The black house is set back 25 feet from the road. Broken glass weaving around it's courtyard is a 10-foot high cyclone fence whose long coils of barbed wire thrust menacingly toward the heavens. There is a small booth that hides a closed-circuit TV monitor with a wide-angle lens which patrols the fence. Inside the night's rhythms, waits a Doberman Pinscher. It's name is Loki, an ancient word that means "Devil."
Near midnight a man begins his journey through the old house. At the touch of concealed switches a fireplace and then a bookcase revolve to open a hidden passageway for him. The darkened ritual-chamber waits beyond.
Now he sits near the center of the chamber, one foot poised above a floor-switch that controls a rectangular black box near the far wall. He waits quietly, his other leg cradled underneath a slate rocking chair that once belonged to Rasputin, the mysterious figure whose powers dominated the life of the last Czar of Russia.
The man's body blends into the darkness because he is dressed in black from head to toe: black shirt, black levis, black socks, black shoes. All that is missing is the black robe that he dons for official Satanic ceremonies, and the black motorcycle cap that he wears outdoors to protect his shaven head.
Now, as his foot brushes the floor switch for the first time, his face suddenly glows luminous in a surge of light. It's a long, oval face. Below the head he shaved in 1966 in proclaiming Year One of the Satanic Age, his ears are set back and distinctly pointed. In the left ear is a small gold earring and a goatee and a mustache that stops growing at the middle of his upper lip surround his mouth like a clump of thistle.
The flash fades as rapidly as it came. Again enveloped by darkness, the man rises and moves his powerful six-foot frame toward the black box. He checks the two huge porcelain insulators that cling to each side, then the pair of protruding two-foot-long rods. He advances once more to the slate chair, with a strange graceless gait. It is a jerky, detached rhythm, as if despite his 45 years on earth, living here is still alien to him.
In the chair he begins to rock gently back and forth, back and forth, his foot hovering over the floor switch. From somewhere beyond the chamber come the faint chords of an organ. Then, without warning, the bolt of light flashes again. This time it doesn't subside.
The voltage in the electrostatic generator by the far wall begins to climb, shooting in violent spasms between the two rods, twenty thousand volts...thirty thousand...forty...
The chamber is ablaze with the cascading light. The crimson and black walls reveal themselves inside incredible gyrating spiraling streaks, as if any second the room will lift from it's roof, onward into the night sky.
The man lurches up on his feet. One foot Still on he switch, every ounce of his energy pulsing as he stands in the center of a vibrating capsule with one hand thrust toward the sky, alone and lost in the cauldron of his own creation, he chants the same word louder and louder: "Rise......RISE......RIIIIIISE!"
Anton Szandor LaVey has a master plan, and he doesn't think he will need force to achieve it. He expects it might come to him as naturally as the 25,000 followers who already carry his red card declaring themselves Citizens of The Infernal Empire. Before he dies, Anton LaVey believes that he and an elite force of Satanists will rule the world.
Since founding his Church of Satan in San Francisco on the annual witches' holiday of Walpurgisnacht on April 30, 1966, LaVey has become the central force behind the growth of Satanism in America. His "Satanic Bible" has sold over one million copies, and he claims as many as two and a half million students. For years rumors have swirled about his intimate relationships with Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield-and the bizarre rituals in the black house.
Yet for some time LaVey has been all but inaccessible to the public. Moving between three California homes and retreats in the eastern U.S. and Europe, he has become an almost mythical recluse.
Now, Suddenly in 1975, he has come out in public-to the dusty Mexican provincial capital of Durango. For nearly a month he's been serving as technical adviser on the location of a new film, "The Devil's Rain," not far from the Sierra Madre pass where Pancho Villa traded his soul to Satan for unlimited power.
When I glimpse him for the first time he is standing on the porch of his hotel room on Durango's outskirts. His image looms up-broad-shouldered and brooding upon the horizon between the shadows of dusk and the dim light from behind his room's closed drapes.
Coming toward him along a gravel path, I pause a few doors away. Is he really so sinister, or is it all in my mind? Then, as if somehow he's already sensed my apprehension, LaVey turns. His gaze rivets upon me, and I have no choice but to go on.
As I introduce myself, his faces shows a curious, almost child-like smile. It dissolves my dark imaginings, and I find that I'm extending my hand.
"In Durango" he says, "I suppose I'm a captive audience."
He is wearing the familiar black garb, with a silver amulet of a goat's head inside an inverted pentagram hanging from his neck. His words come slowly, punching out phrases in choppy stops and starts. He agrees to meet me for dinner in half an hour.
