MPAA Rating: R Running time: 85 minutes Directed by: Chelsea Stardust Written by: Ted Geoghegan (story by), Grady Hendrix (screenplay by) Starring: Rebecca Romijn, Arden Myrin, Hayley Griffith, Ruby Modine, Jerry O'Connell
The last horror comedy that I honestly thoroughly enjoyed was 2013's fantastical, elder-ancient-witch-titty-showing Spanish film, Witching and Bitching. I loved everything about it, and its poster currently hangs above my monitor as I write this. I have to admit: I am typically not one for comedies, choosing more extreme or foreign entries over mainstream or comedic fare. As much as Witching fell into my lap as a welcomed, pleasant surprise, Satanic Panic just sat on my lap, slapped me across the face and told me that it was going to be my mistress. I am absolutely in love with this film. I haven't laughed and smiled so consistently while viewing something since I watched Patsy Stone give herself Botox after randomly buying an Absolutely Fabulous box set.
I would first like to admit that I have not been keeping up with the horror scene lately. I know, I know. I'm a horrible podcast host. I had no idea what Satanic Panic was about, who directed/wrote it, or anything about it in the least. I just knew that Fangoria was somehow attached and that it was a comedy that somehow involved Satanism.
Do not proceed unless quasi-spoilers are your jam.
Meet Sam (Hayley Griffith). Sam is a girl that you have absolutely encountered at some point in your life. She's cute, young, naive, and just trying to make ends meet. She doesn't have her shit together. It's her first day on the job at the local pizza parlor as a delivery girl, and we meet her as she fights her co-workers for routes that provide the best tips. Of course, the deliveries in the seedier poor areas of town don't tip as well. Due to a male co-worker wanting to get into her pants, she's allowed a large delivery to the Beverly Hills-esque part of town, given a warning about watching out for weird rich people orgies, and the main plot turns on and begins to depart the station.
Sam hops on her Vespa and sets out to make the delivery to the ominous gated community. After being stiffed on the tip, and her Vespa running out of gas, Sam enters the home through the back door to demand said tip and stumbles across what initially appears to be a self-help meeting. Nope. Not quite. Danica Ross, elegant socialite and HBIC (impeccably performed by Rebecca Romijn), is convening her elite-filled coven in an attempt to summon the demon Baphomet. I was so excited to see Arden Myrin (playing the sassy Satanist sidekick and traitor Gypsy), who was a cast member on MadTV from 2005-2009. Much like Leslie Grossman, Myrin is one of those actresses that can just stare blankly at the camera, never speaking a word, and it forces me to laugh. Whatever she does is funny.
We quickly learn that the coven needs a virgin for the ritual, and that Ross' daughter Judi (Ruby Modine) was the original intended sacrifice. Once Judi learned of the group's plans, she had sex with the first man she came across, thus crossing herself off the list. Danica then sent her to be disposed of at the hands of a husband and wife couple from the coven. Obviously, Sam is the next logical choice. It isn't every day that a much-needed virgin just waltzes into a Satanic ritual meant to summon the Prince of Beasts.
I don't want to get into full spoiler territory here. You now know the setup, and that's enough. To give any more details would be ruining the absolute joyful experience that is cold-viewing this film for the first time. There aren't many films that I can honestly say that about.
What did we like? The first thing I noticed was that the female characters were never really sexualized. Unfortunately, in 2019, pointless and overt sexualization of female characters is still an issue in horror and it's truly something I absolutely detest with every fiber of my being. There are no close-up bum shots of scantily clad women jogging down a hall in their underwear. It's not that kind of movie, so if that's what you're into, this would be the one to skip.
The dialogue, admittedly uneven at times, is delivered well by the cast. In fact, the entire cast does an impeccable job. As Danica Ross' locked-up, vaping husband, Jerry O'Connell even manages to make an attempted rape feel far less sinister in the moment than it would be if played even a hair differently. I feel like Griffith did a great job, but Romijn and Modine were 100% the standouts in the film. Modine in particular has one Hell of a future ahead of her.
The gore! Obviously, if I'm going to watch a movie about a Satanic cult chasing down an escaped virgin, I want gore, and lots of it. This film's visuals are largely a delight. The set is gorgeous, and the color palette of lush reds and browns is very rich and really lends itself to saying, "Hey! We're rich assholes!"
The endless nods to other horror films. OK. So, I could be attributing this to brilliant writing, or just creating something from nothing, but I picked up on a LOT of little nods to other horror films. From The Evil Dead and The Frighteners, to Satanic trash films of the 70s and more, there are MANY instances throughout Satanic Panic that are slight head nods to other genre films. I feel like these were pulled off very subtly and successfully. So many directors decide to hire the original actors for a loud-and-proud cameo at just that ironic moment. I appreciate Satanic Panic's approach to these and feel like they were written smoothly into the script without becoming too obvious, cheap and heavy-handed.
I'm going to say it right now, as I'm coming out of the closet. I am probably Chelsea Wolfe's biggest fan. Her music is my religion. She's my all-time favorite, but still not incredibly well-known. Hearing "Scrape" (from Wolfe's album Hiss Spun) quietly start to play at the beginning of the climactic bacchanalia...the pounding percussion and grinding guitar growing and growing until her desperate vocals overtake them...was an orgasmic cinematic experience. It was the perfect choice. Whoever made that executive decision not only has impeccable musical tastes, but they deserve a massive pat on the back for just how appropriate it was.
What did we not like?
Honestly, we disliked very little. I have to confess that although there are multiple jarring tonal shifts throughout the film, and some ideas are left feeling a little uncooked, I think the film does best when it's balls-out embracing the silliness and trashiness of its subject matter.