Satanic Panic

{Movie Review} I Saw That Album Cover: Satanic Panic (2019)

“None of those people are going to tip you because they’re too busy worshipping Satan.”

I’ve got a few of Grady Hendrix’s books on my shelf, though I haven’t gotten a chance to read most of them yet, and I support—at least conceptually—the work he’s doing with Valancourt Books and Paperbacks from Hell. But I didn’t care for Mohawk, his last collaboration with Ted Geoghegan, so I went into Satanic Panic, which I caught with a great crowd at the Screenland Armour as part of Middle of the Map Fest, with some reservations.

I needn’t have worried. You may remember that I recently wrote about Ready or Not and the reviews claiming that film “skewers the 1%.” Which is not to say that it doesn’t, but if that skewering was too subtle, too nuanced for you, Satanic Panic is here with the giant, flaming middle finger toward the 1% that Ready or Not promised but couldn’t quite deliver.

Photo Courtesy of Aperture Entertainment

The unlikely but totally appropriate theme of 2019 is apparently: “Rich people are literal Satanists.” And that theme is… delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer in Satanic Panic. That’s not a knock, though. Subtlety is all well and good, but it isn’t always necessary for good satire. Robocop is many things, but subtle is probably not one of them.

The two films make interesting viewing when held up side-by-side. Ready or Not is funny, but seldom as laugh-out-loud funny as Satanic Panic. And while Satanic Panic doesn’t have that film’s beautiful ghost story setup, it more than makes up for it with tons of overtly supernatural shenanigans to go along with its buckets of gore. (This is a Fangoria joint, after all.)

Where Ready or Not held off revealing how much of the occult trappings were real until the very end, Satanic Panic makes it abundantly clear right off the bat that these Satanists aren’t just whistling Dixie. They call up demonic powers, cast voodoo-like spells, eat bits from a moldy skull, the whole nine yards. As much malevolent magic as you could ask for, Satanic Panic is ready to deal out that and more.

There are even a few guy-in-suit monsters before all is said and done, as well as an extremely rubbery flying casserole dish of viscera—it’s that kind of movie.

Photo Courtesy of Aperture Entertainment

Where Ready or Not felt like it needed another, subtler film to adequately explore some of its themes, Satanic Panic goes to the opposite extreme and makes Ready or Not feel like the subtlest damn movie of the year, by comparison.

Rebecca Romjin shines as the powerhouse leader of the Satanic coven, her speeches to them identical to any corporate think-tank or self-help guru until she starts asking, “Are your ready to fully commit yourself to Satan?” (Virtually the first words we hear out of her mouth are, “Be prepared for a major paradigm shift.”)

Like everything else in the film, the dialogue in Satanic Panic is not subtle, and sometimes that on-the-nose quality can feel like it’s trying a little too hard. But more often it works. When Romjin’s character says, “Your generation doesn’t understand sacrifice,” as a double entendre, it’s funny because, well, it rings true with all the articles you see about “Millenials these days.”

Again, this is on-the-nose satire. It isn’t hiding behind anything. The Satanists chant “Death to the weak; wealth to the strong,” and it’s pretty clear from early on that just about all rich people got rich by worshiping the devil, and that’s also how they stay that way. As metaphors go, it’s no Society, but it doesn’t need to be. In this world where the poor are held to a standard of civility that somehow never applies to the wealthy, it feels entirely appropriate.

Photo Courtesy of Aperture Entertainment

In fact, the whole cast is good. Hayley Griffith essays what should be a breakout role as Sam, maybe the softest Final Girl of all time—and one who, delightfully, gets to keep her softness even when the world should make her hard. Ruby Modine—who you may remember as Tree’s roommate in Happy Death Day—is great as her foil and potential ally. Jerry O’Connell is hilarious as Romjin’s vaping husband who is way out of his league.

While Grady Hendrix and Ted Geoghegan are the ones lending indie horror cred to the proceedings, it bears mentioning that this is a film directed (wonderfully) by a woman (Chelsea Stardust) and headlined by women. The male characters are pretty much all supporting cast, when they exist at all, and everyone from the the squabbling leaders of the Satanic coven to our leads to most of the other villains are all played by women.

Photo Courtesy of Aperture Entertainment

Stardust keeps things hopping. At just under 90 minutes, Satanic Panic is a breeze of a film that never wears out its welcome. It’s also surprisingly tense in its final reel, for a movie as funny and satirical as this one is.
And while there are plenty of “oh, that’s a Haxencloak” toss-offs to normalize the supernatural goings on, as one would expect in a picture like this, there are also quite a few authentic occult trappings thrown in for fans of that sort of thing. A major plot point revolves around haruspicy, after all. How many movies can say that?

Editors Note:  Satanic Panic is out on Blu ray today.  Amongst the bonus features are a couple of vignettes that really point out just how remarkable a film this is.  Directed by a women, starring four female leads, with a fifty percent female crew.  Chelsea Stardust, Fangoria, and the other folks who helped create Satanic Panic should really be commended.  Go buy your own copy today. 


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