In the restaurant. eyes rise and then rapidly fall to stare at tablecloths, and Mexican waiters whisper among themselves. LaVey strides briskly, jerkily, to a corner table, where almost immediately a waiter is upon him with a menu.
A bewitchingly feline girl named Terrazina has come to join us. She is 22, an employee of the local governor's office. Having met LaVey at a party a couple of weeks ago, she has sine become a Satanist: the "agent" for his newest "grotto." Tonight, after dinner, she wants to draw his portrait.
"Terrazina lives in what used to be an convent," LaVey is saying. "it's a wonderful place, lots of legends about the ghosts of headless nuns making lonely walks by night. All of the rooms were nuns' cells or old planked floor classrooms, and there's an old upright piano in one of them. I sat looking out on the courtyard and played for hours."
"In California, I have my organ in my inner sanctum. It's set up like a bar and one of my other prize possessions is there, a 1947 Rockola jukebox with the little spinning globe that makes flickering lights on the ceiling. And I also have... my people."
LaVey pauses drastically. His dark eyes glaze and half -innocent, half-barbaric smile crosses his lips once more.
"Yes, I make people," he continues. Out of polyurethane and fiberglass. they're partially automated. I move them with solenoids. I suppose most of them are actually disgusting human beings. Drunk floozies, sailors trying to pick up women, and one of them even passed out under the bar!"
He chuckles loudly, but not a single head in the restaurant turns to witness it.
"But I created them. So they become not reprehensible, but people you would meet at any neighborhood bar. Friends that you sit and have a drink with. Sometimes I have one of them get behind the drums and I sit at the organ. We play together for a few hours, real ricky-tick style, like in the '50's. And I've created another room, the perfect replica of a cheap hotel, even the smells. Cheap booze and urine and stale smoke permeating the wallpaper, the neon sign..."
LaVey pauses again and gazes wistfully into space. A chill passes rapidly down my spine. "I collect things," he shrugs. "I've always collected things.
"For example," he goes on, beginning to chuckle again, "there's a guy at MGM who calls me from time to time. A while ago they'd had a tremendous auction-the entire prop and wardrobe department-and afterward he called and said, 'Give me ten dollars and you can haul off whatever's left.' And there, inside the auction room, stood this huge box bursting at the seems with the underwear of MGM's most famous stars- from Greer Garson to Liz Taylor-with the labels still on them! What a haul, what a fetishist's field day! It must have weighed 150 pounds, but somehow I carried it upstairs and a full block uphill to my car. Talk about a madman! I keep this collection in plastic bags inside a footlocker!"
Uncontrollably, I begin to laugh. Soon Terrazina is laughing, and LaVey is laughing, and it seems the whole restaurant-the whole world-must be laughing.
There are tears in my eyes and when I glance up at him. He is bringing a glass of wine to his lips, grinning like a large whiskered cat. The grin brings me back to reality. In my mind I try to construct my next question. What of the group ceremonies he is said to conduct behind his chamber doors? The legendary images of nude females with long blonde hair flowing down their backs, reclining on a coffin alter while LaVey, in his black robe, shakes phallic symbols at his assembled flock...
As if reading my thoughts, LaVey says: "I don't conduct large ceremonies anymore. I've written two books that lay the groundwork for them, and my own presence is no longer necessary. But we do have grottoes in every major city, and my agents assist those members who wish more guidance. Most of my people prefer to remain anonymous."
A deep silence begins to hum at my ears. For an instant the restaurant seems to no longer exist, and I don't know where we are, yet a strange calm possesses me.
But afterwards, as we walk to LaVey's room in pitch darkness, the gravel path feels like teeth gnashing at my feet.
The quiet Terrazina takes a seat on his bed and brings out her sketchpad. LaVey opens a large suitcase stuffed with bric-a-brac, reaching for a fifth of Early Times bourbon and half-a-dozen cassette tapes. Then, moving into his closet area, he returns wearing a custom-made white hat of the French Foreign Legion. From a tape recorder the soft refrains of "Deep Night" become his background. Nodding to the music, he lifts the bottle to his lips, and sits down on a chair directly across from me.
Carefully I study his face. A blend of Gypsises and Mongolians and Huns, as timeless and inscrutable as the merger of so many strains in his blood. He closes his eyes, losing himself in the music of Ramon Navarro, Hank Williams, The Beatles and Puccini.
"When the outside world speaks of you," I say finally, "people seem to believe that you have certain powers. A way that you can exert influence over others and...can you...have actually ever put a curse on someone?"
For a long moment LaVey doesn't reply, bobbing and waving to the music. Then: "Yes, there are certain tricks that can be learned. It is possible to curse a person by working up enough adrenal energy so that you create a change in the atmosphere and it breaks through as a sort of gamma radiation. Like a force field."
