REVIEW: HAIL SATAN? is an interesting look at the grassroots political beginnings of The Satanic Temple, but borders on hagiography.


Director Penny Lane’s slickly produced look at the humble beginning and growth of The Satanic Temple is interesting and worth a watch but wanders in looking for a focus and dances on the thin border of being a hagiographic puff piece.

Hail Satan is an example of a very well-done documentary that examines why the need for something exists, the void that the organization successfully fills and its success in reaching its mission goals despite obstacles. Founded by Lucien Graves and unseen benefactor Malcolm Crowe, The Satanic Temple starts off as an anarcho-political performance group in the vein of The Church of the Subgenius. They hold stunts like hiring an actor to endorse Florida governor Rick Scott because he believes in school prayer, allowing Satanists to pray in school. They hold pink masses to turn the mother of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps gay in the afterlife. These actions serve to give the group a national profile as anarcho-atheist pranksters. It isn’t until they start to protest the Ten Commandments monuments in Oklahoma and Arkansas by commissioning the construction of their own Baphomet monument as a sign to enforce religious plurality that they really come into their own and become a true national force. The documentary traces that growth and growing pains from 3 man operation to multistate chapter national non-profit very well. It also charters the advent of the “Satanic movement” in America, from Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan in the 1960s to the Satanic Panic of the 1980s.

The film does a good job of showing some of The Satanic Temple’s regional controversies in Arizona, Boston, and Detroit. Where the documentary somewhat suffers is the sort of proselytizing of these chapter members talking about how TST has changed their lives and forged their friendships. It goes on just a bit too long and seems to be there just to take up time. It traces a group schism between the head of the Detroit chapter of TST and its founders and this could have been an interesting side trip into the schisms LaVeyan Satanism faced in the 1980s and 1990s but this is largely glossed over to spend most of the latter half of the film focusing on the goal of erecting a Baphomet statue in Arkansas. Its interesting but really makes it seem like they ran out of new material. Its clear Lane sympathizes with her subjects and some counter-balance might’ve served the documentary a bit. It’s one-sided nature just makes it seem at times like a Vice short run too long.

Overall, Hail Satan? is worth a watch, but I can’t help but think some more focus on Constitutional background and law might have served the documentary a bit more in terms of making it more compelling overall.