Angel Heart (1987) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • A private investigator is hired by a man who calls himself Louis Cyphre to track down a singer named Johnny Favorite. But the investigation takes an unexpected and somber turn.

  • Harry Angel has a new case, to find a man called Johnny Favourite. Except things aren't quite that simple and Johnny doesn't want to be found. Let's just say that amongst the period detail and beautiful scenery, it all gets really really nasty.

  • It's 1955. Small time New York City gumshoe Harry Angel is hired through a law firm by a mysterious man named Louis Cyphre. Cyphre tells Harry that choosing him as the private investigator for this case was by no accident despite Harry not knowing who Cyphre is or in turn Cyphre not directly stating why he chose Harry. The case is to locate a man by the name of Johnny Favorite, a popular singer before World War II, who served in the war and supposedly was institutionalized due to his injuries since, although Cyphre has not seen Favorite during that time. As Harry progresses through the case, he doesn't quite trust Cyphre as every step Harry takes leads to people angry about his questions and/or who want to beat him. Johnny's associates are highly populated by those into mysticism and particularly voodoo, which takes Harry to New Orleans. As Harry continues his investigation, one by one, the people he interviews turn up dead. Although Harry isn't sure if he wants to continue with the case, he does so if only to satisfy his own curiosity as to Johnny's whereabouts and why Cyphre wants to find him.

  • In 1955, in New York, the smalltime private detective Harold Angel is summoned by the attorney Herman Winesap to meet his client Louis Cypher. Angel learns that a popular pre-war crooner, Johnny Favorite, had a contract with Cypher and vanished; Cypher offers a large amount for him to seek out Johnny. Angel heads to a clinic where Johnny was last seen and visits the addicted Dr. Albert Fowler, who tells that Johnny was shot in the face and arrived in the clinic with amnesia and dysfunctional. One day, a man and his daughter took Johnny with them and he was paid to forge the records. When Angel visits Dr. Fowler again, he finds him dead. Then he visits Johnny's former lover Margaret Krusemark expecting to find the location of Johnny and later the woman is murdered. Then he visits the musician and former partner of Johnny, Toots Sweet, and the man is killed immediately after. Angel leaves a blood trail behind, but when he meets Margaret's father Ethan Krusemark, he finds the doomed fate of Johnny Favorite.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Angel Heart (1987)

    An ominous, slushy street, midnight, in the winter a dark figure walks down an alley, past the sounds of anguish and moaning. An alley cat looks down from the fire escape, a street dog wanders the alley scrounging for food. The dog spots the cat and barks, giving chase only to stop briefly to lap up fresh blood pouring from the split chest of a homeless man.

    New York City, January 3, 1955, a sloppy, unshaved man in a trench coat walks a street in Brooklyn, he smokes and greets various neighbors to the constant sound of a phone ringing.

    Harold Angel (Mickey Rourke) enters his shabby office and answers the phone. He is a private investigator and writes down details of the caller. An attorney, Mr. Winesap, introduces himself and wants to set up a meeting with a man named Louis Cyphre in Harlem.

    Angel arrives and walks through an African-American neighborhood passing a group of mourners and enters a building where a strange Pentecostal-style service is being held with the preacher motivating the congregation to donate generously with the clear intention to upgrade his car. Harold watches fascinated from the gallery above and is joined by Herman Winesap, who introduces himself, and leads him to meet the client. Angel follows him past a room where a maid in a hooded black veil is scrubbing a massive blood stain from the wall with a ceramic bowl full of bloody water. Winesap casually mentions "One of Pastor John's flock took a gun to his head", while Angel looks on with a hypnotic look on his face. Winesap takes Angel to a separate closed room and introduces Angel to the client, Mr. Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro).

