One of the real pleasures of feeling lousy enough to stay home in bed is the YouTube deep dive. Flu’d up a couple years ago, I watched maybe 15 straight hours’ worth of stuff about Orson Welles: movies (F for Fake), interviews, biographies, commentaries, talk-show appearances, spoofs, even classic outtakes. Aaaaah the French… It is one of the consolations of illness that you can never remember how awful you felt — but I can well remember what a delight it was to spend the day with a world-class filmmaker and raconteur.
More recently, I took ill and communed with the devil and his minions. Satan got an awful lot of cinematic attention in the ’60s and ’70s; 1961 alone treated The Devil’s Hand, The Devil’s Eye, The Devil’s Partner, and The Devil’s Messenger. YouTube is full of them: lo-res but vivid, somehow earnest without being self-serious. And where there’s Satan, there are Satanic rituals: worshippers in hoods and robes of purple and scarlet; gathered around altars lit by candles or torches, depending on whether the setting is an old stone cellar or a older woodland clearing; presided over by an aging Svengali as he prepares his nubile thrall for the fulfillment of his dark purpose. It makes sense: he feels death approaching, and so he turns to the glories of youth in an effort to court the favor of the Prince of this World.
Old Scratch has had a resurgence of late: both 2015’s The Witch and 2018’s Hereditary (spoilers!) dealt with unironic surrender to Satan for the sake of earthly joys. Maybe that’s why I was so struck by my recent discovery of a ready-made Satanic ritual film set, right in my town — right behind the torn-down Ukrainian Catholic Church. Too perfect. In my mind’s eye, I started placing cameras and lights, considering costumes. I mean, the thing just dropped in my lap, and who knows how long I have left to break into the movie business? I’m not getting any younger.
It wasn’t until I pointed out the spot to my teenage son that it hit me. “You could ask your friends if they want to film a movie scene. It’d be fun, and we could use it for proof of concept. Of course, these things always have some half-dressed hottie for…” Even as the words formed, I creeped myself out. An aging Svengali as he prepares his nubile thrall for the fulfillment of his dark purpose. Good grief, that’s enough of that. How do directors do it? I guess it helps if you regard actors as, in the words of my wife’s grandfather, “so much cattle.” A dowry, useful for courting.