There aren’t many documentaries made these days which are as funny as Hail Satan? is, even though the title may make you think that this would be a dark and fucked up affair. And while not an out and out comedy as it has a few serious moments it’s easily one of the most enjoyable and amusing documentaries I’ve ever seen, as it follows a group of Satanists who are far, far more likeable than any other religious types you’re likely to encounter.
That’s partially because this motley bunch aren’t Satanists of the variety who worship the devil and sacrifice goats and small children to the devil, but a group of outsiders who came together as they were sick to death of “Christian Privilege” and the way that particularly religion is linked to Government on a local and national basis. As we’re informed a couple of times during the film, what they’re all about is having a “Pluralistic Religious Nation”, a country which accepts all religions, which given that it’s America is surprisingly more difficult than you might have hoped.
A fair part of the narrative revolves around a stunt where they want a statue of Baphomet (a deity who’s part goat and who is meant to represent opposites like animal and human, male and female, good and evil) on State Government Ground, to go next a replica of the Ten Commandments. What starts off as a minor romp where they want to make a point and give the “Oklahoma government a civics lesson” quickly grows and grows as more chapters of the organisation open across the world, as those who don’t feel like they fit in with conventional religions find each other in what’s nearly always a very charming way, with leader Lucien Greaves especially eloquent when explaining the appeal of the religion.
The statue is not the only stunt the Satanists are involved with either, and nearly all are delightfully funny, be it trying to upset those involved with Fred Phelps’ deplorable Baptist Church by having gay couples making out on the grave of his mother (in the hope of turning her in to a lesbian in the afterlife) to messing with the Boston Catholic Church because of the way they helped cover up child abuse for decades (if not centuries). They also start an “After School Satan Club” to take on the tedious After School Christian Clubs, and publish the very funny “The Satanic Children’s Big Book Activities”, but also do a number of actively positive things for the community including helping the homeless, looking after a two mile stretch of roads (which they clean using pitchforks) and taking out adverts where they mark out their beliefs, explaining how they want to “Spread our message of compassion and empathy. We will clean up streets, work to protect women’s health choices, free of harassment and defend children from corporal punishment”. All of which sounds pretty damn great to me.
There are occasional serious moments in the documentary, including a segment forty five minutes in on “Satanic Panic” and how the US Government tried to create moral panic when it came to the type of individuals they didn’t approve of, while the way our heroes are treated by Christians is sometimes bleak. But the majority of it is heart warming and amusing material, with a part on how they took on Anti-Abortion protests by dressing up as Adult Babies being especially funny, while they make Christian Senator Jason Rapert look like an absolute idiot with ease in a delightful moment.
The ending involving the statue of Baphomet is perhaps a little forced and not quite the victory you might have hoped for, but that only serves to highlight just how depressingly shit small (and large) town America can be sometimes. It doesn’t alter the overall sentiment of the documentary though, and this celebration of those who want to make a difference, who want to change the world for the better, albeit in a very unusual manner, is a memorably smart and endearing work that will stay with you for a long time afterwards.