    Cyphre is a rather strange and creepy man with a black beard, long hair tied up in a ponytail, long fingernails, a pentagram ring, walking stick, and very calm demeanor. He does not rise up from his chair to shake hands with Angel. He asks for identification. Angel seems uncomfortable with this man and the spinning fans around him and Cyphre takes his time checking the ID, but is satisfied. Angel inquires how they found him, but Cyphre does not give him an answer and Cyphre interrupts with a question "Do you know Johnny Favorite?" Angel explains he is a small time detective, Cyphre pays no attention, and continues to say Favorite's real name was Johnny Liebling and he was a singer and crooner. Winesap explains that Cyphre had a contract with him and that he was involved in an accident with a bombing in North Africa during the war and got amnesia. Cyphre cuts in and asks if Angel was in the war. Angel tells his story that he was, but came back prematurely "a bit fucked up". Apparently, Cyphre just wants to know if his client is alive or dead, and believes that they were deceived at the hospital outside Poughkeepsie, and so they want Angel to "check it out". Cyphre thinks they have met before. Angel acts a little nervous, but is certain they haven't.

    Angel drives away remembering the conversation points, whistling as he drives, he arrives at the hospital where the singer was supposed to have been. He presents a fake ID card as with the National Institute of Health, and enters to charm the receptionist, and despite her resistance, she shows him the records regarding Jonathan Liebling. He chats casually with the receptionist, and discovers that he was transferred on December 31, 1943. He inspects the report, to notice that signature is in ballpoint, a Dr. Albert Fowler. He observes that in 1943 they did not have ballpoint, and deduces it is a forgery. He asks about the doctor, only to be told that Dr. Fowler only works part-time there.

    Angel leaves the hospital, drives to a diner, and looks up the address of the doctor; goes to the house and breaks in through the back door. It's a very shabby home unkept and with clothes all over the living room. Inside the house, he finds syringes, a revolver, a Bible in a drawer, and morphine in the fridge. He waits in the dark, as the doctor arrives. The doc makes a bee-line for the fridge, and Angel interrupts him.

    They chat and the doc does not call the police because of the narcotics in his house. Angel asks about Liebling and the doctor reveals very little, making excuses, and Angel exposes him. Angel gets rough. The doc says that some southern man named Edward Kelly and a young lady took Liebling away. Angel gets pissed off; he wants more details. He finds out that the people that took him went down south and paid Fowler to maintain the pretense he was still at the hospital. Doc says his face was damaged and bandaged up and that he did not know what he looked like. Angel decides that cold turkey would refresh his memory. He locks him in his room. A ventilator fan in the window squeaks.

    Angel is wondering on the streets in sort of a trance and passes a church as he walks through the snow. A strange voice whispers "Johnny" and "Harry" and he is lured into the church. Two nuns reading the Bible with the door opening and closing look up. He imagines blood dripping in a bowl, similar to what he saw earlier at his meeting with Cyphre, and a trellis elevator doors open. Angel spends his time in a diner chain- smoking; the diner is empty. A piano plays an old song slowly and ominously the same song he was whistling in his car. He finishes his coffee, returns to Dr. Fowler's apartment, and takes some morphine up to the doctor's room, unlocks the door to find the doctor violently murdered, shot in the eye. He lights a match on his shoe, sees the gun from the drawer, and that the Bible concealed bullets. He wipes the flat of prints, and leaves like a thief.

    The next day, Angel is in the hood and meets Ellie, leaving in a car. He flirts a little and goes to a classy small restaurant to meet with Cyphre. The restaurant is empty. Cyphre does not look amused, he asks about Johnny, and he tells Cyphre that he walked out of the hospital with a man named Edward Kelly and a girl, and the rest of the story as related by the doctor. They chat as Cyphre eats an egg. Cyphre insists Angel find Johnny. Angel tells Cyphre about the doctor and his death, and tries to leave the case since now he is likely a murder suspect, he wants out. Cyphre ups the payment considerably to $5,000 and Angel is interested. Cyphre eats the egg in an almost violent manner staring strangely at Angel, telling him in some cultures the egg is the symbol of the soul.

