What are the criteria for inclusion in the list? What does the Church look for in films that they can recommend to members and the wider public?
The film list was compiled by Anton Szandor LaVey for a book titled The Church of Satan written by his consort Blanche Barton, published in 1990. The films he selected exemplify aspects of the philosophy of Satanism, often illustrating points of view or dramatic resolutions that agree with Satanic principles.
Ours is an atheist philosophy using Satan as a symbol of pride, liberty and individualism. We see the Universe as being indifferent to us, hence we Satanists choose to establish our own subjective hierarchy of values with ourselves as highest amongst them. We accept the full range of human emotions as healthy, from love to hate, noting both of those are uncommon extremes. Ritual for us is an optional form of self-psychotherapy to rid ourselves of any emotions hindering our intelligently moderated pursuit of pleasures. This makes for an Epicurean lifestyle of responsible indulgence, not compulsion. Satanists view man as just another animal, and so we are concerned about the Earth and its ecosystem. We believe that society should be run via a secular social contract, with rational laws to regulate behavior so that a maximum of freedom might be attained. We value justice and the idea that the punishment should fit in kind and degree the crime when working to maintain an equitable society.
We prefer films that honestly and critically explore the capacities of human behavior, regardless of setting—from historical recreations and contemporary dramas to vistas of fantasy and science fiction, considering various strengths and weaknesses without a veneer of idealism. We are not devil worshippers and so humdrum horror films portraying cultists slaying sacrificial victims provide nothing of interest.
My favorite movie of all-time is The Wicker Man (which is set in my native Scotland). To my mind it is a uniquely haunting and beautiful movie which demands to watched time and again. What is it about the film which makes it essential viewing from a Satanic perspective?
The Wicker Man, which has a splendid script, score and outstanding actors, delights Satanists because it upends the position held by so many in our culture that Christianity is somehow the de facto position all should share. Sergeant Howie is a believer, most sincerely so, and his contempt for the revived paganism on Summerisle captures that arrogance which non-Christians often find both revolting and frustrating. Additionally, this neo-paganism—wrought by an agronomist/anthropologist for pragmatic reasons—is a learned recreation derived from extinct earlier belief systems, reinforcing our view that all religions are human inventions and thus fictions. I’ve met pagans who tend to see it as “their side” getting a chance to win the day, but for we skeptical Satanists, the film demonstrates that theistic belief systems lead to irrational and often dangerous behaviors. A police officer who is an innocent is unjustly burned to death to satisfy beliefs as lunatic as any in Christianity. There is delectable irony in Lord Summerisle’s pointing out that a martyr’s death is a rare gift for a Christian, which could be considered in a positive light by one who holds to that faith, despite its personal cost. While neo-paganism might offer a more humane and carnal set of beliefs than does Christianity, we Satanists do not find ourselves defending them for their murdering of Howie. Christopher Lee describing how Christ had his chance and “blew it” tends to be a favorite for those of us who see that system as just another set of manufactured ideas competing for followers rather than a universal truth. It is brilliant all around and utterly unforgettable.
There are quite a few films on the list; such as Fantasia, The Snowman, Hans Christian Andersen and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which appear, at first glance, to be rather counterintuitive. Obviously these movies run far deeper than most conventional "children's" film. Which aspects guaranteed their inclusion on the list?
Fantasia is based on memorable orchestral music by major and lesser classical composers coupled with fantastic imagery meant to foster an interest in both the art of composition and animation. It was meant by Disney to be the first is a series of experimental works intended to heighten the aesthetics of broader audiences, which we’d endorse as Satanism champions that one have an appreciation of outstanding achievements in all of the arts. The film is quite free of Christian imagery and in addition to exposing people to some outstanding music it dramatizes evolution via Stravinsky, the need to master one’s craft through Dukas and Mickey Mouse, and offers a deco-pagan landscape propelled by Beethoven’s “Pastorale” sixth symphony, his paean to nature. It concludes with the demonic Chernabog presiding over a wild sabbath, only to be quieted by dawn when robed figures process into a cathedral wrought of trees, visually offering nature as being sacred, supplanting the Christian meaning of the accompanying “Ave Maria” text set by Schubert. Disney supplies a feast of Satanic virtues in this pioneering effort.
The Snowman bears a valuable lesson in mortality which can teach children how precious life is, since it is limited and thus not to be wasted. Satanists do not believe in any sort of afterlife, considering our lives to be treasures not to be squandered. The passing of the beloved snowman poignantly makes that point.
Since Satanists value justice, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory presents a scenario where everyone gets just desserts, served-up by Gene Wilder as a most engaging devil.
