What happens when an intended one-off publicity stunt escalates into a full-blown movement?
The undeniably enticing answer can be found in “Hail Satan?,” an often surprising documentary about the rise of the Satanic Temple.
It all started with three guys in cheap hooded cloaks and robes congregating in front of Tallahassee’s State Capitol ostensibly backing then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed law allowing prayer in public schools while they were, in fact, championing religious pluralism.
But when the media eagerly took the bait, the Satanic Temple, fronted by savvy spokesman Lucien Greaves (a pseudonym), went from being a gag to an international sensation in three short years, attracting 100,000 activist members who were more about upholding 1st Amendment rights than horns and cloven hooves.
While director Penny Lane (not a pseudonym) energetically goes about shattering our preconceived notions at every intriguing turn, the film is at its most potent tracing society’s history of “satanic panic,” from the Salem Witch Trials to the rise of the evangelical lobby on the shoulders of the Red Scare to the 1980s when Dungeons & Dragons was viewed as a demonic gateway game.
Boasting wild archival clips and a 7-foot Baphomet statue with a goat head and an Iggy Pop torso, “Hail Satan?” could easily be taken for the impish spawn of Michael Moore and Kenneth Anger.
Rated: R, for graphic nudity, and some language
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Playing: Starts April 19, Arclight Hollywood; The Landmark, West L.A.