    Angel returns to the first church and finds the blood-smeared room clean, and also discovers a strange occult shrine in the same office he and Cyphre had their first meeting at. There is a street procession march, the preacher carried along surrounded by his congregation. Angel observes the shrine, concluding it is obviously occult and deeply disturbing and it's made obvious the church is an evil cult.

    When he goes into the sanctuary, a hooded, black-veiled woman like he saw earlier cleaning the blood stain off the wall catches his attention. He cautiously approaches her, but is attacked from behind by two goons apparently working for Pastor John. He runs off and is chased into the back alley. He escapes by joining the street procession. The preacher is knocked from his suspended chair and crashes to the ground.

    Angel arrives at a bar to meet Connie, a young woman who works at the New York Times, who has some photos he needs to collect of Johnny. Later, she tells him what she found. As they undress, she tells him where to find some key people: a rich woman, a jazz player and says that they were all involved in magic. She tells him that Johnny was engaged to a woman known as Margaret Krusemark, who was known in college as "the witch of Wellesley". Angel sarcastically summarizes the case and has a flash memory of soldiers returning from war, a trellis elevator door open, a spiral staircase with someone ascending; feet of a woman who sits down, and a window fan spinning in a hotel room.

    Angel in his office, at night listens to tape-recorded facts and adds more data about the doctor and about how he tracked down Spider Simpson, and more info about the jazz player, Toots Sweet. Apparently, Johnny had a "secret love", a black woman down south named Evangeline Proudfoot, who ran a "spooky store" in Harlem, and details about Madam Zorra, another person that Johnny saw regularly.

    On the beach at Coney Island, angel talks to a single man in a deck chair named Izzy, who gives him a nose shield and asks after Madam Zorra, a friend of his wife. Angel asks about Johnny and is directed to Izzy's wife standing in the sea, but gives some more info about the crooner. Angel goes off to talk to the wife, who tells him more about Madam Zorra, that she ran a booth across from hers. She tells Angel that Johnny and she were very close, and that Madame Zorra was actually Margaret Krusemark, and when Margaret closed her booth, she went back home down south. Angel asks if she knows where he can find Johnny, and answers "Nope. Maybe a cemetery." She sings a tune of Favorite. Angel leaves her singing and thanks the man for the nose shield telling him he is headed for Louisiana.

    Angel arrives in New Orleans, and is hot and sweaty. Street boys tap dance to a brass band, Angel has only a single suitcase, and in a hotel room, changes his shirt. The boys dance outside, as he walks around. Life is calm and Angel takes a tram after spotting a woman board it. He watches her from behind, fascinated with the piano tune he's been whistling playing. She alights and he follows at a distance. He rings the bell to her apartment.

    Margaret Krusemark (Charlotte Rampling) greets him by name, he enters, early for his appointment. Her apartment is strangely, but beautifully decorated. She takes his details for a horoscope reading, he plays with a curious artifact - a strange knife. Margaret asks if he would like some tea, and asks the maid to prepare it. Angel fiddles around as she questions him. He makes idle chit-chat. The woman relieves the maid. He starts to light a cigarette, but she tells him she'd prefer he didn't smoke. She asks for specific birth details. Angel gives her a birth date, she notices that it is the same as a boy she knew and he approaches the subject directly. He mentions Johnny Favourite, tells her he is investigating, and she tells him he is dead and if he isn't dead, he's dead to her, and tells him to leave. He persists. She throws him out. She reads his palm at the door, he notices her necklace, an inverted pentacle, the same symbol Louis Cyphre has on his ring.

    Angel visits Mammy Carter's Herb Store and tries to get information about Evangeline Proudfoot, Johnny's secret love. The saleswoman is evasive, but he learns that she knew Evangeline, but she is now dead. Angel leaves with little more than the two High John The Conqueror roots he bought.

    Angel hires a car for a week, and drives through an outback landscape, this is the home of a poor community. Here he finds Proudfoot's grave. Behind the graveyard, a baby cries, and a woman with a child arrives. Angel recedes into the shadows to watch the woman and changes offerings on the grave, then leaves with her young son. Angel follows her home and watches from a distance. She washes her hair. She is a very beautiful young African-American woman.

