the "androids" took over) and some interesting footage of Togare the lion. The filmmakers seem to have decided that Satanism wasn't as shocking as they'd hoped, so they went for humor where possible, and that wears thin after a while. The interviews where LaVey speaks for himself are fairly good, but the interviews with other Church members are annoying and at times you can see the embarrassment on Anton's face when someone else speaks – nobody in this film, aside from LaVey and his family, went on to become any kind of leader in the tiny marginalized world of the Left Hand Path, and that should tell you something about the quality of membership in SF at the time. I still find it an interesting piece, but I think about 40 minutes could be shaved off without losing anything.
Boring look at kooks
It's a fairly slow moving look at LeVey's early church that's notable for the mundanity of it all. Sure you have some rituals, nudity, butt whipping, but mostly it's just people talking about following their feelings and outsiders calling them strange. Not much to it, but if you like 53 year old boobs, you're in for a treat!
Fascinating document about LeVay and his Church
TCM recently aired this obscurity (with thanks to Something Weird and the American Genre Film Archive for rescuing it). As a film it isn't much: Poorly shot (16mm) with the camera often fumbling around without edits searching for proper framing, barely adequate sound and a lack of basic of explanation of who is being interviewed and the context of LaVey and his followers.
Still, I found this a lot more interesting than its critical reputation would have it. It's very much a 'time capsule' as others have noted. San Francisco in the late 60s has always been embodied in the public mind by Haight-Ashbury, The Summer Of Love and the Hippie movement in general. LaVey and his Church of Satan fit right in even with their Black Mass trappings. Hedonists and free love folks at their core, LeVay and his disciples simply traded their tie-dyes for devil masks and leather - or, just ditched their clothing entirely (though, still in a mostly sexist manner with naked women being the 'altar' objects).
Aside from the Satanic angle, the other thing that made them public pariahs were their embrace of all types of sexual 'perversions' (LaVey's own words). Interestingly, one of those alleged perversions of the era was homosexuality - hey, they were progressives ahead of their time! Why LaVey got tabbed an underground cult leader was his insistence that he was leading a new religion, as foolish as that was. Indeed, the extensive footage here of the group's rituals leads one more towards mockery rather than fear (although the whipping scene is pretty realistic). Try as he does to make the rituals into a horror show, Director Ray Laurent succeeds more in making them look mundane and more than a bit boring. Heck, the Church of Satan didn't even use live animal sacrifices! What kind of devil worshippers don't spill blood?!
But, even at that the film is interesting: Stripped of all the costumes, nudity and devil scripture this was just a bunch of folks gathered together in some guy's darkened living room - so what if an orgy broke out? SATANIS will never be confused with fine filmmaking, but, it's a valuable document of a time and a place. And, probably the best peek at LeVay as a person -- stripped of all the pomp and circumstance -- and fearsome reputation.
Just a Bunch of Weirdos
I expected frightening Black Mass imagery and charismatic acolytes of the Anti-Christ proclaiming the victory of evil over good. All I saw was some naked old ladies sitting around a dirty living room looking high while men dressed up in dime store devil costumes supervised a BD spanking session set to bad drumming. Satanist? More like weirdos and narcissists if you ask me. Pretty much sums up the 1960s.