His eyes open wide. And there is the disquieting feeling that someone of something is pulling his phrases along on strings.
"I hate to have to be cruel," he goes on, his voice rising. "I resent it when people place me in that position, nothing angers me more than that, and when I retaliate it's not because I want to. I've just been pressed too far, that's all. Like on the movies set the other day."
"The movie set?" I ask, and there is a no disguising the quake in my voice.
"You may simply say that a situation arose where I felt I was being minimized. I was able to crystallize and direct the energy of some people who felt the way I did. The results were rapid. Extremely rapid. I found I was soon blamed for all kinds of things. They were glad to get rid of me. And I was delighted."
Now something else flashes in my memory. Something about LaVey and another Hollywood curse. The year that Jayne Mansfield died in that accident...
As to the question, a new sensation sweeps over LaVey's face. A profound sadness even a glimmer of fear. Then, instantly, these give way to black scowl and a look of hatred so intense that a prickly energy digs claws up my arm and advances toward my neck. I stir uneasily at the edge of the bed.
"Yes, there was Sam Brody," LaVey is saying. "He worked overtime at being detestable, kept her doped and liquored up and had guys fooling around with her in the bedroom while he took pictures. If she ever left him, he promised to ruin her career and see that she lost custody of her kids. He was despicable, utterly despicable!"
Jayne Mansfield had been one of the charter members of LaVey's church. He had been her confidante, perhaps her lover, and Sam Brody had done everything he could to curtail the relationship.
"Once he drove out to North Beach and told about 20 tough young blacks that Jayne Mansfield was inviting them to a party. He brought them all to my house, and they broke through the front door. I'd really had it with Brody. I went into the backyard and pushedd the first bolt on the quarters where I kept Togare, my 500-pound Ethiopian lion. I gave them five minutes before I'd turn him loose."
"The police came just in time. They cleared my place. I was willing to consider the matter at an end. Then Brody telephoned, calling me a crook, a charlatan, a con man. I was pulled too far. I told him that I had more power than he could possibly imagine. I told him that he would be dead within a year. he slammed the phone down."
Now LaVey rises slowly to his feet, his face contorted with anger and grief. The last opera of Puccini writhes its wild strains through the hotel room, and somewhere clocks tick on toward midnight.
"All I could do was warn her. I couldn't be with her 24 hours a day! The tragedy was that she knew. She knew being with him was antagonistic to her own well-being!"
In the early hours of June 29th, 1967, precisely six months after LaVey had worked his curse, Jayne and Body were driving on a Louisiana highway when their car slammed into the rear of a spraying mosquito truck.
"I was in my den, clipping a picture out of the newspaper of myself placing flowers on the grave of Marilyn Monroe. And when I turned the page over, I saw there had been a picture of Jayne on the other side and I... I 'd cut straight across her neckline. Fifteen minutes later a friend called with the news. Brody had been killed instantly and she'd been almost decapitated."
From the cassette player a gong strikes three times. Barbaric powerful harmonies blend with a priest's maniacal laughter in the background. Suddenly, catapulting between myself and the standing LaVey, I am sure I see a bolt of lightning, a burst of yellow light summoned from nowhere, and my senses careen before it as I follow it's vanishing path down a long endless chasm.
Abruptly, the music stops. Just as abruptly, so does the shaking inside me.
"Did you see that?" I manage. LaVey nods, and goes on keeping time to the music that is no longer there.
Terrazina has finished her drawing. So intent has she been on capturing LaVey's image that she'd become almost invisible. Now she extends her sketchpad to him, and he gathers it gently in his hands.
"Oh, I like this one!" he exclaims. "A combination of Mephistopheles and Fagin!"
The hour is late, I say to myself. Very late. Willing myself to my feet, I leave the two of them laughing together over the countenance of Anton LaVey.
There is no rational explanation for the events of the night. They toss and turn in my mind, defying logic. The only thing I can think to do is rise early, drive out to the set of "The Devil's Rain," talk to the cast, and later try to catch up with the LaVey in Mexico City.
Now, as my car approaches a backdrop of old wooden building along a dusty winding path, dark clouds suddenly cover the sky and raindrops begin to pelt the windshield. The wrath of heaven seems to be unleashing it upon Durango.
The storm lasts about a minute, then subsides, and I begin to ask around about LaVey. It is like peeling away layers of masks only to find more disguises.
"A bent Billy Graham"... "Reverend Ike with an inverted collar"..."Well, he didn't snort brimstone, if that's what you mean"..."Just say that his brand of Satanism began to clash with the director"..."A stimulating conversationalist"..."A man of many talents"..."A true connoisseur of the arts..."
