Full Disclosure: I know quite a few people who work for Cinestate and Fangoria, the people behind Satanic Panic. My former CineDump colleague, horror writer extraordinaire Preston Fassel, works for the production company and writes a recurring column for Fangoria magazine, “Corrupt Signals.” And to be completely honest, I had no plans to write about this movie at all because of my personal connection to the film.
But I had so much fun watching it, I couldn’t resist the urge to tell all of you wonderful CineDump readers about it. My greatest joy in writing movie reviews is having the ability to share what I love and enjoy with a small part of the internet. Some of the best films I’ve ever seen have come from the recommendations of film reviewers whose writing I love (namely Nathan Rabin and El Santo of 1000misspenthours.com), so if I can do my part by passing on the euphoria of a good movie, I jump at the chance.
So, this movie had a few strikes against it already for me. First, it’s a horror comedy, and is it just me, or are horror comedies the sad, loveless handjobs of the movie world? They usually end up being laugh-free comedies and scare-deficient horror films--the ultimate in dry dissatisfaction. Also, if you hang around the horror subculture enough, you’re gonna get dragged into some very shitty screenings featuring “hilarious” and “wacky” premises: haunted trailer homes, libidinous dolls, rapist clowns. Oh, what laffs. Second, there was already a weird, kinda funny pizza-delivery themed horror movie (a hidden, semi-precious gem called Slice) and upon hearing about Satanic Panic’s concept, I was sure it would be, if not a reheated version of this, then at least it would hit most of the same notes and jokes.
Boy, was I wrong.
Satanic Panic tells the story of Sam Craft, a financially destitute delivery girl. When she makes a delivery to the nicest part of town, she’s understandably upset that the creepy homeowner stiffs her on her tip. Needing gas money to get back to her side of town, Sam commits a bit of manic-pixie breaking and entering and begs for a tip from the flabbergasted party-goers. But their anger at Sam’s impudence quickly turns to joy when they realize she just may be the thing they’ve been looking for: a virgin to sacrifice.
This movie is just pure, crazy fun. From the moment Sam realizes (belatedly) that she’s in trouble, the film starts ramping up the violence, gore, and over-the-top-antics until it climaxes in a literal orgy of death. Bristling with manic wit courtesy of Grady Hendrix’s script (giving us such delights as “killdos” and “double pronged demon dongs”), the action of the film starts off at a breakneck run, takes the viewer through obscene (and obscenely funny) gore set-pieces, featuring a baked soul that somehow makes to look more venereal than a H.R. Giger creation, a passionately weird scene of neck fucking (yes, you read that right), and all the mayhem that falls between.
Sam is aided in her struggle for survival by the cult leader’s renegade daughter, Judi. As Judi works to teach Sam enough occult secrets to help them both survive the night, both girls have to trust each other and overcome their socio-economic differences. A few reviewers have pointed to the unlikely friendship that forms as an indication that this is somehow a tween paranormal story gone awry. Instead of being the least bit YA, the relationship between Judi and Sam is a classic pairing of opposites: innocent virgin/experienced woman, sweet/tough, gentle/aggressive. Movies that pair two young male leads together, that show two boys working together, are rarely singled out as appropriate for YA fiction (think of the rapturous reception the almost exclusively male Super Dark Times received). This isn’t the time or place to talk about how our media has trained us to perceive of female majority casts in a negative light, but the strange devotion that develops between Judi and naive Sam is genuinely winning, framed beautifully by Hendrix’s always snappy script.
The film’s two stars, Rebecca Romijn, and newcomer Hayley Griffith as wide-eyed Sam, add to the film’s sense of fun. Romijn is simply perfect as Danica Ross, the imperious cult leader, who underplays most scenes with a grim determination. The acting style usually favored by horror comedies tends to be big, broad and loud (and there is some of that on display here) but Romijn gives Danica a chilly sense of control that makes her a formidable enemy amid all the mania. When she seduces and disembowels one of Sam’s coworkers, it’s a brutal scene made hysterically uncomfortable by Romijn’s nonchalance.
Hayley Griffith, on the other hand, has perhaps the biggest challenge in the film. Virginal, inexperienced, and so sweet you’d think she’d melt in the rain, Sam is the kind of character hardened horror fans want to see die. It’s no secret people who spend their money watching other people get chopped up like to think of themselves as hardened, jaded, above all that Disney-princess shit, and Sam, with her poor, broken heart but unbridled optimism typifies all that. However, Griffith is able to tap into Sam’s vulnerability, her essential good-hearted humanity to make her a sympathetic, even lovable character.
Watching Satanic Panic in the filled to the gills auditorium of the Texas Theatre at this year’s Oak Cliff Film Festival was the perfect environment to enjoy all the brazen madness. People hooted, hollered, and shouted, cheering on Sam as she fights her way through a swath of greedy cultists, and when the film reaches its whiplash of a climax, with one of the best twist endings I’ve seen, there was a real sense of cathartic, overjoyed release.
Satanic Panic is a just a good time. Go see it with friends and enjoy all the glorious gore and fabulously freaky set-pieces.