    Angel approaches her and her child starts crying. Angel introduces himself, he wants to talk to the young woman's mother, the young woman's name being Epiphany Proudfoot (Lisa Bonet). She tells him her mother is dead. He asks about Favorite and she knows nothing. Some chickens approach, and Angel is disturbed by them. He then asks about the musician, and Epiphany doesn't say anything. As Angel is about to leave, he gives Epiphany his number. He compliments her. There is chemistry. Angel leaves.

    Johnny visits a sleazy and sweaty jazz bar in Algiers. The bar is packed, interracial, and the patrons are enjoying the act. Toots Sweets (Brownie McGhee) is the musician. Angel enjoys the gig and at the break follows the singer to the bar. He schmoozes with him, and asks about Favorite. Toots cuts to the chase, he refuses to engage or talk about Johnny. Angel follows him to the men's room. Toots is not impressed, another man leaves and Toots is shocked by a chicken foot left on the sink, Angel grabs the claw and harasses him until a bouncer enters, seeing Angel intimidating Toots and throws him out the back door of the bar, into the trash.

    Angel waits in his car until Toots leaves, at the end of the night, and follows him into the countryside. It is very late at night. He then watches Toots join ritual dancing, as Angel watches from the bushes. He sees Epiphany dance, slit a chicken's throat, and pour blood over herself, she is in a trance, and even drinks its blood. Angel hurries off.

    A fan spins slowly in a dark stairwell, Toots ascends the stairs, and at his doorway Angel grabs him but Toots fights back with a razor, and cuts Angel's hand. It gets rough until Angel dominates the old man. He threatens him and tells him he saw the ritual, Toots tells him Epiphany is a priestess. Angel asks what the chicken foot meant. It means Toots has a big mouth. Angel relaxes as he writes his telephone number on paper, which he stuffs in Toot's mouth before he leaves. Angel drops the razor as he descends the stairs and a ventilator fan is spinning slowly in the window with a soft jazz soundtrack of Toots singing.

    Abruptly, a large trellis elevator opens. Harry enters a dark room in a trance at the foot of the elevator with a hooded, black-veiled woman he's already seen twice in the Harlem church sitting on a church bench, her back to him. He sees the razor on the floor, his cut hand bleeds profusely, his shirt is covered in blood, he approaches the woman, and as he nervously touches her shoulder, he's coming out of a nightmare woken up by two local cops entering his hotel room.

    They search his stuff, ask him questions, and give him a handwritten note that they found in the hand of Toots Sweet. They tell him that his dick was cut off and stuffed in his mouth and chocked to death on it. They interrogate Angel. He refuses to give them the name of a missing person he's searching for, and tells them to call Winesap. They tell him not to go away until they talk to the lawyer. It is Wednesday, "Anything Can Happen Day."

    Angel goes to a bar. A musician finishes playing and passes his hat for tips. Angel goes to a phone booth and calls Margaret Krusemark. In the booth mirror he sees scenes of himself in an elevator going down endless floors, a New Year's Eve 1943 with servicemen celebrating, a block of flats, more celebrating, a fan in an apartment block in his flashback earlier, approaching a soldier, and just as a soldier is about to turn around the jazz man interrupts asking if he'd like a tune. There is no answer to the phone call, Angel hangs up.

    He returns to Margaret's house, kids tap dance outside, a piano repeats a familiar tune that's been heard many times throughout the movie. The door is unlocked, he enters and she is on the floor, with her chest cut wide open. He is revolted, and finds the knife he was fingering earlier. He searches through her stuff, and finds a mummified hand in a cardboard box on the dresser amongst other vials and strange jewelry. The kid outside tap dances. He leaves that room to continue his search. The kid dances. Angel finds her severed heart, he gags. The kid stops dancing.

    Angel walks past a church and into the bar shaken up and feeling hopeless. A fan spins slowly, a piano plays a familiar tune.

