A raggedy and unfocused 1970 documentary on the late Anton Szandor
LaVey (1930-97) and his San Francisco based Church of Satan. Promising
subject matter, to be sure, but the film is quite dull, and not
particularly well made.
SATANIS, THE DEVIL’S MASS was filmed at the height of
Anton LaVey’s “fame” in the late sixties. After founding the Church of
Satan in 1966, LaVey became a highly visible presence in a variety of
media, including this film. Its director Ray Laurent was a colleague of
the late Ray Dennis
Steckler, and edited the latter’s films THE LEMON GROVE KIDS
MEET THE MONSTERS and BODY FEVER. SATANIS is (according to the imdb)
Laurent’s only directorial credit.
We see Anton Szandor LaVey, wearing a cheap devil’s
costume with horns, presiding over a satanic mass in which a bunch of
people stand around chanting, a bored-looking naked woman resides on an
altar and cheesy organ music plays. Several unidentified people are
interviewed, who discuss LaVey--they all find him odd, and one old man
despises him. The disarmingly soft-spoken LaVey is also interviewed,
claiming his Church of Satan is intended primarily as a rejoinder to
traditional religions that thrive on fear and repression (whether LaVey
ever viewed Satan as an actual physical entity was and remains a subject
of heavy debate).
From there we get more on-the-street interviews
chronicling “normal” peoples’ reactions to LaVey and the Church of Satan
(“There are women that are without clothes!,” a gray haired lady
gasps). The church’s members, meanwhile, talk a lot about a lion owned
by LaVey, which he had to put in a zoo; a peeved LaVey responded by
putting a curse on those who’d forced him to get rid of the lion.
In further interviews LaVey decries the animal
sacrifices practiced by many cults, and the “sanctimonious hypocrisy” of
most so-called witches and warlocks. He claims that “all the religions
are coming around to Satanism,” Satan being a word that means “the
adversary” rather than one who inflicts evil. One of LaVey’s followers
speaks of teaching her son to masturbate. And so on.
Of course we see more satanic masses, with LaVey in
devil costume presiding over a clergy that includes a naked woman with a
“666” scribbled on her chest who fondles snakes while her companions
stick pins in voodoo dolls.
Anton LaVey is an enigmatic figure, and this film does
little to illuminate him. Evidently desiring for audiences to make up
their own minds, director Ray Laurent dispenses with traditional
documentary standbys like narration and chronology. Unfortunately he’s
neglected to provide any sort of a narrative, giving us a rambling
chat-fest with only brief snatches of nudity and profanity to keep us
awake. SATANIS is probably best viewed as a time capsule of a time when
a marginal subculture became headline news.
I’ll say this: the film is an ideal tool for LaVey
haters, as the satanic masses shown here seem as dull and long-winded as
church sermons. Despite all the nudity, whipping, snake handling and so
on, nearly everyone involved looks bored. A similar lassitude, of
course, afflicts the whole of SATANIS: THE DEVIL’S MASS, a formless mess
utterly lacking in energy or momentum.
SATANIS, THE DEVIL’S MASS
Director: Ray Laurent
Producer: Ray Laurent
Cinematography: Richard Elsman, Carlon Tanner
Editing: Sean Erik
Cast: Anton LaVey “and members of the Church of Satan”