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Satanic Panic

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.

This entry was posted on Friday, October 25th, 2019 at 11:01 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

9 Responses to “Satanic Panic”

  1. Honestly, every time actors of a certain amount of fame appear in such a movie, I raise an eyebrow or two in suspicion. My first mental image in such cases is always that of some un- or mediocre talented young writer/director calling in favours or convincing them that this will be an instant cult classic.

    Good to hear that this one is better than that.

  2. Apparently Romijn loves gore and is happy to finally be in a horror movie. In this New York Post article she specifically name drops THE TOXIC AVENGER and FACES OF DEATH:


  3. I very very very highly recommend the books of Grady Hendrix. We Sold Our Souls has the most effective sequence of claustrophobia I’ve encountered since however long it’s been since I last watched The Descent and My Best Friend’s Exorcism genuinely made me tear up at the end.

  4. Haha, this review gives me a creepy feeling of deja vu for some strange reason, Vern!

    Sounds like a good one. Thanks for the great work as always.

  5. Yeah, we did My Best Friend’s Exorcism for the book club that I co-host and just about everybody loved it. We had no problem filling an hour talking about it. Plus, the cover is made up to look like an ’80s rental video. So, that’s nice. Go pick up a copy at your local independent bookstore. We also covered Paperbacks From Hell, his non-fiction book about awesome horror paperback covers from the ’70s and ’80s and it’s pretty hilarious and awesome as well.

    In short, I think Grady Hendrix is a guy worth keeping an eye on if you’re into looking at words. Not sure about his movies, tho.

  6. This isn’t a criticism of SATANIC PANIC, which I haven’t seen, but it struck me that READY OR NOT, as much as it expresses anger towards the 1%, bought into tropes that led to the real Satanic panic. As Christianity becomes less popular and the idea of Satanism as a positive political statement grows in the US, I wonder if these stories will change or tackle the power of real, respectable organized religions.

  7. Grady Hendrix is cool but I think we are about ready to start seeing him all over every genre doc whether or not if he knows the topic or not.

    Speaking of, there’s is a 4 hour doc on 80s horror that looks great. However, it’s over priced at 60 bucks with a bunch of random shit I don’t need. It’s only available until Halloween and after that they say you can’t buy it ever again. I’m tempted to just plunk down my money but I feel like Nov 1 they are going to tell me it’s going a be on Shudder. I want to support things like this and Shout Factory but who can afford this stuff?


    Also, how is if financially sound to not continue to sell it after Halloween. I feel like someone on here worked on this doc can explain this to me.

    They also have an 80s action one you can’t get.

  8. Turns out Grady knows his shit about martial arts movies. Respect

    I liked Satanic Panic more than Ready or Not but Ready or Not has the WAY better ending.

  9. Despite having read this review when it dropped, I’d never even heard of Grady Hendrix a week and a half ago, but now he seems to be following me. I saw MY BEST FRIEND’S EXORCISM at Barnes & Noble and decided it would be a good Christmas gift for my sister just based on the cover alone. Then I bought it and decided I should figure out if he could write or not, so I got HORRORSTOR from the library. I’m about halfway through now. So far, it’s a cute gimmick and it reads fast but it’s very blandly written. There’s no atmosphere to the flavorless, declarative prose. The characters are broad in a way that would work in the kind of cheesy horror movie the book is inspired by but seems limp on the page. Maybe this is an anomaly in his bookography, but Hendrix seems like a very middle of the road writer, and I doubt this book would make much impact without the clever packaging. Hopefully my sister doesn’t mind.

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