    Local hillbilly people rejoice in a river at a baptism, they look inbred. Overhead Angel drives across the river, behind him a pickup truck follows. He notices and stops his car on the side of the road, the truck stops too. He approaches some fishermen. The men in the truck follow and unleash a dog, it attacks his leg. He fights it off, the men then attack him with a baseball bat, and tell him to leave immediately, by the order of Ethan Krusemark, Margaret's father.

    An old school bus stops on a dusty road, people alight, one being Epiphany, she finds Angel sitting on a box by the roadside and asks and he tells her that he got bitten. He tells her he watched her ritual, it doesn't phase her. He tells her about Toots, she knows. He thinks she set him up. Turns out it was she who sent the chicken foot. She denies the setup and murder. She asks about Favorite, Angel counter questions and discovers Johnny Favorite was her father. She talks to a neighbor about keeping her child, then returns to tell him that Johnny never returned from the war and that her mom died waiting. Angel flirts with her. She glances back at him as she walks away.

    In a dark-arched courtyard of a residential hotel, Angel arrives and is given a message by the concierge. He walks past a young girl to ascend the stairs.

    A church choir sings and an altar boy prepares the Bible. Angel enters and walks through the church to the back of the sanctuary, to meet with Cyphre. They chat. He asks about the progress. Angel tells him that he found loads of stuff but still no Favorite, and 3 murders: the Doctor, Toots and Margaret. He is freaked out by the weird religiosity going around. He tells him that Favorite was not liked. and that the police are investigating him. Cyphre asks about the last murder. Angel tells him about Margaret, and that he is fed up with the case, and all of the vagueness. And that he is getting set up by Johnny, who he thinks is killing all the people he once knew. Cyphre acts political and evasive like he did in their first two meetings and just wants the debt settled because of his old=fashioned ideals like "an eye for an eye", but Angel is not having it. Cyphre offers more money, but Angel refuses, the stakes are getting too high. He wants out.

    He goes back to his room. It is raining heavily and Epiphany is sitting outside waiting. They have a drink. The apartment is leaking badly. Angel tells her that he thinks that Johnny was a creep - he asks more about him, she tells him that her mother thought Favorite was as close to true evil as she wanted to come and that he was a great lover. Epiphany says she is 17. Angel asks about the father of her son. They laugh about the state of the leaky room, she talks about witchcraft and getting pregnant. Then Epiphany puts on some music and invites him to dance. He declines, only to repeal. He picks her up and they dance. She kisses him. They lay down. The rain pours. She straddles him. The rain gets harder. They make passionate love. The rain is pouring in the room, and the water turns red. She screams and it turns to blood. It gets very violent and intercut with voodoo ritual, going down an elevator, hooded black-veiled woman cleaning a bloody mess off the wall of the room with a fan in the window, and Winesap being decapitated by a fan. A fabrication. They orgasm. Angel immediately gets up and punches a shaving mirror.

    The cops return knocking. He exits in a towel. They are tracing the new death of Margaret. They are racist and state that Krusemark comes from a white family of money. Angel brushes them off. They want to know who he is seeking. He insults them. They get pissed off. The cops leave.

    He returns to his room, she is now in the bath singing the words to the familiar piano piece that's been playing throughout the movie. He asks after the tune, "a tune by Favorite" her mother always sang to her. She continues. Angel looks at himself in the broken mirror.

    He walks down the street, and sees the pickup truck from before, is watching him. He quickly approaches, attacks the seated driver. The passenger runs off, Angel gives chase. The driver recovers and follows after them. Angel is lead into a stable. The passenger starts shooting. The horses go frantic, the driver sets a dog free, the dogs attacks only to be kicked by the horse, which then gets shot and falls on Angel. He is trapped but struggles free, he escapes by running through a chicken coup.

