Reviews

Satanis: The Devil’s Mass + Synthia: The Devil’s Doll (1970)

Satan has developed a social conscience. It’s called “sex.”

When it comes to the devil and sexuality, the line between reality and fantasy is often clear. For instance, we all know that fires are not actually begat by orgasms, despite what Legacy of Satan has to say on the subject. Furthermore, courtroom-term foreplay may not guarantee a sure thing, as was erroneously portrayed in Satan’s Blade. So far, so good. However, after back-to-back viewings of Satanis: The Devil’s Mass and Sinthia: The Devil’s Doll (both from 1970), that once-faithful disconnect between reality and fantasy is forever destroyed.

Satanis is an artless-yet-fascinating documentary on the Church of Satan and its founder, Anton LaVey. It is real. Sinthia is a ridiculous experiment in back alley psychiatry. It is not real. Yet, both films prove that Satan is not Satan without a bunch of sex. You see? DESTROYED.

San Francisco, 1970. The late Anton LaVey lives in a house which happens to be painted black. Satanis: The Devil’s Mass tells us why. In 1966, ex-carny/musician/paranormal brainiac LaVey founded the Church of Satan after discovering “…a large grey area between psychiatry and religion that was untapped”. Of course! Four years later, the organization has reached its zenith as a solace for lost souls to revel in hedonism, black mass theatrics, and sexual freedom. Director Ray Laurent’s cameras are there. And that’s all you need.

Satanis is a no-nonsense documentary. You won’t find the attractive aesthetics of Frederick Wiseman or The Maysles brothers at work here. But, you will find gruff 16mm film-stock and mesmerizing interviews with everyone from LaVey’s neighbors (the ladies love him, the men do not), a priest, a couple of Mormons, Church of Satan members, LaVey himself, his wife, and most telling of all, his teenage daughter. Between interviews, we’re treated to several ceremonies, all of which are bathed in red and green spotlights, nudity, dimestore props, and handheld pizzazz. Though the insubstantial interviews and neutral presentation lull towards the end, the good-humored Satanis remains alluring for what it is: 86 minutes of satanists speaking frankly about their principles. Most of them sexual. There’s also a pet lion named Togare.

Togare, meet Sinthia.

Any attempt to explain the reasoning behind Sinthia: The Devil’s Doll will be met with abject failure. It’s a Ray Dennis Steckler film (directing and editing here under his porn pseudonym, “Sven Christian”). It lies somewhere between his impending travelogue experimentation period (The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher) and asymmetric junk like Psyched by the 4-D Witch. There’s plenty of softcore-ing. The crux of the film envisions Portnoy’s Complaint as a junior high stage play. Plus, I fell asleep. Twice.

Naturally, I loved it.

Sinthia espouses therapy, boobs, and suicide. Fitting, as we all know that “…love between humans can be very strange at times.” After slashing up her parents in a rage of jealousy, then burning down the house, Sinthia finds herself at the mercy of an analyst. Henceforth, Sin and the doctor attempt to exorcise a recurring sexual desire for her dead daddy. Their methods go something like this: Sinthia falls asleep and dreams. Group sex. Dancing for Satan and his bride. Beach running. Lesbo licking. Art school modeling. A guy who says, “Sin-chee-a” and paints. Freakish/hilarious play performances. Finally, it is decided that Sinthia must travel back in dreamland time and kill herself, thereby freeing her physical form from further torment. It’s just that easy.

So there’s the gist. When you add the frequent triple-exposures, warbled easy listening LP music cues, and a reliance on confined spaces, Sinthia reveals itself fully. Aimless. Dumb. Pretty boring. It’s a superb example of grating, sub-arthouse anti-entertainment. Of course, that’s the very reason why it’s worth experiencing.

Reality? Fantasy? Whatever. Satan just wants to get you laid.

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