Review By: Jason Oliver
The Fangoria resurgence continues with the production of, and official Fantasia 2019 selection, SATANIC PANIC. It might be difficult for the younger of the millennial generation (and certainly Gen Z) moviegoers to understand what the original Satanic Panic of the 1980’s was all about. Today, mainstream film and television has made the Devil one of its greatest entertainment commodities and you need to look no further than a show like Netflix’s THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA to note that it’s no longer taboo to market the Devil to the kiddos. I’m sure The Dark One himself is delighted to no end at this most surprising development. I’m sure there are still members of the Christian Right-wing that squawk and bemoan this fact pointing to the decline of the morality of the youth of America, but just like in the 80’s, the kids will be alright.
While 2019’s SATANIC PANIC, directed by Chelsea Stardust (ALL THAT WE DESTROY) from a story by Grady Hendrix (MY BEST FRIEND’S EXORCISM, HORRORSTÖR) and Ted Geoghegan (WE ARE STILL HERE), certainly takes its cues and title from this cultural era, it does little to play on and parody that strange time and history other than turn some of that misguided narrative on its head. Here, instead of the kids throwing devil signs and kneeling to the big bad Dark Lord, we have a gated community of affluent Gen X’ers who have led their own Millennial children into Devil worship and are looking to bring the demon Baphomet (why is it always Baphomet?) into the world birthed by a virgin in a luxurious patio backyard. It’s a pretty funny premise when you think about the influence. The kids of the 80’s WERE worshiping the Devil. They got rich selling their souls and producing shows like LUCIFER and started having children of their own. To rebel against these parents is to reject Satan. The problem is that while SATANIC PANIC is a very funny movie, it’s also a missed opportunity. Even just a small dose of how these adults became followers of Satan via Dungeon’s & Dragons or Black Sabbath music would have made a humorous movie a possible cult classic contender.
This small shortcoming should in no way impede your ability to have a great time with SATANIC PANIC. There seem to be no shortage of horror comedies these days with varying degrees of success, but this one is sure to entertain with a sharp script, insane performances, and a wicked gross-out factor. The plot is pretty straightforward, and in a 90 minute movie called SATANIC PANIC, that’s a very good thing. We meet Samantha (Hayley Griffith) who is grateful for a job as a pizza delivery-person because she hears the tips are good. She has $5 to her name, no money to gas her Vespa, so she really needs the tip money. She agrees to take a $100 delivery outside of the normal zone to a gated community but gets stiffed on the tip. Not taking this slight lying down, she infiltrates the house to discover a house party hosted by Danica and Samuel Ross (Rebecca Romijn and Jerry O’Connell), and demands her tip. She’s a bit slow on the uptake, but it turns out this party is actually a gathering of Satanists intent on sacrificing a virgin in order to give birth to a demon. One problem though, the virgin, the Ross’ daughter Judi (HAPPY DEATH DAY’s Ruby Modine), is no longer a virgin. She caught wind of her parents’ plan, cast aside her Promise Keepers ring and went “down to bone town”. But as luck would have it, our heroine Sam just happens to be a virgin.
The performances by all of the aforementioned actors are hilarious, but truly the standouts are O’Connell (in what amounts to an extended but very effective cameo) and Modine. Modine gets all the best lines and her team-up with Sam is the driving force of the movie. Griffith as Sam also plays the befuddled hero well. There’s a TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL or EVIL DEAD 2 accidental hero bit that she completely nails. Her arc from clueless to bad-ass is a ton of fun to watch.
The script is very smart and doesn’t let the parody get bogged down in what is ultimately a pretty conventional plot. One-liners and zingers can sometimes get tired in a movie like this, but they are delivered with excellent timing and cut together effectively. Pretty much anything out of Modine’s character’s mouth is funny, but look out for a sneaky funny moment when Sam is giving Judi her sob story while performing a pretty intense reverse curse at Judi’s instruction. It’s probably the most dramatically intense scene in the movie, but Sam’s story sure sounds like a familiar John Green “kids with cancer” plot line. My wife pointed this out to me after the movie and I couldn’t stop laughing at its genius.
The Fantasia audience cheered and laughed throughout. I suspect this will do well once it hits the streaming services and I highly recommend watching with a group of friends, some adult beverages and some delivery pizza…just don’t forget to tip!