'Hail Satan?' doc is devilishly provocative

“You’re gonna go to hell!” a guy shouts out to the black-robed speaker with horns.

“I believe it — and I’m very excited about it,” he replies.

What else would you expect from a spokesman for The Satanic Temple?

Folks serve up a lot of softball epithets — and hardball questions — to the devil’s advocates in “Hail Satan?” another fine, provocative entry from documentary director Penny Lane, opening Friday at the Harris Theater, Downtown.

The film, like the Temple itself, begins in January 2013 with a Tallahassee rally “endorsing” Florida’s born-again Republican governor for re-election: “Hail Satan! Hail Rick Scott!” the satanists chant, in their clip-on masks with devilish accessories.

'Hail Satan?'



  • Starring: Lucien Greaves, Jex Blackmore, Nicholas Crowe, Chalice Blythe.
  • Rating: R for graphic nudity and some language.

Mildly amusing, not too successful. Moving right along to a much higher-profile cause celebre in 2014: the Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds. The Satanic Temple has proposed to “complement” the 10-C’s with a monument of their own — to Baphomet. He’s the famous 19th-century image of a satanic goat with downward-pointing pentagram, model for the Tarot deck’s Devil card and for the demon lord in Dungeons & Dragons, not to mention the iconic symbol for countless hellish heavy metal bands.

We’ll see how that plays out in Oklahoma and, even more riotously, in Arkansas, where an identical Ten Commandments monument has been installed, while TST’s 8-foot statue of Baphomet gets funded by $28,000 from 1,000-plus backers online (140% of their $20,000 goal).

If you’re anticipating lurid images of shocking satanic rites (which I was), you’ll be largely disappointed. “Hail Satan?” contains a few such moments, and some blasphemous stunts, including the group’s infamous black mass in Boston.

But for the most part, director Lane uses her inside access and nonjudgmental observation to simply chronicle the rapid rise and influence of the Satanic Temple as — in just six years — one of the more significant religious movements in American history. She couldn’t have done it without the cooperation of TST’s enigmatic co-founder Lucien Greaves, 43, a calm, soft-spoken media manipulator (with a strange, unnerving scarred eye), who studied neuroscience at Harvard University. Fox News, in particular, tries hard but never lays a glove on him. Greta van Susteren, Tucker Carlson and (of course) Geraldo all take a crack — providing him with enormous national exposure.


“You really believe in Satan?” Megyn Kelly asks.

“We view Satan as a symbolic embodiment of the ultimate rebel against tyranny,” he replies, coolly.

Indeed, TST does not believe in any supernatural devil but uses the literary Satan as a metaphor of rebellion against authority and visual Satanic imagery to promote separation of church and state — with satire, theatrics and direct legal action. It calls itself a “nontheistic religious and political activist group,” choosing Salem, Mass. (with that town’s rich witch trial history) as its international headquarters, and now boasts hundreds of chapters in the U.S. and worldwide. It has no connection to the seriously diabolical Church of Satan, founded in 1966 by Anton LaVey, of which — well, the less said the better.

Lane’s previous two feature docs were gems: “Nuts!” (2016) is the fabulous character study of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, an eccentric genius who built an empire in the 1920s and ’30s with his goat-testicle cure for impotence and a million-watt radio station to promote it. “Our Nixon” (2013) consisted of never-before-seen Super 8 home movies filmed by Nixon’s closest aides and convicted Watergate conspirators H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman.

Though her “Satan” at hand does not quite measure up to those, it’s still very much worth the viewing, at 95 crisp minutes, replete with relevant old movie clips from the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence in “Fantasia” to “Rosemary’s Baby.” (My favorite — the 2004 holiday release, “Satan’s Little Helper” — is sadly missing). Lane’s subtly humorous seasoning is what really makes it.

TST’s Seven Tenets, when we hear them at the end, sound not much different from the Boy Scouts Oath. Act with benevolence and empathy toward all, respect the freedom of others (including the freedom to offend), etc. Nowadays, the Satanic Temple (Santa Cruz chapter) has even adopted two miles of interstate highway upkeep — using little pitchforks to spear the litter.

The film’s greatest revelation: Ever notice that all of those Ten Commandments monuments in the Southern states look alike? It’s because they were all made and widely distributed by Paramount in 1956 to promote Cecil B. DeMille’s blockbuster “Ten Commandments” with Charlton Heston.

Never throw anything away.

Post-Gazette film critic emeritus Barry Paris: parispg48@aol.com.

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