In SATANIC PANIC – a new Fangoria Films release that came out on disc this week after film festival and VOD runs – Sam (Hayley Griffith) is working her first shift delivering pizzas. She’s completely broke and low on gas, and her skeevy co-workers stick her with deliveries to a notoriously stingy neighborhood. This would be shitty, but not disastrous, if only she didn’t get desperate and storm into a mansion to demand a tip… during a satanic sacrifice ritual to raise the demon Baphomet. See, it’s a time sensitive full moon thing, they’re short one virgin, and through contrived but humorous dialogue they figure out that Sam fits the bill. So she’s gonna have bigger problems than lack of gas money.
You know I’m a sucker for these class tension stories. Sam works for $2.30 an hour plus tips and these upper class assholes refuse to chip in – just as Lucifer would want it. Danica Ross (Rebecca Romijn, FEMME FATALE) leads the coven, a villainous type of role I’ve never seen her in, and she clearly has a fun time. Even better is her squeaky-voiced hippie-turbaned rival Gypsy Neumieir (Arden Myrin, Mad TV), whose disagreements with Danica’s blood sacrifice plans play like some drama at the planning committee for a pancake social.
Sam manages to escape to a neighboring mansion in her torn t-shirt and somebody else’s blood, but there’s some even crazier shit going on there (including a possible TETSUO THE IRON MAN homage). She finds her no-longer-eligible predecessor for virgin sacrifice Judi Ross (Ruby Modine, Shameless) naked and hog-tied, rescues her and goes on the run with her. She’s Danica’s daughter, and the opposite of Sam in most ways: assertive, vulgar, extremely versed in occultism, and spoiled silly.
I’m not sure what’s behind the popularity of satanism and demon worship movies since HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, and they’re not a favorite subgenre of mine. But this is more fun than the standard people-in-red-robes-put-a-virgin-on-a-plank business because they do weird shit like rip out a guy’s heart, cook it, feed it blood (possible BLADE II homage) and release it to fly away like a dove. There’s a really effective scene where Sam and Judi race to cover Judi’s body in protective runes as she’s being cursed and blood and needles keep coming out of her. And there’s lots of horror involving pulling long things (twine, a sheet, intestines) out of one’s own or someone else’s throat. That’s an effective type of deep unpleasantness.
Another one is Jerry O’Connell (OBSESSED, CAN’T HARDLY WAIT), Romijn’s real life husband, as her character’s soul-patched, vape-pen-sucking husband in one little funny, awful and exposition-delivering episode. I know he already did something kind of similar (be an obnoxious dick and then suffer a gory death) in PIRANHA 3D, but I think there’s still room for more.
I guess Jordan Ladd of CABIN FEVER, HOSTEL: PART II and DEATH PROOF is also one of the cult members, but I didn’t realize it was her. I thought I recognized Modine from somewhere – it turned out it was HAPPY DEATH DAY and HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U – but I started to think it was just because she reminds me of Jennifer Lawrence. If anyone else thinks so she shouldn’t be held back by that resemblance or by being the daughter of Matthew Modine. She’s a standout here.
Sam is sweet and likable and has some good comedic delivery, but when Judi calls her a “blue collar badass” or when she reveals her emotional backstory conveniently framing today as an attempt at redemption and rebirth I realize I like the idea of her character more than I buy it.
The world of the movie feels slightly contrived and awkward in that acceptable, sometimes charming way of Frank Hennenlotter or Brian Yuzna or somebody. Not sleazy, though. Spunky but innocent Sam, with her leather jacket covered in cool pins, her Vespa and her helmet with the tiger sticker on the front, seems like the heroine of a young adult novel or indie comic. I thought that before I realized one of the screenwriters (with Ted Geoghegan, WE ARE STILL HERE) was Grady Hendrix who (I believe) has written a few of those. And I guess until the THE CRAFT remake comes out, teenagers rattling off information and lingo about magic spells and curses is gonna primarily feel like a literary genre.
This is definitely an R-rated movie. It opens with a sex scene, it has a few bouts of intense gore, it revolves around virginity in such a way that a guy attempts to rape the heroine thinking he’s saving her. But I don’t know, somehow it still feels cute and playful.
That’s kind of a nice counterpoint to the first release from this incarnation of Fangoria, PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH. Producer Dallas Sonnier, also of Cinestate, brought S. Craig Zahler on that one as screenwriter, and made a movie about Nazi puppets committing hate crimes. SATANIC PANIC suggests the Fangoria releases won’t all have to push those kind of buttons.
As far as this year’s horror comedies about rich people in cults trying to sacrifice a young woman inside their mansion, I’m more of a READY OR NOT man. But SATANIC PANIC is a worthy effort by first time feature director Chelsea Stardust, an assistant to Judd Apatow and then Jason Blum who has directed numerous shorts since 2015. I’m sure I’ll watch her next one.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.