No opinion the same, and no one willing to be pinned down about the events that led to LaVey's early dismissal. But something is definitely seething below the surface. Ida Lupino, who plays the devil's victim in the film, is wearing a crucifix, not only on the set, but everywhere she goes in Durango. Ernest Borgnine, cast as the devil, admits he has accepted an honorary priesthood extended by LaVey. Among the local Mexican villagers, who before had always welcomed the arrival of gringo filmmakers, even more portentous feelings had arisen.
"I took a hunting trip last weekend with a couple of them," says actor William Shatner, onetime "Star Trek" hero. "Things went wrong that apparently had never happened before. People cut their hands, the oars of our canoe broke, the pattern of the birds was impossible to follow. Finally, the canoe tipped over and these people were sure it was the presence of the devil in Durango."
I pore over all my notes. Had it always been that way? Had he always been so many guises to so many different people?
Years ago, he first "cased the mark" of human nature in circuses and carnivals. At 17 he had joined Clyde Beatty's circus as a wild animal trainer. He merged himself totally with the existence of the big cats. Sharing their hamburger on the ground, imitating their growling sounds, crawling through the sawdust after putting them through their paces, often sleeping in the huge roaring cage below the bigtop. Sometimes a lion had turned on him, thrown him to the ground and planted itself above his helpless body, and Clyde Beatty had marveled at LaVey's miraculous escapes. This was how he mastered willpower, LaVey had said.
He had gone on to play the calliope, arranging music for the high-wire Wallendas and Human Cannonball, and sending eerie organ chords through the tents of the swamis. He moved on, playing the organ in a burlesque house in Los Angeles, and had a brief affair with a stripper named Marilyn Monroe. When he joined the San Francisco police department as a criminologist, he specialized in "nutcases"- oddballs who believed in demons and haunted houses-and by the mid-1950's, this son of a traveling liquor salesman could be glimpsed on foggy nights walking along the bay in a dark overcoat with a leopard at this side. Soon he became the city's official convention organist, and he bought the old 13-room house of the most famous madam of the Barbary Coast heyday. he painted it black, and began to conduct a "Magic Circle" at midnight each Friday. His mysterious reputation began to grow.
Aging practitioners of the same Black Arts that he'd studied at 12 began coming to him with their legacy of secrets. People looking to advance careers or private pleasures took strength from his private consultations, and paid him with cars or even homes. At least, the year before his portrayal of the devil in "Rosemary's Baby," he founded his church as a blasphemy of Christianity that invited man to accept and even revel in his selfish, carnal nature. Indulge to the fullest, he proclaimed, and look forward to nothing but your material existence.
His first wife had left him, but their daughter and a second wife remained his staunch supporters. And so his followers had begun to gather. Some, like Charles Manson, came to one ceremony and never returned. Others, like Jayne Mansfield, did not survive. Kim Novak, Sammy Davis Jr., and a number of politicians and business men quietly affiliated. It was a select membership. Long before he acquired the converted convent in Italy, the mansion in Bavaria, the three ocean going salvage ships at his disposal in Belfast, and a devoted Sicilian driver who chauffeured him in his black Buick and guarded his 1937 Cord, LaVey had let it be known that he was building "an elite of the future."
As I drive away from the set of "The Devil's Rain," a Biblical image of a grinning Lucifer enters my mind and won't go away.
Forty-five minutes from Mexico City there is a little Indian town called Tepotzlan. It lies in a valley below the fabled volcanic mountain Popocatepetl, and is said to be the magical center of all Mexico. Witches covens flourish along it's narrow rutted streets, and foreign settlers stay primarily on it's outskirts.
It is afternoon when LaVey arrives at the spacious weekend home of a short, stocky, bald-headed writer who made his acquaintance in Durango. From his backyard you may watch the nearby cliffs stab their sires into the heavens and glimpse the opening to a cave where the rebel leader Zapata once hid.
"On certain nights," Says our host, "always at the same hour, a black riderless horse will pass on the street outside. And the candelabra in the house will begin to sway. I don't know any explanation for it."
Hearing this, LaVey begins to pass slowly through all the rooms, studying the white walls and steel framed windows, the ancient artifacts and placement of furniture. Then he returns and stands meditatively beside a swimming pool.
"Yes, there is a trapezoidal shape to this house," he explains. "Walls that are slightly out of square can exert a certain influence on a room, a disturbing influence..."
The writer's face turns ashen. "We built this house ourselves," he says nervously "And there wasn't one square wall in it!"
