Never let it be said that a minimal budget should be the death knoll of an otherwise successful film. Time and time again competent directors have proven that inventive film-making knows no monetary bounds. Satanic Panic, one of the buzzy gems from this year’s Fantasia Festival, is the latest in a long line of can-do films that defies its constraints to produce a film full of surprises, laughs, and gleefully demonic gore.
Aspiring musician Samantha (Hayley Griffith) has taken a job as a pizza delivery person. Her naive, upbeat attitude is mocked by her fellow co-workers, but she’s adamant that this first day on the new job will turn things around for her. Desperate for tips, Sam volunteers to deliver some pizzas on the far side of town in the affluent Mill Basin neighborhood, a gated community full of mansions, swimming pools, and well-manicured lawns the size of football fields. When she’s stiffed for a tip at the palatial address, Sam refuses to back down and storms into the manor looking for her just dues, only to find herself stumbling into the hands of a witches coven in the midst of preparing a Satanic ritual. Thus begins a night of mayhem, murder, and supernatural sheet-wrangling as Sam fights for her life against the cultic 1%.
Director Chelsea Stardust (Into the Dark: All That We Destroy) knows her 80’s. Though set in present day, the film very much evokes the feel of the decade in which the actual Satanic panic gripped the nation, and the tone of the film is clearly meant to mimic the days of grunge and widespread suburban paranoia of the occult. The screenplay, by horror staple Grady Hendrix (My Best Friend’s Exorcism) from a story by Hendrix and Ted Geoghegan (Mohawk, We Are Still Here) gives her a lot to play with, particularly the whipsmart dialogue that feels irreverent and sharp and throwback all at once, and must have been a blast for the cast to deliver. Rebecca Romijn is particularly delicious as cult leader Danica, an unhinged grand dame willing to do whatever it takes to maintain her wealth and status.
The pacing is also excellent. Stardust never lets up on the action while still interspersing perfectly well-timed moments of comedy that let us breathe, guffaw, and get to know our characters all at once. Even amidst the hijinks, the viewer truly comes to feel attached to Sam and Judi (Ruby Modine)– Danica’s once-virgin daughter whom Danica intended to sacrifice but who turns the tables and teams up with Sam instead–and fears for them as their run-ins with the cult became increasingly more disturbing. Though it’s not always clear how the cult’s magic works, it’s great fun to watch the spells play out since all the effects are practical and it’s never assured what’s going to happen next.
Satanic Panic is non-stop giggles and gore from cold open to closing credits. It’s packed with gags, creative effects, and even a surprising amount of heart. The story is silly but engaging, the message tired yet timely, and it exudes a bubbly charm that’s hard to deny even in the face of it’s minor faults. It’s the kind of movie that embraces the campy nature of it’s premise and runs full steam ahead with it, leaving the viewer sated and satisfied, like a god offered the most excellent of morsels at the altar.
5 – Totally Terrifying 4 – Crazy Creepy 3 – Fairly Frightening
- 2 – Slightly Scary
1 – Hardly Horror