Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest review – Satanic Panic

My notes on Satanic Panic.

This is a scrappy, funny, lightweight genre exercise, scripted by Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here) and critic Grady Hendrix (author of Paperbacks From Hell) and directed by first-time Chelsea Stardust.  It pulls in several different directions, and even bears the signs of mid-production rethinking – does an animated clump of evil innards with a soul-sucking anus transform into a possessed expensive bedsheet or did the film mesh different drafts with different monsters? – but manages to be an enjoyable evening’s strangeness nevertheless.  It might be pitched as a parody of House of the Devil but also evokes a ton of 1970s TV movies (and series episodes) featuring sacrifice-happy cults of respectable suburbanites in scarlet robes.

Embedded in the horror-comedy are some Society-like thoughts on how the rich stay rich at the expense of everyone else – the original script of Society featured a cult more like this one, before all the flesh-twisting was added – and a slightly too relentless barrage of tough-talking bitchy dialogue (it’s the sort of film where a millennial victim accuses a grande dame witch of listening to ‘80s playlists’) sometimes obscures more heartfelt moments.  The nicely-thought-out backstory for why the 22-year-old heroine is a virgin, a sole serious touch, gets a little lost because so much else is going on while young lead Hayley Griffith is doing her soliloquy.

Samantha Craft (Griffith), on her first night shift as a pizza delivery girl, takes a gig outside her theoretical catchment area and is stiffed on a tip by a solemn creep (Michael Polish) in an isolated mansion.  Needing money for gas for her Vespa, Sam barges into a gathering of well-heeled types to cadge change – and happens on a Satanic coven ruled by the very chic, very ruthless Danica Ross (Rebecca Romijn, at last getting a decent follow-up role to her turns in the early X-Men films and Femme Fatale).  Judi (Ruby Modine), Danica’s daughter, has just lost her virginity after realising the role her mother has raised her for – to die while giving birth to an earthly incarnation of Baphomet – but handily Sam is now in line to sub for her, only she proves luckier, more resilient and canny enough to put up a serious fight.

The tone is sit-com-with-gore, and sometimes makes its villains too inept to be a real threat … though there’s a nice variation on the seeking-help-at-exactly-the-wrong-house convention with Hannah Stocking in a funny cameo as a helpful-sinister-malicious-flirty girl who really doesn’t have anyone’s best interests in mind.  The inner workings of the coven are a soap opera charade of scheming bitchiness – with Arden Myrin, Jordan Ladd, Whitney Moore and Jerry O’Connell in funny bits – which means that this is an extended joke runaround with gross-out moments rather than a nightmare farce.  A little of the menace of Race With the Devil or The Devil’s Rain would have salted the soup a little.  It taps into millennial anger at privileged baby boomers – here, the monied are literally sacrificing their children to stay ahead of the game, forgetting the lesson that ‘there’s always someone meaner’ – expressed in a funny outburst from the heroine against the stingy guy who could have avoided all this if he’d just forked over a tip.  Genre regular AJ Bowen turns up in a cameo with a Fulci-ish twist.


Here’s the FrightFest listing.



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