LaVey reassures him with a smile. "To me, that's wonderful," he says. "But you know, it's very strange," the writer continues. "Because sometimes I feel as if this house owns us."
LaVey nods. "The Mayans and Aztecs and the Germans knew damn well what they were doing in their architecture. There are certain cuts of stones, bunkers in war, offshore oil rigs and even a variety of jinxed cars with all one thing in common: Angles that break tranquility.
"The is the kind of house Marilyn Monroe would have had," LaVey says, "The house where she died was the same style."
He sits down beside the pool, positioning himself to view both the house and the mountains.
"My relationship with her was so short physically," he says abstractly, as if talking to the house. "But I was young, and a lot could be crammed into a few weeks. We were both floundering when we met, it may have been the lowest point of my life. It was a much more romantic era then. The style was to make love in the back seat of a car, in a secluded place. We used to go up by that Frank Lloyd Wright building on the promontory in the Los Feliz hills. His Mayan house. Wright had been putting the finishing touches on it when his houseboy went berserk at Taliesen and killed seven people. It was said that the house was cursed. He built it for a shoe magnate, and the man lost everything in the Depression. The next owner's wife jumped off the parapet. Marilyn loved strange things. We would stay there for hours.
"I left her for someone else. All through the fifties, I couldn't bear to talk about her, or see any of her films. She sent me that famous 'Golden Dreams' calendar, inscribed. I kept it locked up."
After Marilyn Monroe died, he continues, a wealthy doctor and his family had moved into her mansion. The doctor refused to change a room of it. Even the same linens remained on her bed. A year to the day after her death, the doctor's mother died there. One evening the doctor left and never returned.
"I never went up to the house until 1973. It was the night of the 11th anniversary of her death. I was drawn there, to conduct an experiment, I didn't have any choice, and she..."
LaVey does not finish the sentence. The writer and I stare at him as he hovers by the swimming pool, his glassy reflection looming long over the water and his shadow cast beyond the protective wooden wall and toward the nearby foothills.
"I'm sorry," says LaVey. "I really can't say anymore. There are some things I can't speak about. Even telling you this much, I can't explain why, just something about the ethers of this valley, this house..."
"That's one reason why I wanted you to come, Anton," says the writer. "I wanted to see if you would feel it."
"Oh, yes," says LaVey quickly. "There is definitely a vibration here." He glances over at him. "Would anyone like to take a walk?"
"The two of you go ahead," the writer says, "I've some things to finish up here."
A moon is already coming into view as we begin to trace a path leading out of Tepotzlan, in the direction of Zapata's cave.
"Do you believe that you will leave your mark on history?" The question leaps from me so quickly that it takes LaVey by surprise.
He contemplates a moment, then replies: "I'd be maudlin to say I didn't. I honestly feel that a hundred years from now, when most of these Watergate figures are long forgotten, people will know who Anton LaVey was. Selfish as it might appear on the surface, I also sincerely believe I'm doing something that will elevate man's self-awareness. Even if it's a tiny, tiny little step."
"But what about the future?" I ask him. "What do you foresee?"
LaVey close his eyes, but continues walking blind down the shadowed path. " 'The ghost kings are marching, the midnight knows their tread. From the distant stealthy planets of the dim unstable dead, there are whisperings on the night winds and the shuddering stars have fled... The Satanists are marching, where the vague moon vapor creeps, while the night wind to their coming like a thunder's herald sweeps. They are clad in ancient grandeur, while the world unheeding sleeps.' "
The poem comes in a torrent, until the end. Then his words tumble slowly, softly into the wind, and his eyes open once more.
"Think of a cat on the limb of a tree in the jungle," he muses, "Waiting for something to pass underneath at just the right time. He can leap any time he wants, but if he's not hungry he just lies there and lets antelope, deer and other small game go by. It's just the knowledge that he can spring, that he has that power vested in him...
"Someday then," I say, "you envision an elite group, perhaps your own, taking control of the world?"
"The truth about Satanism is far more frightening than anything people might expect to see. Yes, eventually it has to be, if humanity is to survive. But it will be far more sophisticated and subtle than someone like Orwell ever dreamed. It's happening already. Like stage magic, you see? The conjurer says: 'You'll observe this perfectly empty box in my hand.' But he's he's really doing the trick with the other."
In that moment the many masks of Anton LaVey seem to melt before my eyes. Mad scientist, carnival barker, intellectual broker: All of these melt, then form again, one sinking into the quicksand of the next. And when he turns to face me, it is the most terrifying Prince in my life, yet I'm unable to tremble for I am gazing only at sleight-of-hand, at a face with a definable shape, a face both as charming and as monstrous as any I could possible imagine. The face of the anti-Christ.