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Tue Apr 16, 2019, 02:32 PM

Film Review: 'Hail Satan?'


The title card for Penny Lane’s phenomenal “Hail Satan?” waits a beat before adding the question mark. Are the members of the Satanic Temple for real? No … and yes. In the opening scenes, Lane follows its founders to a Halloween store to buy cheap robes they’ll wear to the Florida Capitol to rally in support of Gov. Rick Scott signing a bill to allow prayer in school. “You open the door to God, you open the door to Satan,” one devil worshipper beams. As their first spokesman practices attention-grabbing pyrotechnics in the mirror, Lane notes the chessboard in the room. The Satanic Temple’s combination of shock tactics and anti-discrimination lawsuits is check-and-mate against America creeping towards a Christian theocracy.

Perhaps you remember the Satanic Temple’s successful 2015 campaign to remove the Ten Commandments from the Oklahoma State Capitol by filing paperwork to erect an 8’6″ statue of goat-headed Baphomet? That stunt brought them international attention, multiplying their numbers from three to 50,000 in just three years with new chapters as far away as Sweden and South Africa. Question mark aside, those are serious numbers. And the more hypocritical pushback they receive, the more sincere the members become. After the Boston Archdiocese successfully pressures Harvard against hosting the Temple’s free-speech-testing Black Mass, one member nods, “That’s the moment that I really became a Satanist.”

Who are these Satanists? You’d be surprised. To them, Satan doesn’t represent evil — he represents rebellion, a freethinker who dared to question God’s authority. With that framing, the proper way to worship isn’t, like, killing cats. It’s political protest. As early Detroit leader Jax Blackmore insists, “Activism is a Satanic practice.” That Fox News commentators still frothing fears from the 1980s Satanic Panic (which Lane also scrutinizes) don’t — or won’t — understand the difference just boosts the Temple’s profile.

...Of course, that’s the same question everyone wants to ask the Satanic Temple itself: Is this a stunt? Or as Lane puts it, “Do you think that most people think you’re joking, or most people think you’re evil?” Greaves and his disciples just want most people to think the Satanists have a point. Hail freedom!

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