'Satanic Panic': Film Review

Satanic Panic - Publicity Still 1 - H 2019
Courtesy of Eliana Pires
Tries too hard.

Chelsea Stardust’s horror comedy stars Rebecca Romijn, Hayley Griffith and Ruby Modine in a feature about elitist satanists seeking virgin sacrifices.

Situations featuring young women in peril are a staple of horror movies, particularly the type of low-budget releases that Satanic Panic seeks to imitate and celebrate in its own way, substituting warped humor for frissons of fear. Director Chelsea Stardust knows her material well. But she can’t quite contain all the mayhem she conjures while attempting to extricate a couple of resourceful women from the grasp of some ridiculously entitled satanists, who want to offer them up for demonic possession. It’s a fun concept, but the feature lacks the deft touch required to make disembowelments and virgin sacrifices actually seem amusing, although gore-hounds will certainly get their fill.

Mild-mannered singer-songwriter Sam (Hayley Griffith) isn’t making much of a living by busking, so she takes a gig delivering pizza on her moped. Desperate for dough, on her first day of work she jumps at the chance to make a final run, way out on the swanky side of town, where she finds that the delivery address is a gated mansion. Homeowner Samuel Ross (Jerry O'Connell) couldn’t be more stuck-up or rude, stiffing her on the tip and shutting the door in her face. Determined to pry loose the withheld gratuity, Sam discovers a side entrance and lets herself into the house.

A cocktail party is in progress, and red-robed host Danica Ross (Rebecca Romijn) addresses her guests with a passionate call to action: "Are you ready to fully commit yourself to Satan?" Or, more precisely, to the three-faced demon Baphomet, one of his emissaries. Apparently the partiers' plan is to summon this prince of hell so that he can impregnate a virgin and provide them all with limitless wealth and power, but there’s been a slight hitch. Danica’s original candidate was her own teenage daughter, Judi (Ruby Modine), who’s now been cast aside after losing her most marketable quality. But no worries  it looks like Sam will make a suitable substitute. Danica intuits her virginal status and imprisons her in preparation for the upcoming impregnation ritual.

At this point, things go from high concept to high camp in almost no time flat, as Danica and her guests begin anticipating their imminent elevation to true satanist status. Winky line readings, exaggerated facial expressions and grandiose gestures reveal that Stardust and screenwriter Grady Hendrix are more interested in easy laughs than seizing the opportunity for genuine social satire that their premise, about the one percent exploiting the less fortunate, suggests.

In any case, Sam isn’t going to give into Danica’s nefarious plot quite so easily, and quickly flees after fending off an amorous attack by Samuel that results in his sudden, bloody demise. Inevitably she’ll have to deal with Danica’s rage as well as her satanic power lust, but there’s no time to think about that as Sam seeks shelter in a nearby home, where she liberates Judi from the fiendish clutches of a couple of Danica’s evil minions. Now they’ll have to figure out how to escape the satanists, avoid the demon and raise the alarm without getting taken out.

By now, Satanic Panic should be delivering on its promise of providing a degree of humor along with all the horror, but Stardust remains mostly satisfied with occasionally amusing one-liners while missing the chance for more satisfying situational humor. As the film approaches its climax, a pronounced gonzo tendency takes over, with plot developments favoring shock value over narrative coherence. In her favor, perhaps, it should be noted that Stardust isn’t shy about bringing on the gore, spilling gallons of blood and heaping mounds of steaming entrails in front of the camera.

After some understandable initial panic, Griffith’s Sam begins exhibiting a refreshingly practical approach to escaping her predicament, undeterred by the savagery of her assailants. Together with Modine, who proves a suitable sidekick, the two young women hit upon a variety of creative strategies to frustrate Danica. Romijn dominates most of the bloodiest, chaotic scenes, as Danica reigns over her demented followers with a fierce devotion to the exemplar of evil.

By the time Satanic Panic reaches a drawn-out conclusion, it’s become an entirely different movie than the lighthearted romp it initially appeared to be. Horror might be all about transformation, but in this case that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Stardust, however, will have her defenders, and if they didn’t get enough of what they’re looking for here, she’ll probably be following up Satanic Panic with something equally goofy and gory before long.

Distributor: RLJE Films
Production companies: Fangoria, Aperture Entertainment, Media Finance Capital
Cast: Hayley Griffith, Rebecca Romijn, Ruby Modine, Arden Myrin, Jerry O'Connell
Director: Chelsea Stardust
Screenwriter: Grady Hendrix
Producers: Dallas Sonnier, Adam Goldworm, Amanda Presmyk
Executive producers: Adam Donaghey, Charlie Dorfman, David Gilbery, Phil Nobile Jr., Danielle Cox, Grady Hendrix
Director of photography: Mark Evans
Production designer: Bryan Walior
Costume designer:  Rachel Wilson
Editor: Michael Sale

88 minutes