    A group of hicks gather skinning animals. A rough horse race starts, someone points Angel to an elderly man. The man asks what he wants. Angel knows that the two men in the pickup are his men. The man tries to pay him off to reveal who Angel is working for. Angel tells him the facts he knows concerning his part in the release of Johnny Favorite, he is Margaret Krusemark's father (Stocker Fontelieu). The man gets nervous, they go into a kitchen and have a drink where is it private. He confesses it was him, the Edward Kelly pseudonym that paid the doctor. He tells Angel that he and his daughter dropped Johnny in a crowd of people on New Years Eve of 1943. Angel fidgets with blocks of ice. The man tells Angel about Margaret's voodoo stuff and that he witnessed Favorite conjure up Satan, he is a devoted Satanist, and that says that Favorite sold his soul to Satan for fame. Angel gets really mad, personally worked up, and starts yelling, "Who was the boy?" He tells him that Toots and Johnny took an innocent man, a soldier, and conjured complex stuff, and then Johnny ate his heart to deceive the devil on New Year's Eve of 1942. He planned to vanish for a while and return as the sacrificed boy. Though the ritual had worked, Johnny was drafted before he could work things out and after he came back home and in the hospital, Ethan and Margaret dropped him off in Time's Square exactly one year later on New Year's Eve 1943 when Johnny was apparently recovering from amnesia and still had a bandaged face. It was Margaret's idea to drop him off in Times Square to jog his memory, but he disappeared, they never saw Johnny again, and he was presumed dead afterwards. Angel runs into the toilet to vomit. Then looking in the mirror, he has flashbacks, the ones he's been having repeatedly with the hotel window fan, the hooded black-veiled figure scrubbing blood off the walls, and the New Year's Eve celebration in Time's Square. The toilet door supernaturally slams closed while Angel is looking in the mirror and screaming, and when Angel exits he finds Krusemark face first in a cauldron of boiling gumbo. Angel takes off frightened.

    Angel hastens back to Margaret's apartment, rushes upstairs, and enters searching frantically for something her father had mentioned, a vase that had the dog tags of the sacrificed boy. He ransacks the drawers, breaking and smashing everything. Finally, he finds the vase, it contains dog tags. The tags read "Harold Angel" with the birthdate February 14, 1918. Angel screams in disbelief screaming "I know who I am"!

    Cyphre appears sitting in a chair, smiling with his hair long and unbunned and fingernails longer than ever, in the apartment. Louis Cyphre IS Lucifer. Angel tells him that he is not scared of him, and that he knows he is being set up, a frame. He did not kill anyone, he names the dead people. And Cyphre addresses him as Johnny, and contradicts saying that he DID kill them and that he has been living on borrowed time for the past 12 years in the real Harry Angel's memories. Angel threatens to call the lawyer, Cyphre smirks saying Winesap is already dead, making it apparent the hallucination Angel had of Winesap being decapitated was real. Cyphre continues to say only the soul is important, and that his belongs to him. Cyphre picks up a record and a gun. He plays the record with the song of Johnny singing "Girl of My Dreams", the tune that has played throughout the movie, takes the dog tags, and leaves Angel to recall the details of how he murdered each of the people. He still refuses to accept the truth. The last person that flashes before him is Epiphany. He runs off through the rain.

    He arrives at his own hotel room. A hooded, black-veiled figure that has appeared in the Harlem church and flashbacks is sitting outside the door. It is a clean-shaven Louis Cyphre in disguise. The police are inside. Epiphany is dead, bleeding from the groin on his bed. The detective asks who she is. Angel says that she is his daughter. The cop does not believe it. The cop reads the dog tags around her neck and says that she surely isn't "Angel, Harold". The other cops bring out his grandson from the joining room and tell him "You're gonna burn for this, Angel". He replies, "I know... In hell". The baby's eyes glow orange as he points at Angel, making it evident Epiphany was impregnated by Satan himself.

    Credits roll

    An elevator's doors close and it descends. Details of the descent are intercut by credits. Angel dressed in a smart suit is the passenger. It finally stops at the bottom, deep below. Harry stands behind the latticed gates. A heartbeat goes silent.

    The end.

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