When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies
This documentary about the founder of the Church of Satan Anton Szandor LaVey excels in being two things: the first is an insightful, intimate, and oddly touching portrait of LaVey. The documentary begins by contextualising Satanism by showing a montage of clips from American talk shows which fed the Satanic Panic of the 80's by serving up lurid and sensationalistic stories of child abuse and the ritual sacrifice of children and animals. However, while LaVey takes the opportunity to clear up such misunderstandings and opines on many of the tenets of Satanism, the documentary never gets distracted by the Satanic creed and remains focused on the character of the man himself.
The intimacy of the documentary comes from access we get to the infamous Black House where LaVey lived and which served as the focal point for the Church, interviews with LaVey's associates like his partner Blanche Barton, his daughter Karla LaVey, and current High Priest Peter Gilmore, in addition to an in-depth interview with the Doctor himself. A particularly touching moment comes from the inclusion of a protracted clip from a TV show about LaVey's fond relationship with his pet lion Togare. LaVey is seen to frolic and play with Togare and I defy anyone not to feel for LaVey when we learn that his much-loved pet was forcefully removed by the local council and taken to a private zoo after members of the local community complained. Such a story, along with shots of LaVey hugging his cat and proclaiming his love for animals, serves to dispel the myth that animal sacrifices were a part of the Church as well as humanise LaVey through both showing the affection he was capable of and the sadness he would have felt at Togare's removal.
The second thing this documentary excels at is being bulls**t. However, despite a couple of issues with slow pacing (mainly from some extended scenes of LaVey playing the organ which, while impressive, sometimes seems interminable) this is not any fault of the documentary itself but rather that while giving a significant chunk of time to the subject would usually be an admirable technique to hear things from the horses mouth, in the hands of a self-confessed liar like LaVey this just allows him to continue to propagate the body of lies and self-aggrandising myths that characterised his life.
One example is the telling he gives of the famous story that during his time as a police photographer for the San Francisco Police Department he was exposed to the atrocities that human beings are able to enact upon each other and how such experiences gave him an insight into human nature which would go on to influence his formation of the Church. The anecdote is so rich with detail, and is articulated with such compassion that it is shocking to learn that according to SFPD records no-one of that name was ever employed there at any time. Another, more shocking, example is that the self-proclaimed "animal lover" LaVey often used a cattle prod to subdue Togare, who he barely visited in the zoo after his removal. What's more, LaVey apparently once beat a pet dog in the face with a plank of wood until it was bloody, and which consequently cowered in a corner afraid of anyone that approached it.
So as a documentary it fleshes out the biography (as he would have us believe) of a man whose name is an integral part of the darker stream of the 60s counter-culture as well as the creed he established which has continued to have an influence on popular culture since its codification in 1966, as well as past the death of LaVey himself in 1997. As such, while the documentary is woefully biased and doesn't even attempt to offer anything other than the satanic party-line, even when the truth of LaVey's life is known a lingering respect remains for being witness to just how convincing the Father of Lies can be.
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