Church of Satan History: Hell on Reels

When Rosemary’s Baby was about to be released in 1968, LaVey, besides playing the part of the Devil, attended advanced screenings set up by the studio’s publicity department to elicit his observations as various religious groups previewed the film. It was, after all, a metaphorical as well as a very real offshoot of LaVey and the Church of Satan. (LaVey has said Rosemary’s Baby “did for the Church of Satan what The Birth of a Nation did for the Ku Klux Klan, complete with recruiting posters in the lobby.”) Taking advantage of the High Priest’s high visibility, small black buttons were passed out at the screenings which said, “Pray for Anton LaVey,” a variant on the “Pray for Rosemary’s Baby” buttons also being handed out as a promotional item. LaVey remembered the audience’s reaction to the ending of the film, when it clearly showed the Satanists had no intention of hurting the child, as everyone expected, but glorified it as the son of Satan. “People got very angry—stomping their feet and showing general disapproval. Sometimes the reality of Satanism is a lot more terrifying to people than their safe fantasies of what it’s supposed to be. For the first time, they’ve been confronted with a Devil that talks back.”

…For the first time,
[audiences were] confronted
with a Devil that talks back.”

Besides Rosemary’s Baby, there were a few other films made about or including LaVey and the Church of Satan. Satanis, an extensive feature-length documentary on the Church of Satan was released in theaters across the country early in 1970, often playing on a double bill with another movie Anton appeared in—Kenneth Anger’s Invocation of My Demon Brother. The ads for the film, showcasing LaVey’s scowling countenance, promised bloody, sexually-explicit rituals. In true William Castle fashion, serious cautions were included in the large display ads: “Satanis is the most pertinent, and perhaps the most shocking film of our time. But it’s definitely not a movie for everyone. If you choose not to see it, we will understand.” Today, Ray Laurent’s Satanis is a highly-coveted underground classic. Clips have been incorporated into several recent documentaries on the subject of witchcraft and the occult. It had long been the only footage of the Church available for TV producers to flash on the screen when describing the evils of Satanism. In more recent years, this has been supplemented by Speak of the Devil: the Canon of Anton LaVey, a feature length documentary produced and directed by Nick Bougas, notorious chronicler of Man’s dark side.

Sadly, several other foreign documentaries covering LaVey’s church—notably, footage by Germany’s Florian Fuertwangler and France’s Victor Vicas—never got American distribution. Different versions of Luigi Scatini’s Angeli Blanca, Angeli Nera, were released around the world, the American version titled Witchcraft ’70. The segment on LaVey and the Church of Satan was one of the few included in every version.

by Blanche Barton ©2003
(condensed from The Church of Satan and with supplemental material by Peter H. Gilmore)

  1. Modern Prometheus
  2. The Magic Circle / Order of the Trapezoid
  3. The Church of Satan
  4. Diabolical Endeavors
  5. Media Circus
  6. Hell on Reels
  7. Lucifer Rising
  8. Satanic Panic
  9. Ever Forward