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{Blu-ray Review} There Really Is a Satan: Satan’s Little Helper (2004) on Blu

“Could God come as a trick-or-treater?”

Director Jeff Lieberman is perhaps best known for the slasher classic Just Before Dawn (1981) or the acid trip flashback Blue Sunshine (1977), but I know him best from Squirm (1976), the killer worm movie that was notoriously lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000. What do all those titles have in common besides Lieberman in the director’s chair? They all have a real weird tone going on, and Satan’s Little Helper is no exception.

Courtesy Synapse

Released more than a decade after Lieberman’s last major outing, you would be forgiven for assuming that Satan’s Little Helper was a more recent release paying homage to the early-2000s, rather than an actual artifact from them, as the film feels either ahead of or behind its time, it’s difficult to say which.

Though it takes place entirely over the course of a single Halloween afternoon and evening, Satan’s Little Helper is always brightly lit, with what one Letterboxd user called a “Disney Channel Original aesthetic.” The look of it certainly contributes to the weirdness of its overall vibe, which is baked many layers deep into its central premise.

The idea of the movie already sounds like something “edgy” that would have gotten released straight to video – although this actually got some theatrical play when it came out in 2004 and has now been ported to Blu-ray by Synapse. The most basic, elevator-pitch premise goes like this: A naïve (and infuriating) nine-year-old inadvertently helps a serial killer commit a series of grisly slayings on Halloween. That’s already an unlikely premise, and it only gets weirder when we add in the reason why the kid helps the killer: he thinks he’s Satan.

Courtesy Synapse

Y’see, in a weird sort of paean against violent video games (maybe?) Dougie, our impressionable nine-year-old, is obsessed with a computer game called Satan’s Little Helper, where he plays the eponymous helper and goes around with Satan, causing havoc. Like the movie, the game (which we see in the film several times) feels like something out of time, its blocky cartoon “graphics” less representative of what games ever actually looked like and more reminiscent of some of the recent wave of intentionally lo-fi throwback games.

For Halloween, Dougie has decided to dress as Satan’s Little Helper – a costume that his well-meaning but flighty mother, played by Amanda Plummer, made for him – and “find Satan.” This is what kicks off the whole plot of the film, once his college-age sister (whom he normally goes trick-or-treating with) brings home a boy from school, enraging the possessive Dougie and sending him off on his own.

In short order, Dougie happens upon the figure known only as “Satan Man,” a serial killer in a long black coat and a grinning, goatlike mask that is posing a dead body when Dougie first encounters him. Convinced that his new friend (who never speaks) is Satan, Dougie asks to tag along with him, and the two get up to a bunch of (often homicidal) mischief, which the not-terribly-bright Dougie is convinced is all somehow make-believe.

What follows is essentially the “bomb-under-the-table” principle stretched out to feature length. Through a series of weird machinations, Dougie’s family is convinced that the guy in the Satan mask is actually the boy that Dougie’s sister brought home, while only Dougie (and the audience) knows the truth. However, Dougie’s conviction that this is all a game makes him read the Satan Man’s actions as playful rather than sinister, so only those of us watching at home know the danger that Dougie’s family is constantly in.

Of course, the other shoe has to drop sooner or later, and eventually it’s Dougie’s family against the Satan Man, even as Dougie is still half-delusional about what is actually going on. The film really comes alive in these closing acts, and its satire (of what, exactly, is unclear) ramps up as the Satan Man changes into, among other things, a Jesus costume.

Courtesy Synapse

There’s something at once cozy and repellent about Satan’s Little Helper, a film that somehow juxtaposes the warmth and hominess of its aesthetic with the deeply grimy motives of the Satan Man. You can see it in the interactions between Dougie and the serial killer. While Dougie’s family clearly loves him, they also never seem to really listen to him (and it’s hard to blame them, he’s obnoxious). The Satan Man, on the other hand, seems to really pay attention to his young charge, even while he’s manipulating him into helping to commit cruel murders.

In an age when many Halloween films channel our nostalgia for a “simpler,” small-town version of the holiday that probably never actually existed – and there’s plenty of that here, from the town’s simple decorations to the fact that it can somehow support a fully-stocked local costume shop – few of them put that nostalgic channeling to such ultimately caustic ends, which is saying something, anyway.