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HAIL SATAN? (2019)

What does the term Satanist brings to mind? Hooded figures performing strange rights and human sacrifices? Aleister Crowley? Or maybe Anton LaVey and his followers with their more hedonistic rites? Well, in Hail Satan? Director Penny Lane (NUTS!, Our Nixon) takes a look at The Satanic Temple, its origins, its message, and its people.

As most people who are familiar with the group know they don’t actually worship Lucifer. They’re more about defending the separation between church and state. Although at times their methods more resemble real-life trolling than serious political action.

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Hail Satan? starts with the Temple’s origins as a more political version of LaVey’s teachings and their first public appearance in 2013. Lucien Greaves and a couple of supporters staged a press conference to support Florida’s then-governor Rick Scott and his efforts to put prayer back in school. Because “Opening the door to Jesus is opening the door to Satan”.

Of course, it was their showdown with the Oklahoma state government that got them into the public eye and Hail Satan? gives it plenty of coverage. The state legislature erected a monument bearing the ten commandments on the statehouse lawn. The Temple Of Satan commissioned a 7-foot statue of Baphomet and sued for the right to have it on the lawn as well. Oklahoma decided they’d rather take down their monument.

The coverage of this, both in terms of media and the actual making of the statue, is not just interesting but enlightening. Especially watching clips from television news. It’s telling how often we see The Temple’s spokesperson calmly stating their point while the representatives of various religions lose their shit. That includes one commentator on Fox News who literally calls for the Temple’s members to be shot. Who are the threats to society?

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The group can be juvenile at times, such as their protest at the grave of Fred Phelp’s mother to protest The Westboro Baptist Church protesting at funerals. But mostly we see them gleefully using the establishment’s own laws against them. It’s both funny and scary to see the reaction of some of these people when they get confronted with the idea that “Religious Freedom” should apply to all religions.

Intercut with this are interviews with members of the Temple, both current and former. Talking about why they joined, and what they see as the group’s purpose. It’s a very diverse group with some interesting viewpoints mixed in.

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Hail Satan? also incorporates plenty of old “Satanic Panic” and “Red Scare” type videos to help show religion creeping into the Pledge of Allegiance and the rise of right-wing televangelism. This adds some needed context and maybe should have come earlier in the film.

Hail Satan? does drag a bit at times, especially towards the end when things get a bit more serious. The controversy around their treatment of Jex Blackmore especially caused me to lose some respect for the Temple. Some of its other recent internal troubles are glossed over as well. I can understand them not wanting to air these things publicly. But looking at how you hold together a group full of non-conformists and those who don’t like authority would have been interesting.

Overall, though, Hail Satan? is an interesting and informative look at The Temple Of Satan. It’s a group that is doing some much-needed work while poking fun at some sacred cows.

Hail Satan? recently played the Chatanooga Film Festival and is now in limited theatrical release through Magnolia Pictures. You can see where it’s playing on its website.

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