03rd Sep2019

Frightfest 2019: ‘Satanic Panic’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Hayley Griffith, Ruby Modine, Rebecca Romijn, Jerry O’Connell, Jordan Ladd, Arden Myrin, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Michael Polish, Mike E. Winfield, Clarke Wolfe, AJ Bowen, Hannah Stocking, Gina Marie Hughes | Written by Grady Hendrix, Ted Geoghegan | Directed by Chelsea Stardust

satanic-panic-poster

For those of you out there that grew up in the 80s, the phrase “satanic panic” will conjure up all sorts of imagery – mainly surrounding a bunch of middle-class mothers up in arms about Dungeons and Dragons, rock music and more and claiming they were damaging the youth of the America in the 80s and leading them spiritually astray. Basically, a bunch of hardcore Christian types objected to anything that wasn’t what, in their eyes, was clean living – think the British video nasties furore meets Mary Whitehouse… And this film plays on those 80s fears, however flipping the idea on its head and casting those middle-class woman as the very perpetrators of said satanic acts!

This Satanic Panic tells the story of cancer survivor Sam, who ekes out a meagre existence delivering pizza and writing folk songs in her spare time. Offered a delivery to a wealthy neighbourhood with the chance of healthy tips, she unfortunately gatecrashes a key ritual being carried out by an elite Satanist sect. The only thing missing from their black ceremonial orgy to rebirth the Dark Lord is a virgin sacrifice. And guess what? Sam fits the bill.

Written by Grady Hendrix, who has penned a number of horror books including Horrorstör (2014) and My Best Friend’s Exorcism (2016) and based on story by Hendrix and writer/director Ted Geoghegan (who co-wrote Mohawk), Satanic Panic features the same quirky stylings that Hendrix’s novels have become synonymous with; and the 80s-esque vibe he seems to tap into too. In fact this film feels, in terms of story rather than production, very much like a product of the same decade that gave us Trick or Treat and The ‘Burbs – the latter sharing a very familiar story beat to Stardust’s film!

Well I say quirky, but this film’s idea of quirky is both insanity and grotesquery – from a devil-worshiping naked orgy to using someone’s intestines like a demonic Google Maps to THAT huge drilldo, Satanic Panic walks a fine line between terror and tears (of laughter), blending buckets of gore with bucketloads of laughs in equal measure. The film also has a real sardonic wit and the kind of snark and black humour that you’d find in the scripts of Daniel Waters – films like Heathers and Vampire Academy in particular – making this something of a must-see for fans of that kind of dark teen comedy. For yes, whilst it may be filled with gore and near-the-knuckle imagery Satanic Panic‘s audience is clearly the same kind of teenage audience that fell in love with R-rated horror in the 80s and drove the huge resurgence in the 90s post-Scream… In fact you could consider Chelsea Stardust’s film something of a love-child of Scream and the self-referential era of films that followed it.

What really helps sell Satanic Panic‘s outrageous story is the cast, all of whom jump feet-first into the peculiar mix of bitchy scripted lines, bizarre situations and sheer insanity that the story demands. Hayley Griffith is a fantastic put-upon heroine who’s initially out of her depth, with a performance that feels both believeable and immensely likeable. By the time the sheer magnitude of what’s actually happening hits her character the audience is completely invested and 100% behind her, willing her to get out of this situation alive. Meanwhile Ruby Modine, as the original virgin sacrifice, is a total badass – the kind of character normally reserved for the male hero but here played brilliantly as a strong-willed woman who wants out of the situation she’s in, whatever the cost.

In fact Satanic Panic reverses a number of gender roles. Rebecca Romijn is superb as the cult leader: strong, brash and laser-focused on the task at hand; and it’s worth noting that all the strongest members of this particular satanic cult are women, the men often subservient to them. After all, mothers know best – even if they’re participating in satanic worship and ritualised murder! The real surprise though is AJ Bowen, who plays against type as a wannabe ladies man whose libido gets him into trouble. LOTS of trouble.

The very definition of a crowd-pleasing, fun horror film, Satanic Panic is an auspicious addition to the current Fangoria Films line-up, long may it (and not Baphomet) reign!

***** 5/5

Satanic Panic screened at this years Arrow Video Frightfest on Monday August 26th 2019.

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