Created by William Hjortsberg
William Hjortsberg’s 1978 novel Falling Angel is a strange one: a weird, um, cross between The Exorcist and The Maltese Falcon. It’s also just one hell of a read; a pushy and head-spinning, shape-shifting romp through some of the most beloved clichés of hard-boiled crime fiction, laced with a healthy dollop of the supernatural, that was surprisingly well received upon its release.
Unfortunately, the book’s been almost forgotten now, replaced in most people’s memories with the 1987 cheesefest Angel Heart, starring Mickey Rourke’s stubble, Robert (“I’m up for anything!”) DeNiro’s fingernails, Lisa Bonet’s nipples and lots of blood and chickens.
Yeah, I know. The film’s garnered a cult following of sorts, over the years.
So now, go read the book, already…
It’s 1959, and down-on-his-luck New York City gumshoe HARRY ANGEL has had better days. Turns out the long-lost 1940s singing idol/war hero he’s been busting his chops looking for, Johnny Favorite, seems to have died several years ago.
And Harry’s beginning to suspect his client, a rather bizarre character named Louis Cyphre, isn’t being completely honest, either. In fact, he just may be Satan out to collect an overdue debt from Favorite; namely his soul.
Happens all the time, right?
But somehow Hjortsberg, despite some of the most heavy-handed foreshadowing imaginable (don’t get me started), makes it work. A good and satisfying read, then; especially around Hallowe’en, and eventually inspired a big bucks film adaptation, Angel Heart (1987), that did not go quietly, directed with great verve by Alan Parker and starring Mickey Rourke as a Harry badly in need of a bath, with Robert De Niro as Louis Cyphre, and former Cosby kid Lisa Bonet as Epiphany Proudfoot. It’s proudly over the top, full of blood and sex (the Brits did object to a cock-fighting scene, and cut a few seconds out), but it did feature a more-or-less naked Cosby Kid, so it soon gained a significant cult following. But it actually hangs together nicely, in a crazy kinda way.
But wait! There’s more!
In 2020, out of the blue, Hjortsberg (or, I guess, his estate–he died in 2017) released a sequel, Angel’s Inferno, wherin
- “Terrific . . . One of a kind . . . I’ve never read anything remotely like it.”
— Stephen King
- “… the single most original private eye novel ever written… not necessarily the best, mind you, but it is unique, and how many authors can say that?”
— The New York Sun
- “A near perfect book . . . Not since Psycho changed the bathing habits of thousands has a novelist so completely turned conceptions inside out.”
— Los Angeles Times
- “A weird alliance: the jaunty tone and connect-the-dots format of the hardboiled detective story (which Hjortsberg does to unfussy perfection)–wedded to the clichés of the occult, complete with black masses, the transmutation of souls, and a Twilight-Zone denouement… Hjortsberg… has undeniably come up with an oddly disarming way of filtering B-movie subject matter through A+ prose–richly active with humor, precise milieu, and a smoky moodiness that lingers on.”
— Kirkus Reviews
- “… a truly gothic mix of black magic and mystery.”
— Mike Ripley
- “This is one of those movies where you leave the theater and re-run the plot in your head, re-intrepreting the early scenes in terms of the final shocking revelations. “Angel Heart” is a thriller and a horror movie, but most of all it’s an exuberant exercise in style, in which Parker and his actors have fun taking it to the limit.”
— Roger Ebert on the film
- Falling Angel (1978) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Angel’s Inferno (2020) | Buy this book
- ANGEL HEART | Buy this DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray | Watch it now!
(1987, Tri Star)
Tagline: It will scare you to your very soul.
Based on the novel “Falling Angel’ by William Hjortsberg
Screenplay by Alan Parker
Directed by Alan Parker
Original music by Trevor Jones
Cinematography by Michael Seresin
Produced by Elliott Kastner and Alan Marshall
Associate producer: Robert Dattila
Executive producers: Mario Kassar, Andrew G. Vajna
Starring Mickey Rourke as HARRY ANGEL
with Robert De Niro as Louis Cyphre
and Lisa Bonet as Epiphany Proudfoot
Also starring Charlotte Rampling, Brownie McGhee, Stocker Fontelieu, Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Whitcraft, Eliott Keener, Charles Gordone, Dann Florek, Kathleen Wilhoite, George Buck, Judith Drake, Gerald Orange, Peggy Severe, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Dave Petitjean
- I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts
Things That Go Bump in the Night, and the Eyes Who Go After Them