Directed by Chelsea Stardust from a story by Ted Geoghegan and a script by Grady Hendrix (Mohawk), Satanic Panic is a refreshingly daft horror comedy steeped in Satanic imagery. Geoghegan’s story sports the self-aware nostalgia he first flaunted back in We Are Still Here, but its Hendrix who brings a flair for comedy and schlock. Stardust too has a talent for humour and energetic filmmaking, delivering a nicely paced Satanic update which stands apart from the recent revival.
The film follows Sam (Hayley Griffith), a young pizza delivery girl struggling to make a living. One night her final delivery lands her in the middle of a full blown cult preparing to summon Baphomet. Bad news is, the cult are short of a sacrificial virgin and Sam fits the bill. Fleeing the house, the pizza girl is hunted through the suburbs by the forces of darkness.
In stark contrast to the gloomy satanic morality tales of late (Satan’s Slaves, Starry Eyes etc), Stardust is simply up for a bit of goopy gory fun with a host of strong female characters at its core. She takes joy in highlighting how bad a mix Black Magic and affluent white people are, resulting in something closer to farce than the loaded class commentary, or existential horror, of other similar-minded films. The Satanists here are a caricature of the ooky-spooky robbed devil-lovers of old, stupid, greedy, and ridiculous. There’s an element of Tucker and Dale vs Evil to Satanic Panic in how it keeps killing characters in gruesome accidents entirely their own fault.
Stardust also revels in the iconography of Satanism but enjoys exposing it for how daft it is in reality. Firstly, there’s the practicality of ironing all those robes, polishing the pentagrams, then there’s the fun of watching a community of affluent assholes squabble over power.
Recognisable faces like Jeff Daniel Phillips (The Lords of Salem) and Jordan Ladd (Cabin Fever) stand out from the crowd as hapless followers. But every cult needs a leader and it’s here that Satanic Panic hits gold. Rebecca Romijn (of X-Men fame) is an incredibly charismatic coven leader, slinking around in a skin tight red dress hexing folk and spitting glorious dialogue at underlings. Though Hendrix’s dialogue is exquisite from start to finish, it’s Romijn who gets the finest, most acidic, lines and frankly the most enjoyable scenes. She’s serving Angelica Huston’s Grand High Witch with a Satanic twist. That’s how cool she is.
Stardust has her eyes set on a full-throttled Satanic caper, and delivers one successfully, for the most part. The last act feels a bit rushed and doesn’t quite live up to the first two acts. Satanic Panic won’t give you nightmares, but it’s a lovable thrill ride crammed with nasty practical effects, ace comedy, and a superb lead performance from new-age final girl Hayley Griffith. Hopefully we’ll see more of her and Romijn in genre cinema.
Horror, Comedy | USA, 2019 | 18 | Out Now | DVD, Blu-Ray, Digital | Arrow Video | Dir.Chelsea Stardust | Hayley Griffith, Rebecca Romijn, Ruby Modine, AJ Bowen, Jerry O’Connell