Hans Christian Andersen, with its charming songs and heartfelt performance by Danny Kaye, advocates our values of creativity and pride in one’s achievements, as well as a realistic lesson that misplaced love can lead to pain. ‘The Inchworm” points out how some can miss the beauty around them while “The Emperor’s New Clothes” cautions against counter-productive pride and vanity. The overall import is to seek awareness of underlying truths, something we Satanists call “undefiled wisdom.” And “The Little Mermaid” core theme can be seen as illustrating one of Anton LaVey’s favorite sayings, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Given the lurid and woefully inaccurate misconceptions that exist, do you feel that the general public will be surprised that members of the Church of Satan enjoy films which feature dark comedy, child-oriented animation and musicals alongside more obvious features such as Satanis: The Devil's Mass and Rosemary's Baby.
Most people tend to have that horror film paradigm in mind when they hear the word “Satanism” so I am not taken aback when they are unaware of our values and the films that would exemplify them. Comedy, especially when serving as the mockery of the pretentious while using humor to display uncomfortable truth, is an essentially diabolical art. Animation has become a means for dealing with challenging and even taboo subjects as years worth of The Simpsons, Futurama, King of the Hill and The Family Guy have demonstrated. Lighter jokes and japes and even “potty humor’ allow deeper jabs to be thrust at aspects of our culture that might be widely held but ultimately may not bear up to critical scrutiny.
Musicals are such stylized efforts and many are vapid, but a few delve into the full range of human emotions—love, anger, envy, pride, sense of loss and even hatred—embracing them and providing an exorcism of sorts for any feelings that might be obsessive, thus bringing catharsis. They are akin to our use for Satanic Ritual, theatrical psychodrama meant as a purgative of unwanted emotional baggage, not demonic worship.
Satanis captures part of our historic past. While it is rather crude cinema, we enjoy Anton LaVey enumerating our principles as well as some of the garish pageants he produced at his infamous Black House in San Francisco. Most outsiders might simply see it as an enjoyable freak show, but if they listen to what is discussed, the fundamentals of Satanism are made clear.
The true Satanism of Rosemary’s Baby is its showing Satanists to be a wide range of human types, from a shipping magnate and a leading obstetrician to the kindly old couple next door. Our organization does encompass that range, including corporate heads, police officers, lawyers, musicians, chefs, airline pilots and entrepreneurs as well as store clerks, office workers, teachers, and so on. The central plot device of birthing Satan’s child to us is silly, since we recognize that God and Satan are both myths.
Are there any films which the Church would specifically not encourage its members to watch?
We Satanists oppose censorship, encouraging critical viewing of anything that might catch one’s interest, so we’ve no lists of “forbidden works.” I have startled some by covering movies dealing with Judeo-Christian subjects: Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and Darren Aronofsky’s Noah.
I am currently working on essays for a book about films intended to dispel the still rampant idea that a movie is Satanic if there’s some reference to Satan, Lucifer or other devils, demons or the supernatural involved. I discuss movies satisfying to Satanists by employing our principles.
Here are some titles I’ll be adding to the list:
WALL•E (a promethean, cautionary tale), Maleficent (a Satanic re-imagining which shows a proud being betrayed, overcoming rage to mete out justice and rebalance the world, favoring nature—shown as darkness), There Will Be Blood (a stark study of what conflict with a hypocritical believer can do to a non-believing man of action), Fight Club (dramatizing the dangers of repression and conformity), The Dark Knight Trilogy (where a thirst for vengeance leads a vigilante to serve justice), Sling Blade (where deserved outcomes come at terrible costs), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (comedically portraying a carnal man of manners struggling to maintain civilization in a decaying society).
And finally four favorites that speak to my sensibilities:
Ishiro Honda’s Gojira. A dark parable warning against mankind’s hubris in maltreating our environment through the abuse of nuclear energy.
Ken Russell’s The Devils. A harrowing, graphic exposé of religious mania and hypocrisy, utterly damning of what horrors the Roman Catholic Church has unleashed against those who would oppose its dominion.
Barry Sonnenfeld’s Addams Family Values. No film shows a stylized version of genuinely Satanic people quite like this one does, celebrating the outsiders who hold their ground against pressures to conform to normalcy. And it is full of exquisitely diabolical dialogue.
John Landis’ Animal House. Apollonian rigidity vs. Dionysian catharsis is brilliantly etched as carnality opposes pretense and the haughty are brought low via mockery.
As Donald Sutherland’s Mr. Jennings states: “The most intriguing character, as we all know from our reading, was… Satan. Now was Milton trying to tell us...that being bad was more fun than being good?” He then bites the apple he’s holding, taking the plunge into knowledge of good and evil, and so much more.
Now that’s Satanic cinema!
—Magus Peter H. Gilmore
Here is the published article: The Snowman is diabolical hit by Marc Horne